In Defense of Citizen Kane

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For longer than I can remember (not actually, but for the sake of starting this post let’s assume so), Citizen Kane was considered among the greatest Orson Welles films of all time. Citizen Kane is a startling drama about the life of a business mogul (someone who makes moguls for ski slopes. A stupid premise for a film I know, but he makes it work). It follows his descent from glory (a dangerous ski run) and is regularly ranked as the top film of all time. However, recently in the past few years, Vertigo, the U2 biopic by Hitchcock seized the number one position and cast Citizen Kane to the cold, hard, slightly damp though it may just feel that way from the cold, ground.

Hate has been piled upon Citizen Kane like it was potatoes and hate was gravy and it was the start of a Thanksgiving dinner. Well, hatesgiving may be more accurate, am I right? Upon the opening night of the film, a terminally ill man, as legend goes, walked up to Orson, shook his hand and said “good, not great” and died on the spot. First of all, good not great? I’m glad this man and his opinions are no longer with us. Citizen Kane is as classic as classic get. Let me break down why.

First of all, the writing, acting, and directing from Orson Welles are top notch. I often do not use the subjective “Notch” rating by Arthur H. Notch, but in this case I will use it to defend my favorite film. In “The Objective Analysis of Subjective Film Studies”, Notch writes “one’s opinions, though at their very core springing from a combination of genetic and environmental variables that predetermine our analysis, are valid objectively when studied as a whole” (Notch 134). Notch, who died young and on a motorcycle, felt that the personal critiques we derive towards what we’ve watched, is not objective, but can be when our biases are viewed as a whole. But enough film theory for one night.

Objectively critics have long since declared this to be the best movie of all time. One cannot argue with the critics. Even Notch recognized that some are better equipped for the subjective experience of a film. Yet why are some critics now claiming Vertigo as actually the better film?  That’s a good question. Thanks for asking. Now let’s try to find an answer, friends. When Vertigo came out it was unappreciated. One critic said it “the most brilliant thing they had ever seen” (Chadworth 3). This critic, Wiley Chadworth, did not know the actual definition of the word brilliant, and based on context, thought it meant something unspeakably terrible. The preceding sentence was “watching this movie is about as pleasurable as having sex with my wife”. His wife, Judith Lyles Chadworth, had died three weeks before the premiere in a fatal domino suicide (she had set up an elaborate series of dominos, with the pushed over object slowly growing in size. Eventually it reached her, pushing her square off the cliff. However, Vertigo was recently re-evaluated and critical plaudits are being shoveled down its throat to replace the scorn that ensnared it. People are really placing too much praise on it to make up for what it lacked when it came out. This has gotten to a point where it has surpassed even Citizen Kane. This needs to stop.

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