11 January 2012

4. CITIZEN KANE




It's about the search for love.

Kane is sent off from his mother, "for his own good", to live with a rich guardian. He runs a newspaper, marries the President's niece. We see a decade of that marriage over the breakfast table. He meets his mistress, a would-be singer. He runs for governor. He builds an opera house to give his lady a place to perform. He buys art, surrounds himself with possessions. He throws lavish parties.

In all that he does, he is trying to fill the hole that was his initial rejection from his mother, who sent him away when he was young. With his newspaper business and run for office, he is looking for love from the public. With his marriages and his relationship with his best friend Jed, he is looking for love privately. And finally, with his building of Xanadu, his estate, he is looking for love materially. He never finds it.

One of the smart things about the movie is that it is structured like a detective movie. One of the even smarter things is that the objective of that quest: "Figure out what his final word, 'Rosebud", means" is actually fulfilled, and yet, it explains nothing.

Another reason this movie has endured is that it is uniquely American: it is about a Great Man who goes from rags-to-riches like Horatio Algiers, defying class conventions. The Great Man is a public man, but ultimately he is unknowable, a jigsaw puzzle, complex.

Like ALL ABOUT EVE, we get voiceover and perspective from multiple characters. By contrast, however, each of these stories constitutes a complete 3-act mini-structure inside the larger narrative. Accordingly, the narrative shifts around in time, non-linearly. This play with time was innovative in its day, and still holds up.

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