Citizen Kane (1941) black & white

Citizen Kane
For anyone with an interest in cinematic history, there are few better films to start with than “Citizen Kane”.  Orson Welles’ monumental achievement of 1941 changed the very face of film and was without a doubt the most prominent directorial debut of any film director.   The fluid camerawork of Gregg Toland was a revelation in an age where the action had always moved around the camera.   There had truly been nothing remotely similar preceding it.  The unusual camera angles, the play of shadow and light, and the manic mobility of the camera marked the commencement of a visual style that would hold forth in the 1940’s and beyond.   In 1941, “Citizen Kane” marked the beginning of a new era in filmmaking.
 “Kane”s episodic narrative was another thoroughly unique aspect of Welles’ creation.  The story is concerned with the life of a very public and very powerful man.  It commences with his death and then follows a trail of witnesses of varying degrees of dependability interviewed by a persistent reporter.   The writing and acting is of a very high caliber.  Most of the cast were making their motion picture debuts, having gained their experience on stage and in radio. The acting talent of Welles, Joseph Cotten, Agnes Moorehead, Everett Sloane and the rest of the cast was apparent from the start and they were mainstays of American cinema for many years.   As an example of the quality of the writing, the line (spoken by Sloane) “Old age is the one disease that you don’t look forward to being cured of” has, quite naturally, gained resonance with the passing years.

 I first saw “Citizen Kane” when I was in my early twenties and my initial reaction was in the vein of “What’s the big deal?”   I didn’t quite have that historical approach to film that I would develop but when I saw it again several years later, I got it.  I completely understood what an incredible work it was in the context of movies circa 1941.  I’ve probably watched Kane twenty or more times in the intervening years and I’m amazed at just how fresh and inventive it seems with every passing year.   A knowledge of where film was in 1941 and just what Welles achieved certainly adds to an appreciation of this genuine work of art, but one’s appreciation isn’t dependent on that knowledge.  “Citizen Kane” remains a fascinating, unique, masterpiece more than 70 years later.          

Our Library Movie Collection/Curt Barclift

When I left St. Mary’s College of Maryland in 1976, diploma in hand, I carried something else with me that was a bit less tangible. Thanks to the efforts of Jim Hayes, who taught film in those bygone days, I left St. Mary’s with an enduring love for the art of film. I had learned a good deal about the great masters of cinema, largely directors, who had in the 20th Century taken a new form of mass entertainment and out of that created a genuine, modern art form. I had always loved movies but I had never regarded them in terms of artistic merit, they were simply one of my favorite ways of passing time.  
In 1976, the great films were not very easy to come by. This was the age before video and cable television. Practically the only way to see the great works of cinema intact and uncut was to frequent the repertory movie houses (The Biograph in DC immediately comes to mind) that exhibited them.  Living in Southern Maryland meant a 1 ½ hour drive to the city, which wasn’t always feasible. For years, so many of the works of Ingmar Bergman, Akira Kurosawa, Satyajit Ray and the other masters of world cinema remained merely rumors, objects of curiosity and desire that I had heard so much about but never had the opportunity to see for myself. The video age changed that and my objects of desire began to surface. My true education in the art of filmmaking had finally commenced.

Today, the St. Mary’s community has a treasure trove at their fingertips. Our library is stocked with a hugely impressive collection of the greatest of all works of cinema. For anyone with a newly discovered love for the cinematic art, our DVD selection is priceless. My intent in writing this blog will be to assist the potential film fanatic (or the already established one) in gaining some awareness of just what is available to them. I’ll write about the great directors and selected works from their filmographies or individual works by less well known directors in hopes that I can inspire an interest in these indispensable contributions to the art.

I would like to express my appreciation to Robin Bates, Mark Rhoda, and Dave Ellsworth for their efforts in helping to build a first-class DVD collection for the SMCM library.  Their knowledge of and love for cinema are a wonderful resource for the entire community.