Thursday, June 09, 2005

The Citizen Kane of, Well, Movies

So--did Citizen Kane live up to the hype? Kind of. I mean, it was excellent. Told a very intriguing story about one man's life, and made that man, that character, just mysterious and complicated enough to warrant such a treatment. And the structure was wonderful, the way Orson Welles and Herman J. Mankiewicz basically laid out the entire story right at the beginning, so that we would more or less know the basic arc of the character and of the film's story, and then in a kind of spirally repeating structure filled in all of the details the rest of the way. And the way they still managed to instill a real sense of suspense, with the Rosebud device, even though they basically had given us the whole story already.

The acting was excellent all-around, if a bit tonally strange at times from a modern aesthetic. My favorite, much to my surprise, the actor who, to me, seemed to disappear the most into the character, was Everett Sloane, as Mr. Bernstein. That voice and the way he'd smile--without the plot or dialogue getting into it at all, you could sense, just from the way he spoke to Kane and looked at him, that Bernstein truly, in a platonic sense, loved the man. And Bernard Herrmann's score is a keeper, although I already knew that, it being a staple of my soundtrack collection.

What I still don't get though, I suppose, is what, exactly makes it the "greatest of all time" as it seems to be so universally thought to be. I can see how the technical innovations--the long takes, the deep focus, the artful use of perspective and shadow--were remarkably innovative, and how they laid the groundwork for so much of ensuing cinema. But I don't get, and never have gotten, this notion the the "first" of anything is, almost by definition, great. I mean, the first caveman to realize that by smearing blood on a wall he could create an representational image wasn't, by definition, the greatest painter ever, was he, simply because he "invented" painting? Doesn't it make more sense that later practitioners of a new art, or later artists who take up a new artistic development within an art form, will learn to use it, simply from practice and the lessons learned from those that came before them, better than the originators? I think so.

That aside, this is, of course, a great film, and I can finally recommend it to those who haven't seen it, as many others could have done and did do for me until very recently.

Until Whenever

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