"So, what do you want to have for lunch?"
I'm going to say something here that may go way against the grain, and
may even infuriate a few people: Citizen Kane sucks.
Okay, it doesn't suck. But I don't think it's a very interesting movie,
either. I'm sorry, but I've just never been able to take to the story
of a rich, narcissistic autocrat who has some sort of deep issues
because of some stupid snow sled and the life he had when he was
I think that most of what people recognize in the movie is the great
cinematography by Gregg Toland. But Kane isn't the only movie
Toland did in his life and I think that others — like The Grapes of
Wrath (1940) and Wuthering Heights (1939) — were simply much
better as movies.
Citizen Kane gained an early reputation as a great movie. And that
reputation has more or less stuck with it like glue ever since. But I
think the real reason that the movie gained such critical acclaim at
the outset was that it was a thinly-veiled portrait of newspaper giant
Randolph Hearst. A genius like Charlie Chaplin may have been able to sit
down to dinner with Hearst. But few else were privileged to do so and
for the most part the Hearst clout and the Hearst money were absent from
Hollywood. In a town like Hollywood, being in the inner circle is everything.
So it is easy to see why the movers and shakers and members of the Film
Academy didn't much like Hearst — and why they were so keen on a movie
that attacked him.
The movie is usually considered to be the greatest movie of all time, or
at least it tops Ten Best lists with great frequency. And there's been
of course a lot written on it. Just check out what Jorge Luis Borges
wrote about the movie — er, "film." With all due respect to the great
Borges, he was perhaps seeing what he wanted to see in it, and what he
actually did see one could just as easily apply to a novel like Chandler's
Farewell, My Lovely. Now there's a metaphysical — or at least existentialist
— detective story for you.
So what would I consider to be the greatest American movie of all time?
Well as it happens there was a movie made only one year after Citizen
Kane that would get my vote for that. It was low-budget, and carried
virtually no working script when the movie began shooting. But it had a
cinematographer who was nearly as great as Toland; and a cast that, as
it turned out, was even better than Kane.
It was Casablanca.
Yeah, that's more like it.