Thursday, April 9, 2015

Citizen Kane: Roger Ebert Commentary

I watch bad movies...a lot of them. Some I enjoy, others I don't. But I wholeheartedly believe that unless you can truly appreciate bad art, you can't truly appreciate good art. Give it a shot, if you dare. Gaze upon the recently retouched Ecce Homo, and compare it to the staggering genius of Girl With A Pearl Earring.

Listen to the perfection of the Beatles' Day Tripper, and compare it to the incomparable Shaggs.

And finally, compare The Creeping Terror with Orson Welles' masterwork, Citizen Kane.

They were all created with the same basic elements; paint, guitars, and film, and their creators achieved different, but memorable, sometimes striking, results. 

I recently watched Life Itself, the documentary about the life and career of critic Roger Ebert, and I was so moved by it I instantly put on the DVD of Citizen Kane featuring Ebert's commentary. I'm not going to review Citizen Kane because it's already been done, by experts who know a crap-ton more about film than I do. And I'm certainly not going to review Roger Ebert's commentary, as it is an astonishing breakdown of the nuts-and-bolts of Welles' film, even though Roger keeps calling a jigsaw puzzle a crossword puzzle, but that's neither here not there, and honestly, it sounds a little like I just reviewed it. Instead, I'm going to list the points brought up by Ebert in the commentary in bullet point form in exhaustive and completely unnecessary detail to illustrate exactly why Citizen Kane is seen as the greatest film ever made in probably the greatest commentary ever recorded. Please let me remind you, this is a two-hour film commented on by Roger Ebert, and not a year-long college course in film-making.

  • Invisible, seamless edits
  • Matte paintings and drawings used to create an epic scale on a budget
  • 110 different sets
  • Stock footage combined with artificially aged footage created by dragging film on the floor
  • Mercury actors integrated into actual RKO newsreel footage through optical printer
  • Integrating invisible special effects to make the film looks realistic, as many as Star Wars
  • Long takes, quick cuts, low camera angles, and experiments with lenses and lighting
  • Paparazzi-style footage
  • Backlighting to create drama; the background fades out, the foreground fades out, the background fades in, the foreground fades in
  • Dissolves, silhouettes, wipes, and fades
  • Sound techniques borrowed from radio
  • Triangular shot composition, mirroring of physical action through multiple scenes
  • Universal focus
  • Time lapse
  • Optical illusions and visual puns
  • Low muslin ceilings hide microphones and lighting, create dramatic atmosphere
  • Entire film is art directed with tons of bric-a-brac to illustrate a life of excess
  • Sets built so camera can be at or below floor level
  • Extensive use of eye-lines
  • Extensive use of symbolism
  • Infinite point of view
  • Witness is nearly always shown in lower right hand corner of every scene
  • Flash pan
  • Extensive use of models, miniatures
  • Inventive, overlapping dialogue
  • Bernard Hermann score, aria written specifically for the film.
'Every way light can be used to cast on a screen is exploited by Welles, even shadow play.', Pauline Kael via Roger Ebert.

'Citizen Kane is the accumulation of all the film technology available at the time.', Roger Ebert

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