I saw Citizen Kane so long ago it was as if I was seeing it for the first time again. It is a really wonderful film. It has an irrepressibly youthful quality that I found ever so slightly discordant with the content, but charming none the less. And yet, I wondered how different the film would have been had Welles been older when he made it.
There were certain scenes that reminded me of one of my favorite directors – Bélla Tarr. Towards the beginning of Kane, there was a shot outside the nightclub where Susie sings, in Tarr’s film Damnation, there is a similar scene except Tarr holds the shot (as is typical of his work) for minutes on end, the rainless warm interior beckons, while the relentless soaking and futility of a nightclub as a destination for a heartbroken individual, weighs ever more heavily. Tarr shoots in black and white with a subtle yet portentous hand.
In Citizen Kane it is also a rainy night, but it reads as purely aesthetic and atmospheric- which Welles excelled in- his smoky rooms and hazy atmospheres are stylistically sublime. Never the less, I point out the comparison and difference to suggest that, while Welles had all the artistry- he understood the style, which is copied in many films to this day, including Tarr’s, but there is a missed layer of substance. He doesn’t quite reach the depths that are there to be reached. Tarr’s films go to the extreme, exploring emotions at their deepest levels. Tarr will penetrate your soul.
Of course, to make Citizen Kane certainly took a nerve that perhaps only the slightly tarnished youth possess, but how much more moving it might have been if Welles himself had already felt the despair of time.
Still, scene for scene this is an incredible film. The architecture of each shot, the depth and overlays, the attention to tone, perspective and content are extraordinary. There are so many awe inspiring scenes it is hard to pick one as an example, but, to point to a couple: the scene towards the end when Kane and Susie are “camping” with the band playing “It can’t be love” in the background was beautiful; the scene in the beginning with the father and mother signing him away, and he seen through the window- oblivious…it’s wonderful- but then Welles adds to that by turning our perception of the mother on a dime with the line, “ That’s why he’s going to be brought up where you can’t get at him.” That was devastating. The mother’s hardness, her inhumane chill merely a protective device that, for all her trouble, smashed her son’s heart anyway.
In the end, Welles’ portrayal of Kane, even with all the cheeky hints and clues dropped in to agitate William Randolph Hearst, was fundamentally a sympathetic portrayal. “Rosebud” was Kane’s very soul that was sold away from him in his youth- no amount of money could every buy it back for him.
Are we capable of fixing ourselves? Maybe, but the cure won’t be found in money or power, that is something Welles, even at his tender age, understood.
Here is the bar scene from Damnation, she doesn’t even start singing until about minute three, but damn it! it’s worth the wait. Best lounge song ever.