Graeme Robertson with four great films to watch as we mark one year of President Donald Trump…
January 20th, 2017 will be a date that will continue to baffle us for many years to come. It’s a date in which many of our preconceived notions of what is possible where thrown out the window and we emerged bewildered into a peculiar new age.
January 20th, 2017 was the date that saw Donald J. Trump, a man who had long been dismissed by the pundits as a joke of a political candidate sworn in as the 45th President of the United States.
However, we’re not here to wax philosophical about the facts that led to Trump taking the White House against the odds, we’re here to talk about films.
So to celebrate one year since The Donald’s unlikely ascension to the highest office of the world’s most powerful nation, I’m going to take a look at 4 films from across the years that feel that are essential watching as we continue to adjust to this new unpredictable “Trumpian” era of human history.
Citizen Kane (1941)
To start this little celebration of The Donald’s ascendancy to the White House, I thought it only appropriate to take a look at a film that is not only the President’s favourite of all time but it also happens to be the “Greatest Film of All Time”.
I am of course referring to Orson Welles’ legendary cinematic titan that is Citizen Kane.
Newspaper tycoon Charles Foster Kane is dead and a newsreel reporter is dispatched to interview his former friends, colleagues and loves in an attempt to decode the meaning behind the late media baron’s final cryptic word; “Rosebud”.
Normally when you watch films from the 1940s we expect them to follow a somewhat theatrical approach, with many films from this era following a fairly simple “point A to point B” story formula. Citizen Kane, on the other hand, tells its story using what was, at the time, a little-used technique, a technique called a “flashback”.
The viewer, like the reporter (whose face is never fully shown), has to play detective in trying to figure out who Kane was and what he meant when he said “Rosebud” as he breathed his last breath, with the reporter (and the viewer) travelling around talking with Kane’s various friends, colleagues, business partners and lovers to try and piece together this puzzle.
The flashbacks act as the pieces to this puzzle, revealing the “titan” of Charles Foster Kane (based somewhat on real-life tycoon William Randolph Hearst) to be a vain, paranoid, obsessive, controlling and somewhat lonely figure. A man who had absolutely everything, a vast fortune, a huge empire and unrivalled power and influence, yet was still a bitterly unhappy man who never seemed to understand that love and affection cannot be bought or bullied out of people.
And as the film’s ending shows, the meaning behind “Rosebud” is fairly simple, it’s the sled that Kane played with during his childhood, a time in which he had nothing, no money and no empire, yet it was also to the only time in which he seemed to be truly happy.
Aside from it’s (for the time) innovative approach to storytelling, the film’s presentation is something special to behold.
The visuals, for instance, are still some of the finest ever put on the screen with the careful camera movements, evocative use of shadow and editing being a visual treat that never fails to excite, intrigue and entertain, with every frame seeming to hold some kind of special meaning.
I like the subtle little changes when we watch Kane and his wife grow distant from each other, both figuratively and literally as the breakfast table pushes them apart, or the now iconic and haunting image of Kane’s reflection stretching all the way into a distance via a massive mirror.
The cast, made up of Welles’s colleagues from his radio days, is also on fine form, but at the centre of it all, running and stealing the show is Orson Welles himself in the title role of Kane.
As the young idealistic budding newspaper tycoon, Welles excels at making you fall for his devilish charms, with his quick-witted remarks and overall dashing personality being a joy to watch. As the character grows older and more power hungry, Welles fantastically transforms this once charming idealogue, into something of a tyrannical self-obsessed demagogue, one who quite literally rips up and throws away his own code of ethics when it becomes inconvenient.
It’s a powerful performance that demonstrates that aside from being a genius behind the camera, Welles was also a damn fine actor in front of it, with his physical transformation from bright-eyed young man to bitter old man being vividly and convincingly brought to life by Welles physical and vocal changes but also thanks to some excellent make-up effects that convincingly make the then 26-year-old Welles look ancient.
As I said in the opening, Citizen Kane is Trump’s favourite film, with one particularly illuminating interview with Errol Morris regarding the film showing that Trump not only loves the film but also identifies with Kane.
One can certainly see why Trump might relate toe Kane, both are very wealthy men with many wives and both end up running for political office on populist platforms. They also both, in a coincidence that’s uncanny, both Trump and Kane threaten to appoint special prosecutors to help “lock up” their political rivals, just replace Boss Jim Gettys with “Crooked Hillary” and it’s nearly the same.
Although, while Trump might identify and sympathize with Kane’s story, Trump doesn’t seem to understand that Kane is a character who you are not meant to feel sorry for. Kane is a bully, a liar and a power-hungry narcissist, and it’s because of these traits that he dies alone unloved and unhappy.
And when you look at it, Trump is very much like Kane in some of those qualities, they are both men who despite having all the wealth and power they could possibly want (Trump is president after all) they still can’t seem to be satisfied with what they have and continually feel the need to lash out at their critics and perceived enemies.
Although when Trump dies (hopefully long after he’s left office) I don’t expect him to say anything quite as cryptic as “Rosebud”. Probably something about “FAKE NEWS” I imagine.
I could write page upon page about Citizen Kane, but every other critic in the world already has done so already and with more wit and intelligence than I could ever hope to muster. It’s a great film and I highly recommend that all lovers of films should watch it at least once in their lives.