I'll get to schooling. Kane was the first movie to utilize: non-linear narrative structure (viewer finds out in the first scene that Charles Foster Kane dies); Deep Focus cinematography - Greg Toland's revolutionary use of deep focus changed film-making forever: low angle shots - never done before and completely changed pov of the viewer's perspective; unidentified narrator - the voice is disembodied and we never know exactly who the narrator is; special effects - way too many to cite: the Rosebud ball breaking, the mirror scene of Kane, the camera craning up to the workers who give the final judgment on Susan Alexander's performance; editing - nonpareil and done by a young Robert Wise!; the stories - the three stories - Bernstein, Leland & Susan - are separate but have an clear nexus and though it is a non linear narrative, when you see all three stories, there is a real linearity within the non linearity (I have asked scores of film buffs if they can tell me the story of Kane from beginning to end - AS IT IS PRESENTED IN THE FILM - and no one can! I have seen Kane probably 15 times and I still can't do it): Use of shadow and chiaroscuro lighting - the interplay of light and shadow give Kane a mysterious feel and was probably the first Film Noir ever filmed. In all, Citizen Kane was modern film making sui generis and nothing has ever topped it. Last, Orson Welles was 25 years old when he made this movie! 25!!! A bravura unsurpassed accomplishment. I can watch Citizen Kane every week and still find new things within the film.
Lesson appreciated, Ken, though not yet totally absorbed. For all of its undoubted technical achievement, its technical originality, which you aptly describe, I felt the movie cold and remote, dare I say somewhat empty and/or trite, the characters distant, unsympathetic and overdrawn, some overacted and trite—the Joseph Cotton story line; Bernstein; the second wife--some of the symbolism and imagery overwrought and overbearing, some of the themes—the main one, as I understand it?—cornball in relation to the extravagant, grandiose effects. I don’t mean to be contrarian for its own sake and I’m happy to presume it’s me not the movie, that I’m just not getting it. So I have some very mixed feelings about this movie. I’ll think about it some more and see it again sometime.
But, once more, I appreciate the time you took to try to and school me.
Boys--Don't we know Charlie Kane as well as we know any other complex film character? Do we know him any less than we know Godfather 2’s Michael Corleone or Unforgiven's Clint Eastwood or zillions of others? What real mystery attends Kane? Isn’t the significance of Rosebud straight forward—the name on his sleigh, an objective correlative of his shattered youth in his being rejected in his being outsourced by his mother, which lies at persisting core of his travails, searching for a unrecoverable wholeness, which paradoxically leaves him ultimately empty and alone surrounded by all the grandeur money can buy as the relational consequences of the vast fortune into which his mother cast him? What am I missing, what is the complexity I’m not getting, in my obviously simple minded view of all this?
I have a few more thoughts. I think that with most movies, the presentation of character is authorial, that is the character is presented within the narrative structure and we as viewers, form our perception of the character, be it Don Corleone, Dorothy Gale or Rhett Butler. Now, the directorial touch, deftly applied guides us as we do this but we have the illusion of relying upon our own sense of discernment. With Kane, this never happens; we see Kane "from our own perspective" only at the very beginning as Kane dies, drops the glass ball and utters the most famous McGuffin in movie history "Rosebud". After that, we "see" Kane through the newsreel, and the recollections of Bernstein, Leland, Susan and the smarmy butler, all within a non linear structure and narrative. Each story presents a different side of Kane: Bernstein with the happy ascendent Kane, Leland with the compromised Kane, Susan with the sad bitter Kane, and smarmy butler with the hollowed out husk Kane. We as viewers, digest these recollections and images of the man but the element of viewer discernment is removed. Add that by doing this, Welles abjures the Odyssean or Hero's journey - a key element of heroic story and movie making - and you have subversive - or as Bone cleverly calls it "punk" - film making at its best. ON TOP OF THIS is all the visual and cinematographic innovations from the likes of Greg Toland, Robert Wise, and Herman Mankiewicz, along with the bravura and mind boggling four-fer of Welles writing, directing, producing and starring in this film and you have, in my opinion, Le Pinnacle de l'art et la créativité. Now, I only hope that someday, Itz, Bone, John and I can go see Kane together!
Me: Ken, interesting and thoughtful note.
A few comments, if I may. I’m not sure I buy your distinction between the author’s guiding is to perceive character as against our illusion of relying on our own sense of discernment, if I’m understanding you. Our sense of character emerges from the text be it film, play or literature. The text, all the techniques forming it, structures our sense of character, including the character’s own words, actions, and what others say about him and how they act towards him.
Often we have ambivalent or mixed responses corresponding to purposeful ambiguity in the presentation of character. Sometimes character gets away from the author and stands in organic disproportion to the text, taking on a life of his or her own, that life being sometimes discordant with the text. For me the most striking example of that is Shylock in the Merchant of Venice. A lesser example is Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet, (as Holden Caulfield once noted.)
On this basis, does Welles really remove “the illusion of our own perspective?” And is there a *real difference* in the distinction you draw between, in Kane, the illusion of a self originating perspective and the perceptions and perspectives that arise from the various techniques you have so well described?
I’m inclined to argue in the negative.
I’m inclined to assimilate the different ways of presenting Kane to the general notion of character emerging out of the totality of the text, be it, as I’ve referred to, but in Kane specifically, his own words and actions, what others say about him, how they act towards him, what they say to him, what they say each other who know him and to third party others who don’t, what is revealed in public, institutional accounts—like the news reel.
My point is that what you call the displacement of self discernment is really a fancy way of talking something ultimately conceptually less grand—our perceptions and sense and emotional and intellectual response arising from a variety of sources and not simply from a straight forward forwarding moving story, be it the hero’s journey or the anti hero’s descent or whatever the linear narrative structure might be.
So I’m with you in applauding Welles’s technical innovations, camera work, anti linear narrative techniques. Let us call them brilliant and revolutionary even. I’m still stuck with my sense of being underwhelmed by it, with not finding Kane mysterious, with seeing a gap between grandiose effect and prosaic theme, with not finding Rosebud mysterious and with the reading I gave of its meaning in my previous comment.
As to taking in the movie with the worthies you list and your own fine self, and then going at it over an after show drink and a few, why that'd be a pleasure and a treat and a consummation devoutly to be wished