The first thing I thought after I finished Citizen Kane was how better I understood all the references in the “Rosebud” episode of The Simpsons. The second thing I thought was yes, AFI and everyone else who had this at number one on their greatest movie ever list, you are 100% right, this is the greatest movie ever made, bar none, no question.
Usually, films that were innovative decades ago don’t really hold the same impact they do now. If a movie was groundbreaking in, say, the field of sound, we can look back and appreciate that film for being groundbreaking, but now decades later where that sound development is commonplace, it’s just not that powerful. Citizen Kane, though, is a rare exception whose storytelling innovations are just as powerful and resonant today. The dramatic lighting, the expert makeup, the echoing and shrinking of sounds in great halls or confined spaces, the peppy score that uses every measure to dance with our emotions, and those crane and zoom shots that make men look like monsters, and monsters look like mice.
The dialogue is organic and fresh, characters actually talk as people, both people who they want to be and the people they sadly still are. The script and editing are marvelously integrated, where no transition or montage isn’t used to its utmost efficiency in showing us where we are going in this story and why we should care. And every single actor and every single performance is a complete delight.
This movie is a testament to both the collaborative process of filmmaking, as well as letting one person’s creative control and vision reign supreme. That person is of course Orson Welles, who produced, directed and starred in this movie when he was just 25-years-old. He seamlessly leaps from young Kane to old, capturing the vigor of an up-and-coming businessman and the deep, pained regret that lurks in the bones of every old, accomplished man. His actors are cast in shadows, but Welles keeps his overarching theme clear throughout the film: that you can never truly know a person, that bits and pieces of commentary from old friends trying to paint a picture still don’t give you the necessary color to bring it to life.
Kane ultimately lived an incomplete life, his countless endeavors to have his name immortally carved in ink and cement ultimately fruitless. But Citizen Kane is far from incomplete. There are no lost opportunities or no instances where something could have been improved. It’s the most complete film ever made.