Citizen Kane is arguably the best movie of all time. Elements like its revolutionary cinematic techniques, its seemingly direct attack on certain media titans, and its criticism of the idea of the American dream made Citizen Kane truly unique to its time.
Citizen Kane caught the attention of critics originally due to its utilization of never before seen filming methods. The most innovative technical aspect of Citizen Kane is the extended use of deep focus. In nearly every scene in the film, the foreground, background and everything in between are all in sharp focus. Through the use of pan-focus, it is possible to photograph action from eighteen inches to over two hundred feet away, with foreground and background figures and action both recorded in focus. Before the utilization of pan-focus, the camera had to be focused either for a close or a distant shot, all efforts to encompass both at the same time resulting in one or the other being out of focus. This handicap forced the filmmakers to break up the scene into long and short angles, with much consequent loss of realism. With pan-focus, the camera, like the human eye, sees an entire panorama at once, with everything clear and lifelike.
Citizen Kane was also revolutionary in its depiction of the American Dream. Itwas one of the first movies to depict the American Dream as anything less than desirable. When Kane was a child, even though his parents own a boarding house and are quite poor, he is fully happy as he plays outside the family’s home. He has no playmates but is content to be alone because peace and security are just inside the house’s walls. When Kane is removed from his home, he’s given what seems like the American dream—financial affluence and apparent material luxury. However, Kane finds that those things don’t make him happy, and the exchange of emotional security for financial security is ultimately not satisfactory. The American dream is presented as hollow and unfulfilling path to happiness. As an adult, Kane uses his money and power to either buy love or make others as miserable as he is. Kane’s wealth isolates him from others throughout the years, and his life ends in isolation and misery. He dies surrounded only by his possessions, poor substitutions for true companions.
To provide more impact to the films message against material wealth emphasis, the film is allegedly based upon the life of a famous newspaper titan of the time, William Randolph Hearst. Hearst was deeply offended by the film and tried to have it destroyed, but failed. His empire of media outlets refused to publicize the film or run any paid advertising on its behalf.
Citizen Kane, Orson Welles premier as a writer producer, and film actor, changed the nations view on the American Dream and cinema itself, revolutionizing the film industry both in technique and in message.