Sunday, November 01, 2009
Yesterday I saw Citizen Kane at the BFI. It was the first time I had seen it on the big screen. My previous view of the film was that it was amazing, technically superb and, as an American myth, tremendously potent. Yet, for the most part, I found it unmoving, even meretricious. On the big screen, my reservations were refuted and, immensely moved, I kept tearing up. The point is, I realise, the theatricality of the piece. On the small screen this is lost or it strikes a false note; on the big screen it makes perfect sense and the characters, previously a touch de trop, were seen as florid creatures trapped within the confines of the medium, like the caged animals in the newsreel shots of Xanadu. The central drama of the film is not Kane, of course, it is the reporter's progress through the story. He is the audience's surrogate and guide and it is he who, just before the glorious final tracking shot, drops his professional mask and, having attained wisdom beyond yellow journalism, undermines the payoff by saying whatever Rosebud was it would tell us nothing about the real man, it was just a piece of a jigsaw. Thus the burning sledge becomes everything and nothing. Kane is still not the greatest ever film, but it is up there.
I note, incidentally, that Spielberg bought the sledge for $60,500. To which news, Welles responded, 'I thought we burned it.'
Posted by Bryan Appleyard at 6:09 am