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YMMV / Citizen Kane

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  • All There Is to Know About "The Crying Game": It's a guarantee that the only thing people who've never seen the movie know about it is that It Was His Sled.
  • Award Snub: The film losing the Academy Award for Best Picture to How Green Was My Valley, which is considered the most iconic instance of this. The only Oscar it took home that year was for Best Original Screenplay (the only competitive Oscar which Orson Welles won, which he shared with Herman Mankiewicz), not even winning awards for Art Direction or Cinematography. Plus, the film was roundly booed when its nomination was announced.note  Many have pointed towards this as yet another example of Hearst using his influence to undermine the film, but others argue that the film's experimental nature would have made it difficult to win the Oscar anywaynote .
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  • Awesome Music: The score by Bernard Herrmann. Special mentions goes to the ending scene where the soundtrack booms ominously when we see the smoke of the Rosebud sled rise out of Xanadu's chimney.
  • Big-Lipped Alligator Moment: That damn cockatoo in the third act. You know the one. It just pops into the camera and screeches, then it disappears. Apparently, it's just there to jolt the audience awake before the final few scenes, but it has absolutely nothing to do with the plot.
  • "Common Knowledge":
    • People assume Marion Davies had a bad career, as her expy in the film shows. In fact, Marion Davies was widely considered a talented actress and comedienne, independent of all the publicity Hearst arranged for her. Hearst did push Davies towards melodramatic leading-lady roles, despite performing better in light comedy. Ironically, Welles and Mankiewicz claimed that they made Susan so talentless to ensure she wasn't confused with Marion Davies. Instead, the opposite happened.
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    • The film is often regarded as a satire on Hearst and Hearst alone. In truth, the film was intended to be a general satire and tragedy of The American Dream and the resemblances to Hearst came about largely because screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz was a regular at Hearst's parties and knew him well. Both he and Welles included details from several American tycoons like Samuel Insull and Howard Hughes in addition to Hearst. Likewise, Welles himself never intended the film to be a Take That! on Hearst, indeed the drafts of the screenplay credited to him show that it was Welles who made Kane more sympathetic and that the original screenplay was a good deal more anti-Hearst.
    • Everyone from Pauline Kael to Cracked claims that no one actually heard Kane's last words, therefore the whole "Rosebud" mystery is a plot hole. In reality, Raymond the Butler tells the journalist that he was present during Kane's death, so presumably he heard "Rosebud" himself. There's also Kael's claim that Mankiewicz wrote the entire script himself, and that Welles unfairly took credit. Despite being thoroughly debunked by Robert L. Carringer, Peter Bogdanovich and others, this argument's still repeated by credulous film buffs.
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    • Many see the Hearst controversy as really ending Welles' career and see the film's bad reception as single-handedly stifling a great talent a la Tall Poppy Syndrome. The truth is that Citizen Kane, while criticized and seen as attracting unwanted attention from a powerful man, was a highly respected production in Hollywood at the time. Yes it was booed at the Oscars, but it was also nominated for the awards, and Welles won an Oscar (with Mankiewicz) for his screenplay. The film was admired for its technical brilliance and Welles had enough admirers to balance out others who disliked him. It was The Magnificent Ambersons that truly tarnished his reputation, since unlike Kane (which had a smooth, competent production), Ambersons was a famous mess and more or less made sure that Welles would never have Auteur License again.
    • It's often noted how Welles ended up like Kane, dying alone and miserable. In reality, Welles was working right up until his death (literally as he died while typing up a filming schedule) and he was living with a girlfriend and had a circle of friends who all claimed he was very happy.
  • Ensemble Dark Horse: Considering, this is one's America's most beloved films, one might say the entire secondary cast as a whole, but here are some specific examples:
    • All of Kane's associates who didn't get a lot of screen time.
      • Walter Thatcher, Kane's legal guardian and bank manager, is a favorite for raising Charles and putting up with his rudeness, he wasn't even as abusive as Charles' actual father. Plus he tried to talk sense to Kane after he was using yellow journalism.
