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Citizen Kane


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#1 July Diaz

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Posted 16 May 2018 - 08:06 PM

On episode one of Unspooled, Paul and Amy jump straight into the AFI’s number one film of all time, Citizen Kane. They explain why it was almost never released, take a closer listen to Orson Welles’ innovative use of sound, and try to answer the big question: is this really the best movie ever? Plus: an interview with a guest expert, cinematographer Steve Gainer, on why Citizen Kane looks so incredible.
Want to tell us your best guess as to what Ben Hur is all about? Call the Unspooled voicemail line at 747-666-5824! Don’t forget to subscribe to us on your podcast app, and follow us on Twitter @Unspooled.
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#2 killyourdarlings

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Posted 17 May 2018 - 03:12 AM

Such a great idea for a podcast. I loved this first episode. Amy and Paul have such a great dynamic.

#3 buddydave

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Posted 17 May 2018 - 10:41 AM

Which AFI list are Paul and Amy using--the original or the 10th anniversary edition from 2007?

And why didn't AFI make a 20th anniversary edition?

EDIT: Just listened to the preview--it's the 2007 list. But my second question remains--where's the 2017 edition? And what films from 2006 to 2015 got shortchanged by the lack of a 20th anniversary addition?

#4 Johnny Pomatto

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Posted 17 May 2018 - 02:48 PM

Love the new podcast, Amy. I'm looking forward to revisiting all these films. Just one comment for the CITIZEN KANE episode. I'd like to offer a bit of defense for HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY. I am a devoted John Ford fan and HGWMV is one of my favorite works of his. It's a shame that it has mostly been reduced to a footnote to the legacy of CITIZEN KANE, at least by those who haven't seen it. It does indeed have gorgeous black and white (not green) cinematography, and some of Ford's most memorable scenes. The shot outside the churchyard after Maureen O'Hara gets married is one of my favorite images in all of cinema. Like Kane, it is a story full of tragedy, but not without levity. It's also the debut performance of then child actor Roddy McDowell. As someone with Welsh blood in her veins, I would definitely recommend that you give it a try, Amy, but you don't have to take my word for it. Orson Welles himself is a huge fan of Ford and that specific film in general. When asked who his favorite directors were, Welles would respond with, "Oh, you know. Just the big three. John Ford, John Ford, and John Ford." In fact, in Peter Bogdonovich's documentary DIRECTED BY JOHN FORD, Welles narrates the film and speaks at great length about his adoration for the film, even going so far that there was no shame in losing so many awards to such a masterpiece, though it's unclear if Welles would stick to this sentiment after a few glasses of French wine. HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY is not on AFI's list of 100 greatest films, but if it were left up to me, it would be.

#5 Cameron H.

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Posted 17 May 2018 - 02:58 PM

I haven’t listened yet, but I’m looking forward to this! I can’t wait to revisit Citizen Kane!
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#6 wilberfan

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Posted 17 May 2018 - 04:18 PM

A pretty good start to an interesting concept for a podcast.

Regarding your twin surprise at Susan's singing voice: I must say I've never heard anyone think Susan Alexander's singing "wasn't that bad!". To my ears--and those of everyone with whom I've ever seen the film--Susan's singing was obviously quite bad--at least by tough opera standards (and I know very little about opera!). Sure, maybe she's better than Roseanne on the mound, but Charles was 'forcing' a woman with sub-par skills to humiliate herself every night in front of people who knew exactly how far she was falling short. Even the 'working class' stagehands could tell how bad she was. It's the entire motivation for her suicide attempt...

And as a gear-head, I enjoyed your guest talking about Toland's camera. I've been to the ASC headquarters a few times for their occasional open-to-the-public lectures, and it's quite humbling to stand in the presence of that historic artifact!

I look forward to future episodes...

#7 LindsayNelson

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Posted 17 May 2018 - 06:36 PM

Loving this podcast so far! This episode made me realize that I need to revisit Citizen Kane--I only saw it once in college, and like many movies that I saw in college and watched again 10-15 years later I'm guessing it'd be a very different experience seeing it now.

I'd agree that Citizen Kane is by far the most influential English-language movie ever made, but I wonder if that makes it the best. Judging by AFI's criteria (critical recognition, cultural impact, etc.), it makes sense to call it the best, but sometimes it seems like a lot of the praise for Citizen Kane is based on how influential it was, not necessarily how good it was. Is influential the same as good? Maybe sometimes?

