Ever heard people throw around famous directors??? names and think ???What if there was a way to make short, pithy references to their cinematic masterpieces without actually having to sit through ???Battleship Potemkin???? Fortunately, now there is! We???ve dispatched Intern Anastasia to brave the subtitles???and the pretentious clerks at Kim???s Video???so you can sound cultured at dinner parties.
Citizen Kane is not obscure, and certainly not subtitled, but it frequently tops the lists of best films. It???s the veritable “Great Gatsby” of movies, which is to say it’s not anyone???s favorite, but everyone pretends to know what it???s about.
CK was directed by Orson Welles, who rose to stardom at age 23 as the lead in H.G. Wells’ 1938 radio play, ???War of the Worlds.??? Charles Foster Kane, the eponymous main character, is based on William Randolph Hearst, the yellow journalism tycoon—and the “Rupert Murdoch of his day,” if you will.
We first see Kane as an old man on his deathbed, holding a snow globe. He utters the word ???rosebud,??? then drops the globe. Reflected in its shattered glass is a nurse who walks in and covers the body. Fade to black and then???
NEWS ON THE MARCH! A newsreel/exposition device, where a pompous announcer tells us about Kane???s life and death. We learn he had a mansion called Xanadu, with enough riches ???for 10 museums??? and ???the biggest private zoo since Noah!” His media empire comprised 37 newspapers and a radio network [Ed: That was an empire? How quaint!] and he was married twice, divorced twice (also quaint!) and once ran for governor but lost.
The newsreel stops and we see that we???ve been watching along with a roomful of reporters. They???re the good old 1940s kind of reporters: they talk fast, they smoke constantly, and they wear fedoras, dammit. Someone mentions that Kane???s last word was ???rosebud,??? but no one knows what it means. So they send an unlucky reporter named Thompson out to investigate.
Thompson interviews Kane???s business associates and friends, who tell Kane???s life story through flashbacks. Interestingly, it doesn???t matter which flashbacks belong to whom—more than once, a character ???remembers??? a scene in which they weren???t even present. Weird! Anyhow, here???s what you have to know:
Kane was a happy child, playing in the snow with his sled. But his mom thought he???d be better off being adopted by Walter Thatcher, a rich guy. So, because these things have a way of working out, he goes to live with Thatcher and gets a trust fund as soon as he turns 25.
And 25-year-old Kane decides to buy a newspaper, the New York Inquirer, for fun! (Did we say he was Rupert Murdoch? We meant Jared Kushner). Either way, those trust fund kids are all the same, and the adorably idealistic Kane avows, ???New Yorkers are going to get the truth in the Inquirer,??? by golly!
Kane???s newspaper business grows, and he poaches the entire staff of the Chronicle, the Inquirer???s rival. Then he marries his first wife, Emily. They have a son.
Kane decides to run for governor, but not before meeting Susan, a ditsy aspiring singer. He???s standing on the sidewalk one night, when a carriage drives by and splashes mud on him. Susan sees this and laughs at him, but then invites him into her apartment to clean himself up. Before long, Kane???s putting the mack on her, saying things like ???I run a couple of newspapers, what do you do????
Then there???s Kane???s big speech for governor, in front of a giant poster of himself. He spends a lot of time trashing his opponent, Jim Gettys. Afterwards, Emily tells him she got a letter from none other than Jim Gettys, and they meet him at Susan???s apartment. He says he has proof Kane had an affair with Susan, and tells him to drop out of the race. But Kane refuses, yelling after Gettys, ???Don???t worry about me, I???m Charles Foster Kane!???
Indeed he is, but somehow Kane loses the race, and sometime after this, Emily and his son die in a car crash. Kane then marries Susan, and the headlines in the papers read ???Kane Marries ???Singer.?????? (This is all meant to seem very tawdry.) Kane tries to legitimize her as a singer, building her an opera house and acting like a pushy stage mom. He also throws out his journalistic ideals, giving her rave reviews though other papers pan her performances. And he builds Xanadu for her.
Susan feels trapped, and tries to kill herself by ODing on a sedative, before finally walking out on Kane. Soon afterwards, he dies.
As you probably learned through pop culture osmosis, ???rosebud??? turns out to be the name of Kane???s childhood sled, but the hapless Thompson never even gets to find this out. It???s all very moving, a statement on how Kane could buy lots of crap but never love, or his childhood innocence back, blah blah blah.
For those of you still searching for meaning, however, there’s always Gore Vidal???s somewhat less poetic theory that ???rosebud??? was really William Hearst???s name for his mistress??? clitoris.
“CK was directed by Orson Welles, who also wrote ???War of the Worlds.???”
Did he indeed!
Posted: Oct 6, 2007 at 5:06 am