      • Mr. Bernstein, Kane's deferential personal manager and business partner, is loved for being one of Kane's most loyal assistants, including supporting Kane and Susan's operatic career when nobody else did.
      • Raymond, Kane's butler, has the least screentime of all of Kane's assoicates, but he claimed to have heard Kane's final words when he died, even though he didn't know what it meant.
    • Emily Monroe Norton Kane, Charles' first wife, is a well-written counterpart to Susan — Kane's next wife. Not to mention the famous breakfast montage.
    • Audiences were so impressed with Agnes Moorehead's role as Mary Kane with very little screentime and dialogue, they gave her roles in additional movies as a supporting actress. Also see One-Scene Wonder.
  • Fair for Its Day: Superficially, Mr. Bernstein is an obvious Jewish visual stereotype, but he's notably far less materialistic than Kane. The part was played by the Jewish Everett Sloane, a frequent collaborator with Welles.
    Mr. Bernstein: It's no trick to make a big pile of money, if all you want is just a big pile of money.
  • Fandom Heresy: The quickest way a critic or film school teacher can kill their street cred is to trash this film. Which is ironic since the film itself was an Acclaimed Flop in its day and it only became Vindicated by History in the 50s and 70s, so if Kane has that reputation, it took a while to get there and did undergo "the test of time".
  • Fridge Brilliance: Kane was at the Manhattan Warehouse looking for his old sled, but couldn't find it, when he meets Susan.
  • Genius Bonus:
    • The title of the film is a subtle allusion to the French Revolution, wherein the Republican government forced the people to use the titles "Citizen" and "Citizeness" in place of the more traditional "Monsieur" and "Madame" note  and christened many of their high-ranking officials "Citizen ______". Just like the French revolutionaries, Kane starts out as a fiery young populist hero who sets out to take on the establishment, but he turns on most of his old friends and allies once he proves unable to handle power, and essentially becomes the very establishment that he once sought to bring down.
    • A subtle one for connoisseurs of the history of journalism: the newsreel narration is written in the distinctive early style of Time Magazine, with its characteristic inverted sentences ("Legendary was Xanadu [...] One hundred thousand trees, twenty thousand tons of marble are the ingredients of Xanadu's mountain") and generally breathless reverence for power and wealth.
  • Harsher in Hindsight: Kane begins as a svelte young man who gradually gains weight over the years. One notable scene has him gorging himself at a dinner table, proclaiming that he's "still hungry." Welles himself was plagued by an overindulgence of food and alcohol throughout his life.
  • Hilarious in Hindsight:
    • Kane states he's going to the Western Manhattan Warehouse in NJ to look through his old stuff from his boyhood (his sled, presumably). During restoration efforts, a lone 35mm master negative and soundtrack of Orson Welles' The Tragedy of Othello: The Moor of Venice (1952), long thought to have been destroyed, was found at the Western Manhattan Warehouse. Ironically, Welles' version of Othello also had the main character Dead to Begin With and an investigation into his death in flashback - just like Kane.
    • One of the film's inspirations, along with Hearst, was Howard Hughes and the movie would have been closer to a Hughes-satire than a Heart-one until Welles met Mankiewicz (who had dirt on Hearst and wanted payback on the latter for chucking him out of San Simeon's guest list). Hughes' later life paralleled Kane's in remarkable ways, including the greater paranoia, total privacy and hermetic existence, with his death similarly setting off on a huge media frenzy about the overall mystery of his life.
    • Kane's rampage in which he destroys a bunch of his wife's things after she leaves him was basically copied in The Room, the so-called "Citizen Kane of bad movies".
  • Hype Backlash: Big time. When you have people always boasting about this movie and its reputation—to say nothing of practically every single list calling it The Greatest Movie Of All Time—this will be inevitable.note  Even movie-buffs are guilt of this. When Citizen Kane was toppled from #1 in 2012's Sight and Sound Poll (for the first time in sixty years), many of the participants voting admitted that they kept Kane out because they wanted to topple it in favor of other films. In actual fact, Vertigo became Number 1 in the Critics' Poll, while Tokyo Story became #1 in the Director's Poll.
