Citizen Kane

Citizen Kane ★★★★

Another one of those great celluloid monoliths that I hadn't seen up 'til now. What can possibly be said a film this revered? I can only add my voice to the chorus of praise, really.

What struck me straight off is the sheer creativity at work. It starts off almost like a horror film - all mood lighting and portentousness. Then comes the incredibly good Pathe-style newsreel detailing the death of Charles Foster Kane, newspaper tycoon.

The film is structured almost like a detective story as reporter Jerry Thompson (William Alland) interviews those who allegedly knew Kane best in order to piece together who he really was, and who or what Kane referred to by his last word, 'Rosebud'.

Of course, everyone knows the secret of Rosebud, but getting there is still a joy. The innovative flashback-heavy structure means that Kane remains an elusive figure; many things to different people, and as many of the interviewees are addled by age or alcohol the picture we are given of him is framed by unreliable narration. Using Roland Barthe's idea of the metaphorical Death of the Author, as an author's work is at the mercy of the reader's interpretation, regardless of the author's intention, so Kane is fated to be constructed by how other's saw him.

What emerges is a conflicted individual ill-at-ease with the adult world and disdainful of the wealth he was given, wishing only to have the carefree childhood, symbolised by Rosebud, that was taken away from him.

Orson Welles as Kane is just great - generous, arrogant, pompous, iconoclastic and utterly convincing whatever stage of Kane's life he is portraying. This is aided by some superb makeup which still convinces to this day.

The film meanders a little, and I found my interest wavering slightly towards the end - he's a more interesting character for me in his younger days with his youthful swagger, although the ending picks up again and is loaded with pathos without being overly sentimental.

The supporting cast of largely first-time film performers is also excellent, particularly Joseph Cotton as Kane's best friend Jedediah Leland. The scenes of his remembrance as an old man are among the highlights of the film.

Overall, a true all-time classic and pretty much the defining auteur's film, laying a path for all the wonderful writer/directors who would follow in his wake. It probably became a bit of a millstone for him, but Citizen Kane will ensure Orson Welles' place in film history for ever.