How was Orson Welles able to make Citizen Kane at such a young age?

Because he didn’t know any better.

I’ve read quite a few articles about Kane, as well as numerous interviews with Orson, and my view is that he was able to make Citizen Kane the masterpiece it was (and is) because he hadn’t yet learned “the rules” of how to make a conventional film, and so he tried and did things that were “simply not done.”

High ceilings, burying the camera in the floor, special visual effects, intricate sound design, overlapping dialogue, deep focus… he didn’t “stop” himself from doing any of these different and new techniques, as a more experienced director would. And it are these innovations that make Citizen Kane… well, Citizen Kane.

He was also surrounded by “lightning in a bottle” talent, from cinematographer Gregg Toland and co-writer Herman Mankiewicz to composer Bernard Herrmann and actor Joe Cotten… etcetera, etcetera. He had talented people who added tremendous value and collaboration to Welles… and Orson was smart enough to listen and take full advantage of it.

Orson was a very cocksure individual, but he also was very self-aware… He knew what he didn’t know, and so he learned how to make a movie as he was doing it (with great help from Toland). A heck of an education.

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F For Fake is Orson Welles’ forgotten masterpiece

I love Orson Welles. He is one of the most amazing people of the 20th Century, a larger-than-life figure who’s had a dozen books written about him (I’ve read quite a few of them). His life could be accurately described as a “Shakespearean” tale of triumph and tragedy (which, considering the many times he performed the Bard’s work, is completely appropriate).

What great heights, and what sad lows. He directed the movie many proclaim as the greatest film of all time at the age of 23, and yet at the end of his life he was begging friends and family for money to finish his last film (I still hold a grudge against Spielberg, the hottest director at the time, for not helping out). Because he never got the necessary funding, he never finished his last movie, The Other Side of the Wind, and thus his last cinematic work was the documentary film F for Fake… a “documentary” in name only.

It’s brilliant, overlooked, and underrated… hence it’s inclusion in this Negelcted Cinema column.

What makes F for Fake so good is it’s more of a personal essay than a documentary, a meditation on life, art, and the creative process. The central “story” of the film is about the great art forger Elmyr de Hory, who made millions by making and selling fake masterpieces. He could mimic the style of the greats, and many many “experts” had authenticated his work as original. Orson takes great fun in puncturing these “experts” but the story gets even more strange when the film reveals that author Clifford Irving (de Hory’s biographer) had perpetrated his own forgery, creating the infamous Howard Hughes “authorized biography.”

Hughes, like Charles Foster Kane, was a man of mystery… who had to come out of hiding to refute Irving’s purported “biography”… and the fact that Orson’s last movie has such an interesting connection to his first provides an odd form of symmetry. Adding to that connection: His co-star in Citizen Kane, Joseph Cotten, appears in F for Fake in a small role.

Detailing anymore about the F for Fake would be spoiling things, save for this: Pay close attention to what Orson says at the beginning of the film, and remember these words in the last seventeen minutes of the movie when he is discussing Picasso and “the girl” (Oja Kodar). You’ll thank me for it.

The movie is also notable for the “kamikaze” style of editing and use of different media (photos, music, 16mm film) to tell a story in a nonlinear way. It’s the type of editing that we later saw in music videos on MTV… Ten years later. Again, Orson was ahead of his time.

Instead of spending time heaping many more superlatives on the film, I’ll simply end here. If you have never seen F for Fake, see it. If you’ve seen it before… watch it again. It’s wonderful, and while it’s not how Orson intended on ending his directing career, it’s still a fine ending to a life in cinema.

Was the concept of "Rosebud" an anticlimax to Citizen Kane?

I think that anyone who thinks the reveal of Rosebud at the end of Citizen Kane is anticlimactic are missing the primary point of the movie.

Citizen Kane is not a traditional narrative. Charles Foster Kane is revealed to the viewer through the views of the people who knew him in life, and WE are the reporter, taking in these different perspectives and forming our opinion of the man. The question of what Rosebud is, what his last words mean, it’s a plot device to drive the narrative and dramatic thrust of the movie, which is “Who is Charles Foster Kane?”

Saint, sinner, lover, scoundrel… He is all of these, and none of these. He is a complex man, someone that can’t be easily explained with a single word. He is like all of us. When Rosebud is finally revealed it is not to the reporter or his peers, but only to us… And even then, the meaning of what Rosebud was to Kane is left to us to interpret.

We learn what the “missing piece (peace?)” was, but we don’t know what it meant to Charles Foster Kane. Because Charles Foster Kane is no longer around to answer that, and the reporters have left… no one is left to ask him.

There are many things that make Citizen Kane a masterpiece, but I’d say this bold brilliant narrative structure is the most important “piece.” The measure of a man is what he leaves behind… The memories, the impact he made in people’s lives, and the objects he created or collected. Charles Foster Kane left a mansion filled with things, and only a handful of mourners.

Any sentiment or meaning that Rosebud had went up in smoke, and died with Charles Foster Kane.

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