Citizen Kane  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Citizen Kane is a 1941 mystery/drama film. Released by RKO Pictures, it was the first feature film directed by Orson Welles. The story traces the life and career of Charles Foster Kane, a man whose career in the publishing world is born of idealistic social service, but gradually evolves into a ruthless pursuit of power. Narrated principally through flashbacks, the story is revealed through the research of a newspaper reporter seeking to solve the mystery of the newspaper magnate's dying word, "rosebud."

Film canonical value

Citizen Kane is often cited as being one of the most innovative works in the history of film.

On Citizen Kane's film canonical value, Sight & Sound editor Nick James commented in 2002 that Kane is now 'established as cinema's Shakespeare', indicating a weariness of older films. Jason Solomons remarks that older films are compared to the literary canon, a list of books you have to have read to be able to discuss film knowledgeably. In a further soundbite Solmons compares La Règle du jeu is compared to Flaubert, Vertigo to D. H. Lawrence Murnau's Sunrise to Beowulf.

Criticism

Despite its status, Citizen Kane is not entirely without its critics. Boston University film scholar Ray Carney, although noting its technical achievements, criticized what he saw as the film's lack of emotional depth, shallow characterization and empty metaphors. Listing it among the most overrated works within the film community, he accused the film of being, "an all-American triumph of style over substance... indistinguishable from the opera production within it: attempting to conceal the banality of its performances by wrapping them in a thousand layers of acoustic and visual processing." Of its director, he went on to state, "Welles is Kane – in a sense he couldn't have intended – substituting razzle-dazzle for truth and hoping no one notices the sleight of hand." He also criticized critics and scholars of allowing themselves to be pandered to, stating "critics obviously enjoy being told what to think or they'd never sit still for the hammy acting, cartoon characterizations, tendentious photography, editorializing blockings, and absurdly grandiose (and annoyingly insistent) metaphors... When will film studies grow up? Even Jedediah Leland, the opera reviewer in the film, knew better than to be taken in by Salammbo's empty reverberations." [1]

Similarly James Agate wrote, "I thought the photography quite good, but nothing to write to Moscow about, the acting middling, and the whole thing a little dull... Mr. Welles's high-brow direction is of that super-clever order which prevents you from seeing what that which is being directed is all about."[2]

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