It’s May 1st and do you know what that means?
Okay, yes, it is May Day and apparently, that’s a big deal to a certain class of political activist. But, let’s be honest — political causes are forgotten from decade to decade. However, a great film lives forever.
And, for me, today is all about one of the greatest films ever made.
71 years ago today, on May 1st, 1941, Orson Welles’s masterpiece Citizen Kane was first released to a movie-going public that wasn’t quite ready for it. And that was their loss because Citizen Kane has proven itself to be one of those rare films that remains just as entertaining and fascinating the 100th time you watch it as it was the first time.
One of my fondest memories is of the first time I saw Citizen Kane in film class. As I sat there listening to our professor drone on about the historical importance of what we were about to see, I was fully prepared to watch Citizen Kane and dismiss it — as I had so many other critically beloved films — as just being another overrated, academically-embraced movie.
“After all,” I thought as the movie started, “I already know Rosebud is a sled* and I haven’t even seen the freaking film. What’s the point?”
And as the film played out in the darkened auditorium, I soon discovered exactly what the point was. The point was that Citizen Kane is one of the greatest and most watchable films ever made. It’s that rare “important” film that’s actually fun to watch. It didn’t matter that I already knew what Rosebud was. In fact, I didn’t even think about it. I was too busy enjoying Joseph Cotten’s sly turn as Jedadiah Leland and the sleazy, pragmatic villainy of Ray Collins as “Boss” Jim Gettys. I was too busy cringing in a combination of sympathy and embarrassment as poor Susan Kane (Dorothy Comingore) made her disastrous operatic debut. I sat there and I was transfixed by a flawless cast that brought a vibrant life to even the smallest of roles. (My personal favorite was Paul Stewart’s wonderfully cynical performance as Raymond the Butler.) But most of all, I sat there in awe of the talent of Orson Welles. At that time, I knew little about Welles’ subsequent career troubles. I just knew that I was watching a masterpiece.
I wish I could write more (because there’s so much more to say about this film) but now’s my time to curl up on the couch in front of the TV and watch one of the greatest films ever made…
* And don’t you even think of going, “How about a spoiler warning!?” about that whole Rosebud comment. Seriously, if you didn’t already know that Rosebud was a sled then I have nothing to say to you.