That said, totally agree that Citizen Kane isn't just a piece of film history and a collection of important firsts, it's also a genuinely entertaining and moving film. (Though my grad school colleagues always groaned on the first day of the semester when at least a few freshmen would say Citizen Kane was their favorite film, because...greatly doubt that was true.)

#8 buddydave

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Posted 18 May 2018 - 07:31 AM

I'd like to add that--as someone who's seen Citizen Kane at least 10 times--I really appreciated Amy's and Paul's comments about the film. I never caught the fire motif and hadn't really appreciated the movie's use of sound until now. I'm excited for future podcasts, especially for the movies I've seen.

#9 Creamy Deluxe

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Posted 18 May 2018 - 11:39 AM

I am so glad that Amy and Paul are doing this. I'm looking forward to listening to all 100 episodes!1

I love Citizen Kane. I always wonder if it is over rated the I see it on TCM and remember how great it is.

In response to why Kane wants to make Susan a opera star, I think it is Joseph Cotton who says that when the scandal with Susan happened the headlines referred to Susan as a Quote Singer Unquote. Kane wanted to remove the quotes. So it was all about him.

And a great scene that wasn't mentioned was the photo of all the reporters for the rival newspaper and how it comes to life when Kane has hired all of them for his paper. That was amazing!!

#10 grudlian.

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Posted 18 May 2018 - 12:04 PM

I'm glad they mentioned that Citizen Kane is relevant today. I don't need it to be similar to Trump but I've always thought Citizen Kane was practically Shakespearean in its timelessness. I've read so many people online who think Citizen Kane was "great for its time" or some nonsense.

I can understand not thinking it's the best movie ever made. Totally fine. But Citizen Kane is a movie where everything works and works well. It might be perfect in its execution even if it's not everyone's favorite movie or the "best" movie.

#11 The Triple Lindy

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Posted 18 May 2018 - 03:40 PM

View PostLindsayNelson, on 17 May 2018 - 06:36 PM, said:

I'd agree that Citizen Kane is by far the most influential English-language movie ever made, but I wonder if that makes it the best. Judging by AFI's criteria (critical recognition, cultural impact, etc.), it makes sense to call it the best, but sometimes it seems like a lot of the praise for Citizen Kane is based on how influential it was, not necessarily how good it was. Is influential the same as good? Maybe sometimes?

View Postgrudlian., on 18 May 2018 - 12:04 PM, said:

...I've always thought Citizen Kane was practically Shakespearean in its timelessness. I've read so many people online who think Citizen Kane was "great for its time" or some nonsense.

I can understand not thinking it's the best movie ever made. Totally fine. But Citizen Kane is a movie where everything works and works well. It might be perfect in its execution even if it's not everyone's favorite movie or the "best" movie.

I think Shakespeare is a perfect comparison to Citizen Kane. I go to the theater quite often, and there are many things I would probably rather sit through than Shakespeare, but you can't deny how good most of Shakespeare's work is ... every line is both revelatory of the speaker and well-wrought as an English sentence. Plus his every work is ubiquitous in culture ... you'll find references to it everywhere.

I also would agree that "most influential" can put a work high in the running for "best overall," too. Sure, there are probably other movies I would rather watch that CK, and a few I would say are better films, overall, but that has a lot to do with the fact that the film-making medium has matured another 75+ years since CK was made. But CK codified just about every rule about how films are made. Many films at the time were approached with a stodgy "filmed stage production" feel, and Welles brought such a fresh and innovative feel to his films that his work proved transformative.

Citizen Kane totally deserves the #1 spot.

Great first episode!

#12 joel_rosenbaum

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Posted 19 May 2018 - 03:32 AM

Quote

I've always thought Citizen Kane was practically Shakespearean in its timelessness.
I think the common thread is hubris. A "great man" brought low by his arrogance. There's a timelessness to these kinds of stories because hubris is an unchanging feature of humanity.

