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Past Master – Citizen Kane

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The dark, foreboding towers of Xanadu is an enduring image. The giant pleasure palace began life as a towering monument to ambition but was destined to become a crumbling, corrupt shadow of it’s former self. Xanadu’s impressive rise and fall mirrors that of its owner Charles Foster Kane.

The story of Kane is one of rags to riches to isolation. Told through flashbacks, interviews and newsreel, Citizen Kane plots the attempts of journalist Jerry Thompson to document life of the reclusive newspaper magnate and unravel the truth about his cryptic last words.

Orson Welles’ timeless meditation on the effects of power still resonates to this day – especially in uncomfortable light of a post-Leveson world. Kane’s journey from idealistic firebrand to a bloated figure of corruption remains a master class in filmmaking.

Welles really is the star of the show. Writing, directing and starring in his first feature film, Welles manages to harness the visual language of a medium that was completely new to him to dazzling effect. For a feature film debut, Citizen Kane takes some beating.

A monumental screen presence, Welles’ turn as Kane is enthralling. The metamorphosis from the youthful newspaper owner to his older, unrecognisable self is presented with such conviction and believability that Welles threatens to outshine the rest of the cast. Luckily a solid cast, particularly Joseph Cotton’s Jedediah Leland, ably supports him.

Renowned for it’s technical innovations, Citizen Kane is a visual triumph. Pioneering deep focus and crane shots – including expert use of miniatures – demonstrate Welles’s knack for framing images on screen.

Liberal use of light and shade, particularly in Xanadu, is used masterfully throughout the entire film. Thompson’s face is perpetually draped in darkness – a proxy for the audience as they ponder on the mystery of Rosebud.

Time hasn’t been kind to all aspects of Kane, however. A lot of the Forties sound design is grating, particularly the shrill tones Dorothy Comingore’s Susan. Which is a shame, because Comingore’s spirited performance and interplay with Welles is one of the film’s greatest strengths.

While Kane’s super mansion may have ended up as a decaying monument to days gone by, Citizen Kane stands as the opposite. Driven by the astonishing Welles, complete with pitch perfect direction and cinematography, Kane remains one of the ultimate examples of the power of Cinema. An enduring classic.  

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