music friday: george shearing, “move”
stuff i said

#7: citizen kane (orson welles, 1941)

(This is the 44th of 50 pieces that originally appeared in a Facebook group devoted to three of us choosing our 50 favorite movies. I’ll present them un-edited except for typos or egregious errors. I’ll also add a post-script to each.)

Just by making Citizen Kane #7 instead of #1, I’m making a statement that to some is untenable. For Citizen Kane must live with the burden of being “The Greatest Movie Ever Made.” Happily, the film can bear that burden.

Many of us wish the same could be said of Orson Welles. Welles was 25 when he made Citizen Kane, and while he had a lot of great work ahead of him (I had one of his films at #23, and his acting is also very much present in my list), it’s pretty hard to top The Greatest Movie Ever Made. In 1941, though, it seemed as if there was nothing Welles couldn’t do.

Citizen Kane is a group effort. The “authorship” of the movie has been a matter of heated debate for decades (it seems most accurate to say that Welles and screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz are co-authors, but that Welles-as-director had a much larger hand in the film that resulted from the script). Gregg Toland might even be more important than Mankiewicz. Toland, the film’s cinematographer, was such an integral part of Citizen Kane that his name appears at the same time as Welles’ in the credits. The look of the film is endlessly fascinating. It looks intriguing even as stills on a page, but to fully appreciate what Toland pulls off, you must see it “in action.”

I had a friend … at the time he seemed old to me because I was only 20 or so, but he was basically around the same age I am now. He once told me that his hope for old age was that he could be like Joseph Cotten in Citizen Kane. I particularly love the shtick of repeatedly asking for a cee-gar.

Perhaps my favorite moment in Citizen Kane comes when old Bernstein tells about the lady he saw many decades earlier. He caught sight of her once for a brief moment, she never saw him, and that was that. But, he says, a month hasn’t gone by in all the years since without him thinking of that lady. I think we all have such a lady in our memories, and I love the way Everett Sloane puts it across.

Welles said about Kane that he felt like he’d been given the best toy train a boy could ever want. Citizen Kane is great because of the talents of the assembled cast and crew. The miracle is that it was made at all. Welles was given complete control of the film. He got to choose the actors and crew, he got to develop the story as he saw fit, he got final cut … he got everything. He was 25 years old and he had never directed a movie. That’s a miracle.


This post got as many comments as any in my entire list of 50 films. Good ones, too … one person said it reminded him of a Lucinda Williams song, another added his voice to the praise for Everett Sloane.


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