Wednesday, October 26, 2011
What if nobody ever said Citizen Kane was the greatest film ever made?
Think about that for a moment. Think about the ripple effect that claim has placed upon the film. For there is perhaps no greater display of our immediacy to find acceptance in our opinion than in Citizen Kane. The way it attracts like minded individuals to love/hate it. The way the very mention of it splits a room into the distinct, grouped opinions. The way people desperately cling onto their group for reinforcement and encouragment. The way each group is absolutely convinced that their viewpoint is the only realistic viewpoint to be had.
It is arguably the most divisive film in history. From the day it exploded onto the screen, criticism, controversy, admiration, and dissention seemed to follow it at every turn. To possess an opinion on the film at all is akin to declaring sides in a seemingly never ending war. It's consistent prominence on top 100 lists only bolsters those whose fervor against it knows no bounds. However that same presence solidifies those who love it to do so tenaciously.
For my own part, I'm not afraid to say I love Citizen Kane. I first watched the film in 2006 in a history of film class, where my teacher made it abundantly clear where this film sat on the pantheon of quality (near the top). Seeing as I found my teacher sexist, annoying, and creepy, I can't say a ringing endorsement from him was likely to sway my opinion some. Yet as we sat back and watched the film I came to appreciate the film for a reason different than those around me. After all I was surrounded by film majors. A smorgasbord of aspiring film makers, each convinced they would be the next Scorcese, Kurosawa, Wilder, etc. While I don't believe they are indicative of all film majors, they were an unbelievably pompous group to sit around.
So what did they admire about the film? It's place in history. From my perspective they loved it because they wanted to make it. They wanted a film to be that important because they wanted to make something equally so. But in my discussion group for the film I was the lone soul talking up another point. The character of Kane. I admired the way Orson Welles built him. The way he was molded, twisted, turned, bent, stretched, and in a single moment shrunk down to his most basic emotional feeling. Citizen Kane ignited a passion in me for a genre that up until then I had always belittled a dull and boring - much like Kane's own critics. Citizen Kane ignited a love for character studies.
It has been much to my pleasure over the years since having left the 'safe' environment of that film history class to meet people whose view points on Kane are as complicated as the character itself. Those who out and out hate it. Those who admire its history, but cannot bring themselves to like it. Those who love it solely for its history. And, perhaps most importantly to me, those who also find themselves wrapped up in the tale of the character Kane. It is a movie whose social intricacies challenge us at every turn to understand and evaluate our own opinion of it.
So what if it was never called the greatest film ever made? I find myself reflecting on this from time to time. Would I still love it? Would anyone? Would those who hate it as much for its content as for its place in history be so adamant against it? I wonder....