Where does one start with Citizen Kane?
It is often called the greatest film ever made. Some of a contrarian nature will contend it’s overrated. Rotten Tomatoes, well, it’s algorithm based so it knows nothing.
Nevertheless, I ask you to consider this.
Had you the intimate details about the private life of the largest media tycoon in the world, a man who could crush your life, career and art, would you as an artist be willing to write that story, get it made and spend the rest of your life dealing with the fallout from it?
It doesn’t have to be a media tycoon. It could be any public figure who could destroy your life if you exposed their secrets … You would get bonus points if it’s someone on your own side. Would you have the gumption to do it?
Orson Welles and screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz had that information on yellow journalist/media magnate William Randolph Hearst and did just that.
Hearst’s power and influence is really quite unimaginable today. No one wields as much power over the media as he did.
Hearst sent influential gossip columnist Louella Parsons (think TMZ but with WAY more power to destroy people) to find out all she could about the film and obliterate it before its release.
When that didn’t work, Hearst tried to coerce the heads of the other Hollywood studios.
That didn’t work either.
Hearst’s newspapers set about trashing the film and libeling Welles upon its release. Non-Hearst papers, however, gave it positive reviews.
In the end, the audiences of 1941 ultimately rejected Kane and it bombed.
With the death of Hearst in 1951 and advent of TV in the 50’s, Kane began its ascent to legendary status.
In a nutshell, the story of Citizen Kane is a frame story that opens with a media tycoon Charles Foster Kane’s last words “Rosebud.” This sends an intrepid reporter on a quest, to find out what Rosebud means.
So much has been written about Kane but only a few films made about it. We’ll cover three of them here:
- The Battle Over Citizen Kane – 1996 documentary about the making of
- RKO 281 – 1999 historical drama by Benjamin Ross based on starring Liev Schreiber, James Cromwell, Melanie Griffith, John Malkovich, Roy Scheider, and Liam Cunningham
- Mank – David Fincher’s 2020 drama about screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz and his writing of the Citizen Kane screenplay
Note: Portions of this article written by the author previously appeared on the blog of the Raindance Film Festival.