This year, we celebrate the 80th anniversary of a film many consider the best film of all time: Citizen Kane, which tracks the life of Charles Foster Kane from childhood to his death as a powerful but lonely billionaire. The film begins with a reporter trying to uncover the meaning of his last word, “Rosebud.”
The film is highly lauded for several things, not the least of which is its visual style. There was nothing quite like it when it came out, with its poetic visual language. The compositions feel at times to be paintings. In Ebert’s review, he pointed out an underrated scene where Kane walks to a doorway in the background that at first had looked like a tiny window. It’s not only a neat bit of visual trickery. It also illustrates how small Kane has become in his soul.
How does a film get considered to be the best of all time? How is the Mona Lisa considered a masterpiece? Sometimes all it takes for someone to say it is so.
It took a while, for Citizen Kane to be recognized. A large part is because the story is partially based on William Randolph Hearst. That’s a problem, though, because at the time Hearst had a Charles Foster Kane like grip on the entire media. Hearst was so furious at Orson Welles and the film that he forbade any of his media properties to even acknowledge the film’s existence. Hearst was even going to publish a slam piece on RKO and how they were hiring refugees to do jobs that should’ve gone to hard working Americans. (Notably, those refugees were mainly Europeans who had fled the ravages of World War II.)
Overall, there was to be no advertising and no reviewing of Citizen Kane. Thanks to Hearst, the film lost $160K in its initial run. That’ll show Welles to compare him to a megalomaniac like Charles Foster Kane!
It’s considered a classic now thanks in no small part to critic Andrew Sarris. He released an article that praised Citizen Kane as “the great American film.” The film became more widely available in the 1950’s thanks to television (RKO being one of the first studios to sell its film library). More critics would chime in, including Pauline Kael, and Kane was on its way to several Top 100 lists all over the world.
So in honor of Citizen Kane’s critical reevaluation, here’s today’s bonus prompt: what underrated film do you feel should be considered a classic?
Next week: actors who impressed with a small appearance
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