Lecture / Emily Carpenter
“Inventing modern cinema is a tough act to follow,” Orson Welles remarked later in his career. Indeed, Rosebud may be the cinema’s most beloved red herring, for the mystery of newspaper magnate Charles Foster Kane is solved early on—it is lonely at the top—but Citizen Kane’s gothic, labyrinthine modernism remains its great mystery. It’s as distanced as Kane himself, protecting the power of enigma with a No Trespassing sign; the narrative is like the jigsaw puzzle with which Susan Alexander Kane vaguely amuses and tortures herself. Welles didn’t invent chiaroscuro lighting, deep-focus cinematography, overlapping dialogue, and lightning flashbacks, but he used them in a Brechtian way to alienate us from the monster he created. The hollowness of his American dream played out in full is captured in a magnificent overhead shot of Kane’s “art” collection (plaster pieces RKO had lying around) crated for auction, looking everything like the naked city of film noir.
• Written by Herman J. Mankiewicz, Welles. Photographed by Gregg Toland. With Welles, Joseph Cotten, Dorothy Comingore, Everett Sloane. (119 mins, B&W, DCP, From Warner Bros.)