Director: Orson Welles
Production: RKO Radio Pictures Corp.; black and white, 35mm, running time: 120 minutes. Released 1 May 1941, New York. Filmed 30 July through 23 October 1940 in RKO studios; cost: $686,033.
Producer: Orson Welles; original screenplay: Herman J. Mankiewicz and Orson Welles; photography: Gregg Toland; editors: Robert Wise and Mark Robson; sound recordists: Bailey Fesler and James G. Stewart; art director: Van Nest Polglase; music: Bernard Herrmann; special effects: Vernon L. Walker; costume designer: Edward Stevenson.
Cast : Orson Welles (Charles Foster Kane); Buddy Swan (Kane, Aged 8); Sonny Bupp (Kane 3rd); Harry Shannon (Kane's Father); Joseph Cotten (Jedediah Leland); Dorothy Comingore (Susan Alexander); Everett Sloane (Mr. Bernstein); Ray Collins (James W. Gettys); George Coulouris (Walter Parks Thatcher); Agnes Moorehead (Kane's Mother); Paul Stewart (Raymond); Ruth Warrick (Emily Norton); Erskine Sanford (Herbert Carter); William Alland (Thompson); Georgia Backus (Miss Anderson); Philip van Zandt (Mr. Rawlston); Gus Schilling (Head Waiter); Fortunio Bonanova (Signor Matiste).
Awards: Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, 1941; New York Film Critics Award, Best Picture, 1941.
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O'Hara, John, in Newsweek (New York), 17 March 1941.
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Crowther, Bosley, in New York Times, 2 May 1941.
Herrmann, Bernard, in New York Times, 25 May 1941.
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The Times (London), 13 October 1941.
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Manuel, Jacques,"Essai sur le style d'Orson Welles," in Revue duCinéma (Paris), December 1946.
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Chartier, Jean-Pierre, in Revue du Cinéma (Paris), January 1947.
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Capdena, Michel, "Citizen K," in Lettres Françaises (Paris), 27 December 1962.
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Comolli, Jean-Louis, "Technique et Idéologie: Caméra, perspective, profondeur de champ," in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), January-February 1972.
Cohen, H., "The Heart of Darkness in Citizen Kane," in CinemaJournal (Evanston, Illinois), Fall 1972.
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Burch, Noël, "Propositions," in Afterimage (London), Spring 1974.
Mass, R., "A Linking of Legends: The Great Gatsby and CitizenKane," in Literature/Film Quarterly (Salisbury, Maryland), Sum-mer 1974.
Smith, J., "Orson Welles and the Great American Dummy," in Literature/Film Quarterly (Salisbury, Maryland), Summer 1974.
Ciment, Michel, "Ouragans autour de Kane," in Positif (Paris), March 1975.
Champlin, Charles, "More about Citizen Kane," in American Cinematographer (Los Angeles), April 1975.
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Pitiot, P., and H. Behar, in Image et Son (Paris), September 1976.
Gambill, N., "Making Up Kane," in Film Comment (New York), November-December 1978.
Jaffe, I. S., "Film as Narration of Space: Citizen Kane," in Literature/Film Quarterly (Salisbury, Maryland), no. 2, 1979.
Toeplitz, J., "Von einem, der Karriere macht: Orson Welles in Hollywood der dreissiger Jahre," in Film und Fernsehen (East Berlin), no. 2, 1979.
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Clipper, L. J., "Art and nature in Welles' Xanadu," in Film Criticism (Edinboro, Pennsylvania), Spring 1981.
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Houston, Beverle, "Power and Dis-Integration in the Films of Orson Welles," in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), Fall 1985.
Left, L. J., "Reading Kane," in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), Fall 1985.
Beja, M., "Orson Welles and the Attempt to Escape from Father," in Literature/Film Quarterly (Salisbury, Maryland), vol. 13, no. 1, 1985.
Maxfield, J.F., "A Man Like Ourselves: Citizen Kane is Aristotelean Tragedy," in Literature/Film Quarterly (Salisbury, Maryland), vol. 14, no. 3, 1986.
Jones, Elizabeth, "Locating Truth in Film, 1940–80," in Post Script (Jacksonville, Florida), Autumn, 1986.
Tomasulo, Frank P., "Point-of-View and Narrative Voice in CitizenKane's Thatcher Sequence," in Wide Angle (Athens, Ohio), vol. 8, nos. 3–4, 1986.
