Citizen Kane May Not Be The Best Film Ever

Commenting on the Critics with Simon Columb

Matthew Sweet writes for The Telegraph about Citizen Kane (potentially) losing it’s place on the Sight & Sound poll…

Orson Welles’ 1941 feature tracks the rise and fall of an American media mogul from the Colorado backwoods to a lonely death in his fairy-tale palace. Every 10 years Sight and Sound magazine has canvassed a caucus of critics for their top 10 films. Every time since 1962, Kane has taken the top spot. The results of the latest poll will be published on August 2. And for the first time in 50 years, there is a distinct possibility of a Kane mutiny.

Read the full article here.

First off, I will concede that I put a huge amount of credability and weight to these lists. So many young filmmakers and film enthusiasts will use these lists almost as a check-off point to ensure they have touched upon the ‘important’ films. Yes, I will admit that if you watch Vertigo, you are not suddenly a Hitchcock specialist, but at the very least, you may get an inkling as to why Hitchcock is deemed such an important filmmaker.

I can appreciate the anti-lists argument too – indeed, the article by Sweet notes how director Peter Bogadanovich argues against the list. How can you definitively whittle down all of cinema since 1910 into ten films? It is microscopic what these ten films represent – so judging Citizen Kane as ‘the best film of all-time’ means very little. Not to mention, there is no specialism attached. I once sat next to an esteemed film critic (who surely has included his own Top 10 in this list) at a screening and I conversed with him about my interest in film-writing and criticism. His first question was what my specialism is – and I was stumped. In all fairness, I simply adore cinema. Currently, on my to-watch shelf, I have Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton shorts, Kurosawa’s Ikiru, Terence Davis’ Distant Voices, Still Lives and a Billy Wilder boxset. And I was exceptionally excited for both The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises. Specialisms, it seems, is not my speciality.

The Sight and Sound poll does not celebrate specialisms or box-office success. It is determined by film critics and film writers from across the world. Sweet writes:

The last time the survey was conducted, 145 mainly anglophone critics were polled. This time an 1,800-strong body of writers, curators and directors have been asked, a group representing the film cultures of most countries in the world.

So, this is an exciting time – and Citizen Kane’s positioning will not be the only upset. Will Fellini fall out of the Top 10? Jean Renoir’s Le Regle de Jeu is rarely discussed across blogs and articles outside of esteemed film publications. I am sure The Godfather films will make an appearance, and Seven Samurai often rears its head and has a certain film-geek following – potentially owing to the samurai context. But, this poll is a big one – and one we should all be paying attention to.

For the record, I support Kane’s dominance. The original double-disc DVD included a documentary, presented by Barry Norman, whereby he detailed the specific reason Citizen Kane has held on to it’s Number 1 spot for the last 70 years. Like Leonardo’s ‘Mona Lisa’, it was a perfect storm of situations that can never be repeated. A film which combines multiple filmmaking techniques – deep focus, expressionist lighting, etc. – at a time when filmmakers had only touched the surface about the possibility of cinema. A film which depicts social issues that were relevant in 1941 – and are still relevant today: Arrogance, Capitalism, American consumerism, the power of the Media. Ironically, so relevant, an acting tour de force with Orson Welles in the centre portraying a young man taking hold of the world ahead of him – and also playing an old man, corrupted and destroyed by the world he created for himself. The non-linear narrative ducking-and-diving to tell a story in a way that suits the fascinating life Charles Foster Kane led. And then we have the hook – ‘Rosebud’. A small note that we seek an answer to – and a finish that highlights the fragility of life and, most importantly, childhood.

Citizen Kane has earned its place.

Simon Columb

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  • truth is Citizen Kane SUCKS. It's boring and outside of a film class has no entertainment or redeeming value what so ever. Casablanca is a much better film so is The Thrid man. Hell DIE HARD is a better movie than Citizen Kane and that had cartoony Joke Villains and Carl Winslow.

  • Cashprizes

    Good article, Citizen Kane has earned it&#39;s place. While not my favorite film, every time I watch it I find something else to appreciate and it speaks to me on a new level that didn&#39;t exist for me on the previous viewing.<br /><br /><br />If there is an upset, I hope Seven Samurai pulls it off. While Kane does have all these great American social themes that are still resonant and might be