Citizen Kane Cinematography, Genre & Narrative Structure

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Citizen Kane Cinematography, Genre & Narrative Structure

Citizen Kane Cinematography, Genre & Narrative Structure


In a 1962 international poll among film critics and historians executed by the British film magazine Sight and Sound to formulate a consensus over which motion pictures are universally deemed the ten best films of all time, Orson Welles' Citizen Kane clearly topped the list, earning the distinction of the best film of all time, if one were to read such listings literally. The same survey is commissioned once every subsequent decade, with Kane topping the list each time, and the film has retained this crown in most other canonical formulations to the present day. Such an honor, however, means less and less when an increasing historical distance (and a growing audience of film fans who have never seen anything older than Star Wars) tends to at the least gloss over critical dialogue surrounding the film, or at most elevate the work to the status of a sacred cow that is beyond criticism.


Many reviewers at the film's premiere and critics in subsequent decades bestowed substantial praise on Welles' satire on the life of newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst, beatifying the film with charges of visual brilliance and seamless narration, as well as apotheosizing Welles, its co-writer, director, and star. John O'Hara, reporting on the film's opening for Newsweek, insisted that it lacks nothing...your faithful bystander reports that he has just seen... the best picture he ever saw...(with) the best actor in the history of acting. French writer Jacque Bourgeois was equally benumbed, charging that Citizen Kane constitutes...a revolution such as dramatic art has scarcely undergone since Aeschylus (Kobal, John, 1988).

Contemporary critics often aggrandize the film to mythical proportions, which often serves to stifle subsequent scholarship on Kane. Peter Travers, however, commemorating Kane's fiftieth anniversary in a recent issue of Rolling Stone, lamented that the years have given Kane a musty academic taint that Orson Welles never wanted for his rigorously hip satire of a newspaper tycoon's rise and fall. For new audiences reluctant to embrace the aging classics (fearing an experience comparable to the books their high school English teachers forced them to read), it must be understood that best does not automatically mean flawless, and we would do well to revisit the actual critiques upon which Citizen Kane's initial reputation was built (Travers, Peter, 1991).

Citizen Kane premiered on the first of May, 1941, at the Palace Theater in New York City. All reviewers were unified in praising the film's technical innovations. Cedric Belfrage of the Clipper called Welles' direction and photographer Gregg Toland's camerawork a revolution, and a major one, in Hollywood's approach to cinema. Tangye Lean of Horizon argued that [t]echnically it is perhaps a decade ahead of its contemporaries; Bosley Crowther of the New York Times agreed, writing that compared with the average, it is vastly superior ... Everything about it, from a technical point of view, is surpassingly ...
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