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Citizen Kane Poster
Your March 2009 RMC Results Are In!

Tagline: 365 days in the making - and every minute of it an exciting NEW thrill for you!

Preshow Entertainment: The Woman in the Room

MoMo: "Rosebud."

Pizza: Danielle's Wood Fire Pizza


Crap! Two thousand movies randomize and it comes up CITIZEN KANE??? What are the odds of that? Well, 1999 to 1, but still...CITIZEN KANE?? What the hell am I supposed to write that hasn't already been written? This is a film that's studied in every film school in the universe...and perhaps in psych classes teaching about solipsistic narcissism. And who in their right mind would be reading this when you can read essays and books on the film? Hell, you can even watch a movie about the movie (RKO 281). So what am I to do? Well, isn't it obvious? I'll begin with a story about me and a vacuum cleaner.

When I was 25, I was working in the Barnes & Noble that used to be in Penn Station in NYC. At night, I'd vacuum the carpeting. That's right. I was vacuuming carpeting in a train station's bookstore at 25. By the time Orson Welles was my Vacuuming Age, he was directing his first movie - CITIZEN KANE. I'm not sure if that's a bad reflection on me as opposed to a good reflection on Welles. Okay, I am sure, but hey, at least I never acted with Pia Zadora in BUTTERFLY. You gotta give me that.

CITIZEN KANE is often hailed as the greatest movie ever made, so it's a bit hard to swallow that it flopped big time in the theaters. It didn't even make a profit. Much of the reason lies in its less than transparent parallel to contemporaneous newspaper tycoon William Randolf Hearst's life. Hearst, made of all things rich and powerful, forbade his many newspapers to review KANE, then went one step further with his directive to not even allow any ads for the movie. Yes, KANE was a pissing match between two very similar, powerful people, and like, say King Kong vs. Godzilla, they both took a beating for it. And who's to say which one came out victorious.

Eerie music (thanks, Bernard Herrmann) accompanies an opening sequence depicting the Pompeii-y remains of a man's life, all shot like a suspense thriller. And then...possibly the most famous one-word line in film history. "Rosebud."

Newspaper tycoon Kane is dead, and the film traces his life leading up to his mysterious last word through flashbacks, interviews and newsreels. Who really was Charles Foster Kane? It took his death to find that out, and even as the movie ends, we're the only ones given the clues.

The first 10% of the movie is shots of Xanadu (that's Kane's mansion, not the Olivia Newton-John/Gene Kelly spectacle) along with newsreels about the death of Kane. It's all exposition, and although we learn about Kane, the story has yet to begin. In fact, nearly 1/4 of the movie is over before we meet Welles as Kane. That's how - how did Pauline Kael say it? - that's how fuckin' cool this film is. I suppose you can say CITIZEN KANE was the first noir murder mystery, with Kane being the victim and the reporters the detectives.

But here's the best part. With CITIZEN KANE, Welles and Co. either broke, invented or reinvented the filmmaker.

Directed, produced, co-written and starring Orson Welles, KANE employed shots through neon signs and into skylights. Shots that have three things going on at one time, all connected. Brilliant shots like Kane, as a boy, shown through a window as his parents discuss his adoption in the foreground inside the house.

Welles was highly regarded in the New York theater world, and when RKO made him an offer no man could refuse (total control of the movie was pretty rare), he took those stagecraft tricks and utilized them on film. It's safe to say KANE has more trickery going on than most people will ever know. Composites. Mattes. Angles so low they had to make holes in the floor. Breakaway furniture so the camera can move...through tables!
Example of extreme backlighting to the extent that figures appear as silhouettes
Ceilings made of material (not wood) so they can put microphones above them (on a personal note, I am always excited to see ceilings in movies). People standing on unseen boxes to look taller. "Skylight" lighting that looks like an alien tractor beam. The list is as long as Welles' belt in his final years.