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Nielsen, N. A., "Et allerhelvedes perspektiv," in Kosmorama (Co-penhagen), Fall 1989.
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Vergne, F., "Citizen Kane e Confidential Report di Orson Welles: la retorica dei ricordo," in La Cosa Vista (Trieste), no. 16–17, 1991.
Kyff, Robert S., "Even After 50 Years, Citizen Kane Resonates with a Clarity Both Technical and Allegorical," in Chicago Tribune, 1 May 1991.
van der Burg, J., "Toevalstreffer van de eeuw," in Skoop (Amster-dam), July-August 1991.
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Hogue, P., "The Friends of Kane," in Film Comment (New York), November-December 1991.
Maland, C., "Memories and Things Past: History and Two Biographical Flashback Films," in East-West Film Journal (Honolulu), no. 1, 1992.
La Polla, F., "Welles e la frequentazione delle tenebre." in Quadernidi Cinema (Florence), July-September 1992.
Kovacs, A. B., "Minden idok. . . ," in Filmvilag (Budapest), no. 6, 1993.
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Altman, Rick, "Deep-Focus Sound: Citizen Kane and the Radio Aesthetic," in Quarterly Review of Film and Video (Reading), vol. 15, no. 3, December 1994.
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Kan, E., "Great Beginnings . . . and Endings," in P.O.V. (Brussels), no. 2, December 1996.
Thomson, D., "Ten Films that Showed Hollywood How to Live," in Movieline (Escondido, California) vol. 8, July 1997.
* * *
"Everything that matters in cinema since 1940," François Truffaut has suggested, "has been influenced by Citizen Kane." It is not surprising, then, that Citizen Kane should be one of the most written about films in cinema history; nearly every major critic since André Bazin has felt compelled to discuss it, among them Andrew Sarris, Peter Cowie, David Bordwell, Joseph McBride, and Bruce Kawin.
Of the various critical approaches taken to the film, the most trivial, though in some respects the most common, is to understand Citizen Kane as an only slightly disguised biography of William Randolph Hearst. Hearst certainly took it that way, and was largely responsible, through the influence of his newspaper syndicate (which refused to review RKO films for a time), for the film's box-office failure, despite the generally enthusiastic response of the critics. Pauline Kael did much to revive this line of thinking in her 1971 "Raising Kane" essay. Kael's point is essentially negative. Movies in general "are basically kitsch," though on occasion kitsch "redeemed." Citizen Kane is a case in point, especially given its reputation, and that of Orson Welles. Indeed, much of Kael's essay is devoted to showing that aspects of Kane normally attributed to Welles really represented or were indebted to the work of others—to Gregg Toland's cinematography, to the conventions of Hollywood newspaper comedy, and especially to Herman J. Mankiewicz, to whom Kael attributes the entire script. Her point even here, however, is that Mankiewicz largely retold the story of William Randolph Hearst ("What happened in Hearst's life was far more interesting" Kael argues at one point)—so that the process of making Citizen Kane is pictured largely as a process of disguise and oversimplification, begun by Mankiewicz and only finished by Welles. What Kael clearly fails to see is the irrelevance of her whole approach (not to mention its basic inaccuracy in regard to historical fact). As François Truffaut puts it: "It isn't San Simeon that interests me but Xanadu, not the reality but the work of art on film." To see the film as a denatured version of some past reality is simply not to see the film.
In sharp contrast to Kael's variety of historicism is the approach taken by André Bazin in his work on Welles. Rather than read the "story" of Citizen Kane against the background provided by the life of Hearst, Bazin focuses on film style in Citizen Kane especially on the degree to which style "places the very nature of the story in question." And rather than describe film style in Citizen Kane as being consistent with that of Hollywood generally (as Kael does in part), Bazin suggests that Welles' reliance on the sequence shot (or long take) and deep focus represents an important break with classical cinematic practice and with the viewing habits derived from it. Classical editing, according to Bazin, "substituted mental and abstract time" for the "ambiguity of expression" implicit in reality; whereas "depth of focus reintroduced ambiguity into the structure of the image" by transferring "to the screen the continuum of reality," in regards both to time and space. "Obliged to exercise his liberty and his intelligence, the spectator perceives the ontological ambivalence of reality directly, in the structure of its appearances."
