Below are my nephew Harry's notes for an oral presentation on Citizen Kane for his 9th-grade history class:
February 26, 2008
-Directed by Orson Wells in 1941.
-He also starred in , co-wrote and co-produced it
– all at the age of 24
-Previously, had been in radio, creator of the famous War of the Worlds episode for Mercury Theater in N.Y.C.
-Citizen Kane= the first and last major studio film over which he would have total control.
-Considered universally to be one of the greatest films ever created
Some Elements that make this film revolutionary:
-use of depth of focus shots (=wide angle lenses to capture the details
of the foreground, middle ground and background without prioritizing)
-depth of focus important because it allows the viewer to actively
investigate the space, make conclusions, see relationships between
characters and their space in more complex ways, spectator is an active
participant in the scene
-use of ceilings and the “fourth wall” = more interesting camera angles, more creative lighting , more real
-camera is inquisitive, as if it is a character itself, instead of a stationary machine that records what’s in front of it
-narrative told in bits and pieces, out of chronological order
-some scenes are revisited more than once from different perspectives
-story of Kane’s life is revealed as a reporter interviews people who
were closest to Kane in attempt to learn meaning of Kane’s last dying
-leads to a richer, more complex portrait of a person
-On initial release, film was hated by most major film studios.
-Negative was almost burned
-Wells was persecuted by newspaper tycoon William Randolf Hearst, who
saw unflattering parallels between himself and Charles Foster Kane.
-Wells was blacklisted in Hollywood
-Citizen Kane was never distributed to major commercial theaters
-Sad because this movie defines us – what drives power, materialism, and what we may have lost on the way
After Harry's presentation his teacher said, “We always hear that Citizen Kane is one of the greatest movies ever made — now we know why.”
My notes on the notes:
A superb summary — excellent stylistic and thematic analysis. I
personally wouldn't call any of the stylistic elements of the film
“revolutionary”, however, since they had all been used before — just rarely
with such brilliance. It's true that most studio heads hated the
picture, because it offended Hearst and they were afraid of him, but
the Hollywood community recognized its brilliance — it was nominated
for several Academy Awards and won in the category of Best
Screenplay. The negative was indeed almost burned — Louis B.
Mayer offered to buy it from RKO and destroy it, as a favor to Hearst and to
protect the industry from his wrath. Welles wasn't exactly
blacklisted in Hollywood — it just became hard for him to work as a
director there after his first two films, and a third which he
produced, tanked at the box office. Kane
was distributed erratically and never got a chance to prove itself
commercially but it did play at a few major theaters in major cities —
it had its Los Angeles premiere at the El Capitan, which is still
standing. The El Capitan wasn't the most prestigious house in
town but it was a respectable venue.
Well done, Harold!