"Everything that matters in cinema since 1940," François Truffaut has suggested, "has been influenced by Citizen Kane." It is not surprising, then, that Citizen Kane should be one of the most written about films in cinema history; nearly every major critic since André Bazin has felt compelled to discuss it, among them Andrew Sarris, Peter Cowie, David Bordwell, Joseph McBride, and Bruce Kawin.
Of the various critical approaches taken to the film, the most trivial, though in some respects the most common, is to understand Citizen Kane as an only slightly disguised biography of William Randolph Hearst. Hearst certainly took it that way, and was largely responsible, through the influence of his newspaper syndicate (which refused to review RKO films for a time), for the film's box-office failure, despite the generally enthusiastic response of the critics. Pauline Kael did much to revive this line of thinking in her 1971 "Raising Kane" essay. Kael's point is essentially negative. Movies in general "are basically kitsch," though on occasion kitsch "redeemed." Citizen Kane is a case in point, especially given its reputation, and that of Orson Welles. Indeed, much of Kael's essay is devoted to showing that aspects of Kane normally attributed to Welles really represented or were indebted to the work of others – to Gregg Toland's cinematography, to the conventions of Hollywood newspaper comedy, and especially to Herman J. Mankiewicz, to whom Kael attributes the entire script. Her point even here, however, is that Mankiewicz largely retold the story of William Randolph Hearst ("What happened in Hearst's life was far more interesting" Kael argues at one point) – so that the process of making Citizen Kane is pictured largely as a process of disguise and oversimplification, begun by Mankiewicz and only finished by Welles. What Kael clearly fails to see is the irrelevance of her whole approach (not to mention its basic inaccuracy in regard to historical fact). As François Truffaut puts it: "It isn't San Simeon that interests me but Xanadu, not the reality but the work of art on film." To see the film as...Read More
Mario Puzo has said that one of the reasons he wrote his novel, The Godfather, was to get out of debt. He was aiming for a best-seller, and he achieved his goal. Published in 1969, the novel sold 500,000 copies in hardcover and more than ten million copies in paperback by the time the film version was released.
"I have discovered the secret of successful filmmaking," says Claude Chabrol sarcastically, "Timing!" Casablanca belongs in the vanguard of films created by the era they so flawlessly reflect. Assured and expert, it is not in either substance or style superior to its director Michael Curtiz's Mildred Pierce or Young Man With a Horn. Bogart, Bergman, Rains, and Henreid all gave better performances; of those by Greenstreet, Lorre, Kinsky,...Read More
Gone with the Wind, based on Margaret Mitchell's best-selling novel about the South during the Civil War and Reconstruction, made producer David O. Selznick's name a box-office draw, made the relatively unknown Vivien Leigh an international star, and became the most popular motion picture of all time.
Soon after Selznick bought the movie rights to Mitchell's novel in July 1936, thousands of fan letters began to...Read More
Lawrence of Arabia has been described as a "thinking man's epic." The film has all the ingredients of a classic adventure yarn. Typically in epics, these ingredients are showcased to the detriment of character and plot in order to keep the action rolling. But in David Lean's epic, the title character and the political machinations surrounding his exploits take center stage; what's more, he remains an enigma even...Read More
Traditionally, the film musical is said to have reached its pinnacle in the 1950s at MGM studios. The creative personnel at MGM responsible for this perfection were Arthur Freed, Vincente Minnelli, Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly. The "golden era" began with On the Town (1949) and ended with Gigi (1958); between were An American in Paris, Singin' in the Rain, The Bandwagon, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, It's...Read More
Detested when it first appeared (for satirizing the French ruling class on the brink of World War II), almost destroyed by brutal cutting, restored in 1959 to virtually its original form, La règle du jeu (The Rules of the Game) is now universally acknowledged as a masterpiece and perhaps Renoir's supreme achievement. In the four international critics polls organized every ten years (since 1952) by Sight and Sound,...Read More
"By courtesy of the wizards of Hollywood The Wizard of Oz reached the screen yesterday as a delightful piece of wonderworking which had the youngsters' eyes shining and brought a quietly amused gleam to the wiser ones," begins Frank Nugent's review of The Wizard of Oz in The New York Times. Produced and distributed by MGM at a cost of $2.5 million, the film is a tribute to...Read More
The subject of L'Atalante – Vigo's only feature-length film, completed just before his death – was not of his own choosing. The interest of the film lies in his engagement with material that was partly congenial in its unconventionality (life on a barge, with its freedom from the restrictions of established society, its alternative community of unsocialized eccentrics), and partly highly conventional (problems of the heterosexual couple, mutual...Read More
The genesis of On the Waterfront is nearly as fascinating as the film itself. In April 1948, a New York dock hiring boss was murdered; it was the second killing in a short time. Reporter Malcolm Johnson was assigned by the now-defunct New York Sun to cover the story. Johnson's initial inquiries developed into a full investigation of waterfront crime. His findings were revealed in a series of...Read More