There are problems with such an ontological approach to cinema (it focuses on sequences rather than on whole films, for instance); but Bazin's emphasis on the ambiguity of appearances in Welles is consistent with a third approach to Citizen Kane which sees the film as an early instance of the fragmented modernist narrative. In the words of Robert Carringer, the fact that Kane's story in the film is told from several perspectives, by several different characters, "reflects the Modernist period's general preoccupation with the relativism of points of view." Indeed, the film's "main symbolic event" is not the burning of Kane's "Rosebud" sled but rather the shattering of the little glass globe, which thus stands "for the loss of 'Kane-ness,' the unifying force behind the phenomenon of Kane." Accordingly, the effort undertaken by Thompson, the newsreel reporter, to uncover the secret of Kane's life by tracking down the meaning of "Rosebud" through interviewing Kane's friends and associates can be seen as a paradigm of the human desire to simplify the complex, though Thompson himself becomes increasingly cynical about the prospect of making sense of Charles Foster Kane.
It is arguable, however, that Thompson's cynicism—summed up when he says "I don't think any word can sum up a man's life"—is itself suspect for assuming that complexity is antithetical in intelligibility. Central to such a view of Kane is the premise that multiple narratives serve to cast doubt. And in a film such as Kurosawa's Rashomon (to which Kane is often compared) such is certainly the case. But the narrative of Citizen Kane may well work differently, at different "levels" of narration. The reporter himself comprises the first "level" of narration—in the newsreel he watches, and in the interviews he conducts. The interviews, then, constitute a second level of narration, in that they are embedded in the first. It is arguable, however, that a third level of narration exists. It can be seen in the "framing" sequences, which take us up to and then away from the gates of Xanadu; it can also be seen in the fact that the narratives of all those interviewed contain material that the person telling the tale could not have known, even at second hand (as if each such narrative were being "re-narrated"). But the third level of narration is most clearly evident in a series of visual metaphors (the recurrent visual figure of the window or door frame, for example, which repeatedly serves to cut one character off from others) which remain constant throughout the film, both in the flashbacks and in the reporter's narrative, regardless of who is ostensibly narrating the sequence. Accordingly, we can say that the entire film constitutes a single narrative with other narratives embedded; that the narratives work at different levels disallows easy assumptions that they cancel each other out, no matter how partial or biased any one narrative might be.
In terms of style and narrative, then, Citizen Kane is a film of remarkable complexity and depth; yet in thematic terms, Citizen Kane is also a hymn to failure. Kane's failure to put his remarkable energy to real use, Thompson's failure to find real meaning in Kane's life story. The shame, in Kane's case, is that his tremendous capacities and resources are wasted, used up; the closing shot of Xanadu, the smoke of Kane's burning possessions pouring from a chimney, recalls the factory smokestacks of the film's newsreel sequence, as the chainlink fence recalls the factory fences. The shame in Thompson's case is that he contributes to this waste by refusing to get to the point, refusing to see how thoroughly Kane was a product of his circumstances, as much victim as victimizer. But we need not follow Thompson's lead in this, however cinematically marvellous Citizen Kane might be. The sense is ours to make.
Orson Welles' film Citizen Kane has been consistently ranked as one of the best films ever made. A masterpiece of technique and storytelling, the film helped to change Hollywood film-making and still exerts considerable influence today. However, at the time of its premiere in 1941, it was a commercial failure that spelled disaster for Welles' Hollywood career.
Citizen Kane tells the story of millionaire press magnate Charles Foster Kane (played by Welles). The film opens with Kane on his death bed in his magnificent Florida castle, Xanadu, murmuring the word "Rosebud." A newsreel reporter (William Alland) searches for clues to the meaning of the word and to the meaning of Kane himself. Interviewing many people intimately connected with Kane, the reporter learns that the millionaire was not so much a public-minded statesman as he was a tyrannical, lonely man. The reporter never learns the secret of Kane's last word. In the film's final moments, we see many of Kane's possessions being thrown into a blazing furnace. Among them is his beloved childhood sled, the name "Rosebud" emblazoned across it.
Citizen Kane encountered difficulties early on. Welles fought constantly with RKO over his budget and against limits on his control of the production. Furthermore, because the film was based in part on the life of publisher William Randolph Hearst, Hearst's papers actively campaigned against it, demanding that Citizen Kane be banned and then later refusing to mention or advertise it altogether. Although the scheme backfired, generating enormous publicity for the movie, a frightened RKO released the film only after Welles threatened the studio with a lawsuit.
