Kane - sunday 2007-05-27 2315 last modified 2007-06-06 1718
Categories: Film
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I finally watched Citizen Kane, frequently rated the best film ever made. That's certainly an over-generalization; perhaps it has the most consensus amongst film professionals over the years as the best film ever made. Even that seems a stretch these days. A modern audience must be told why Kane is groundbreaking, from Welles' ingenious methods for showing ceilings on a sound stage (while making 30's construction methods look like they were designed around Oompa-Loompas) to his background in radio drama showing through to the infinite focal depth pioneered by his crew to the use of the flash forward to represent but not be bound by the actual passage of time. To a modern audience, what's left is how well it does those things, the plot, and the acting. Some of these effects work, some don't (I found the low ceilings jarring). The plot as allusion makes no real sense to us as it would to people in Hearst's era, recognizing the satire Welles' lays on his decade's contemporary newspaper baron. The acting is very good, presumably, but because most of us have never seen these people act in any other film, we don't know how well they're actually doing. This leaves the naked story the film tries to tell. Like The Godfather, I may simply need to revisit Kane in another couple of years to see if there's more to be gained in another round. I didn't find much I enjoyed this first time.

To be appreciated on many of its levels, Kane needs to be watched with a cultural guide. That's not a criticism or a weakness; many of our old stories require external context, and sometimes seeing the connection to wider culture is just as enjoyable as the film experience.

I don't know which metric of best to use here, but I suspect in time I'll forget Citizen Kane, which is not a good sign. The overall theme about the slow destruction of a man is not one I look forward to revisiting. The film has big points for pioneering and quality, but the personal impact, a bit disappointingly, is low.

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