ark of Kane
It's the one film sure to top the critics' Best Ever lists, and now CITIZEN KANE is back on the big screen in a new print. Words: Brian Donaldson
ls Citizen Kane the greatest film ever made? The publicity folks at RKO thought so at the time — ‘it‘s terrific!’ blazed the posters of Orson Welles‘s I94! directorial debut. The critics and public weren‘t so sure — the film lost $l50.000 — and the Oscar committee saw fit to bestow just the one statuette upon the film. And even that award. Original Screenplay for the writing team of Welles and Herman J. Mankiewicz. caused arguments over how much had been written by either party.
It has even been suggested that Citizen Kane should not be regarded as a Welles film. so paltry was his contribution. Yet. anyone who has seen his early storyboards for the unfilmed Heart Of Darkness can clearly see it as the prototype for the set of Xanadu. Charles Foster Kane‘s stately retiral home.
William Randolph Hearst. the megalomaniacal newspaper magnate on whom the film is more than loosely based. didn‘t go a bundle on it either. He even famously (or apochryphally. depending on how much you view Welles as an incurable storyteller) snubbed the offer of a couple of tickets to see the film when he perchanced to bump into the director in a hotel lift. Was Hearst miffed at the portrayal of a self-obsessed and boorish businessman with a black heart or at the rumour that ‘Rosebud‘ (Kane‘s dying word and the catalyst for the mystery which ensues) was actually the press baron‘s nickname for his lover Marion Davies’s pudenda?
Whatever the truth behind the film’s construction. one thing is certain — Citizen Kane remains one of the
towering and groundbreaking artistic achievements of
the century. Even if Welles‘ sole contribution was his performance as the eponymous ‘hero’. it is an astounding one — transforming himself from twentysomething Yale drop-out with money to burn. through to wheelchair-bound recluse counting his collectibles.
Told mainly in flashback. we see the life story of
Charles Foster Kane through several viewpoints — his second ex-wife Susan Alexander (the Davies character played by Dorothy Comingore). his business associates and closest friends Jed Leland (Joseph Cotton) and Bernstein (Everett Sloane). and
22 THE LIST 27 May—IO Jun I999
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Citizen Kane remains one of the towering and groundbreaking artistic achievements of the
Mister sledge: Orson Welles in Citizen Kane
his unsentimental butler. Naturally enough. the views are conflicting and serve only to deepen rather than unravel the mystery behind his life in newspapers. politics and love. All of which have ultimately combined to render him a lonely death.
Still heavily influential on fans and filmmakers —Velret Goldmine is the most recent borrowing of the Kane structure — the film is still an astonishing work particularly considering it was a 25—year-old's debut feature. The sets (those oppressive ceilings). the lighting (those symbolic shadows) and Gregg Toland's cinematography (penetrating buildings or drifting towards the heavens) are distilled into a breathtaking two hours of cinema history.
And perhaps the Kane mystery has yet more twists to take. RK() 28/ is the forthcoming HBO/BBC feature from Ben Ross. telling the behind-the-scenes story of Welles‘ fight with Hearst to get Kane on screen. The film (named after the production number assigned to the project) stars Melanie Griffith. Fiona Shaw. John Malkovich. Brenda Blethyn and Roy Scheider. with Screanz‘s Licv Schreiber as Welles and Ridlcy Scott in the executive producer chair.
Citizen Kane goes on selected release from Fri 4 Jun; the re-edit of Orson Welles's Touch Of Evil is released in Scotland in July. The release of RKO 281 is still to be confirmed.
Lights, camera, action. . .
MATINEE IDLE, A new series of advice and networking events aimed at young Scottish filmmakers, kicks off on Sun 30 May with a discussion on psychological thriller Following and Next Wave Films.
An award-winner at this year's Rotterdam Film Festival, Following focuses on an obsessive writer who follows strangers through the streets of London. The film's lead actor and producer, Jeremy Theobald, and Next Wave Films’ UK representative, Liz Rosenthal, will be in Edinburgh to discuss how the film was made. Shot at weekends on a minuscule budget, Following was given finishing funds by Next Wave to allow for a 35mm blow-up and a new sound mix.
At the event, Rosenthal will explain how the Santa Monica- based company assists talented independent filmmakers through post-production and serves as a producer’s rep for films when approaching film festivals and distributors. They have also set up a production arm, Agenda 2000, for financing features shot on digital video. Next Wave Films can be contacted on LizRosen®aoLcom or 07957 342896.
The Matinee Idle event, run by Scottish filmmaking team The Sprocketeers, begins at 2pm on Sun 30 May at St Columba By The Castle, Johnston Terrace, Edinburgh. For information, call 0131 554 4539 or 07803 207619.
SCOTTISH OSCAR WINNER Seawards The Great Ships, a 1960 documentary about Clyde shipbuilding, is one of four films from the Scottish Film & Television Archives newly released on video. Also in this first batch from the ‘Films of Scotland' collection are The Big Mill (1963), which portrays steel production at Ravenscraig; a depiction of life in East Lothian in A View From The Bass (1963); and Young At Heart, in which actor Bill Simpson takes an affectionate look at the Hillman Imp. Each title costs £12.99 (plus p&p) from Scottish Screen on 0141 302 1742.
Riveting viewing: Seawards The Great Ships