  • It Was His Sled: Partially due to this being the Trope Namer. Kane's final words are "Rosebud" and the movie is largely dedicated to Jerry Thompson's search for meaning behind this word. Turns out "Rosebud" was a sled he had as a child.
  • Jerkass Woobie: Charles Foster Kane can certainly count. For all his arrogance, stubbornness, and the way he hurts the people around him, he's clearly a sad shell of a man who never could attain the happiness he so desperately tried to attain and he dies alone and miserable.
  • Memetic Mutation: The Slow Clap Kane begins at his second wife's performance is infamous on the Internet as a reaction gif.
    • (random object) is the Citizen Kane of (type of random object).
    • The famous "Rosebud" moment, oh so much. The scene's been referenced to hell and back and it's a very emotional moment.
  • Misaimed Fandom: A meme-exclusive example - gifs of the aforementioned Slow Clap are typically used for completely non-ironic praise, when its actual purpose in the film is to show Kane's sheer bullheaded arrogance.
  • Narm: Most of Orson Welles's performance as Older Kane is pretty Narmy, deliberately so as Welles noted to Bogdanovich since Kane had become a caricature of his former self at the time.
  • Older Than They Think: There are a few precursors to the film's story and form:
    • Much of Kane strongly resembles an obscure 1933 drama, William K. Howard's The Power and the Glory (screenplay by Preston Sturges) starring Spencer Tracy. Both films feature the friends and family of a controversial tycoon retelling his life story through flashbacks, showing the tycoon corrupted by power and his marriage wrecked by extramarital affairs and his own coldness. Welles denied ever having seen the film, but Herman Mankiewicz and John Houseman (who assisted with early script drafts) were both familiar with it. That said, there are substantial differences between them: Sturges' film has only one narrator rather than Kane's multiple narrators, and likewise the film excuses the tycoon's dubious actions, such as brutally suppressing a railworkers strike, whereas Welles never lets Kane off the hook for his comparatively milder actions.
    • The structure of an icon whose story is told through multiple perspectives was also used in Marching Song, a play about the abolitionist John Brown written by Welles when he was a teenager. But as the play was never produced (and not published until 2019) it's understandable that few are aware of it.
    • The plot also greatly resembles Aldous Huxley's little known 1938 novel, After Many A Summer which also has a millionaire in Hollywood, who lives a hermetic life in retreat at a transparent San Simeon Expy. Huxley's story was also a satire of American culture, and he modeled the tycoon and his mistress on Hearst and Marion Davies.
    • While the film is credited for its use of deep-focus and cinematic use of long-takes and tracking shot, many scholars note that instances of such innovations can be found in films by Ford (in particular Stagecoach and The Long Voyage Home, the latter also shot by Toland) and William Wyler, as well as films by Jean Renoir, most famously The Rules of the Game, which made in 1939 was also a controversial film in its home country. Renoir's film likewise had Meaningful Background Event, multiple planes of action, and use of deep focus to show action across multiple planes. Welles' pioneering use of sound-cues for Match Cut and Answer Cut is also there in M by Fritz Lang.
  • One-Scene Wonder: Portraying Kane's mother, Agnes Moorehead proved her potential as a movie actress through only a few minutes of screentime and dialogue.
  • Pop-Cultural Osmosis: Rosebud, the flashback structure, Kane orating before a giant self-portrait, Susan Alexander's opera debut and the resulting Slow Clap, the room-trashing scene... you could make a case that Citizen Kane has been copied, homaged or parodied more than any other Hollywood film.
  • Retroactive Recognition: Jerry, The Faceless reporter who investigates the "Rosebud" angel of Kane's life, is William Alland, who became a prolific producer of The ’50s science fiction films like This Island Earth, The Deadly Mantis, The Space Children, It Came from Outer Space, The Mole People, Creature from the Black Lagoon and and its sequel. Mystery Science Theater 3000 fans are very familiar with his work.
