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.          

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