The 26-year-old Orson Welles, already renowned for his work in radio and theatre, used the unprecedented artistic license offered to him by RKO to create a fictionalised portrait of one of America’s most powerful men – press baron William Randolph Hearst. Charting the rise of Charles Foster Kane (played by Welles himself) – who decides to start a newspaper with his inherited fortune – Welles’ film is a classic story of the corrupting effects of power.
The use of deep-focus photography (keeping both foreground and background in focus) and abstracted camera angles, the non-chronological narrative structure and overlapping dialogue, were just some of the myriad formal innovations that Welles brought together for his groundbreaking debut. Such novelty and controversy proved a curse for Welles, whose career never enjoyed such indulgence again.
“Citizen Kane remains the ultimate commentary on American culture since the early 20th century. It conveys America’s inherent polarities (individualism vs collective impulses; libertarianism vs puritanism; innocence vs corruption; the underdog mentality to rebel against oppression vs the impulse to rule over the masses through duping strategies) via a deft synergy of form and content. It has never been more rewarding to screen and talk about this film than in our current political moment.” Roy Grundmann
“The former champion still feels like a grand summation of film’s early development as an artform and a glimpse of the future, too. At the same time, it’s a hugely entertaining portrait of the media narcissism and demagoguery that underscore American politics.” Scott Tobias
“It still amazes for its formal bravado, a barrage of cinematographic strategies which retain their innovative resonances. The film’s reputation as representing the apogee of an ossified ‘canon’ of outstanding films should not minimise its qualities – it deserves to be so recognised. It combines the restless energy of its subject with formal experimentation which demonstrates the artistry of filmmaking as a collaborative enterprise when new technical approaches were being explored.” Sarah Street
“Sadly, it’s fashionable now to chip away at its greatness. This temptation should be resisted. The audacious American masterpiece of the 20th century, not only for its cinematic innovations and storytelling vigour, but for how accurately it dissects the ‘American character’.” Eddie Muller
“What else is there to say about Kane? It will always be remembered for novelty, for vision, for the sheer audacity of its existence.” Oris Aigbokhaevbolo
“The ultimate in movie baroque. Welles’s film is a twisted pearl – glorious, florid, overweening – about crazed ambition and the virtues and innocences it crushes in its wake.” Nigel Andrews
“A film that amply rewards repeated viewings, revealing new depths, new nuanced details, new mysteries. There is no greatest film, but if there were, for me this would surely be the strongest contender.” Geoff Andrew
“What, I’m going to leave this off, so I can look more like a wild individualist? A brilliant cinematic mind jumps into the medium, determined to see what he can make it do. It may not invent anything but it packs in a ton of radical creativity and unconventionality.” David Cairns