An excellent movie directed by Orson Wells (Of "War of the Worlds" fame), and written by Herman J. Mankiewicz. Of interest:
  • The character Charles Foster Kane was based largely on William Randolph Hearst, a powerful man at the time.
  • Orson Wells insisted on having the word "Rosebud" in the movie, as he considered it the most important niche in showing off Hearst's life-style.
  • "Rosebud" was Hearst's nickname for pussy (Not as in cat, and I'm NOT kidding here), however that would NOT look good in a movie of that date, so "Rosebud" was changed to a sled.
  • William Randolph Hearst's last words were NOT "Rosebud".
  • During post production Welles had his life (not to mention the film) in danger of death many a time.
  • Due to the control Hearst held over the press industry, at certain locations the film was displayed outside in a tent.
  • Shortly after the relase of Citizen Kane, William Randolph Hearst went bankrupt to the tune of 18 million (Thats US funds too).
  • Citizen Kane was Orson Welles first film (prior to that he had only done radio).
  • The last film the RKO Studio produced was Citizen Kane.

Rosebud...

The motion picture masterpiece Citizen Kane, released in 1941, is widely considered to be the greatest film ever made. It excels in every aspect that a film can excel: remarkable and memorable scenes, a delicate balance of humor and drama, a careful blend of cinematic and narrative techniques, and a countless number experimental innovations. The film deserves its slot at the top of the AFI's list of the 100 greatest films of all time.

The film's director, star, and producer were all the same person - Orson Welles. At age twenty five he also aided in the authoring of the script and with the cinematography. The film received unanimous critical praise at the time of its release, continuing to grow as the years went past and Kane's influence on films of every later era became evident.

Interestingly enough, Citizen Kane was far from a commercial success for a number of reasons. The first and most vital has to be the ongoing Depression and the start of World War II, which hurt the film industry as a whole, especially those films that weren't images of a better time, like Gone With The Wind. Another problem was the fact that the film was not distributed at all by RKO Pictures, the film company that produced Citizen Kane. It simply didn't have the finances to operate, and Kane was to be the last film made by the company.

The big reason for the failure of Kane at the time was the ongoing effort by newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst, who saw the film as being a negative depiction of his life and career. He threw a great deal of money and effort into legal efforts to block the film; when that didn't work, he literally spent his way into bankruptcy by paying theatres not to show the film. Many did - in tents outside the theatre house.

The film itself is the tale of the controversial life of a publishing tycoon, Charles Foster Kane, who used some underhanded business tactics to gain control of the publishing world, attempted to use his influence over the media to get himself elected to higher office, and eventually sunk into despair at his retreat house, Xanadu (named such after the famous Samuel Coleridge poem).

The acting in the film is wonderful. Welles drew from his Mercury Players, an acting troupe he had helped organize and put on the theatrical map in the late 1930s, and they all put on a show in what was the film debut for many of them. Many of these, most notably Joseph Cotton and Agnes Moorehead, went on to solid film careers in their own right.

More importantly, Citizen Kane is a widely acknowledged milestone in cinematic technique. It uses film as an art form to communicate and display a non-static view of life, which was really done for the first time here. The film made clever use of lighting, shadow, deep-focus shots zooming out from extreme foreground to extreme background, low-angled shots revealing ceilings, sparse use of revealing close-ups (which in virtually all other films of the age was a major staple), overlapping dialogue, a cast of characters that ages throughout the film, frequent use of transitionary dissolves, and long, uninterrupted sequence shots. For the most part, none of these techniques had appeared on film before; today, virtually every film made today owes something to the creative masterpiece that is Citizen Kane.

Citizen Kane garnered nine Oscar nominations, but only one win for Best Original Screenplay. The other eight nominations included Best Picture, Best Actor and Best Director (both for Orson Welles), Best Black & White Cinematography, Best Black & White Interior Decoration, Best Sound Recording, Best Dramatic Picture Score, and Best Film Editing. Orson Welles became the first individual to receive simultaneous nominations for Best Actor, Best Director, Best Screenplay, and Best Cinematography.

The film was recently remastered and released on September 25, 2001 as a two-disc DVD set from Warner Bros.. Included is the remastered film (on a side note, it looks gorgeous!) with two full-length optional commentaries, one from film critic Roger Ebert and the other from Welles' biographer Peter Bogdanovich; the movie premiere newsreel; storyboards; rare photos; call sheets; alternate ad campaigns; and lots of other stuff. But the real gem (besides the gorgeous film, of course) is a two hour long documentary The Battle Over Citizen Kane, outlining the troubles of RKO Pictures and the efforts William Randolph Hearst went to to stop the film from being distributed. The documentary itself won the 1995 Oscar for Best Documentary, so it's of a much higher quality than many documentaries one finds on many other DVD releases.