Critics reacted positively, but were also puzzled. They enthusiastically applauded Citizen Kane's many technical innovations. Throughout the film, Welles and his crew employed depth of field (a method in which action in both the foreground and background clearly are in focus, and used to great effect by cinematographer Gregg Toland), inventive editing, sets with ceilings, chiaroscuro lighting, and multilayered sound. Although sometimes used in foreign film, many of these techniques were new to Hollywood. They have since, however, become standard for the industry.
Critics also were impressed by Citizen Kane's many virtuoso sequences: a "March of Time"-type newsreel recounting the bare facts of Kane's life; the breakfast table scene, where in a few minutes his first marriage deteriorates to the strains of a waltz and variations (by noted screen composer Bernard Herrmann, in his first film assignment); a tracking shot through the roof of a nightclub; and a faux Franco-Oriental opera. None of these sequences, however, are showstoppers; each propels the narrative forward.
That narrative proved puzzling both to critics and to audiences at large. Written by Herman J. Mankiewicz and Welles (although there is considerable controversy over how much Welles contributed), the narrative employs a series of flashbacks that tell different pieces of Kane's life story and reveal the witnesses' various perceptions of him. By arranging these pieces out of order, the script opened the door for later screenwriters to avoid the demands of strict chronology. At the time, however, this innovation confused most audiences.
While Citizen Kane did well in New York, the film did poor business in small-town America. The film was a commercial failure, allowing RKO's officials to eventually let go of Welles. Thereafter, he found it increasingly difficult to make movies in Hollywood. Shunned by the studio system, he was forced to spend much of his time simply trying to raise money for his various projects.
For a while, Citizen Kane itself seemed to suffer a similar fate. Although the film was nominated for a host of Oscars, Academy members took RKO's side in the studio's battle with Welles, awarding the movie only one Oscar for best original screenplay. The film lost to How Green Was My Valley for best picture. Citizen Kane soon sank into obscurity, rarely discussed, except when described as the beginning of the end of Welles' film career.
After World War II, RKO, seeking to recoup its losses, released Citizen Kane in European theaters hungry for American films and also made it available for American television. Exposed to a new generation of moviegoers, the film received new critical and popular acclaim. Riding the wave of Citizen Kane's new-found popularity, Welles was able to return to Hollywood, directing Touch of Evil in 1958.
Consistently ranked number one on Sight and Sound's top ten films list since the mid-1950s, Citizen Kane continues to attract, inspire, and entertain new audiences. In 1998, it was voted the best American film of the twentieth century by the American Film Institute.
—Scott W. Hoffman
Carringer, Robert L. The Making of Citizen Kane. Berkeley, University of California Press, 1996.
Kael, Pauline. The Citizen Kane Book. Boston, Little, Brown and Company, 1971.
McBride, Joseph. Orson Welles. New York, Viking Press, 1972.
Naremore, James. The Magic World of Orson Welles. New York, Oxford University Press, 1978.
Citizen Kane (1941) is acclaimed as one of the greatest sound films in the history of the cinema. It was cowritten by Orson Welles (1915–1985) and Herman J. Mankiewicz (1897–1953). Welles also produced and directed the film for RKO Radio Pictures in Hollywood (see entry under 1930s—Film and Theater in volume 2). At the time he created Citizen Kane, Welles was a twenty-five-year-old theater and radio (see entry under 1920s— TV and Radio in volume 2) genius who had not yet made a feature-length film. His youth and inexperience is astounding considering the complexity and accomplishment of the visual and narrative (storytelling) techniques used in the movie. In an unusual move by any Hollywood-based film studio, Welles was given complete artistic control over this production. He was able to have the final decision in every area of production. Production elements included screenplay, camera, lighting, art direction, and music. The music in the film was composed and conducted by Bernard Herrmann (1911–1975).
