This is an installment for a series on this blog where Joe Brown, Regional Editor for RiverTown Multimedia, and I have a back-and-forth review of a movie. We will take turns selecting a movie — any movie we want — and review it here. For this installment, I picked “Citizen Kane.”
The Movie: “Citizen Kane”
Starring: Orson Welles, Joseph Cotten, Dorothy Comingore
Director: Orson Welles
Plot Summary: (From IMDB) Following the death of a publishing tycoon, news reporters scramble to discover the meaning of his final utterance.
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 100 percent
Froemming: Holy buckets do we have some oversized (REDACTED) this week here at the JOE-DOWN. It’s classic movie month, so I decided to go with a film about a man raised in wealth, has the world at his fingers, uses populism to gain adoration from the people, but is ultimately a flawed human being who cannot tell the difference between right and wrong, moral and amoral and can never find true love.
No, I’m not going with a Trump joke here, that’s too easy. I’m talking about Charles Foster Kane, a newspaper publisher who uses and abuses his influence to skew the populace’s opinions on matters of the day.
Basically the analog version of the 24-hour news network.
This week we are going to snark on “Citizen Kane,” arguably the greatest movie ever made with a Rotten Tomatoes rating of *checks the website* 100 percent. Ooof.
Brown, why don’t you give us your first thoughts while I dust my giant collection of statues imported from all over the world in my mansion palace named after a bad Olivia Newton John movie.
Brown: My experience regarding “Citizen Kane” is based on two ‘90s shows.
And “The Critic.”
So yes, while I know “Citizen Kane” came out in the ‘30s and is considered a landmark movie, all I can think in my ‘90s kid brain is they used C. Montgomery Burns’ life and Orson Welles sold frozen vegetables full of “green pea-ness.”
That said, watching it, I can totally get the kind of delayed gratification this movie got because it is absolutely a movie before its time.
I’m going to find my snowglobe quick, so you can start us off, Froemming.
Froemming: A few things before I start.
- The cinematography in this still blows me away. Welles’ work here still rivals any filmmaker to follow him.
- I too was raised on the jokes from “The Critic” and “The Simpsons” regarding this movie and Welles’ later career hawking crap in commercials and at times looking visibly drunk.
- I was about halfway through this when I was suddenly baffled as to why I knew all these lines, but had only seen the movie once a decade ago. Turns out, The White Stripes’ “The Union Forever” is made almost entirely of quotes from this movie.
OK, we are greeted with a pan of a mansion that would most certainly be the backdrop of an episode of “Scooby-Doo.”
We then see an old man on his deathbed with a snowglobe, which he drops and utters his final words:
This is followed by a News of the World screening outlining his larger than life existence over the years. His rise in the publishing world, his political sway, the time he hung out with Hitler…
As we see, the man made some bad decisions in his life, most notably his creepy mustache that should have him banned from being within 100 yards of schools across America.
Brown: I have to admit, when the opening of the movie began with the look at Charles Foster Kane’s creepy-ass house, I thought we picked the wrong movie because it did look like a horror movie opening. All it needed was a Vincent Price voice over. Also, it appeared to have a haunted golf course. Wicked greens, I imagine.
Now, the most disturbing part of this movie: Kane’s home. The estate is called Xanadu (and yes, I sung it every time I heard the name). And it is constantly referred to as a “pleasure palace.”
Referring to something as a pleasure palace is an assault on the senses. It’s a place that I imagine is filled with an overwhelming smell of baby oil and a rightful sense of dread like that of a hypochondriac if you touch anything.
Froemming: Well, it turns out the journalists working on a story on Kane’s life needs something more: What did his last words mean? What was Rosebud? And I’m sorta upset seeing a time when a newspaper would fly a reporter all over the country to get to the bottom of something that kinda seems silly. Those were the days, huh Brown?
Brown: I don’t know what you’re talking about. I get to drive around and eat club sandwiches for a feature in our Dining & Destinations magazine.
