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Friday, 9 August, 2002, 12:57 GMT 13:57 UK
The genius of Kane
Citizen Kane
The film's visual techniques inspired many

Citizen Kane has topped global film polls of critics and directors.

Just as Star Wars seems now to top all popular polls, it is with a crushing sense of inevitability that you look to the top of any critics poll and always find... Citizen Kane.

No film historian can dispute that Orson Welles' 1941 film is among the major landmarks of cinema.

It is tale of a young boy, taken away from his family, who rises to become a rich and powerful newspaper tycoon.

Kane is a complete monster but in the end you can't help but feel sorry for him

Kim Newman
The film follows his life as he attempts to make the transition from egotistical demagogue to people's politician.

A sex scandal undermines his chances of succeeding in politics and the film follows his downfall and descent into megalomania, alienating friends and his wife before a lonely end in a huge Xanadu-like Florida castle.

Horror writer and film critic Kim Newman contrasted the emotional appeal of the story with the cold feel of Hitchcock's Vertigo which came second in the Sight and Sound critics' poll.

"The reason why Welles comes out tops is that he is a humanist. Kane is a complete monster but in the end you can't help but feel sorry for him. It is a story of loss, disillusion and disappointment."

The film angered real-life US newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst, who was goaded by minions into thinking he was being libelled.

Unpleasant aspects

His newspapers boycotted the film and he attempted to hinder its release, contributing to the film's initial financial failure.

Newman, who voted for Citizen Kane, said the film had been important in paving the way for films chronicling the unpleasant aspects of the rich and famous, adding: "It is 70% based on Hearst, but it could be any rich person."

Newman said the best story of the film's aftermath followed an encounter between Welles and Hearst in a lift.

Brass-necked, Welles offered two tickets to a disgusted Hearst who ripped them up and threw them back in his face.

Orson Welles
Welles's career did not go smoothly
Welles reportedly leaned over and said: "Charles Foster Kane would have taken the tickets and gone."

Newman added: "Kane was better than most media moguls. You can't imagine Rupert Murdoch going to the film."

Citizen Kane's non-chronological structure, use of mock-documentary footage, first person camerawork, ageing of the cast, overlapping dialogue and a myriad of other tricks stunned critics at the time.

Some of the technical tricks in the film - such as flashbacks - had been used before, but they were gathered together in a way that has since led some critics to describe Citizen Kane as reference work for directors.

Time Out commissioned a poll of readers to coincide with the Sight and Sound polls, with Citizen Kane coming in third.

Film editor Tom Charity said: "There is no question that Citizen Kane is one of the most important milestones in the way that film language developed.

"It is also a film that speaks very profoundly of who we are and what we do with the time we have on this earth."

That Orson Welles starred in the film as well as writing and directing it at the tender age of 25 has only added to the myth.

Perennial status

By demanding full creative control, Welles frightened studio bosses and ensured that he was persecuted for the rest of his career, his films editorially massacred and his genius stifled.

And its perennial status at the top of polls amidst films like Eisenstein's Battleship Potemkin and Murnau's Sunrise, irks some film critics.

Acting Empire editor Colin Kennedy said: "I'm fairly irritated by the polls, a purely academic exercise.

"The way it has been weighted means it doesn't reflect anything that has happened in the last 10 years.

"It is the same way Hamlet as a play is the favourite of Shakespearean critics. It is the best one to study - you can come at it afresh and say something new. For technicians and academic studies of movies, it is Citizen Kane."

But he admitted: "It is one of my favourite movies of all time. If you have an interest about movie-making above and beyond enjoying movies, Citizen Kane is the Ur-text. The language and vocabulary of cinema is present there in a way it isn't anywhere else."

Film Favourites
Is Citizen Kane the best movie ever made?
Which film would head your top 10?

Citizen Kane


The Godfather I and II

2001: A Space Odyssey

Singin' in the Rain

10606 Votes Cast

Results are indicative and may not reflect public opinion

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09 Aug 02 | Entertainment
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