It may not be your stereotypical Christmas movie full of dancing elves, fat Santa’s and talking reindeers but there is something about Citizen Kane that always makes me feel festive. Orson Welles co-wrote, produced, directed and starred in this 9 times academy nominated film from 1941 and it despite almost costing Welles his career has gained notoriety in the film world and is often the subject of cinematic debate.
Loosely based on the life of William Randolph Hearst, a prominent figure in the newspaper industry of the time, Welles plays Charles Foster Kane, a wealthy newspaper producer, who is living in seclusion in his huge mansion in Florida. We first meet him on his death bed as he utters the word ‘Rosebud’ in his final breath and drops the snow globe he was clutching in his pale hands. His death becomes global news and a reporter, Jerry Thompson, seeks to decipher the meaning of his final word by talking to those who knew him. He tracks down Kane’s childhood Guardian whose memoirs allow Thompson to learn about Kane’s childhood. He finds out that he grew up in poverty in Colorado. Through a series of flashbacks we learn that the boarding house run by his parents was sitting on top of the world’s third largest goldmine. He was forced to leave his Mother and ended up in the care of Walter Parks Thatcher, his new legal Guardian. At the age of 25, Kane gained full legal access to all of his possessions and enters the newspaper with his seemingly attractive journalistic style of writing which was void of all fact and knowledge and used bold headlines to sell papers. He took over the company, The New York Inquirer, and his rise to power is documented. He marries a President’s niece and runs for the office of Governor of New York State. The next few years see his marriage disintegrate, his chance at office disappear and the wonders of his life ripped away from him. His last few years were spent in isolation in his Floridian home and his staff recall a time he had previously uttered the word ‘Rosebud’ shortly after his first wife had left him.
At the end of the film it is revealed to the audience what ‘Rosebud’ really means, Thompson couldn’t decipher the meaning of the word and it is us and Kane who know exactly what it refers to. This reveal has since been called ‘the greatest secret in cinema’ by renowned film critic David Thomson. Welles was never particularly keen on the concept of using ‘Rosebud’ as a thematic device for mystery and said in an interview “we did everything we could to take the mickey out of it”. William Randolph Hearst reportedly banned the film from being advertised in any of his newspapers and offered distribution company RKO Films over $800’000 to destroy all known prints and negatives of the film. Despite Hearst’s efforts the film was fairly profitable and was the 6th most successful film that year, however it is considered to be Welles’ worst work as it almost cost him his career due to the backlash from Hearst.
I can’t tell you why exactly this film reminds me of Christmas because that will ruin it for you, so you will just have to borrow it and see for yourselves! Nothing like a bit of Christmas mystery.
If a black and white film documenting the life and death of a successful newspaper magnate isn’t your idea of a festive favourite, we have plenty of others in the DVD ZONE to choose from, including ELF, MIRACLE ON 34th STREET and THE MUPPETS CHRISTMAS CAROL.
Have a great Christmas!
Further Reading in the Information Store:
Citizen Kane by Orson Welles – DVD ZONE – Shelved at 791.43
Citizen Kane by Dan Williams – BOOK ZONE – Shelved at 791.4372
Orson Welles: A Biography by Barbara Leaming – BOOK ZONE – Shelved at 791.430233092