Froemming: Thumbs down to that shameless plug of yours.
Anyway, reporter Jerry Thompson is on the hunt for this Rosebud angle, and his first lead is Kane’s second wife, who is too drunk to talk to him.
So he visits the archive of Walter Parks Thatcher, the guy who raised Kane and pilfers through the dead man’s memoirs for juicy tips. And thus, we learn of a time when banks and rich people bought the children of poor people.
Kane wasn’t born into wealth. He was born dirt poor in Colorado to a drunk father and a mother who doesn’t even second guess her decision to sell her boy off to a wealthy stranger, which sorta sounds like it should be illegal to me.
Brown: Hey, if “The Simpsons” taught me anything, it’s that you can sell children where Springfield is and in Mississippi.
Froemming: Wouldn’t happen in Shelbyville.
Then we get this really interesting shot of his parents negotiating with Thatcher as we also see young Kane playing in the snow, showing us his childhood innocence was bought and sold right there. And once Kane is told he is going off with this stranger to the East Coast, he shoves his sled into the guy’s gut.
Nearly-80-year-old spoiler alert: The sled is Rosebud.
Brown: Yeah, I don’t get this. What is the incentive for a wealthy man to take this child from his (presumably) dirt-farming family? They lived on what turned out to be a gold mine… isn’t the incentive to buy out the family from their dirt farm so they can dig out said gold?
I will say, unlike Mr. Burns, at least Kane doesn’t want to leave and attacks Thatcher with his sled. And Kane never seems happy in his new setting. So how does a parent at the turn of the 1900s deal with a disobedient child? Ship him off until he’s an adult that got booted from half of the Ivy League! And give him his trust fund worth millions of dollars as well!
Froemming: Kane sure does have a chip on his shoulder about that, and his goal in life is to be everything Thatcher hates. So he buys the New York Inquirer, and has his reporters dish on shady business practices Thatcher and his good time buddies are up to. When Thatcher tells young Kane that his reporting had already cost him a million dollars that year, Kane replies it will the next year and the year after that, and he will probably have to fold the paper in about 60 years.
Damn Brown, Kane has already schooled us in the art of snarky comebacks.
Brown: I laughed to myself when Thatcher asked Kane what he would have wanted to be if given the chance. I went straight to Monty Python: A lumberjack! Leaping from tree to tree!
Now, young Charles Foster Kane is essentially a newsroom’s nightmare. He basically runs a tabloid that is more concerned with getting readers than telling the truth. Spoken like a true businessman and not a bulldog reporter.
Then, on his first night, he gets the paper out late because he changes the front page five times. The mailroom would choke him with his own entrails if he tried that (REDACTED) in real life.
But, Kane is ahead of his time, because fake news sells.
Froemming: We should mention that part of Kane was inspired by real-life newspaper publisher and yellow journalism pusher William Randolph Hearst. For perspective, if this movie was made today, it would be if Steven Spielberg made a giant middle-finger biopic of Rupert Murdoch.
We even have a moment when a reporter has a dispatch from Cuba and Kane says to send the message that the guy needs to supply the prose, Kane will supply the war. He uses his media influence to start a war. Hearst sort of did that in real life.
Now, Thompson gets some insight to Kane, but nothing about Rosebud. His next interview is with Mr. Bernstein, which I am sure the Mandela Effect will change the spelling of in a few years.
Brown: Bernstein mentions that Kane bought all the top journalists from the Inquirer’s biggest competition. And, we celebrate.
The best way I can describe Orson Welles’ portrayal of young Kane is that he has the charm and looks of young Vince Vaughn in “Swingers.”
Meanwhile, in the background of this party, Kane’s best friend, Jedediah has skepticism that the new newspaper reporters will change Kane instead of vice versa.
He’s not far off. Because after a hiatus, the next time we see Charles Foster Kane, he has a mustache and he’s in a hurry to leave the office because he’s got a date with the president’s niece, which apparently is a HUGE deal in the country. Eventually, Kane marries the niece, Emily Norton, and somehow becomes like American royalty.
