Why is Citizen Kane the GREATEST film of All Time?

Why is Citizen Kane the GREATEST film of All Time?


Citizen Kane is often referred to as the
greatest film of all time and Orson Welles is often referred to as the
greatest film director of all time but it’s rarely discussed exactly why that
is and exactly what this has to say about the unique position that film was
in in the early 1940s. you see, the thing is, and I’m going to massively butcher
this explanation so please do some further reading, there were two schools
of thought at this period in history about what made film unique as an art
form. Look at where video games are today constantly a risk of censorship not
truly considered art by a large number of the population. The question that
probably comes up the most is if video games are art what can they do that other
art forms, from plays to paintings to movies, can’t do? being able to answer
what makes this a unique form of artistic expression legitimizes the art
form in question and back in the 30s and 40s movies were facing a lot of the same
criticisms that videogames are today. One of the most prominent answers to this
was the Russian answer which is film is about editing. In a play everything that
happens happens there and then in that moment you can’t edit a play. People
can’t jump from one side of the stage to the other. You can’t create meaning
through the juxtaposition of two images across space-time the same way that you
can with film. This was known as Russian montage Theory: the juxtaposition of
images to create meaning. Whilst Eisenstein is probably the most famous
theorist in this particular school of thought the
Kuleshov effect is probably the best example of what they were talking about. You show a person’s face, you show something else. It could be a dead body
it could be a bowl of soup it could be an attractive lady then you cut back to
the person with exactly the same facial expression and people will read
different emotions, say sadness or hunger or lust, just based on the
Assembly of those images. The other school of thought however was the French
school of thought mostly led by Andre Bazin. What they believe made film unique
was films ability to accurately capture a moment. This idea is intrinsically
antithetical to the Russian school of thought. According to film scholar Ian
Christie in the bfi’s French cinema book Andre Bazin thought the Soviet montage
school should be considered a deviation from cinemas intrinsically realist
mission. Instead films should play out in long takes be staged in depth editing as
little as possible so as to preserve the truth of the moment recorded. So surely
there’s no way of reconciling these two approaches into one unified filmmaking
style? Well that is where Orson Welles and Citizen Kane come in. Citizen Kane
was a film that married these two approaches perfectly. if you were from
the French school you could point to a scene like the one where his mother
essentially signs him away and say look there’s basically two cuts in this
entire scene, everything staged in depth and it’s true to the moment that was
happening then. If you believe the Russian school however you could point
to the moments that directly follow it: the snow piling up on top of the sled,
fading in more and more snow to imply the passage of time. The cutting from
Merry Christmas to another moment years and years later joining the two
thematically. Merry Christmas Merry Christmas and
Happy New Year that’s very Russian. And the marriage of
these two ideas is something that can be traced across the entirety of Orson
Welles career. Look at this scene from Touch of Evil for example this plays out
largely in this one-take but the one moment that it does cut near the end it
cuts straight after this line “Shall we… Drink to that?” “I don’t…” “Two more double Bourbons…” “…make em nice and big.” This implies an
internal shift within the character, one that’s fundamentally also expressed by
the new angle itself neither of these shots would have as much impact without
the other, but similarly they are holding for such a long time, letting us bask in
the truth of this particular moment. It’s a perfect marriage of holding long takes
like classic French cinema and cutting to imply meaning like Russian cinema.
That is why Orson Welles is so beloved of film critics and filmmakers. This is
the thing that he did differently, that really set him apart from everyone else. thank you very much for watching this video! I hope you enjoyed it. If you did
please do click the subscribe and the little Bell notification thing. I’m sorry
about the sudden change in energy levels for this outro because I’ve gained a
cold since recording this video yay there’s a bunch of other things in this
video that I really want to make full videos on at some point like Russian
montage theory and the Hays Code which is bonkers and needs its own video. So if
you want to see any of those please do let me know in the comments down below

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