Is 'Citizen Kane' REALLY the greatest American movie of all time?
Christmas came early last week. That’s when I finally received my advance copy of Citizen Kane on Blu-ray in the mail. For months, I’ve had its September 13th release date circled in red ink on my calendar. What can I say? Some folks have to be the first person they know with Madden 2012. Some camp out in sleeping bags to be the first to see the latest Harry Potter movie. Me, I’m a mouth-breathing drooler when it comes to Orson Welles’ 1941 classic. And if that doesn’t sound nerdy enough, then there’s this: I couldn’t wait to check it out in all of its 1080-p/hi-definition glory.
Hold on a sec while I wipe the spittle from my chin…
Now, I realize that declaring one’s undying love for Citizen Kane is pretty much the most obvious, least daring thing you could do. It’s the cinematic equivalent of rooting for the New York Yankees to win the world series or pulling for the latest Pixar confection to win Best Animated Film at the Oscars. Over the years, I’ve probably seen Kane twenty or thirty times. But before this new Blu-ray showed up, it had been a while. And I wanted to know if it would hold up…or if it even could hold up. After all, no other movie as hyped up and overpraised as this one.
It wasn’t always that way, of course. Welles’ dizzying, ground-breaking, totally brilliant faux biopic about a William Randolph Hearst-esque media magnate (made when Welles was twentyfrigginfive!) was actually snubbed by the Hollywood establishment when it came out. Yes, it was nominated for nine Oscars including Best Picture, but amazingly it won only one, for its screenplay. Since then, of course, it’s been hailed and hyped to the heavens. People just accept its greatness as gospel. So when the American Film Institute polled a jury of 1,500 filmmakers, critics, and historians to rank the 100 Greatest American Movies of All Time a while back, no one batted an eye when Kane landed at the top of the list. They just hit the snooze button and moved on to the rest of the Top 10.
For the record, here it is:
10. The Wizard of Oz (1939)
9. Vertigo (1958)
8. Schindler’s List (1993)
7. Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
6. Gone With the Wind (1939)
5. Singin’ in the Rain (1952)
4. Raging Bull (1980)
3. Casablanca (1942)
2. The Godfather (1972)
And, of course, No. 1…
All in all, it’s a solid, if predictably vanilla, list. These sorts of things usually are. You can quibble with a few of the Top 10 — but nothing you’d go and start a bar fight over. There are plenty of movies I’d watch any day over Singin’ in the Rain or Schindler’s List. Like, for example, Jaws, The Maltese Falcon, Pulp Fiction, A Clockwork Orange, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Psycho, The Empire Strikes Back, Double Indemnity, Chinatown, All About Eve, Annie Hall, His Girl Friday, All the Presidents Men, Dog Day Afternoon, Unforgiven, Blade Runner, hell, even John Carpenter’s The Thing. I could go on.
But, as uncontroversial as it is to say it, Citizen Kane at No. 1 just feels right to me. It felt even more right after I popped in the Blu-ray a couple of days ago and got those familiar goosebumps as Welles’ scratchy, “News on the March” faux-newsreel came on at the beginning. It’s probably the greatest ten minutes anyone’s ever put on celluloid. Mainly because you can feel Welles, the boy wonder director, having a frickin’ blast experimenting and breaking rules. Every time I watch the film, I see new things in it. Is it the greatest American movie of all time? Yeah, I think so.
But enough about me. What do you think is the greatest American movie ever made?