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Remind Me

CITIZEN KANE (1941)

The Critics' Corner on CITIZEN KANE

The major newsweeklies had glowing remarks for Citizen Kane. Time (March 17, 1941) called the film "the most sensational product of the U.S. movie industry. It has found important new techniques in picture making and story-telling. Artful and artfully artless┬┐it is a work of art created by grown people for grown people." Not to be undone, The Nation hailed the picture in its April 26, 1941 issue as "probably the most original, exciting, and entertaining picture that has yet been produced in this country." John O'Hara's review in Newsweek (March 17, 1941) commented on the Hearst empire blackout that would prohibit many viewers from seeing the picture: "It is with exceeding regret that your faithful bystander reports that he has just seen a picture which he thinks must be the best picture he ever saw... It lacks nothing." Of course, not everyone thought so highly of the film. A review for The New Republic (June 2, 1941) found the film unexceptional and felt it held "no great place" in the annuals of cinema.

"..no one will dispute that Kane is still regarded as Welles's most important film. In technical virtuosity and dramatic structure it is the most influential work of the sound era, the picture to which not only Welles films but all films must, inevitably, be compared. Kane is a cinematic reference point which should be seen over and over again to learn the language of film, to learn its potential as a storytelling medium and as an outlet for personal and artistic expression." - Danny Peary, Cult Movies.

Citizen Kane has the dimensions of a tragedy, but the tragedy is expressed in a dazzling cluster of cinematic metaphors and devices. Quite suddenly, in 1941, the cinema comes of age, with a film that - triumphantly, vividly - proclaims its independence and its mesmeric fascination." - Peter Cowie, Eighty Years of Cinema.

"The essence of the film lies in its story, comparable to a great modern novel, and in its often expressionistic style. It studies Kane from every aspect, accentuating his egotism and his loneliness. Welles (who himself had some of Kane's characterics incarnated Kane and, despite some misuse of make-up, is an imposing presence who pushes all the other actors...into the background." - Georges sadoul, Dictionary of Films.

Awards & Honors

In 1998, Citizen Kane is voted the #1 film of all time by the American Film Institute.

In a poll of 250 of the world's film critics' "Ten Best Lists" conducted every ten years, Sight and Sound, a reputable film magazine published by the British Film Institute, Citizen Kane placed first in the 1992 poll. It held that top spot in the 1982, 1972, and 1962 poll. Ironically, it did not place at all in 1952's poll.

The other films on the 1992 list:

2. The Rules of the Game (Jean Renoir, 1939)
3. Tokyo Story (Yasujiro Ozu, 1953)
4. Vertigo (Alfred Hitchcock, 1958)
5. The Searchers (John Ford, 1956)
6. (tie) L'Atalante (Jean Vigo, 1934), The Passion of Joan of Arc (Carl Dreyer, 1928), Pather Panchali (Satyajit Ray, 1955), and Battleship Potemkin (Sergei Eisenstein, 1925).
10. 2001: A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick, 1968).

While Citizen Kane is now routinely considered the benchmark of excellence in American filmmaking, the Academy Awards® didn't think so highly of the film in 1941. Nominated for nine Academy Awards® including Best Picture, Actor (Orson Welles), Director, Score (of a Dramatic Picture), Cinematography (Black-and-White), Art Direction/Interior Decoration (Black-and-White), Sound Recording, and Film Editing, the film walked off with only one Oscar® - for Best Original Screenplay. The film even earned a chorus of "boos" when the nominations were first announced. Welles himself was granted an honorary Academy Award® in 1970, for "superlative artistry and versatility in the creation of motion pictures."

Perhaps the film's most unique superlative can be found in film reviews for other films. When a film is praised as being the best in its class, some critics reference the Orson Welles masterpiece, as in one review for Bab (1995) that hailed the sweet fantasy as "the Citizen Kane of pig movies."

Celebrated writer-director Preston Sturges presented the Academy Awardreg; for Best Original Screenplay to Herman Mankiewicz and Orson Welles on February 26, 1942 in Los Angeles. The victorious duo was not present though, so RKO chief George Schaefer accepted on its behalf. Mankiewicz stayed home that night because, as his wife explained, "He did not want to be humiliated. He thought he'd get mad and do something drastic when he didn't win." Had the Hollywood veteran been there, he would have been glad to hear a chorus of people screaming, "Mank! Mank! Mank! Mank!" Still, many people booed the winners. But according to Louella Parson's biographer George Eells, "Privately, many of the same people who booed conceded that it was a superb film but the popular stance was to pretend disapproval."

Compiled by Scott McGee

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