Citizen Kane ★★★★★

Watching this film is like peeling back an onion: the dissolves, all milky and rigidly ordained on-screen, imply an infinity of perspectives on the titular character's life. I rarely see a technique used so simply and to such enormous effect.

Welles sees something in the infinite: many an episode featuring Kane gets ignored in favor of some others, the ones the journalist's subjects most prefer. Is the audience to comprehend just how many other stories aren't being told? In a way, Citizen Kane was one of the films first to analyze cinema, and how people dramatize slices of life they were witness to; the narrative structure asserts itself over all of this, but I don't feel like the director is keen on messing with viewers' heads. He simply sees this as the only route for biography, occasionally laborious yet almost always offering something new. I have only niggles of complaint with this film, many of which I can't remember after watching. The music hasn't stuck with me, unmemorable and obligatory as it is, and I feel like the bookending footage at Xanadu isn't as funny or tense as it ought to be due to slow pacing. But the main premise is as strong as ever. Formal union drives the story through mixed moods of hilarity, tragedy, and the occasional bit of pathos as a backdrop. If it were a sled, it'd be up the tallest hill going from down the lowest.

So it's a movie about a character created in the minds of others—never any communication between Welles as Kane and the viewers. Shadows dance in daylight: smoke beckons for attention in the guise of an old associate; an aged performer tries to overcome melodrama, but is still encumbered by the past; even the butler sees an absurdity to figuring out who the big man really was. Yet most of the interview subjects see in their pivotal figure a cosmic sense of scale and larger-than-life theater, a far cry from the surrogate father's compressed view of the world. It's not that Kane himself is the most interesting figure yet depicted, or that those interviewed have the most insightful things to say. The reason this film works for me is that it feigns super-complexity and, at the same time, laughs at itself for giving off that impression. Everything's overdone save for a few key moments, like Kane moving past the mirrors or his brief youth being squashed by the humbug of his new master. And it's through his news outlets that he creates a new truth for himself and others, a seedier and more glamorous existence that doesn't waste time searching for the truth—Welles on subjectivity, and Borges as well.

None of this would work if it were all theoretical—if it were aesthetically ill-fit. I've tried to warm up to Brecht and his supreme theater, but he's far too blunt and concerned with petty politics. Citizen Kane is full of everything it'll need to work as a cohesive unit. Toland's cinematography, along with the excellent optical printing, is both revolutionary and an excellent sparring partner with Musaraca's visual exercises from films like Stranger on the Third Floor. The Mercury Theater cast seems subdued for the time, yet collectively wreathes interesting individuals together in ways that both reference cultural attitudes of the time and let viewers into distorted, pearly realms of interpretation. Most importantly, all this ground gets covered quickly, efficiently, and unequally; some moments speak stronger than others, as they would with a frame narrative like this. Things all connect back to the director's magnificent obsession with perspective, which itself is something he laughs at with all sincerity. Without spoiling much about the plot, I can easily say that the twists and turns in Citizen Kane are as plausible as they are improbable; you don't need to know any of it, and you ought not to. I rarely give 5 stars to a film, but I do when everything it sets out to do comes to fruition. The story deals with its universal subject well enough that people to this day have trouble understanding its intelligence.

Joe Bob sez Rosebud...