However, I'm going to flip this a bit because Citizen Kane is also very specifically a movie of its time. I'm not just referring to the fact that it is a semi-biography of William Randolph Hearst, a man whose media empire (and relevance) has dwindled considerably since his death. I'm thinking about the type of story that it tells. Moral fables about tycoons and titans of industry. Specifically, the tycoon in this movie -- Charles Foster Kane -- bears an uncanny similarity to a particular set of characters found in Sinclair Lewis' novels. Lewis was hugely popular in his prime, so it's easy to imagine his influence extending to Welles and his early work in particular.

Now I'll admit that this is probably an imperfect parallel and that my perception is probably biased by the fact that I just finished reading Elmer Gantry. However, I'll be damned if there isn't the same sort of nasty, brutish authoritarianism in Kane that show up in so many of Lewis' characters. The obvious example would be Buzz Windrip from It Can't Happen Here, who was coincidentally modeled in part after William Randolph Hearst. (As an aside, it's easy to forget that Hearst was an avowed fascist who once said, "Whenever you hear a prominent American called a fascist, you can usually make up your mind that the man is simply a loyal citizen who stands up for Americanism.") And I think Paul nailed it when he referred to Kane as a villain. But this isn't like, to use a contemporary example, a gangster film, where Kane is some obvious Capone-like villain operating outside the boundaries of law. Kane is a specific type of villain: someone who operates within social norms and is in fact sanctioned by them. I would even argue that Kane (and people like him) actually dictates what those norms are. That is, for me, the thrust of the yellow journalism and political parts of the story.

And that's where the comparison sticks with me, Kane is unambiguously American. He has tendencies exhibited by many prominent Americans and espouses American values, just not the ones that most of us are proud of. Obviously other nations and cultures have their share of hucksters, sociopaths, and villains, but the way Kane goes about his business feels particularly familiar (and perhaps more so in our present circumstances). And criticizing American norms and traditions is basically the underlying theme of every Sinclair Lewis novel. Another similarity exists in a plot device used by both Welles and Lewis: minor protagonists that serve as narrators. Lewis used these characters (Doremus Jessup, Frank Shallard, Jim Lefferts) to insert his point of view in the story. The conceit of Citizen Kane is that almost the entire story is told by these kinds of characters (Jedediah Leland et al.).

However, I should point out that Citizen Kane diverges from Sinclair Lewis' works in one very significant way. That would be hubris, which grudlian brought up at the top of this now rather long post. It's a classic storytelling device and Welles puts it to good use in the movie. Kane has a classic rise and fall and although he ostensibly still has his wealth at his deathbed, evidence of his collapse is obvious. On the contrary, Lewis' villains pretty much never succumb to hubris. They might have a few setbacks but they pretty much succeed in spite of their flaws and in some cases because of them.

And just to make sure that I wasn't completely insane for drawing this comparison, I looked up articles to see if Welles ever attributed influence to Sinclair Lewis, or if there existed any sort of critical analysis linking the two. I came up empty, so I'm probably talking out of my ass. However, I found out that Welles did produce Dodsworth and Arrowsmith for the Campbell Playhouse. So, he was at least aware of Lewis' work.

#13 joel_rosenbaum

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Posted 19 May 2018 - 03:34 AM

fixed

#14 Cameron H.

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Posted 19 May 2018 - 04:06 AM

View Postjoel_rosenbaum, on 19 May 2018 - 03:34 AM, said:

Uh oh.

Any chance I can fix the above post?


It’s a weird formatting thing. If you edit and remove all the bracketed items, it should fix it up :)
Chilly: I'm telling you, man, if we had management, we'd be riding around in limousines, wearing leather pants, and buying condos. Can I eat this roast beef?
Body Rock (1984)

Dan Dark: What I say is, when you're dealing with the Devil, praise the Lord and pass the ammunition.
The Singing Detective (2003)

#15 Cameron H.

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Posted 19 May 2018 - 04:08 AM

I know that not everyone follows Amy and Paul on Twitter, so I thought I would embed this video here for possible discussion.

The original Tweet was curtesy of @AnatheHated (Thanks, Ana!)


