There is a moment late in the film where we see its grand protagonist, Charles Foster Kane, late into his life, is abandoned by his second wife, reacting to it with a primitive compulsion as he one by one sabotages the decorated structures of the master bedroom; it is a scene that I have seen mocked for its simplicity and melodramatic, and agreed, when viewed upon isolated, one can perceive the scene with such attributes, but when taken upon with context, a point where we have embarked on a historical journey of a single man’s life, viewing upon it from multiple angles; there is a collective understanding in his actions, it speaks volume of an expression that ties into Rosebud, almost equally as the actual element itself. It is this particular scene that has resonated with me since my first encounter, a moment of over-emphasis in movement that the film has restrained itself from, an explosive violence that feeds off the psychological and emotional tortures of a single man, a utilisation of melodramatics that fittingly reveals its depths in a manner that is also artistically cryptic.
The film maintains this ambiguous aesthetic due to its fractured storytelling, told non-sequentially, and draws itself from the perspectives of those closest to Kane, which would always leave that crucial personal factor that, much like Rosebud, add on as a critical piece to the entire Jigsaw Puzzle that is his life. Those who truly understood the nature of Rosebud have already passed away, and much of it has been kept underneath Kane’s persona that those who are still living to tell his tale, cannot possibly gain a definitive clue of his deepest scars and yearnings. It is this barrier to the film’s opportunity to trespass Kane’s life is what made the entire film so intellectually engaging, we formulate theories that would hope to concretely pin down this marvellous figure, but despite our attempts, we are still left with gaps that cannot be possibly filled. However, Orson Welles — star and director — provides the audience with enough information from its “secondary” sources that we are able to feel fulfilled with our endeavour, that it’s marketing for a tale of something great was matched by Welles and his cast’s execution.
Such intimate depth was however not solely reliant on the dialogue of its writers and the performances of its cast; a critical piece that has allowed the film to be resonant even to the audiences of today is its contribution and innovations of the film’s photography; a wonderful collaboration between Welles’ visionary outlook and Gregg Toland’s motivation to experiment has led to something avant-garde, a wonderful supplement to the core narrative that allowed its inner ideas to blossom with great impact. It was simply engaging to view upon the choices that Toland and Welles have made, the need to utilise Deep Focus photography to great lengths, the desire to enclose its characters further through the constant vision of its low ceilings, the swallowing and symbolic presence of shadows, the wonderful visual cues in its momentary transitions, that ultimately assemble to something spectacular; a grand piece of filmmaking that rarely steers away from great intimacy, driving its audience to look beyond the traditional modes of cinematic storytelling and interact with the feature in a new light.
Beyond the film’s game-changing finale, the film highlights the independence and inexperience of its production through the tag that come on the screen that states the cast’s unwealthy experience, but judging upon the experience that I have just endured, one couldn’t determine that such a cast was new to the cinematic medium, with almost each one embodying their roles effectively and with ease that it can leave some of us stunned, particularly Joseph Cotten and Everett Sloane who respectively played Jedediah Leland and Mr. Bernstein. The roles feel lived in as we observe and listen to them reflect upon instilled portions of their roles’ pasts as if they themselves have endured a similar experience. They interact with one another that is natural, a method that feels out of place in the period in the time of the film’s conception, and they allow a sense of growth to be felt in these flashbacks rather than simply have them be viewed upon as a recited document, almost as if transported back to their youthful bodies, interacting once again with the now deceased Charles Foster Kane.
If there was an aspect of Citizen Kane that I would have to criticise, it would be the film’s inability to involve me with great emotion, very rarely does it strike a chord in me that would have be empathise significantly with the titular character, one that is more so than what Welles’ evokes from his own manipulation. I wanted to truly feel the tortures of this majestic figure, and though objectively it is palpable, from a subjective perspective, I found the experience to be quite reserved. Possibly this wasn’t Welles’ intention, Citizen Kane is a far too much of an intellectual film to allow sentimentality to intrude its scene to scene composition, but I guess I cannot help but hope for a little more than what was left for me to consume. Ironically however, the unlocking piece that is “Rosebud” reveals itself to be the most simple and sentimental element of this character’s construction, one that embodies this man’s loss, regret, sorrow, ambition, and love, in a way that is constantly obscured by the conscious emotions that he presently endures in these later flashbacks and the mature method in Welles’ storytelling; to lose such a quality for the sake of more outward emotions would be a travesty, so therefore I cannot win with such a film.
Citizen Kane is a debut that all directors aspire to, a product that would stand the test of time and elevate one to a stature of such great merit that to simply end it from there would have been a satisfactory enough of an experience; unfortunately, Welles was a yearning artist, and from this debut he continued on to create films that cater to his vision, and constantly he was restrained or denied of such pleasure, enduring a career that he may feel that is less worthy than he had once imagined, nevertheless, through great commitment and passion, he has endowed us with a cinematic masterpiece that truly lives up to the expectations and acclaim that it has formulated itself since its conception; a film that is a testament to my desire to search back in the catalogues of the early years of this wonderful medium, to absorb stories told in ways that is simply different, and occasionally more rewarding, than anything that the medium currently offers.