  • Sacred Cow: Considered by many to be the greatest film ever made. For all the Hype Backlash it's received, there are an even greater number of ardent fans who will defend it to the death.
  • "Seinfeld" Is Unfunny: Those who don't hold the movie on a pedestal tend to go in this direction instead.
    • The film's technical innovations, its ground-breaking set design and special effects, have obviously been surpassed. But what people forget is that Welles was the first to show that Art Direction, Optical Printer, Gothic shadows, newsreel mockumentary could be used dramatically and creatively for a serious adult drama, rather than in a genre, comedy or spectacle film. Before Welles, the attitude for "serious movies" (with some exceptions) was that it be free of movie gimmicks and have, essentially a Real Is Brown approach, i.e to be realistic was to have fewer "movie" gimmicks and ape the theatre (invisible camera and editing, lots of dialogues and monologues). Welles used "movie" tricks to tell a psychological dramatic story, opening the door for a new idea of realism, one that used what movies alone could do, rather than depend on elements borrowed from theatre and literature.
    • Citizen Kane was also, in the context of Hollywood at that time, a big challenge to the cheery sugar sweet Hollywood stories. It was critical of the idea of The American Dream and the notion of "success", namely that a man who is outwardly a public success like Kane could still be a failure in terms of personal ambitions and relationships. Its refusal to tack on an unconvincing Happy Ending similar to earlier serious films made it far harsher than other movies of that time. Subversions like this are much more common these days.note  The narrative structure where we see Kane at different parts of his life, all of them intercut with each other rather than following a straight chronological pattern from childhood to old age, was cited as an influence by the more radical film-makers of the 60s and 70s who enjoyed playing fast and loose with chronology.
  • Signature Scene: As one of the most analyzed and discussed and referenced movies of all time, one can say the entire movie, but specific ones:
    • The opening sequence up to Kane's last words, which shows the movie's complex visual style, set design and editing, all set to Herrmann's music.
    • The projection room scene, for its famous use of lighting, that was homaged in The Bad and the Beautiful
    • Our first glimpse of Orson Welles playing Kane living where he gives Thatcher his famous, "I'll lose a $1million this year..." speech which is his Establishing Character Moment.
    • The "Charlie Kane" song in the Inquirer's office, homaged in The Wolf of Wall Street.
    • Kane's big political speech at his campaign rally, complete with the giant Kane poster behind him is one of the most famous images in movie history.
    • The opera scenes with the stagehands holding their nose at Susie's performance, and Charles' maniacal clapping.
    • The ending, the survey of the entire field of boxes which was homaged in Raiders of the Lost Ark and ending with the sled thrown into the furnace.
  • Special Effect Failure:
    • Very few, but one background features a pterodactyl, because it was Stock Footage from The Son of Kong.
    • One shot of the camera apparently passing straight through a table was done by cutting the table in half, then pulling it apart and quickly shoving it back together. Unfortunately, they couldn't avoid showing a hat on the table jiggling afterwards.
    • The infamous cockatoo's see-through eye.
    • Also the obviously fake octopus that appears during the opening newsreel. Apparently it was cribbed from an old Fu Manchu serial.
  • Values Resonance:
    • A big part of why this movie is still widely watched today. Most of its core themes—the hollowness of power and fortune, the surprising power of news media, and the impossibility of truly "knowing" people in a world of mass information—are just as relevant to the 21st century as they were to the 1940s, if not more so.
  • Vindicated by History: Probably the greatest example of this. It barely made even at the box office and fell far below expectations, and while intended to be an experimental work, it attracted too much controversy for Hollywood's likingnote  and actually got booed out of the building every time it was mentioned during that year's Academy Awards. Years down the road, Citizen Kane would go on to be considered one of the greatest and most influential films ever made.


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