The story of Citizen Kane begins with the death of a wealthy, influential American newspaper publisher named Charles Foster Kane. In six creative narrative sequences—bookended by an introduction and an epilogue—the biography of Kane is related, beginning with a newsreel capsule of the man's life and continuing with glimpses of his childhood and adult years. Kane's controversial life unfolds through a clever manipulation of time by editing. Much of the film is constructed from flashbacks, which are sequences that have taken place in the past, before the present time of the motion picture. The details of Kane's life are told through journal entries and interviews with those he knew, as a reporter seeks to solve the mystery of the significance of the last word that Kane speaks, which is "Rosebud." As the details of Kane's biography are disclosed, the larger story of a man's quest for "the American dream" also is explored.
The character of Kane, acted by Welles, is in many ways a thinly cloaked, fictional version of real-life multimillionaire newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst (1863–1951). Hearst was outraged at the unauthorized and unflattering interpretation of his life story, and he tried to prevent the film from being released. When that attempt failed, Hearst used his many newspapers to prevent the film from becoming popular. He
refused to print advertisements for the film and threatened to stop advertising and reviewing RKO films in the future. These actions were effective, and the film failed badly at the box office. At RKO, angry film executives got even with Welles. They removed his right to make final artistic decisions about future motion picture productions at the studio. As a result, Welles's next few films were badly tampered with by lesser talents. The rest of his film career was characterized by inadequate budgets and production schedules. Welles never again created a motion picture as renowned as his first feature film.
Although Citizen Kane had a disappointing initial release, it was rediscovered by film critics and historians twenty years later. Since then, many articles and several books have praised its artistry and intelligence. In university classrooms, in art houses, and at film festivals worldwide, Citizen Kane is frequently screened. It is included on almost every significant listing of the world's greatest films.
For More Information
Carringer, Robert L. The Making of Citizen Kane. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996.
Kael, Pauline. The Citizen Kane Book. Boston: Little, Brown, 1971.
Lennon, Thomas, producer. The Battle Over "Citizen Kane" (video). Boston: WGBH Boston Video, 1996, 2000.
CITIZEN KANE, directed by Orson Welles, who also co-wrote the script with Herman J. Mankiewicz and played the film's main character, was released by RKO in 1941. It is widely considered to be the masterpiece of American cinema. A veiled depiction of the publishing industrialist William Randolph Hearst, the film begins at the end of the story with the death of Charles Foster Kane. A reporter is dispatched to investigate Kane's last word, "Rosebud." The film then moves through a series of flashbacks that depict the character's turbulent life.
The powerful Hearst tried to have the film suppressed, and it enjoyed only limited critical and popular success, receiving nine Oscar nominations but only one award, Best Original Screenplay. By the 1950s, however, Citizen Kane began to receive widespread international recognition. It continues to be screened in revivals and film courses, and it has exerted major influence on filmmakers throughout the world. Kane is an important film because of its narrative and stylistic complexity. Welles used high-contrast lighting, deep focus, long takes, quick edits, montage sequences, and abrupt changes in sound to heighten the drama and to explicate the psychology of its characters. To achieve the film's remarkable images, Welles and cinematographer Gregg Toland relied on such innovative techniques as optical printers, miniatures, and matte prints. The result is a film with rich subtleties in both story and style.
Carringer, Robert L. The Making of Citizen Kane. Rev. ed. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996.
Gottesman, Ronald L. Perspectives on Citizen Kane. New York: G. K. Hall, 1996.
See alsoFilm .
Citizen Kane ★★★★ 1941
Extraordinary film is an American tragedy of a newspaper tycoon (based loosely on William Randolph Hearst) from his humble beginnings to the solitude of his final years. One of the greatest films ever made—a stunning tourdeforce in virtually every aspect, from the fragmented narration to breathtaking, deepfocus cinematography; from a vivid soundtrack to fabulous ensemble acting. Welles was only 25 when he cowrote, directed, and starred in this masterpiece. Watch for Ladd and O'Connell as reporters. 119m/B VHS, DVD . Orson Welles, Joseph Cotten, Everett Sloane, Dorothy Comingore, Ruth Warrick, George Coulouris, Ray Collins, William Alland, Paul Stewart, Erskine Sanford, Agnes Moorehead, Alan Ladd, Gus Schilling, Philip Van Zandt, Harry Shannon, Sonny Bupp, Arthur O'Connell; D: Orson Welles; W: Orson Welles, Herman J. Mankiewicz; C: Gregg Toland; M: Bernard Herrmann. Oscars '41: Orig. Screenplay; AFI '98: Top 100, Natl. Film Reg. '89;; N.Y. Film Critics '41: Film.