Citizen Kane tells the fictional story of rich newspaper publisher Charles Foster Kane, his rise to power and eventual decline as he shifts from an idealistic publisher/editor into egotist whose power has gone to his head. It was based loosely on the life of William Randolph Hurst, but not loosely enough to suit Hurst. The film pulled few punches and Hurst was not amused at being the subject, even if indirectly of such a movie. Citizen Kane almost completely failed at the box office when it was released and even before the production was finished the film was wrapped in controversy. Director and writer Orson Wells was accused by Hurst of the being a communist, and a homosexual, both of which were considered major issues in 1941. Interestingly he also accused Wells of being a womanizer and Socialist as well. As you can see the accusations leveled at Wells were often contradictory and usually untrue. The major newspapers, owned by Hurst refused to review the film or allow it to be advertised in their pages. In fact, no review of Citizen Kane appeared in any paper owned by Hurst until the mid- seventies over 30 years after its release.
The Hurst Empire also owned a number of major theater chains that were forbidden to show the film in their theaters and pressure was exerted on other theater chains to stop them from displaying the movie as well. Almost any other film or director who had this experience would have been forgotten about entirely. However, Orson Wells, though young, was a man of intense drive, power and originality and his film Citizen Kane eventually became known as one of the most important films in movie history both for its innovation and power, so much so that The National Film Institute named it one of the most important films in film history. Despite the controversy and suppression, Citizen Kane won the Academy Award for best original screenplay and was nominated for several others. It brought about a number of innovations to film technique, not the least of which was that of “deep focus” a method whereby objects close and far from the camera were kept focus. This technique brought a sense of depth to filmmaking that had been lacking before. The film may not have initially had much of an audience, but the deep focus filming caught the heart of almost every major film photographer and director.
I had a friend and co-worker who said of the film “Everyone should see this film… once; that’s enough.” I guess I’m not everyone, I feel that one should watch this film not just once, but often. Like the film Casablanca, this is a film I will stop and watch if I find it playing while channel surfing. Like any film it is uneven in parts, however, those parts are few and there are exchanges in the film that have remained in my memory and are often recalled to mind for the sheer joy of seeing them in my mind’s eye. I’ve quoted two of them below. I hope they are enough to excite your interest.
Charles Foster Kane: You're right, I did lose a million dollars last year. I expect to lose a million dollars this year. I expect to lose a million dollars next year. You know, Mr. Thatcher, at the rate of a million dollars a year, I'll have to close this place in... 60 years.
Charles Foster Kane: [to Thatcher] The trouble is, you don't realize you're talking to two people. As Charles Foster Kane, who has 82,634 shares of Public Transit Preferred. You see, I do have a general idea of my holdings. I sympathize with you. Charles Foster Kane is a scoundrel. His paper should be run out of town. A committee should be formed to boycott him. You may, if you can form such a committee, put me down for a contribution of $1,000 dollars. On the other hand, I am the publisher of the Inquirer! As such, it's my duty - and I'll let you in on a little secret, it's also my pleasure - to see to it that decent, hard-working people in this community aren't robbed blind by a pack of money-mad pirates just because - they haven't anybody to look after their interests.