Orson Welles and `Rosebud' Ride Again Film Experts Argue over the Importance of `Citizen Kane'. FILM REVIVAL

By David Sterritt, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, April 3, 1991 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Orson Welles and `Rosebud' Ride Again Film Experts Argue over the Importance of `Citizen Kane'. FILM REVIVAL

David Sterritt, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor

`CITIZEN KANE," due tomorrow for a 50th-anniversary revival, was a box-office disappointment in 1941, launching Orson Welles's reputation as a filmmaker too bold and inventive for his own good.

"Kane" has gathered momentum ever since, however, becoming a staple of revival theaters, classrooms, and on television, with its story of a newspaper tycoon who becomes an American legend at the expense of his own soul.

To mark its half-century celebration, I asked a dozen film experts for brief comments on the film. The results were predictably unpredictable.

Fred Camper, writer and lecturer on film and art, Chicago:

"Citizen Kane" is a superb film. It is also the worst film of a great cineaste, as Welles himself wrote of Eisenstein's "Ivan the Terrible." "Kane's" technique, while brilliant, and beautifully expressive of its theme of individual grandiosity, is far less profound, far less unified, than the style of later works, such as "Touch of Evil." "Kane" is very much a young man's film, a film of stunning moments, which coheres more thematically than visually. In later Welles, every area of the screen, each part of each image, vibrates with an intense physicality that speaks, almost musically, to every other part of every other image. "Citizen Kane" is a personality; a later Welles film is a universe.

Ray Carney, professor of film and American studies, Boston University:

Melodramatic mumbo-jumbo. Exuberant, gorgeous nonsense. Fun? Of course. A profound work of art? Hardly. It takes more than bombastic rhetoric, gaudy visuals, and scenery-chewing performances to make a masterpiece.

"Kane" is an all-American triumph of style over substance. Welles is Kane - in a sense he couldn't have intended - substituting razzle-dazzle for truth and hoping no one notices the sleight of hand. The movie is indistinguishable from the opera production within it: attempting to conceal the banality of its performances by wrapping them in a thousand layers of acoustic and visual processing.

Critics obviously enjoy being told what to think or they'd never sit still for the hammy acting, cartoon characterizations, tendentious photography, editorializing blockings, and absurdly grandiose (and annoyingly insistent) metaphors. My personal nominee (along with "Psycho" and "2001") for "one of the 10 most overrated films of all time." When will film studies grow up? Even Jedediah Leland (opera reviewer in the film) knew better than to be taken in by "Salaambo's" empty reverberations.

Annette Insdorf, film professor and department co-chair, Columbia University:

"Citizen Kane" remains one of the richest audiovisual experiences in the history of the cinema. The expressive sound track - including music by master Bernard Herrmann - led Francois Truffaut to call it "a radiophonic film," while the cinematography by Gregg Toland was literally groundbreaking: In order to shoot an extreme low-angle shot of Welles and Joseph Cotten, they had to make a hole in the floor! His dramatic black-and-white lighting and deep-focus photography revitalized American film narrative, telling the story not only via plot and dialogue, but composition, camera angle, and a heady mix of visual styles.

Its influence - especially of narrative structure rooted in flashbacks - has been pervasive. As Truffaut's "Day for Night" beautifully demonstrates in a dream sequence - where a boy steals pictures of Welles's film from the front of a movie house at night, with organ music rising on the sound track as he runs away - "Citizen Kane" is a film to worship.

Wendy Keys, executive producer/programming, Film Society of Lincoln Center, New York:

My most recent experience with "Citizen Kane" - which is one of those rare films that you don't watch but experience again and again - was when I presented a dissection of the film by (critic) Andrew Sarris for a group of New York City schoolteachers who gather each summer at Lincoln Center.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Orson Welles and `Rosebud' Ride Again Film Experts Argue over the Importance of `Citizen Kane'. FILM REVIVAL


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?