November 26, 2014

Orson Welles, Citizen Kane

as CHARLES FOSTER KANE
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After having the life sucked out of me while watching How Green Was My Valley, I had an overwhelming urge to follow it up with Citizen Kane, if only so that I could rinse my moviegoing palate with some much-needed invigoration. I was happy to find that Citizen Kane held up just as amazingly as it did when I first watched it years ago. The film itself offers storytelling and execution that is so much more daring and imaginative than anything else I've seen from this time period. Today Citizen Kane still registers as rather quirky and a bit offbeat--it likely hadn't any realistic chance at winning Best Picture, even if you take away all the controversy and politics that shrouded the film upon release. Still, it goes without saying that wunderkind Orson Welles--having producer, director, co-writer, and acting responsibilities--achieves an extraordinary feat with his debut picture. But does Welles' starring turn as Charles Foster Kane match up with the overall greatness of the film?

 photo ScreenShot2014-11-18at110310PM.jpg
 photo ScreenShot2014-11-19at124904AM.jpgNo, not really. This is a case of a hugely acclaimed picture with an otherwise fine (though not necessarily astonishing) performance at its center. In Welles' earlier scenes it often looks as though he is like a kid on a playground, having fun and exploring this world he has created in front of our eyes. What I found interesting was Welles' charismatic pride as he portrays the younger Kane--it looks as if he's slyly in on his own genius. Later on, Welles graduates into his older Kane rather effectively, his power and iron will on full display as he orates to his minions, as he battles with his political opponent, as he placidly forces his second wife to sing opera. A nice undertone of vulnerability is displayed towards the end when we see Kane's tight coil unravel, as his world falls apart in front of his eyes. They're two contrasting figures--the king and the man-who-would-king--and the transformation is believable. But I couldn't help but shake the feeling that there was something lacking about Welles' particular performance...and it might very well have to do with the fact that Citizen Kane is more concerned (and rightfully so) of telling us the story about Kane's life rather than serving as a biopic-esque showcase that would provide for a juicier and more cohesive performance. For instance, I think the inclusion of Kane's reaction to the deaths of his first wife and son would have made for excellent thesp-ing fodder, but its omission certainly doesn't deter from the picture. But ultimately that comes back to the fact that Citizen Kane isn't as concerned about the acting and the characterizing as it is about the storytelling. And I'm okay with that, just as I am perfectly okay with this performance.

6 comments:

  1. I've seen it just once and all I can remember is I liked it.
    that's all. :)

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    1. that might just affirm my suspicion that while he's in a great film, his performance isn't quite what makes the film :)

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  2. I think the film is terrific, but I agree about Welles' performance being a bit overshadowed by the storytelling.

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    1. glad we agree! overshadowed definitely, though I'm not sure the performance itself is ever given much focus.

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  3. I didn't see Kane till I was about 25, old enough to have heard a little about its reputation but not read up so much to expect a film monument. As with items like Wuthering Heights, Dodsworth and These Three, just to name a few of many examples, I think its best to have them wash over you the first time in teenhood or early adulthood when one is possessed of the least cynicism. Thus, ever since, the majesty of Kane is never lost with me.

    As for the acting, I think I could be argued either way that that's where Wells should have been rewarded, but even if not, the overwhelming rejection of Kane by the Academy is a lasting shame. However much the film was an attack on William Randolph Hearst and Marion Davies matters less and less as the years go by, but as an indictment of the barrenness of unchecked consumption and power lust as any path to happiness has never been exposed with finer result.

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    1. Interesting! I saw Citizen Kane when I was in my teens as well, and obviously the film is still spectacular to me now so you might be onto something there.

      I'm not sure that Welles ever really had a realistic chance to win in acting, not with Gary Cooper playing a heroic real-life soldier. If anything I think it would have been totally plausible for him to have won in directing seeing as John Ford had already won the year before and had had two statues at that point already...though I wonder if Welles' youth was a disadvantage for him. In any case, I suppose it's a miracle he was able to win screenplay over the writers of Sergeant York, so I guess we have that to be happy about.

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