This is an analysis of the American Film Institute’s greatest American film of all time - Citizen Kane. The goal of this dissertation is to understand the facts, the controversies and how this film has become one of the best and highly rated films. This paper will concentrate on the history behind the two figures commonly linked to the film as well as have explore Charles Foster Kane’s life from the perspective of those around him. I will also take a look at two poignant scenes from the film that made a huge effect in Kane's life, namely, the "breakfast table" and "the picnic".
Citizen Kane is undoubtedly one of the world’s most popular films, creating a huge hype even before its release in 1941 (The Battle Over Citizen Kane, 1996). The film has twice topped the American Film Institute’s best American films list in 1998 and 2007. Orson Welles, the director, first came to prominence through his Mercury Theatre’s broadcast production of the radio drama War of the Worlds, intended as a Halloween prank. The drama caused near pandemonium as listeners believed Martians had really invaded New Jersey (Vivian; pg383). Orson Welles, apart from directing, also wrote the film, produced and starred in it.
The film was inspired by the William Hearst, a newspaper tycoon, a fact that critics attribute to the film’s commercial failure as he is thought to have had influences on the bad publicity served to the film and its studio RKO.
Nearly everyone who previewed the film realised that Citizen Kane was a work of brilliance and Hearst had influenced the failure of the film, with many of his newspapers and other media outlets side-stepping the film. Hearst is reported to have attempted to buy the film rights so that he could burn the negatives, as he claimed it was malicious and defamatory towards him. However, the film did indeed draw some similarities between Hearst and the film's character Charles Foster Kane, which I will look into in detail later.
The film’s popularity is not mainly its controversies but its style and complexity that have influenced many films that followed in later years. The editor, Robert Wise, did a splendid job in keeping a flawless, homogenous structure for the film. It took nearly two decades for Welles’ masterpiece to be recognized and gain the cult status it enjoys (The American Experience, p4). The film also boasts of eight Oscar nominations, winning one (Best Original Screenplay).
2.1. The Marriage of Personalities- Hearst vs. Kane
Citizen Kane is widely accepted as a fictitious portrayal of Hearst’s life, concentrating mainly on the last word he muttered before he died- ‘Rosebud’. Born on April 29, 1863 in San Francisco, California, Hearst was the only child of self-made millionaire George Hearst and Phoebe Apperson Hearst. Aged 23, Hearst became the owner of the San Francisco Examiner, while still student at Harvard. It is reported that the paper was given to Hearst Snr, as a debt from a gambler who owned him money (Wierichs, 2002; pg3). According to Wierichs, the George Hearst was a US Senator and was not very much interested in a newspaper; hence he gave its control to William in 1887.
Young William, like Welles’ young Charles Kane, was dexterous and vowed to oversee the popularity of his new publication. To achieve his goal, young Hearst acquired the best, both in technology and creative talent. (Wierichs, 2002; pg3). Hearst’s newspaper began to unravel cases of corruption and scandals drawing similarities in the stories carried in the film character’s newspapers. The Examiner was converted to a mixture of investigative reporting and dramatic sensationalism, showing some traits Hearst inherited from his former mentor, journalist Joseph Pulitzer.
In 1895, Hearst added the New York Journal to his portfolio, starting a circulation battle with New York World, the newspaper Pulitzer wrote for. (Vivian;...