Most movie critics say "Citizen Kane," staring Orson Welles, is the most famous movie of all times. Is there an explanation as to why?
“Citizen Kane” is not considered to be the most famous film of all time. That honor could go to “Gone With the Wind,” “The Sound of Music,” “Star Wars,” “Titanic,” or any number of blockbuster films that have been released over the past 30 years. It is definitely not, however, “Citizen Kane.”
What many – but not all—critics do agree about, however, is that “Citizen Kane” is the most respected, or best, film of all time. For example, when the American Film Institute assembled a panel of film scholars and critics to list the 100 greatest films of all time, “Citizen Kane” was ranked number one, followed by “The Godfather” and “Casablanca.” In fact, while all students of film are familiar with, and respect, “Citizen Kane,” it is considerably less well-known than most of the other films included on AFI’s list.
Orson Welles’ 1941 production remains the subject of much study and discussion more than 70 years after its release for a number of reasons. First and foremost is the degree of technical skill that went into its production. Welles, the father of film auteurs, co-wrote, produced, directed, and acted in his film of a wealthy newspaper publisher whose growing megalomania provide the seeds of his moral demise. Ostensibly based on the career of real-life newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst, whose publishing empire made him one of the wealthiest and most powerful men in the country, and whose efforts at preventing the release of “Citizen Kane” proved painfully successful, the film is both a fascinating quasi-biographical depiction and a marvel of technical innovation. In filming “Citizen Kane,” Welles employed photographed techniques that were considered truly innovative for their time, including the use of what is called “deep focus,” in which the scene is shot in clear focus throughout its physical depth. In other words, rather than forcing attention on a part of the scene through enhanced focus on the object of attention while diminishing focus on other parts, Welles and cinematographer Gregg Toland used a very sharp focus for both close and distant objects within the frame.
Another photographic technique used throughout “Citizen Kane” involved the use of low-angle shots, where the camera is positioned below the object of its attention and characters are filmed from a slightly-below angle. Another innovative technique employed in the film, and one routinely used since, involved the use of flashbacks as a major part of its narrative. “Citizen Kane” is filmed entirely in flashbacks, as an intrepid journalist seeks to unravel the mystery surrounding the last word Charles Foster Kane utters before his death, “Rosebud.” [The depiction of Kane whispering “Rosebud” just before his final breath is actually the film’s biggest flaw, as the character is clearly alone when he dies, so no one could have heard his last word.]
“Citizen Kane” is the most highly respected film of all time. It is not, however, the most famous.
I believe that of the many people who admire Citizen Kane they could offer innumerable examples of what makes it such an awesome, incomparable movie. Everyone could name different things he remembered. Every scene, every line of dialogue, every effect is just brilliant. For example there is that shot in which Kane's second wife is singing that aria so badly on the stage and the camera pans slowly up and up into the rafters where two stage hands are standing on a scaffold looking and listening--and then one of them pinches his nose to show that in his opinion the poor girl stinks. It is impossible to say in a sentence or a paragraph or perhaps in a whole book why that movie is so dazzling. All an admirer can do is to point to this or that or something else-- such as that shot in which Kane walks down the long corridor after demolishing Susan's bedroom and his image is reflected numerous times in ornate floor-to-ceiling mirrors. The real plot is very simple. A reporter wants to find out what Kane meant by saying "Rosebud" just before he died. He visits various people and various places, but in the end he has to acknowledge defeat. And then the viewer is given the sole privilege, denied to even those who knew Charles Foster Kane best, to see the name "Rosebud" painted on the little sled that has just been tossed into the blazing furnace. The viewer understands that Kane closed his heart because his mother sent him away. Why is Citizen Kane such a great movie? There is the way the music is woven into the story and is not just music intended to influence the viewers' moods. There is that aria which poor Susan can never quite handle. There is the campaign song with the words, "What is his name? What is his name?" And then the somber repetition of that music on an accordion in the scene at campaign headquarters when Kane has lost the election because of being caught in a love nest with young Susan Alexander. And there is the black man at the picnic on the beach below Xanadu singing lyrics that explain the secret of Kane's life, "It can't be love...cause there is no true love." Citizen Kane is a diamond with an almost infinite number of facets. For the person who understands and appreciates the film, every new viewing reveals new beauties. There is that scene in which Kane's second wife rebels and tells him she is going to quit singing, and Kane comes to loom over her and tell her in Orson Welles' magnificent voice that she will continue with her music--and his gigantic presence casts a huge shadow across her face and her whole cowering body, practically hiding her in darkness. Of course a lot of the gems are attributable to the topnotch cameraman, but Welles was the genius; he was the one who told the cameraman--and everybody else--what he wanted. And he got it.