You have to see Citizen Kane.
Or so went the watchword around any college campus in the seventies. Especially if you took any film classes.
When it was announced for the schedule at the Harvard Exit, I didn’t join the queue for tickets. Instead, I called Art Bernstein. I had learned that they did reciprocate with other theaters in the area as a professional courtesy. (Though I do not know if they ever had to time to come and see a film where I worked. They probably attended the trade screenings for newer films).
Citizen Kane was…
A tour de force.
A powerful experience of sight and sound. Orson Welles fired on all cylinders when making this film. And a V-12 aircraft engine at that.
It was not a thrill ride like the modernday summer tentpole blockbuster. It was thrilling in that it was totally captivating. And it was a bit of a ride in the sense that you were on a journey with the reporter who is trying to unravel the mystery surrounding the title character’s last recorded word – Rosebud.
The camera panned, tilted, moved, passed through skylights, and stopped and brooded. You were led around by the nose, and happy for it. The shots were composed, angled, and focused in multi-planes. Everything was calculated to rivet your interest. Gregg Toland, the cinematographer, gave his all to electrify the screen for Welles’ story.
The reality of the images was bolstered by the reality of the sound. Dialogues overlapped. Sounds near or far were distinguishable as such. The sound set tones, revealed character, enhanced emotions. And then the music by Bernard Herrmann fortified the whole.
Then the film ended. The lights came up. We all knew, (if we were paying attention) what Rosebud was. Ironically, the reporter character in the film did not. He was still in the dark.
Conversation bubbled up around me. But I found that for myself, I just wanted to think more about it. A moral was somewhere there in the telling. For the viewer (or reader) the protagonist in a story becomes a lodestone, off of which to bounce oneself.
And that’s what I was doing. How could I avoid the fate of Charles Foster Kane? I was not rich, that would most likely help, but I could identify something in me that was similar. Ambition.
Ambition is what I settled upon as the stumbling block that brought him down. It was what led to the corruption in his character that left him bereft of his simple happiness.
So, I came away with a new ambition – to avoid ambition.