The mystery begins with a single word.
“Rosebud,” the dying man whispers, as a glass globe slips from his hand and shatters on the floor.
Newspaper magnet Charles Foster Kane wheezes the word out with his last breath and we in the audience spend the next two hours trying to piece together what that word meant to him.
“Citizen Kane” was Orson Welles’ masterpiece, his greatest achievement, while he was still only a boy-genius. A 24-year-old overnight sensation, Welles arrived on the Hollywood scene after scaring the wits out of half of the Untied States with his radio production of “War of the Worlds.”
People were convinced that the aliens were really invading and it led to a panic that is legendary to this day. It also got Welles a ticket to Hollywood where he was given free reign to create any film he wished.
After a couple of false starts, he zeroed in on real life newspaper magnet William Randolph Hearst. Hearst was a man who was raised to believe he could have everything. He started with one newspaper in San Francisco, but soon began buying more – at the height of his power, one in five Americans was reading a Hearst paper.
“Citizen Kane” was a portrait of a powerful newspaper man that bore no small resemblance to Hearst (though the screenwriters were also inspired by Welles himself, drawing on details of his life and personality to create the titular character). Welles directed and starred in the story trying to piece together who exactly this Charles Foster Kane was.
He was creating something groundbreaking, a film that is now counted by many as the greatest movie ever created. Welles was new to Hollywood, and he was willing to try anything to make his film great, and like things so often had in his life up to that point, it was.
“Citizen Kane” was Welles’ greatest achievement. It also almost spelled the end of his career. Hearst got wind of the film through famed Hollywood gossip columnist Louella Parsons, and the 76-year-old man, still formidable, became determined to stop it from seeing the light of a movie screen.
Welles didn’t take Hearst’s threats seriously at first. He underestimated the man. Hearst banned any mention of the film from appearing in his papers, declared war on the studio RKO and Welles.
After a legendary battle, the movie was finally released, though its new techniques failed to impress the average moviegoer and it didn’t make a profit. Welles never reached the heights of his first achievements, but in 1956 his film finally came out of mothballs and began to be seen as the achievement it was.
In celebration of the film’s 70th anniversary, Cinemark is showing it on the big screen for one night only Wednesday, June 13.
Unfortunately it’s not showing in Victoria, but if you can get yourself to one of the nearby metropolises, it’s well worth the effort and cost of the ticket to nestle in the dark and try to discover who that mystery of a man, Charles Kane, really was.
Based on two of the most willful and talented men of their respective ages, you might even get a hint of what made them tick as well.
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