Tag Archives: Herman Mankiewicz

FILM REVIEW: Citizen Kane (Welles, 1941): USA

Viewed by Larry Gleeson as part of the American Film Institute’s (AFI) AFIFEST 2016 presented by Audi. Citizen Kane, directed by Orson Welles, was first on AFI’s first 100 Greatest American Movies Movies of All Time in 1998. Ten years later, a 10th Anniversary Edition of AFI’s 100 Greatest American Movies found Citizen Kane still perched in the top spot.

Loosely based on newspaper tycoon, William Randolph Hearst, Citizen Kane was the first feature film by Welles. Hearst forbad any mention of the film in his newspapers upon the film’s release.

After signing his contract, Welles had been green-lighted for his film with a directorial final cut by RKO Pictures after his string of successes on Broadway with his Mercury Theater, including the thrilling radio broadcast of ‘The War Of The Worlds.’ Welles also brought several of his Mercury Theater actors on board for the project, several of whom would go on to have substantial Hollywood film careers including Joseph Cotton, Agnes Moorehead, Everett Sloane and Ruth Warrick.

Welles shared writing credits for Citizen Kane with Herman Mankiewicz and the two won the Academy Award for Best Screenplay in 1942. The film received a total of nine Oscar nominations in 1942 including Best Picture, Best Director (Welles), Best Actor in a Leading Role (Welles), Best Cinematography (Gregg Toland), Best Sound, Recording (John Aalberg), Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic Picture (Bernard Herrmann), Best Film Editing (Robert Wise), and Best Art Direction-Interior Decoration, Black-and-White (Perry Ferguson, Van Ness Polglase, A. Roland Fields, Darrell Silvera).

The film opens in what appears to be a surreal reflection with a Bengali Tiger and ominous non-diagetic music with snow falling inside a crystal with an utterance of “Rosebud.” A strong, deep-toned, narrative voice-over begins informing the viewer with wartime newsreel clips from “News on The March,” mentioning among others Khubla Khan. After a series of quick edits, a low-angle shot of a large, stone-built castle the narrator refers to as “Xanadu, a pleasure dome,” is held for a moment.

Without missing much of a beat the narration continues with quick frames of paintings, pictures and statues that have been “looted” from the finest European museums. Not stopping, the narration intensifies as the narrator projects powerfully about animals of the land, foul of the air – two of each – in creation of the world’s largest private zoo since Noah and the largest monument a man has built to himself since the pyramids using 100,000 tons of concrete and 200,00 tons of marble in its construction culminating in a crescendo as the narrator introduces by name only the film’s protagonist, Charles Foster Kane, the great yellow journalist and heir of the Colorado Lode. News stories and the biography of the his life and death are flashed on screen as the story begins with a smoke-filled room of newsmen trying to determine the significance of the last word the newspaper tycoon uttered, ‘rosebud.’

Told primarily through flashbacks as the mystery of rosebud is explored, Citizen Kane contains a highly structured narrative coupled with revolutionary deep focus cinematography, mostly unseen before in mainstream cinema. Cinematographer Gregg Toland provided the deep focus effect with his specially treated lenses and light-sensitive film stock. The deep focus cinematography allowed the entire scene being shot to have primary focus and thus allowing the subjects to have equal importance visually. In addition, Welles and Toland removed floorboards in another groundbreaking scene to create ultra low-angle shots of the newspaper men following Kane’s unsuccessful pursuit of the American Presidency. The effect visually is stunning as rather ordinary, though influential, men are now seen as overly large, powerful titans squaring off.

In its essence, Citizen Kane, is the tragic tale of a man who has high ideals to be the people’s voice, the voice of the common everyday man. Slowly, however, the benevolence of the man becomes consumed with a passionate pursuit for power.

Tellingly, Citizen Kane’s message is still pertinent today. After Kane is defeated at the ballot box by the ‘sleaze factor’ (a decidedly distasteful tactic that can skewer even the most accurate polling data) he uses his newspapers to declare “Fraud at the Polls” in large-type newsprint headlines. Historians often cite Welles’ depiction of Susan Alexander Kane (a character purportedly representative of Hurst’s long-time, close intimate, Marion Davies) as the basis for Hurst strong negative reaction to Citizen Kane. More recently, several news outlets cite President Obama’s infamous roasting of President-elect Donald Trump at a 2011 White House Correspondents’ Dinner as the catalyst for Trump’s headlong dive into the 2016 race for the White House. Interestingly, even before Election Day, Trump declared fraud on the election. Interesting indeed. Citizen Kane is a must-see film for any serious cinephile and is highly recommended for all filmgoers.

