Citizen Kane: "Greatest American Movie of All Time"?

"It is one of the miracles of cinema that in 1941 a first-time director; a cynical, hard-drinking writer; an innovative cinematographer, and a group of New York stage and radio actors were given the keys to a studio and total control, and made a masterpiece. Citizen Kane is more than a great movie; it is a gathering of all the lessons of the emerging era of sound, just as Birth of a Nation assembled everything learned at the summit of the silent era, and 2001 pointed the way beyond narrative. These peaks stand above all the others."

So says Roger Ebert in his 1998 review of Orson Welles's Citizen Kane. It was in 1998 that the American Film Institute would declare Kane the "greatest American movie of all time," a distinction it would confer on Kane yet again in 2007.

So what do you think? Does Kane "stand above" all other American films?


By Paul on October 26, 2011 at 8:32 PM

I don't know nothing about the "greatest movie ever", there's too much subjectivity with movies. A lot of thinking a movie is good is based on how one experiences it and experiences life. But if you had to have one, this would probably be it. This is one of the few movies of its time that doesn't show its age today. That is, it shows, but doesn't distract or detract. The stuff of this film is timeless. Questions about love, power, and these complex enigmas at the core of our country. It's just really good. The system of different accounts of Kane at different points of his life makes him so real. Apparently this is somewhat lifted from Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, which he had adapted for film but never made.

When we did our cinematography unit and talked about the deep focus stuff, I noticed this: Welles is showing off the entire film. The scene where Kane is talking with Thatcher saying he would have been an honest man if he wasn't rich, Welles paces all the way back to the end of room. Seeing this and knowing that the large depth of field was new technology, he seemed to be saying "look at me, I'm still in focus"

By Jeremy Gee on November 5, 2011 at 10:25 PM

I think that Fenaughty's line sums it up pretty well: "While Citizen Kane (1941) may be the greatest film ever made, he [Alex] speculates that it is no one's favorite."

So, while I would tend to agree that all things considered—revolutionary cinematography and editing, concise, well-executed writing and acting, social awareness, stubborn self-absorption and cat-running-downhill-with-its-tail-on-fire narcissism—means Kane is the best American movie to date, I don't like it and I'd be hard pressed to find someone who does. Then again, I didn't like Touch of Evil (1958) or The Third Man (1949) all that much either.

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