In 1941, Orson Welles and his troop of theater actors, who had never worked on a movie before, released what has been held as the crowning achievement in filmmaking, “Citizen Kane.” Sight & Sound magazine would release a list of the best films ever made every ten years, and “Citizen Kane” held the number one spot on that list for several decades until 2012 when Alfred Hitchcock’s “Vertigo” overtook it.
Interestingly enough, when “Citizen Kane” was initially released, most people in Hollywood and filmmaking loathed the movie. Mostly because it went against the traditional style of cinema and the fact that it was created by people who had never held a camera before. When it won the only Academy Award it received for Best Screenplay, the majority of the auditorium was filled with boos and hatred. That’s how much people hated “Citizen Kane.”
It wasn’t until the 1960s that people started to reanalyze the film and began to see it in a different light. That’s the thing about films which break from traditions: They’re usually despised when they come out, but are reanalyzed and appreciated many years later.
I feel the reason “Citizen Kane” is often described as the greatest film ever made is because of how bold and grandiose it wanted to be. Whether that was because of acting, storytelling, cinematography, score and so on, the film always tries to hit the highest note possible. There are so many wonderful shots, especially early on where we see this gigantic yet empty mansion, and it makes you wonder just how much work and effort was put into creating it, all for someone to abandon and forget about it.
That is more-or-less the life and story of the main character, Charles Foster Kane (played by Orson Welles). He worked for so much, trying to become a man that not only others could be proud of but one he could also be proud of. The problem was that nothing was ever good enough. No matter how much he achieved and accumulated, he could never achieve respect for himself. This led him to down a path where everyone who ever loved him would abandon him, leaving him a shell of man, only wanting what he had lost.
Perhaps the reason this film was so hated in 1941 was not because it tried new things, but because the subject material hit way too close to home. It is often said that “Citizen Kane” is based off of the life of William Randolph Hearst, who at the time was still an active member of society and had a large affect on the world. To see such a man who has so much power be shown as a megalomanic who will never be satisfied, especially when he’s still alive, is going to make people angry.
“Citizen Kane” has had such a big impact on society that it is now often used to describe many things. The graphic novel “Watchmen” is often described as the “Citizen Kane” of comic books and I recently used it as a way to describe “Godzilla.”
But what exactly does that mean?
When we say that “Shadow Of The Colossus” is the “Citizen Kane” of video games, what does that entail? What sort of affect is that supposed to leave on us?
I believe the best answer to this question is time and appreciation. When “Godzilla” was released in 1954, it received significant success, both critically and financially, but my guess is that most people did not say it was a work of art.
Now, sixty years later, people have had time to see the impact that this film has had on society. What it has changed and given us over that time. We’ve seen the evolution of giant monster movies from simple and direct ways to show creatures destroying cities turn into tales of folly of man and our attempts to right the wrongs that we have brought on helpless lives.
All thanks to the film which brought on this change, “Godzilla.”
It is not just that a film is well-made and can please a wide range of audiences, but that it has had an impact on both the medium and society. To look at the long term effect and realize that the film is still as good as it was upon the initial release. Time has not only given meaning to core of the work, but also has not aged at all.
“Citizen Kane” remains as poignant, honest and hard-hitting as it was in 1941, which is a testament to how in tune the filmmakers were with humanity. That is what it means to be like “Citizen Kane.” That it transcends being just another movie, video game, novel or comic book and becomes art.