Citizen Kane: The Citizen Kane of American Cinema?

Citizen kane 3First of all, I like Citizen Kane. It is on my short list of movies that I try to make a point of checking in with at least once a year. “Keeping your film nerd cred up to date,” my friend called it yesterday. Because nothing keeps you current like rewatching a 1941 movie.

Of course, I’m not the only one who watches it regularly. Nearly 75 years later, it is still typically referred to as the prototypical example of a great movie. For example, if you wanted to recommend the latest Oscar bait with qualifications, you might say “It’s not Citizen Kane but I liked it”. I do it too. Back in April, I referred to The Dark Knight as the Citizen Kane of superhero movies. In May, I quoted Entertainment Weekly in calling The Room “the Citizen Kane of bad Citizen Kanemovies”. But is Citizen Kane really the Citizen Kane of American movies?

It’s not my favourite movie. How can it be? My own grandfather was just a kid when it was originally released. By the time I finally watched Citizen Kane for the first time when I was maybe 17, its visual style and narrative structure had been inspiring writers and directors for nearly 60 years, making it easy to take so much of what made the film unique in 1941 for granted. As a 21st century viewer, I’m far more likely to marvel at the style of, say, American Beauty even though that film would not have been possible without Citizen Kane.

Citizen Kane 4So why do I find my annual visits with this movie so essential to my film nerd cred? First of all, I admire the non-linear structure. Even today, where movies like Pulp Fiction and Memento have taken this idea even further, Citizen Kane is still impressive. It remains one of my favourite character studies of a ruthless protagonist. And Rosebud! How often do we sit through an entire movie waiting for an answer that actually satisfies and feels right?

I can’t pretend to feel that Citizen Kane is necessarily the greatest movie ever made but it has a lot to offer even to modern film nerds. It rewards multiple viewings and I’m always looking forward to my next one.

19 thoughts on “Citizen Kane: The Citizen Kane of American Cinema?

  1. Wendell

    Sure, a 1941 movie could be your favorite. It’s all about how much you love and appreciate it, not when it was made. It’s one of my faves and I saw it for the first time only a few years ago. Sounds like it’s one of yours, too, since you not only revisit it every year, but look forward to each viewing.

    As for the question posed by the title, CK’s staying power with people like us who consider themselves movie buffs means the answer is yes. It’s not that it is the one undeniable greatest film ever made that gives it such lofty status. It’s the recognition of the fact so much of what we see today can be traced back to that film. It’s also because when you look at lists of the best movies ever made by a diverse set of people, it is bound to show up on as amny of them as any other film.

    Love this post. Sorry for the rant, though.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. mattasshole Post author

      Thanks Wendell! I’d never bother bother to post anything if I wasn’t hoping someone somewhere was going to rant about it.
      You’re right, this is definitely a movie that I love and would count among my favourites.


  2. ruth

    I actually haven’t seen Citizen Kane yet [I know, I’m in the minority], but honestly I don’t know how I’d feel about it. I was curious to check it out after I visited The Hearst Castle a few years ago which was owned by Randolph Hearst, the inspiration for the main character here.


  3. Jay

    This is one of those movies that everyone agrees is great, but is no one’s favourite. And you’re right – maybe since we’re viewing it through lenses of it having already existed for 75 years, and having been exposed to decades worth of moies influenced by it, we can’t quite be as captivated by its magic. But it’s still brilliant, and is one of those rare movies, that, even though pop-culturally, we already know the ‘twist’, it still feels like a payoff. That in itself is masterful.
    Great post, Matt!


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