Patterns (1956)

Patterns_FilmPosterPatterns has little right to be any good. It takes place almost exclusively in interiors. Boardrooms, offices, hallways, at desks, and in elevators. But thanks to a fantastic teleplay from Twilight Zone mastermind Rod Serling, this little picture exceeds the meager expectations placed on it. In fact, it was a major hit when it came out as a live television drama, so successful that it was performed a second time and subsequently developed into this film version.

The plot on its own is ridiculously simple. Ramsey and Co. is a major business corporation housed in a 40 story highrise in New York City with bellboys, secretaries, intercoms, and every convenience imaginable. Really the whole nine yards.

The company’s head is the ruthless Mr. Ramsey (Everett Sloane) who inherited the empire from his late father and has subsequently looked to increase the companies fortunes in the very growing and competitive market at hand. Impressed with the acumen of a small town but nevertheless, shrewd businessman named Staples, Ramsey has the up and comer brought in to bring fresh ideas to the table. Immediately he confirms his previous assumptions that Staples is intelligent, assertive, and a genuine asset.

However, after an initially warm welcome to the company with all the pleasantries exchanged and the like, Staples gets his taste of the companies board meetings. It’s a place where wars are waged and Ramsey looks to continually exert his dominance on the company in an effort towards ever increasing progress. But there’s one man who is constantly at odds with Ramsey or at the very least disillusioned. After all, he’s worked with Ramsey long enough. He knows what the man is capable of and what he will not allow.

Year after year he has brought suggestions and compromises before Ramsey on behalf of the welfare of their workers only to be quashed by Ramsey’s own ruthless initiative and unfeeling business practices that idolize a dollar over anything else. Although Briggs (Ed Begley) is still around and he’s aided by his faithful secretary Ms. Fleming, his health is failing and his home life with his young son has suffered greatly due to years of chronic workaholism.

There’s also an impending sense of doom that hangs over the plot. It’s hard to put a finger on just what it is exactly but there’s no doubting that something insidious is going on in the background. It’s that precise wrinkle that most overtly suggests that this is a story from Serling’s ever innovative mind. It’s far more than it’s simple face value.

And really the underlying tension of the film–the ensuing drama that leads to be verbal, interpersonal, and psychological torment, all falls on the film’s three main leads and they shoulder the weight capably. Everett Sloane, best remembered for Citizen Kane now has ice flooding his veins giving a near maniacal performance which he somehow still tempers with passing moments of goodwill and personability. Ed Begley could always be counted on in supporting roles and this is perhaps his most stirring and tragic performance as we watch him falter. Fielder Cook is an adequate if not remarkable director but in his most interesting shot, he chooses to allow the audience to see the world as Bill Briggs does in his most vulnerable moment.

Van Heflin,  also delivers another solid performance opposite his compatriots as our ambitious every man who nevertheless gets caught up in politics. Looking to keep his wife happy and especially Mr. Ramsey while still not losing grasp of his ideals. In many ways, he’s acting as the fulcrum with Ramsey and Briggs on either end seesawing back and forth on this corporate battlefield. It’s up to the audience to gather which way he’ll go. Still, by the end of the film, the verdict is still out on where he stands on this moral plane.

But it all goes back to Serling’s rousing dialogue because despite the stagnant nature of most every scene they still manage to be vibrant and impassioned. The closest approximation in recent memory is a script like Aaron Sorkin’s The Social Network. Patterns likewise showcases how quality screenwriting can bolster a film to great heights.

3.5/5 Stars

 

Review: Citizen Kane (1941)

citizenk3“That’s all he ever wanted out of life… was love. That’s the tragedy of Charles Foster Kane. You see, he just didn’t have any to give.” – Jedediah Leyland

It might seem rather trite to attempt to write anything on Citizen Kane, but as someone who can admittedly be trite sometimes, there seems to be a need to give it a go. Here it goes. Citizen Kane is forever an enigma, in the sense that it was fully under the control of the independent-minded and ultimate auteur Orson Welles during the studio age. It didn’t come out of some movie making assembly line, but instead, it’s a debut that exhibits so many elements that have befuddled and fascinated audiences for generations. There’s certainly the technical and production aspect which became the watermark and inspiration for countless millions. Then you have the human aspect which also deserves some attention.

Swirling around a film with this much mythology there is always bound to be hearsay and rumors, but supposedly in later years, Welles considered Citizen Kane a comedy, in the sense that everything is over the top camp, much in the same way that the Welles the man was a larger than life caricature. He played the part of an alienating artistic mastermind to a tee and it fit the way he made this film. Grandiose in scope,  infused with inspired vision, and really an all-out war for acknowledgment.

Because of the many stories about Kane which have now become the stuff of legend, the parallels between Charles Foster Kane and news magnate William Randolph Hearst stand out. Whatever his opinions of the actual film ended up being, Hearst did his best to besmirch the film and keep it out of theaters. And so it goes Welles’ debut did not get much of an opening, ironically because of a man rather like his main character. It would be interesting to know what Welles would have thought of such a situation. Would he have been greatly incensed or taken it rather like a compliment that he had created something so volatile? Because it’s true, Citizen Kane is still smoldering today, and it retains a constant place in cinematic discussions even 70 years after its release.

There’s so much to talk about and so much that most everyone has probably already talked about. It has such an intriguing narrative structure and it models time in such fascinating ways. Because a lot of this film is about the passage of time as it pertains to one man’s life and the memories of his life. He is dead after uttering that immortal word “Rosebud,” but his memories live on through the recollections of those around him.

