Marion Davies and Kane

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There's no doubt that Citizen Kane is a great movie. It is a pioneering film that forever changed film making. Its plot is one of the most creative and original in all of movie history. The cinematography is stunning. Citizen Kane is about those images that we all reflect and project, the sum total of which -the impressions we make on other people- are all we that leave behind us. That central, unsolveable riddle of personality is at the core of what makes Citizen Kane so endlessly watchable.

The classic masterpiece, Citizen Kane (1941), is probably the world's most famous and highly rated film, with its many remarkable scenes, cinematic and narrative techniques and innovations. The director, star, and producer were all the same individual - Orson Welles (in his film debut at age 25), who collaborated with Herman J. Mankiewicz on the script and with Gregg Toland as cinematographer. Within the maze of its own aesthetic, Citizen Kane develops two interesting themes. The first concerns the debasement of the private personality of the public figure, and the second deals with the crushing weight of materialism. Taken together, these two themes comprise the bitter irony of an American success story that ends in futile nostalgia, loneliness, and death. The fact that the personal theme is developed verbally through the characters while the materialistic theme is developed visually, creating a distinctive stylistic counterpoint. It is against the counterpoint that the themes unfold within the structure of a mystery story. Its theme is told from several perspectives by several different characters and is thought provoking. The tragic story is how a millionaire newspaperman, who idealistically made his reputation as the champion of the underprivileged, becomes corrupted by a lust for wealth, power and immortality. Kane's tragedy lies in his inability to experience any real emotion in his human relationships. The apparent intellectual superficiality of Citizen Kane can be traced to the shallow quality of Kane himself. Even when Kane is seen as a crusading journalist battling for the lower classes, overtones of self-idolatry mar his actions. His clever ironies are more those of the exhibitionist than the crusader.

In the movie, Thatcher was furious with Kane's success in attacking trusts in defense of "the people" and providing false headlines such as those about the Spanish Armada being anchored off of the Jersey coast, a headline printed with virtually no proof to substantiate it. Kane even used his paper to attack a company of which he himself, along with Thatcher, was the major shareholder. As Thatcher prepared to leave after his discussion with Kane on what new is, he mentioned to Kane his enormous losses, which totaled one million dollars for the year, a staggering sum to have been lost by one person, especially at that time. Kane,. however, laughed it off, joking that, at that rate, he'll have to close down in sixty years (Citizen Kane). All these things were characteristic of Hearst as well. He attacked the trusts in favor of "the people" (a favorite phrase of Hearst's) and hired lawyers to try to get injunctions against the trusts and eventually destroy them. He supported the eight hour workday and the labor unions (Swanberg 235). He made up headlines preying on people's fear and hatred of Spain and Japan which, not coincidentally, he had aroused by previous articles in The Examiner and other publications of his about Spanish atrocities in Cuba and the "yellow menace" of Japan (Swanberg 122, 352) Hearst threw money away as though to him it literally grew on trees. A man with an income of fifteen million dollars a year at the height of his power, he had almost no savings and sometimes had to borrow money (Swanberg 88).

What is "Citizen Kane" about? This is a thinly veiled account of the life of William Randolph Hearst. Welles' masterpiece carefully exploits Hearst the same way Hearst's papers exploited everyone else....
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