Summary of Citizen Kane

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Orson Welles' film Citizen Kane has been consistently ranked as one of the best films ever made. A masterpiece of technique and storytelling, the film helped to change Hollywood film-making and still exerts considerable influence today. However, at the time of its premiere in 1941, it was a commercial failure that spelled disaster for Welles' Hollywood career.

Citizen Kane tells the story of millionaire press magnate Charles Foster Kane (played by Welles). The film opens with Kane on his death bed in his magnificent Florida castle, Xanadu, murmuring the word "Rosebud." A newsreel reporter (William Alland) searches for clues to the meaning of the word and to the meaning of Kane himself. Interviewing many people intimately connected with Kane, the reporter learns that the millionaire was not so much a public-minded statesman as he was a tyrannical, lonely man. The reporter never learns the secret of Kane's last word. In the film's final moments, we see many of Kane's possessions being thrown into a blazing furnace. Among them is his beloved childhood sled, the name "Rosebud" emblazoned across it.

Citizen Kane encountered difficulties early on. Welles fought constantly with RKO over his budget and against limits on his control of the production. Furthermore, because the film was based in part on the life of publisher William Randolph Hearst, Hearst's papers actively campaigned against it, demanding that Citizen Kane be banned and then later refusing to mention or advertise it altogether. Although the scheme backfired, generating enormous publicity for the movie, a frightened RKO released the film only after Welles threatened the studio with a lawsuit.

Critics reacted positively, but were also puzzled. They enthusiastically applauded Citizen Kane's many technical innovations. Throughout the film, Welles and his crew employed depth of field (a method in which action in both the foreground and background clearly are in focus, and used to great effect by...
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