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Rob Skogen

“…a riddle wrapped inside a mystery inside an enigma.?-Winston Churchill

Although he was not commenting on the film Citizen Kane at the time he made the statement, his words are a perfect fit for the puzzle that Orson Welles dropped into the popular consciousness of pre-war America – a masterpiece that we are still trying to figure out some 60 years after its release.

A riddle…

Much has been written about the character of Charles Foster Kane. We find out through recollections of his “closest? friends and associates that he had everything, but yet nothing in the end. He did leave one thing behind though – Rosebud…

Wrapped inside a mystery…

Was there a message behind a dying man’s last word, or was it just gibberish? What was the legacy he left behind? The entire storyline is devoted to searching for the answers to these questions, but we are left asking more. Perhaps the newspaper reporter’s quest for meaning is a metaphor for something larger? What did Charles Foster Kane represent? Wasn’t the working title of this film American?

Inside an enigma…

Citizen Kane has been the consensus number one in critical circles for decades. What caused it to resonate with the mass public the way it has? Can a film impact the course of history? Daniel Franklin’s discussion of American political culture, the feedback loop and traditional movie themes (from this week’s assigned reading) is particularly useful for analyzing these particular questions.

If we think about 1941, France had already fallen to Germany and Britain was the next to go. Authoritarian rule had a stranglehold on the world. America had unlimited wealth and material resources, yet retained an isolationist position. Sound kind of like somebody we saw in the film? The natural rights so deeply woven into the fabric of our national culture were at risk. Did our grandfathers want to end up like Kane, or did they want to rise to the occasion and make a difference? The stage was set.

Maybe Welles did not consciously set out to make such grand political statements with his project. Neither did Jimi Hendrix, when playing his radical version of the national anthem at Woodstock, as Anthony described to us our first day in class. However, a chord was struck that the audience could feel. The rest was left to history. That is why this film is revered to this day and will top lists for years to come. Just when we think we have it all figured out though, we find that it is but a piece to an even larger puzzle – one that we will be working on together for the duration of this course.