Froemming: Kane has set up what he calls his Declaration of Principles for journalism, which he immediately discards by saying things like “if the headline is big enough, the story is big enough” which goes against everything Brown and I were trained. He even uses his power as publisher to make the big stories on the front pages about him, which in today’s world would cause a mutiny in the newsroom.
At the end of Mr. Bernstein’s interview, we learn that if it wasn’t for Kane’s Spanish-American War, we wouldn’t have the Panama Canal.
Next up for Thompson is Mr. Leland, who was a features editor and buddy of Kane’s, until Kane’s hubris and amoral attitude toward the truth pushed him away. Also, Mr. Leland, probably out of spite, has an even creepier mustache than Kane, his “I won” moment with his old frenemy. Brown, if you go first, I will collect one more Funko Pop doll than you had in your collection.
Brown: Go ahead, Froemming. Throw your money away!
So, with his marriage to Emily, we see Kane’s descent. The guy is all about power. First, it was power over the man who took his childhood by playing Thatcher’s own game. The problem is now, he becomes Thatcher because his power stems from money now that he had to sell his controlling share of the Inquirer thanks to the Great Depression.
And his marriage feels the strain. One night while outside and covered with mud somehow, Kane is entranced by a young woman, Susan. Mostly because she doesn’t treat Kane different because she somehow doesn’t know who Charles Foster Kane is.
Froemming: I just want to add here that Welles was only 25 when he made this movie. What was I doing at 25? Not making the greatest film of all time, I can tell you that.
Now Susan makes the mistake of telling Kane she likes to sing. And with a borderline abusive obsession throughout the movie — the likes we wouldn’t see again until Joe Jackson bullied his children into The Jackson 5 — he starts making this poor woman sing all the time. The problem: She isn’t really good. She just likes singing, she doesn’t want a career out of it.
Also during this time, Kane is running for governor of New York. He packs Madison Square Garden like he was Springsteen or something for a speech. He is popular with the voters, but he is only interested in the applause and thinking he is giving people their freedoms and liberty, like they were presents of his to give. Almost like a July Fourth Santa Claus.
But he has ruffled the feathers of his opponent in the race, who has dirt on Kane.
Brown: Look, I wasn’t going into this movie wanting to make Donald Trump comparisons, but we’re about to make a lot of them.
So during his speech, Kane talks about how much of a criminal the current governor, Boss Geddys, is. And once he’s in office, he will look to have Geddys arrested. So at this point, Kane is a Twitter account away from coining the term “Crooked” Boss Geddys.
Froemming: LOCK HIM UP! LOCK HIM UP!
Brown: Now, Emily gets a vague letter that leads her to Susan’s apartment, where Geddys is waiting. There, Geddys threatens Kane and vows to expose Kane’s relationship with Susan. And he does it, because politics are a dirty, dirty game.
You see the headlines in the paper: “Kane caught in love nest with ‘singer.’” It kills his political career. Imagine that: Cheating on your wife was political suicide 80 years ago. Susan was the ‘30s Stormy Daniels.
Then, when Kane loses the election, the Inquirer’s headline says “Fraud at polls.” All those undocumented immigrants voted Geddys, apparently. It’s time for congress to launch an investigation.
Froemming: Like you, I didn’t want to go into another round of Trump jokes and comparisons, but holy (REDACTED) whis film feels like it predicted the Trump story. Kane is basically Trump if Trump was a Democrat. It’s not the politics, it’s the hubris of a broken man.
Brown: I’d like to imagine that after Kane lost the election, he wandered the woods in upstate New York like Hill-Dog.
Instead, he just spent his time destroying a woman’s self-confidence by making her the star of an opera she had no business being a part of because he’s Charles Foster Kane, damn it. He has the Midas touch.
