As a lover of film, finally getting around to this classic has been long overdue, due to topping the list of the American Film Institute’s 100 greatest movies, of which I have seen 33 at the time of writing. But despite that list having some questionable choices (M*A*S*H, anyone?), I was still eager to see what the supposedly best film ever made had to offer. Did it deliver and is it worthy of it’s title?
Citizen Kane follows a reporter interviewing numerous people associated with newspaper founder Charles Foster Kane trying to figure out what the meaning of his final words, “Rosebud”, is. As he does so, we learn more about Kane’s rise and fall through the industry, before learning the grand truth behind his last words.
I realize that description of the plot might make it seem like the reporter has a bigger role than he actually does. Most of the film is told in flashbacks, and in massive chunks too, so admittedly it can be quite jarring when you do return to the present day. That can also be taken as a compliment on the movie’s part, as I found myself wrapped up in Charles’ character study and how he was thought of by the people he knew, with plenty of build up made towards the simple final reveal, making for a poignant conclusion.
But a great story doesn’t entirely make a film, as one of the things that makes the art form so great is how the visuals, music, editing and the screenplay come together. In Citizen Kane’s case, it’s much like Lawrence of Arabia and 2001: A Space Odyssey where it feels ahead of it’s time. It boasts impressive film-making that actually utilizes the fact it’s a movie (most other films of that era can feel like filmed plays) and it mostly doesn’t show it’s age, with most of the small issues I have with the movie having nothing to do with it being dated.
I personally wouldn’t rank it as the best film of all time, because that checklist of the visuals, music, editing and screenplay isn’t always done perfectly (the score by the iconic Bernard Herrman doesn’t add much to the film), and things like that random parrot screeching for no reason other than to make sure that the audience is still watching the film now comes off as random and distracting.
Despite that, it’s impact on cinema isn’t to be ignored, and I’m perfectly content with it begin considered the best movie of all time. This is likely to be on the bucket list for many film fans, and for me, there was plenty to appreciate and enjoy, meaning that I found it to be overall great.