Citizen Kane, a drama film from 1941, was directed, produced, and starred by Orson Welles. Welles and Herman J. Mankiewicz co-wrote the screenplay.
At World Cinema Paradise, a new addition called “Life-Altering Films, honors movies, festivals, and unique screenings that have transformed how we perceive cinema.
Keep an eye on this space as our writers share their experiences of movies that changed their lives.
First is the evident, unavoidable, yet entirely justified first title.
In the summer of 1979, I was sent by my parents, in need of a break from their troubled teenager, for the second time to a filmmaking workshop sponsored by DAFT (Detroit Area Film Teachers).
This event took place at the prestigious Cranbrook boarding school in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, where teachers and students were given all the necessary equipment – camera, film, overnight processing, lighting tools, etc. – to create a short Super-8 film within a week, which would then be showcased at a mini-festival on the last day.
The previous year, I had created a simple Claymation short.
However, this year, someone, probably John Prusak, recognized my growing passion for all kinds of movies and surprised me with an incredible gift. T
hey provided me with my private haven – a classroom equipped with a Bell & Howell 16mm projector, screen, and around 200 film reels stacked in a corner, reaching five feet off the ground.
Instead of focusing on writing, filming, and editing a short film in just seven days, I spent my mornings, afternoons, and nights delving into those film cans, as this was just before the rise of home videos.
(Interestingly, the year before, someone had obtained a VHS or three-quarter-inch copy of the relatively new The Rocky Horror Picture Show, which we all watched one evening.
I spent countless hours in that tiny classroom, either watching films for the first time or revisiting classics such as Duck Soup (1933), Lord of the Flies (1963), Night of the Living Dead (1968), undiscovered gems from the National Film Board of Canada, and short films distributed by the now late and lamented distributor, Pyramid Films.
CITIZEN KANE (1941)
One evening, I stumbled upon a film that I had always been told, in my teenage innocence, was one of the finest of its genre: Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane (1941).
However, it was already 1 am, too late to watch the entire film. Nonetheless, I decided to watch the first reel and continue from where I left off the following morning.
I was captivated by the opening scenes, depicting Charles Foster Kane (played by Welles) on his deathbed in the castle-like Xanadu, to the sudden transition to the remarkable artistry of filmmaking as a fictional newsreel summarized his legendary life, and the subsequent shift to the newsreel company’s screening room, where reporter Jerry Thompson (portrayed by William Alland) is tasked with deciphering Kane’s final words.
With brief intermissions to change film reels, I completed viewing this monumental cinematic achievement around 3:30 am.
I then proceeded to watch it a second time immediately. And I watched it twice more before the week was over.
(Built in 1922 by the renowned Finnish architect Eliel Saarinen, Cranbrook, vast and devoid of students due to the summer break, was particularly eerie to stay in at night and, in its way, quite reminiscent of Kane’s Xanadu.)
Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958) famously displaced it from Sight & Sound’s 50-year-old poll of the Greatest Films of all time last year, but in my opinion, there’s still no film superior to Citizen Kane.
I won’t endeavor to expound on its greatness – that has been done by people for decades – but on a personal level, it is perhaps the most astonishingly captivating among the Great Movies.
It is brimming with so much originality and inventiveness that, even after nearly 50 viewings as I have, there are always new elements to uncover.
And it continues to captivate. It remains as impactful in 2013 as it was over 70 years ago.
Watching it for the first time was an overwhelming experience, showcasing how far filmmaking norms could be pushed and even shattered to significant effect and – a particularly crucial lesson in this era – how it’s achievable to infuse a film with a deeply personal, unique vision while also wholly engaging the audience, allowing them to lose themselves entirely in the film they’re watching, and not consciously aware of all they are observing.
Despite my efforts, I can’t claim that watching Citizen Kane that week had any direct influence on my filmmaking aspirations. Still, it forever transformed how I perceive movies and made me realize the boundless potential of the medium.
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