Sometimes Welles' innovations were accidental. When he started the movie he was lighting for the theater, not knowing that A) film is different, and B) this was the job of the DP. And dissolves? He would crossfade (lights down stage left, lights up stage right), again not knowing that was an optical effect rather than a practical one. But let's not quibble, especially since these effects are extremely, well, effective.

But few of these creative chicanery compare to the film's use of deep focus. Welles, along with cinematographer Greg Toland (okay, more Toland than Welles), developed special lenses so people in the background would be in focus at the same time the people in the foreground were. They also played around with perspective (check out the fireplace scene towards the very end). There's not a frame in the movie that isn't deliberate. This is one of the finest examples of premeditated creativity.

KANE begat many things still in use today. It also most likely inspired more directors than any other film. For example, the projection booth scene in KANE is not unlike what Woody Allen did decades later in STARDUST MEMORIES. But millions of things have been lifted (acknowledged or not) from KANE. I just used that one as an example because I just thought of it. So there.

Kane is reflected in multiple set of mirrors as Kane reflects upon himself near the end of his life.
Welles utilized many of his Mercury Theater players for KANE, and it's hard to believe none of them had ever made a movie before. Including Welles. That's right, CITIZEN KANE was Orson Welles' first film. Take that, Ron Howard's first directorial effort GRAND THEFT AUTO!! I love the fact that there was a theater group involved. Perhaps one day I'll start The Nathanson Players. I could only wish to get people like Welles had, especially the great Joseph Cotten.

CITIZEN KANE was edited by soon-to-be-famous-director Robert Wise (WEST SIDE STORY, THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL, THE SOUND OF MUSIC, etc.)

Herman Mankiewicz wrote the script with Welles, which once again became a Hearstian battle of "who wrote what" (we actually may never know, though most arrows point to Mankiewicz). But I can't heap enough praise on Mank, who wrote on some of the best Marx Brothers movies as well as being a major writer on THE WIZARD OF OZ (it was his idea to do Kansas in black & white). And KANE is but one of dozens (did you get that?...Dozens!) of movies he wrote or helped write, some lost in the crowd, others, like DINNER AT EIGHT, gems. So incredibly prolific, famous and talented was he that Mankiewicz actually had a "style" with words that became a popular trend in movies.

The movie ends just as it began except smoke is all that remains of Charles Foster Kane
This is one of the best examples of a movie that had thought behind it. This is how a movie should be made. This movie shows a love of movies. CITIZEN KANE is everything that makes up life itself; it winks at you, it's playful, it's smart, it's fun and funny and sad and tragic. So why waste money on film school? Rent CITIZEN KANE. Study CITIZEN KANE. Read about CITIZEN KANE. Get inspired by CITIZEN KANE. Then make the best movie you can. Because vacuuming the carpet in a bookstore in a train station? Not that inspiring.


Back in 1983, when Frank Darabont was 24, he directed a short based on a Stephen King short story (Take that, Welles!). King granted him permission for only $1, as part of his DOLLAR BABY deal. That's a business deal King sets up with aspiring filmmakers to grant permission to film a short based on one of his short stories in exchange for a buckeroo. How do I get in on this?

THE WOMAN IN THE ROOM is a slow-but-not-plodding somber story about a man whose mother is dying. When your mother, oxygen tube on her nose and barely able to move looks up at you and says "I'd give anything to be out of this...I want it over," what would you do? That's what John (Michael Cornelison) must wrestle with. Basically a two person one-act, WOMAN is really about humanity and how sometimes the hardest choice is the right one. But do we ever know for sure?

It's already clear Darabont had the tools to make movies like GREEN MILE and SHAWSHANK (both also from Stephen King's hard drive) involving people's will to live at whatever the cost.

THE WOMAN IN THE ROOM has never been released on DVD (I think). But even if you do get your hands on this 30 minute short, don't expect the feel-good movie of the year. Not quite powerful, but certainly effective. It was surely unfortunate timing that two RMCers in attendance had just lost someone very close to them.

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