“Citizen Kane” worms its way onto every list that features the greatest films of all time, often in the number one spot. Critics cite the remarkable achievement of director/writer Orson Welles, and they drone on about how the film changed the way movies were watched. The storytelling technique, the cinematography — it all gets accolades, and rightly so.
Welles’ baby is a good film. It did change the way Hollywood did movies, and more importantly, it changed the way we watched them. Its impact on the world of film cannot be ignored, but I don’t think it’s the best film of all time.
I believe films are an overall package. Like a painting, you can appreciate aspects of them without liking the entire work. The colors may be nice, the subject matter interesting, but if it doesn’t grab you, it doesn’t work. I feel that “Citizen Kane” is an achievement on purely technical levels, but the story leaves me cold. When I finish watching the film, I don’t have any emotions. I don’t hate it. I don’t love it. It’s an inefficient laxative that tastes like the most expensive chocolate you can imagine. Sure it’s delicious, but it doesn’t get the job done.
I think the film is on such a large number of top movie lists simply because so many people have put it there that you’d seem like an idiot not to include it. I suffer from no such complex, and I’m not afraid of being ostracized because I calls ‘em likes I sees ‘em.
A classic film will withstand the test of time. No matter the era, it will always resonate with viewers. I don’t think “Citizen Kane” does that. I think people believe it does, and I think many critics are afraid to actually do their job and criticize it, but there is a bigger problem here. I think the reason so many people claim it’s the best picture of all time is because they haven’t seen it.
I find it incredible how many people who claim to love movies have not seen this film, yet readily agree to it being one of the top movies of all time. Talk about being sheep.
I got into an debate about “Citizen Kane” with a film student not too long ago. She kept defending it against my argument that “the film ‘I Stand Alone’ is a better work of art even if only on a purely emotional level because it has such an impact it eclipses what ‘Citizen Kane’ has to offer.” After far too much time was spent on her defense of the classic film, she admitted to never having seen it! For some strange reason, this movie has quite a cult-like following, but not in the “Bloodsucking Freaks” type way. It’s more like Scientology or something.
So you have a film almost all critics have seen, but are afraid that if they omit it from the number one spot on their list of all time great films that they will seem like they somehow aren’t as intelligent or as artistically astute as their peers, and you have people who agree that the film is the greatest even though they haven’t seen it. Startling, but not too surprising, as nobody wants to go against the herd.
I’ve seen the film three times. I take something from it each time. I appreciate what it did for film, and I think it has enough going for it to merit a few repeated viewings. Greatest film of all time, though? No. Most influential film of all time? Very likely. It could perhaps even be on the greatest films list, but not at the top or anywhere really near it. Put it on a list of films that changed things and that inspired, and it will be right there in the top five, if not in the number one slot. It would share space with “Star Wars,” “The Godfather,” “Blood Feast,” “2001,” and others. Now, some people may argue that these are all great films, but I would disagree. I would agree, however, that they were influential in their own ways.
Influential films don’t always achieve greatness. Great films don’t always influence. Influential films change the way people watch and make movies, and they make some people want to try and tell a story their own way. Great films resonate with people on various levels, but they may not cause them to pick up a camera or change the way they view film. That’s the difference. It doesn’t mean that being a film that resonates with people is better than being on that influences them in one way or another. It just means they’re different. I don’t think a lot of people get it, and I know a lot of critics don’t understand.
Like I said, I calls ‘em likes I sees ‘em. “Citizen Kane” is, without a doubt, inspiring, but it’s also a cold movie that at times seems far too bombastic and overly important, and the critics play right into it. Then again, a lot of critics seem far too bombastic and overly important, so I guess they’re just happy to have a friend.
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Posted on December 1, 2005 in Features by Doug Brunell
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