[1941] Citizen Kane

“What’s in a name?”

The sled isn’t interesting; knowing the origin of “Rosebud” doesn’t change Citizen Kane‘s knee-high depth of character and story. Troves of thinkpieces, even within Citizen Kane, have been written and reported about the significance of Charles Foster Kane (an ebullient Orson Welles) and the meaning of the infamous sled, last seen burning in effigy in the great Kane fire sale. “A rose(bud) by any other name,” says A.O. Scott’s review of Kane‘s metanarrative, Mank, and he’s right. It’s objectively a MacGuffin, but because of the entire film before it, the fadeout itself is the film’s true MacGuffin: an unimportant event that has come to define the movie, 80 years later. It’s telling that there’s no mention of it in Mank, the movie about the movie.

What is interesting, and has endured as an endearing feature in Citizen Kane is the use of Christian nicknames—Charlie, Jed—to (successfully) humanize these characters. In no uncertain terms, the two men are caricatures of figures alive in Welles’ present; Citizen Kane is a deep allegory in character and in spirit and it’s hard to remember this. There’s a reverence with a wink here as the audience sees the “real” Charles F. Kane alongside the public CFK, who is, for all intents and purposes, a wealthy, successful, happily-married, self-made man. None of those who worship him would dare call him Charlie. Jedidiah Leland—Jed—does though. In-movie, it’s a sign of familiarity and a sign of humanity. Later, we only hear the rest of the cast refer to him as Mister Kane. It’s telling this movie wasn’t called Mister Kane, or Charles Foster Kane: Man of the People. No; it’s called Citizen Kane. He’s one of us—but he’s not one among us. Continue reading

[1942] The Magnificent Ambersons

With a sincere bitterness, Orson Welles got his Either/Or moment upon the release of 1942’s The Magnificent Ambersons.  Welles, most widely known for his 1941 masterstroke, Citizen Kane, had the opportunity just a year later to curate his mystique by delving into the canonical review of massive tech and social changes around the turn of the last century. Welles, like all of us, like George Amberson Minifer, continued to have an infinite amount of choice, and with either choice or no choice, the choice was wrong. One can be tempted to call this kind of distinction fate, but instead it seems like inevitability.

Either/Or, of course, is Søren Kierkegaard’s long manifesto on the rumination of choice, love, marriage and aesthetics. Written almost a full century before the jumble that was The Magnificent Ambersons, Either/Or outlines that choice is not really a choice, but rather a blurry distinction between a set of other distinctions. Inevitably each person will make some “right” choices and some “wrong” choices (really no choices), but none of these choices should lead to any sort of marriage – whether it be convenience or love/lust. This same affliction haunts George Amberson, our stories main antagonist and thematic driving point. The man himself is a caricature of indecision – he seems determined to make no choices, which in and of itself is a choice, concerning his life, his mother’s life or his lover’s life. Left to his own desires, munitions and a lackadaisical boredom, this man is a broken shell of a comeuppance-to-be. Kierkegaard writes:

…then, that the world goes from bad to worse, and that its evils increase more and more, as boredom increases, as boredom is the root of all evil.

 

Unfortunately, this sort of proliferation of boredom and mediocrity also haunted the release of this film. Continue reading