The Oscars, Determining the Best and Citizen Kane

citizen kane

For many, the Oscars this year were a disappointment. While most of us could not get past the hideously inept hosting by “Young Hollywood” stars James Franco and Anne Hathaway, the hardcore cinephiles were bemoaning the results of two awards in particular: Best Picture and Best Director. Awarded to The King’s Speech (2010) and Tom Hooper, the director of that very same film, it seemed that Darren Aronofsky’s psychologically complex direction for Black Swan (2010) had been robbed and that certain contenders for the top award – most notably The Social Network (2010) and Inception (2010) – had been seriously overlooked. It does make one wonder what determines “best”. After all, films that are highly acclaimed by both critics and audiences do not always take the ultimate prize. One such example is Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane (1941).

The best thing commercially, which is the worst artistically, by and large, is the most successful.
– Orson Welles

Despite being declared by many to be the greatest film ever made, Citizen Kane did not win either of the Best Picture or Best Director awards for which it was nominated (losing out to How Green Was My Valley [1941] and its director, John Ford). Based on the persona of media mogul William Randolph Hearst, Citizen Kane centres on the life of the enigmatic Charles Kane (Welles), as the media enters a frenzied search to unveil his past following his death. Having uttered the word “Rosebud” before passing away, the film is concerned with discovering the mystery of this final murmur. Is Rosebud a woman? A place? A thing? This question propels the narrative forward while it paradoxically flashes to the past through a series of mnemonic epiphanies.

Citizen Kane is undoubtedly one of the most ground-breaking films released in the early 20th century. Welles revolutionised the visual and structural texture of film – introducing film goers to a structure that follows an emotional chronology, chiaroscuro lighting that produces visual contrasts and shadows, deep focus and grandiose camerawork. The almost omniscient camera penetrates architectural structures as though it is a ghost, while also maintaining divisions that heighten the suspense. Although this is a film about Kane, his true identity remains shrouded in mystery, as he is recollected through subjective fragments that are less illuminating than elusive.

I don’t know if I would refer to Citizen Kane as the best film in history; however, no one could dispute the impact it has made on the development of cinematographic artistry. It is a film that reveals different visual angles and quirks with every viewing. Which brings me back to The King’s Speech: should the Academy be awarding the Directing Oscar to films that clearly evidence the trace of the director or are they looking for something less tangible? It’s not a question to which I personally have a definitive answer. Sometimes I think it all comes down to politics.

NB: The clip does not feature audio due to copyright – get the fu


March 3, 2011