Citizen Kane and the Discrepancy in Film (2013)

Historically, I feel there is a major discrepancy when it comes to watching films. Audiences flock to theaters across the country and all over the world to see the next big movie in order to be entertained for two and a half hours.  Then, in their own way film critics and theorists look at the art of the film and the degree to which it is mastered within the composition so they might proclaim the next great masterpiece. This is certainly a gross generalization but as I have become more learned in film, I myself have faced this dilemma because it seems prevalent with any film we take in. There is a constant struggle between entertainment and art. Where do these lines begin and where are they meant to end?

A prime example of this polarization would seem to be the illustrious classic Citizen Kane. The first time I prepared to watch this 1941 bio-drama developed by Orson Welles, I could hardly contain my excitement. I was prepared to be entertained and exhilarated by the film which is often christened “the greatest film of all time.” Needless to say after this first viewing I was left disappointed and somewhat bitter. The reason being Citizen Kane, much like the main character Charles Foster Kane, was locked up in an ivory tower. It would not allow me to empathize or get close to the story at all and so not only did it not entertain it did not relate to me as an audience member.

Citizen Kane opens somewhat unimpressively, however it is certainly very moody and atmospheric. As the camera closes in on a great mansion we are given a firsthand view of a dying man and his mysterious final word “Rosebud.” In the following newsreel we learn the man was Charles Foster Kane (Welles), a millionaire tycoon and newspaper man. A journalist is enlisted to find out anything he can about Kane. He scours the memoirs of Kane’s deceased childhood guardian. Then, he talks with Mr. Bernstein who worked with Kane’s paper the Inquirer. He gets around to talking to Kane’s unstable former friend Jedediah Leland as well as Kane’s second wife. We learn from these accounts about his early years, his success with yellow journalism, the destruction of his first marriage, and the rise and fall of his political career. Furthermore, we find out about Kane’s unhappy second marriage that ultimately left him loveless after looking for affection his whole life. Fittingly, we are left with the bleak view of his fortress Xanadu and we now have the knowledge that “Rosebud” was in fact utterly trivial.

In a nutshell this is the narrative of Citizen Kane. And the first time around I would have not said that this a very appealing story out all. However, if you quickly fast forward to the second time, I think you could say I had gotten smarter. I knew the ivory tower that was Citizen Kane and this time I was better prepared. I went into the film looking at it as a piece of art. Whether it is camera angles or deep focus used by cinematographer Gregg Toland, the intense score by Bernard Hermann, or the direction and acting of Welles himself, there is a great deal that can be taken away from this film. He told a story using a different type of storytelling, he used dialogue in a more realistic way, and he edited his film in a different style. When I finally looked at Kane from a farther distance, as art, I was able to enjoy it and ultimately be entertained. Initially I may have given Kane a 8/10 to be nice and then after viewing number two I would changed that to 9/10 but that is still not perfect. 

As you can see there is this major dilemma with entertainment vs. art and so it makes me beg the question is there a better way to go about films? The simple answer is that I think it is difficult but to get the full experience we should look to be entertained but also appreciate the art form. Many films like Casablanca, It’s a Wonderful Life, or even Inception do both of these quite well in some way or another. However, unfortunately not all films are so easy. Many foreign films may be amazing artistic achievements that critics adore but they lack excitement for modern generations. Then, you could have a mega blockbuster like Iron Man that is very entertaining but as far as film goes, it really only displays eye candy and some sporadic dialogue. What I want to try and do is watch films with both these aspects in mind so I can ultimately enjoy whatever it is because ultimately that is cinema at its finest. It is meant to be an artistic expression that brings enjoyment to the viewer.

I usually rate films out of 5 Stars. However, now I am considering rating the artistic/historical value of the film out of 5 stars and then the entertainment value out of 5 Stars. A reader could make these into a composite score if they wanted or simply focus on the rating that they care more about. I am sure there are other, possibly better ways to do this, but as of right now this is how I am thinking of going about it. I hope this will make my film reviews more in depth and helpful to the average person.


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