When a movie is considered the greatest film of all-time, a person sees the film with an almost impossible level of expectations. This was my experience with Orson Welles’s 1941 masterpiece Citizen Kane. While I recognize the high quality of the film, there is no possible way it could live up to the hype. With as much praise as Citizen Kane has received, it is bound to inspire parodies, imitation, and influence. While completely revolutionary at the time, many of the practices that Welles conveys have become standards.
Citizen Kane has been so embedded in film and in pop culture history that I felt like I have seen the movie before even watching it. Rosebud being the childhood sled of Charles Foster Kane is a staple of pop culture trivia and thus giving away the ending. Citizen Kane has been parodied in several different forms including the Simpsons episode ‘Rosebud,’ where Mr. Burns fills in Kane. The episode draws directly on several scenes from the movie including the snow globe beginning, Kane’s adoption, and the use of the “He is a Man” song.
Citizen Kane is the story of the corruption of a soul that is driven into isolation from the world. A man, who is so filled with optimism and idealism, he feels he can morph the world to match his views. A man who created a media empire with the purpose of having people like and respect him. If we look at the plot of the movie from this stand point, we can see a great deal of similarities between Citizen Kane and last year’s Social Network. Social Network, which also uses a non-linear narrative to convey the failed friendship between Mark Zuckerburg and Eduardo mirrors the relationship between Kane and Leland. Also, both main characters in the respective movies create to receive admiration. Kane wants the world to love him, while Zuckerburg wants to fit in.
A major influence of the film would be in the cinematography. The film uses numerous high and low angles. Kane’s power is illustrated throughout the film using low angles. Weaker characters like his second wife Susan are portrayed with high angles. To a viewer in the 1940’s this must have been completely bizarre to half a film incorporate so many camera angles into a film. Today it is still uncommon to have as many angles but it viewed as less experimental in a modern movie. Also, the camera uses distance throughout the film. The isolation of Xanadu is shown through the long shots used in those scenes accompanied with an echo when characters are speaking. Again, this is something that due to Citizen Kane’s influence is probably used more in modern films.
It is easy to see Citizen Kane as an overrated film, but almost impossible to not recognize Welles unique vision. For me, the real thrill of watching Citizen Kane was not just in story, but in its influence to pop culture.