Citizen Kane is a wonderfully dramatic and humorous film. It broke all sorts of cinematic ground and is an absolute gem to watch even today.

The Battle Over Citizen Kane

Besides being named (rightfully) as the greatest movie of all time, Citizen Kane produced one of the most vicious controversies ever to strike Hollywood. The battle was between two titans, both at the zenith of their respective, and loosely related, industries: William Randolph Hearst, newspaper magnate, and Orson Welles, radio and movie genius. It is not known whether Welles made the movie out of hatred or adoration for Hearst, or whether the movie is even a portrayal of Hearst at all. Although Welles later denied any resemblance between Hearst and his character "Kane," all signs point to the opposite. Regardless, the ensuing storm over Citizen Kane would be felt throughout the country and eventually lead to the fall of the two giants.

Orson Welles had created a name for himself before he even stepped through the door in Hollywood. After directing some of the most important plays of the 20th century and becoming a nationally-known figure with his War of the Worlds broadcast, he was offered a virtually limitless budget and a contract for two films from RKO pictures. After months of unrest due to his lack of ideas for a movie, he came up with Citizen Kane. Before this, Herman J. Mankiewicz, a Hollywood writer and a friend of Welles', would propose a movie about the life of Hearst, or so he claims. The accuracy behind this claim is questionable; the world may never know if Welles truly intended the movie to be about Hearst.

Mankiewicz, a known drunkard, did leak the script, though, to a friend of Hearst's while under the influence. Hearst learned of Welles' intentions before the final draft of the script was even finished. Hearst, no stranger to coercion through threats, promptly had a few of his men send death threats to Welles' house. If anything, this opposition only fueled the proud young man's creativity. Long before the movie was released, reviews from an advance screening spread like wildfire throughout the media. Hedda Hopper, a columnist for Hearst's paper, wrote the only negative review on Citizen Kane, calling it a "vicious and irresponsible attack on a great man."

Real life soon turned into a Kane-esque movie. Hearst began a whirlwind of a campaign against Welles. Hundreds of Hollywood players, led by Hearst and Louis B. Mayer, attempted to buy Citizen Kane with the sole intention of burning the negative. After being chased by hired goons after walking home at night from working on the movie, Welles hired bodyguards to watch him twenty-four hours a day. Each of Hearst's newspapers carried a virulent story about Welles almost every day, going so far as to calling him a homosexual, murderer, traitor, communist, and thief. The stories of communism were enough to cause an FBI investigation into Welles' life. The controversy surrounding the movie and Welles himself became more and more like the life of Citizen Kane.

After realizing that he could not fight Welles directly, Hearst began to fight back in other ways. After an unsuccessful lawsuit, he declared that any movie theater that played Citizen Kane would be denied space for advertisements in Hearst's papers. He also began to pay movie theaters millions of dollars not to show Citizen Kane. When RKO confronted Welles about this problem, he replied, "Show it in tents outside the theaters. It will make millions: 'the film they don't want you to see.'" Although some theaters accepted the bribe and proceeded to play the movie in deserted alleys, Citizen Kane had much smaller screenings than it deserved.

The cap came during the Academy Awards, where Hearst reportedly paid off hundreds of people in order to minimize the amount of awards Citizen Kane would receive. It worked; out of a total of nine nominations, Welles won only Best Original Screenplay, which he shared with Mankiewicz. The only reason Citizen Kane won even one award was because of Mankiewicz's friendship with Hearst. Best Original Screenplay was, in fact, the award it was least likely to win if it were not for Hearst's meddling. When Welles took the podium to accept his award, he was booed.

Hearst's efforts pushed Welles far back in his movie career. Citizen Kane would be the last movie RKO would produce, and Welles would dive out of the public eye for some time. Hearst, however, was dealt a larger blow. By the end of the fiasco, Hearst was in debt close to 18 million dollars, due in equal parts to his extravagant lifestyle and the recklessness with which he pursued Welles.

Why did Hearst care so much about the movie? During his lifetime, many people had taken jabs at the yellow journalist. Perhaps it was the challenge; the aging Hearst wanted to prove himself over the new kid on the block. Maybe in his old age Hearst had just gone a little crazy. The most likely explanation is that Hearst was defending his wife, Marion Davies. Citizen Kane portrayed all of Kane's wives in a disapproving manner. Hearst was known for his strong devotion to his wife and he was certainly not one to sit back and take dishonor. Still, his battle with Welles cost him his money and, years later, his life.

In 1975, Welles talked about his experience with and opinion of Hearst. Whether he is being honest or not is debatable. Since I find the interview to be particularly interesting, I've included what Welles had to say about his famous rivalry.


Sources:
The Battle Over Citizen Kane DVD
http://www.cobbles.com/simpp_archive/orson-welles_hearst.htm

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