15 Facts About Orson Welles’ CITIZEN KANE: America’s Greatest Film Turns 75

Three quarters of a century after its release in 1941, Orson Welles’ towering achievement CITIZEN KANE is still a triumph of style, an endlessly fascinating mystery, a masterpiece to be marveled at for all time. It continually places atop lists of the greatest films of all time, including AFI’s 100 Years… 100 Movies lists, both in 1998 and in 2007.Welles said, in an undated statement now included in the AFI Catalog entry on CITIZEN KANE, “I wished to make a motion picture which was not a narrative of action so much as an examination of character…There have been many motion pictures and novels rigorously obeying the formula of the ‘success story,’” he continued. “I wished to do something quite different. I wished to make a picture which might be called a ‘failure story.’”While that can certainly be said of the title character — whose rise and fall pivot around that infamous last dying word “rosebud” — the story of CITIZEN KANE is anything but.

In celebration of CITIZEN KANE’s 75th birthday (it was released in theaters on September 5, 1941), here are 15 facts about the groundbreaking film that can perhaps only begin to explain its historic, enduring impact.

1. The initial working draft screenplay of CITIZEN KANE, dated April 16, 1940, was titled “American.”

2. Orson Welles was just 25 years old when he directed, co-wrote, starred in and produced the film, his very first feature.

3. CITIZEN KANE was the feature film debut of Ray Collins, Joseph Cotten, Agnes Moorehead and Everett Sloane — all of whom had worked with Welles on his theater productions or radio broadcasts as members of his Mercury Theatre. It was also the screen debut of Welles himself.

4. Co-screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz dictated a majority of the CITIZEN KANE script while bedridden and being cared for by his nurse after shattering his leg in a car crash.

5.  Newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst is the primary inspiration for CITIZEN KANE’s protagonist, Charles Foster Kane. Mankiewicz created Kane’s dialogue using — almost verbatim —lines from Hearst’s own writings and speeches.

6. Hearst was so angered by the film — and in order to keep it from being released — he accused Orson Welles of being a Communist, an accusation that, at the time, had the potential to destroy Hollywood reputations and garner government investigations.

7. The design of Kane’s estate, Xanadu, was inspired by Hearst Castle, Hearst’s extravagant mansion in San Simeon, California. In 2015 – 74 years after its release – CITIZEN KANE screened at Heart Castle for the very first time. Tickets for this benefit screening, which consisted of 60 attendees, cost $1,000 each.

8. CITIZEN KANE was nominated for nine Academy Awards®, but won only one: Best Screenplay. Co-writers Welles and Mankiewicz shared the award.

9. Welles viewed John Ford’s film STAGECOACH about 40 times over the course of one month while making the film, modeling shots from the director’s techniques. Nominated for CITIZEN KANE, Welles would end up losing out on the Best Picture Oscar® to Ford’s HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY held in 1942.

10. While filming a scene in which his character violently trashes a room, Welles was so immersed in his character that he cut both of his hands, causing them to bleed. Commenting on his dramatic commitment afterward, he said, “I really felt it.”

11. Welles, along with cinematographer Gregg Toland, popularized and perfected the technique of “deep focus,” keeping every object in the foreground, center and background in simultaneous focus. One example of this is during the scene inside Mrs. Kane’s house, where young Kane can clearly be scene throwing snowballs at the house in the distance while the audience is privy to the mother’s conversation inside.

12. On the ninth take of the sled-burning scene, the furnace had grown so hot, the flue caught fire, which caused the Culver City Fire Department to respond to the location. Welles was noted to be delighted with the commotion.

13. While filming a dramatic sequence in which Kane chases his rival down a flight of stairs, Welles tripped and fell about 10 feet, suffering a chipped ankle. The injury forced him to direct from a wheelchair for two weeks.

14. The opening scene, in which a dying Kane whispers the pivotal line of “Rosebud,” was shot in one take. It was the final scene shot during production. “Rosebud” ranks at #17 on AFI’s 100 top film quotes of all time.

15. In 1975, 34 years after the release of CITIZEN KANE, Welles was honored with the 3rd AFI Life Achievement Award. He was the first actor/director to receive the award. Watch his full acceptance speech below.