Thursday, January 3, 2008

Two Boobless Hours

Author's note: If you find the title either senseless or offensive, you need simply to watch more Family Guy and all will become hillariously clear. (I tried to embed the clip, only to find it pulled from YouTube. Thanks, Fox.)

Review: Citizen Kane

For certain film buffs, myself included, the American Film Institute's annual CBS specials celebrating "100 Years, 100 ______" are an occasion matched only by Christmas and birthdays. 2007's list was particularly interesting in that it threw out the previous list of top 100 American Movies, added more recent fare to the mix, and re-voted. Hello Lord of the Rings, goodbye Doctor Zhivago. The most interesting aspect of the list was that while many films' rankings rose, fell, debuted, or disappeared, Citizen Kane remained number one. With that much acclaim on its shoulders, I finally felt I had no recourse but to track down a copy at the library and see what all the fuss is about.

In case you hadn't heard, Citizen Kane is the story of Charles Foster Kane (Orson Welles), a man taken from his parents at an early age to lead a life of prestige and luxury, eventually becoming a newspaper publishing tycoon. What makes the movie so unique, notable, and enduring is how it tells Kane's story: start with a man's dying word, "Rosebud" and then follow a reporter's journey to assemble the puzzle of Kane's life to see what could be important enough to occupy the last thoughts of one so powerful.

For those who have no idea who or what Rosebud is, stop what you're doing and go rent this movie lest the ending get spoiled for you. Tragically, pop culture has been conspiring against the uninitiated and Rosebud has been referenced everywhere from children's fare like Peanuts and Animaniacs to classic TV such as Cheers-- Frasier once spoiled the ending to everyone in earshot. Regardless of the hype, the twist holds a psychological wonder equal to the endings of The 6th Sense and Planet of the Apes (and much like those films, the clues are there all along if you're looking for them).

A movie can't live on its twist ending alone (you don't see The Crying Game on the AFI list) and Citizen Kane realizes this, packing a deep and satisfying story in between its Rosebudded bookends. Wells, doing triple duty as director and co-screenwriter, helps pioneer the technique of putting actors through varying stages of aging makeup to span events across decades, a technique later adopted by Forrest Gump and A Beautiful Mind, among others. The cast handles this marvelously; every late in life characterization makes the viewer desire to see how they came to be the way they are.

The story's themes of power overshadowing responsibility and the need to be loved overshadowing sanity serve as both reflections of historical figures such as William Randolph Hearst and Howard Hughes and inspirations for great entertainment to come such as Spiderman and The Office (Michael Scott = Charles Kane – money. Think about it.) Technically, Wells' innovative camera work, editing, and use of focus are still inspiring directors like David Fincher and Quentin Tarantino.

While its worthiness to be declared Best American Film Of All Time will surely be debated for the duration of history, there is no denying that few films will ever influence culture and move audiences quite like Citizen Kane continues to do, over 65 years after its release, and that alone merits a high status on anyone's list.

Paul's Grade: A

On an unrelated note, this trailer represents a strange trend I have noticed in vintage films: trailers that violate the 4th wall and serve a function closer to what modern audiences might expect from a DVD featurette. I might blog more on it later. It'll help me get over the scars sustained from hearing an old-timey studio suit referring to Miracle on 34th Street as "groovey". Ugh.


Kakashi said...

Spiderman? Come on, Paul. You can do better than that. And the Office? Not sure I see it.

paulthezag said...

Cut me some slack! I'm showing just how far and wide Kane's influence runs. And the Office comparison is totally valid in that they are both about men damaged by screwy upbringings who overcompensate for their emptiness with a deep fear of rejection and a driving need to be liked by everyone they meet. So there.

Kakashi said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kakashi said...

To be clear, I did like the rest of the review. Very well done.

Byron said...

Been meaning to see that movie for to check it out. On a technical not, I'm able to read your blogs on my Palm Treo, but can't comment from sorry to lag. Nice work.

Blitzkrieg said...

I have two DVD copies of Citizen Kane, and Orson Welles was really ahead of his time (Tarantino's Pulp Fiction and Innaritu's Trilogy--Amorres Perros, 21 Grams and Babel-- employed non-linear in their story lines). CK totally blew me away.

By the way, Rosebud has been referred also in the animated movie Over The Hedge. That movie also made reference to A Streetcar Named Desire. As expected, as I was the only one laughing in the cinema while watching. People were really clueless.

I have all the DVD copies on the 1st List of AFI's 100 Movies from Citizen Kane to Yankee Doodle Dandy. It's 2007 list, however, excluded all the James Dean's movies (Giant, East of Eden and Rebel Without A Cause). It was a great disservice to Dean who is still an icon to rebel youths.

I am a movie fanatic and I have completed also the Oscars Best Pictures from 1933's Wings to the 2008's No Country For Old Men. I may not agree with the Academy's Best Pics choices, but it was really fun collecting them. How I wished they have chosen Capra's It's A Wonderful Life over The Best Years of Our Lives and Darabont's Shawshank over Forrest Gump. Well, that was just me.