Chilly: I'm telling you, man, if we had management, we'd be riding around in limousines, wearing leather pants, and buying condos. Can I eat this roast beef?
Body Rock (1984)

Dan Dark: What I say is, when you're dealing with the Devil, praise the Lord and pass the ammunition.
The Singing Detective (2003)

#16 Cam Bert

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Posted 19 May 2018 - 05:42 AM

I don't know if anybody else is dorky enough to remember this but when the AFI first released it's top 100 list it was in the form of a TV special. I was 15 and obsessed with movies and I was glued to the TV with a legal pad and pencil ready to write each one down and watch "the greatest movies" of all time. Now and the time what I failed to consider was that these films were considered by critics, scholars, and film makers to be great and what they consider to be great might not but what a 15 year is clamoring to watch. So needless to say rushing out and watching Citizen Kane afterwards left me disappointed. After listening to this podcast I feel that I really need to go back and rewatch Citizen Kane because while I remember the story and a lot of the beats, at the time I caught none of the symbolism and was unaware of the techniques it was using and how impressive and groundbreaking for the time they were. From here on out I will try to watch along with the show.
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#17 Cam Bert

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Posted 19 May 2018 - 06:08 AM

Expanding on what Lindsay mentioned earlier, the AFI top 100 is a list made up of the top 100 American films as determined by members of the American Film Institute. If someone, and I sure it's already been done, were to make a top 100 list of all films American or otherwise do you think that Citizen Kane would still hold the top spot?
My Howdy sense is tingling. Break out Google maps and my abacus...there's a C&O to be solved! And this time, it's personal...
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#18 grudlian.

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Posted 19 May 2018 - 07:26 AM

View PostCam Bert, on 19 May 2018 - 06:08 AM, said:

Expanding on what Lindsay mentioned earlier, the AFI top 100 is a list made up of the top 100 American films as determined by members of the American Film Institute. If someone, and I sure it's already been done, were to make a top 100 list of all films American or otherwise do you think that Citizen Kane would still hold the top spot?

It has been done and, yes, Citizen Kane does hold the top spot for some of those lists.

They Shoot Pictures Don't They list of the top 1000 movies ever made, which I believe is ranked based on an aggregate of many many lists combined, has Citizen Kane in the #1 spot.

The BFI Sight and Sound poll is very widely recognized as an important list (compiled by critics and directors) done every 10 years. It listed Citizen Kane as the #1 movie every poll from its inception until its most recent poll in 2012. Citizen Kane is now an embarrassingly pathetic #2 after Vertigo.

Cahiers du Cinema list, from the respected French film magazine, has Citizen Kane in the top spot as well.

So, while I have real issues with the AFI limiting a list of films to US productions only, even international organizations have a ton of respect for Citizen Kane. Maybe not always #1 but certainly in the conversation of best films of all time.

#19 Cameron H.

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Posted 19 May 2018 - 09:04 AM

I think I’m going to try to do this as often as I can for these movies. Fortunately, here’s one already done for me :)


Chilly: I'm telling you, man, if we had management, we'd be riding around in limousines, wearing leather pants, and buying condos. Can I eat this roast beef?
Body Rock (1984)

Dan Dark: What I say is, when you're dealing with the Devil, praise the Lord and pass the ammunition.
The Singing Detective (2003)

#20 GammaDev

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Posted 19 May 2018 - 12:45 PM

View PostCameron H., on 19 May 2018 - 04:08 AM, said:

I know that not everyone follows Amy and Paul on Twitter, so I thought I would embed this video here for possible discussion.

The original Tweet was curtesy of @AnatheHated (Thanks, Ana!)




You beat me to mentioning that Trump had been interviewed about this movie long before he ran for President.
Supposedly it was for a documentary about Trump's favorite movie and why he likes it. It was abandoned and you can see why- Trump either doesn't understand Citizen Kane or he's never actually seen it. Either way, the filmmaker must have realized that watching either someone who completely missed the point of a movie or a guy BSing his way through talking about a movie he'd never actually seen couldn't sustain a documentary of any length.
Given all we've seen of Trump, I'm leaning towards Trump just saying it was his favorite movie because of his "everybody says" mentality. "Well everyone agrees it's the greatest movie ever. Ask anyone. So it's my favorite movie, anyone will tell you that!" Then because (before Trump became President) Trump loved to be interviewed by anyone for anything, he agreed to sit down to an interview about "his favorite movie, Citizen Kane" and then had to scramble to have someone brief him on the major points of Citizen Kane. To hear Trump explain Citizen Kane, Kane is the hero(?!) who had a "modest fall" and who needs "to get himself a different woman"- as if Kane has no fault in his own downfall or that the downfall is even that significant or long-lasting!