We get access to the story through a newsreel, but like such a reporting device we leave it knowing very little about the man except for his material possessions and maybe a little about his career. What we really want to know is the man, and the nameless reporter becomes our stand-in.

He pieces together Kane’s childhood by sitting in a musty vault and reading over the thoughts of the boy’s caretaker and financial adviser Mr. Thatcher. With one particularly memorable match cut, we jump a number of decades in a matter of seconds as the banker speaks to a young Kane only to turn around speaking to a young man. But he’s not much help except that Kane put Thatcher under fire with his brand of yellow journalism.

citizenk2Mr. Bernstein is a kindly fellow and an old man by now who used to work with Kane at the Inquirer when it all began. He knew the man who had a song named after him, who bought out the staff of the rival paper the Chronicle, started his own war and married the niece of the president.

From the now elderly and slightly infirm Jedediah Leyland (Joseph Cotten) we learn of the rise and slow decline of the man along with his friendship with Leyland. There is a sequence here with Kane’s first wife that wonderfully shows the degradation of a marriage over the years as he is more devoted to the paper than his spouse. It’s tragically sad, and there’s more heartbreak in that one scene than most films can muster in their entire runtime. Because Kane could love and he wanted love, but he also seems to love himself more than any other person. He’s married to his work and the personal independence that comes with it. Ultimately, Kane’s political career suffers from scandal and his own bullheadedness. Leyland switches branches to get away and becomes a drama critic prepared to lambaste the operatic debut of Kane’s second wife. It really is bad, but Kane will never hear of it, but he also is always in need of proving himself to those around him.

Our investigative journalist returns to the nightclub of Susan Kane to get the rest of the story from her, and it only becomes more depressing. After being forced into an opera career she has no ambition for, Kane finally relents and Susan spends her days in Xanadau, the fortress he built for her sake. But she wants more than the stuff that he can give her. She wants to get out, have fun and have companionship. Kane doesn’t know how to do that, and soon after she left him.

What was left was a deeply troubled, isolated old man with nothing but material possessions to weigh him down in a river of loneliness. His life was a jigsaw puzzle and yet when we get the piece pertaining to his final word it fails to help us make any headway. Because the reality is that no one word can explain a man’s life. It is interesting how Kane desperately wanted love so you would think that his last words would refer to a person. It just shows how messed up his relationships were. He thought he could get joy from possessions so it’s only fitting that his final words were another thing. It’s sad really, so if Orson Welles wants to call Citizen Kane comedy, there seems to be a need to qualify that and christen it a “tragi-comedy.”

Herman Mankiewicz script with Welles is the quintessential tale of the rise and fall of one man and with the ever-changing times that archetypal narrative has remained prescient because America is still built on those sorts of individuals. It can be the nation of visionaries as well as tragedy. Wealth and loneliness.

As for the great Bernard Hermann, his score personifies the changes in Kane over the years and this was the first time I noticed the wonderful reprises of his theme song. It can be heard throughout although it seems to lose all the gaiety and luster it had years before.

citizenk1Gregg Toland’s cinematography is strikingly beautiful utilizing the distinctly clear, deep focus to frame shots wonderfully. Background and foreground remain equally important becoming a wonderful way to convey distance. Also, the camera always seems to be making the viewer crane our necks, getting a slight view of the ceiling or it has us looking down at the figure below us. We very rarely see them head-on as they appear. Furthermore, Kane is steeped in trick shots, mirror images, and all sorts of things that I cannot even begin to do justice to. It could be a nurse walking into a room or Kane solemnly plodding through the vast corridors of his domain. It’s a veritable paradise for the eyes because we are always being met with visual marvels. Citizen Kane has grown on me every time I see it since it’s not simply narrative, or backstory, or history, but also at the most basic level, it’s one of the most prominent expressions of this highly visual medium called film.

5/5 Stars

Citizen Kane (1941)

The first time I ever saw the film, I actually wrote Citizen Kane off because my hopes were so high thanks to its major critical acclaim. Those hopes were soon dashed after viewing it once, but over time I realized I needed a second viewing. This second chance allowed me to see the minute details, which can be easily overlooked or forgotten. Now I can truthfully say I have a new found respect for this film.

The brainchild of Orson Welles, 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 first-hand view of a dying man followed by his mysterious final word “Rosebud.” In the following newsreel, we learn the man was Charles Foster Kane (Welles), a millionaire tycoon and newspaperman. A journalist (William Alland) is enlisted to find out anything he can about Kane. First, he scours the memoirs of Kane’s deceased childhood guardian (George Coulouris). Then, he talks with Mr. Bernstein (Everett Sloane), who worked with Kane’s paper the Inquirer. He gets around to talking to Kane’s unstable former friend Jedediah Leland (Joseph Cotten), as well as Kane’s second wife (Dorothy Comingore). We learn from these accounts about Kane’s early years, his success with yellow journalism, the evolution 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 again left with the bleak view of his fortress Xanadu, and we now have the knowledge that “Rosebud” was in fact utterly trivial.

Obviously, Greg Toland’s black and white cinematography using deep focus and low camera angles is noteworthy. The framing of the narrative with different points of view and flashbacks was unique at the time. The actors age in front of us showing the progression of time and montage is used to effectively condense time. There are the overlapping and fragmentation of dialogue to create a realistic feel throughout the film. Bernard Hermann puts together a score that slowly changes along with Kane. And of course, you have the supposed basis of Kane on William Randolph Hearst. Historically, Citizen Kane may, in fact, be the most important film of all time, and artistically it is certainly up there with the best of them. I will let others decide if that makes it the very best film, period.

4.5/5 Stars