Froemming: This is what he basically does to her life, metaphorically:
Brown: Susan finally gives Thompson his interview and talks more about the failed opera career. During this exchange, my favorite performance in the movie emerges: Susan’s vocal teacher. He’s so over-the-top and Italian. He’s getting paid well, I imagine, and you can see the pain in his face as he fails to help Susan improve.
Still, nothing will stop Kane. Because he built a (REDACTED) opera house for his squeeze.
Froemming: And her debut is — not good at all. The Inquirer devotes its front page to claiming she killed it, but. Mr. Leland’s review isn’t in. Why? He’s passed out drunk at his desk, back when newsrooms were great. Kane reads what Leland has started and finds the truth: His wife’s singing is garbage. And to prove a point to Leland, he finishes the bad review for him. An attempt to prove … something. I dunno. But Susan hates the review and the fact Kane fired Leland with a $25K going-away bonus.
Brown: Leland gets maybe the greatest (REDACTED) you moment I’ve seen in a movie. After getting canned, Leland sends a letter to Kane that has a torn-up check worth $25K AND the Declaration of Principles that he said he’d frame earlier in the movie. Damn. That’s harsh.
And life continues to dump on Charles Foster Kane as Susan makes her escape from Xanadu. I don’t blame her. No one wants to live in a pleasure palace.
Froemming: Not enough bleach in the world to keep someone at a pleasure palace. Their lives are lonely and boring. Kane broods around the place like he was in a Zack Snyder DC film, and Susan does puzzles to kill the time. Both are miserable. Kane just collects people like he collects statues and other objects. So, she dumps him so she can be free and happy. She doesn’t get that happy ending, nobody in this movie does. Except maybe Leland and his cigars. He seems happy with life at the hospital he is at. Another middle finger to his old buddy Kane.
Brown: When Susan leaves Kane, he starts destroying her room. And bless Orson Welles for making a better room destruction scene than Tommy Wiseau accomplished 70-plus years later. I was really hoping that Kane would toss a CRTV out of the window.
Amidst his rampage, Kane stops when he reaches the snowglobe and repeats our safety word once again: Rosebud.
If you had a toy from your childhood that calmed you from rage and embodied your innocence, would would it be, Froemming?
Froemming: Kinda embarrassed to say it, but like C. Montgomery Burns it would be my old stuffed bear. You?
Brown: Probably an old Nintendo. The NES was my third parent. Or my old My Little Buddy, which I would jump off my dresser and elbow drop like I was Randy “Macho Man” Savage in my youth.
Froemming: Well, we are at the end of Thompson’s journey. He’s learned a lot about the man, but nothing about Rosebud. The media is photographing Kane’s large collection of junk, perhaps the most elaborate hoarder of all time. And we see a guy grab the old sled CLEARLY MARKED ROSEBUD and tosses it into a furnace. Kane’s symbol of his innocent childhood is now ashes.
I think it is time we smashed our snowglobes down to recommendations.
Brown: Hold that thought. I have one MAJOR problem with this movie I have to address.
How did everyone know his final words were “Rosebud”?
When the scene begins, we see Kane mouth the words in his sleep and drop the snowglobe. It’s after the globe breaks when a nurse walks in to find the deceased tycoon.
NO ONE HEARD HIM SAY ROSEBUD! IT’S A MAJOR PLOTHOLE.
Froemming: He’s obsessed with his image, probably sent out a press release with the info before he died. If it were today, you know he would have tweeted that cryptic last word.
Brown: Or on Facebook so his friends would ask “What’s wrong” and he’d be all “I DON’T WANNA TALK ABOUT IT” or “My mom sux >:(.”
WOULD YOU RECOMMEND?
Froemming: Yes. I love this movie. Welles was ahead of the game with filmmaking. And the journalist in me loves watching movies about journalism.
Brown: Despite the Rosebud plot hole, I would recommend this movie. It’s shot better than many modern-day movies and Welles was doing that aging makeup thing before anyone else. This movie is truly decades ahead of where it should have been.
Here is what’s coming up for the next Joe-Down: