Saturday, July 7, 2007
Citizen Kane - Framing The Possibilities
Ever since I got a copy of the film, I’ve watched it for over five times and even memorize several lines. A number of them have something to do with media. From the start of the film until the end, Kane’s life has been presented as if he’s the front cover of a news magazine, researched and written by Mr. Thompson. Each time I watch Citizen Kane, I always arrive at the same conclusion. That is, ever since the media penetrated the lives of the people, it has been, it is and I believe will always be a great influence.
The film itself is a portrayal of how influential the media is, specifically the newspaper. The alleged Mr. Charles Foster Kane, William Randolph Hearst, campaigned using his newspapers against Citizen Kane, demanded for it to be banned, prohibited any form of advertisement and after some time, refused to mention the film at all. As a result, the public was made to believe that it was not a good film. Moreover, Orson Welles, writer, director and actor of the film, was blacklisted from Hollywood because no studio would want to work with him.
Onto the film, even at the start, the media is utilized in different ways to show its influence. In the newsreel, Kane is portrayed as a rich, powerful and a prominent figure for several reasons. He’s a newspaper magnate, owner of radio networks, mines, statues and a lot more. He influenced or made big decisions for his country such as joining and opposing a war, won elections for a president, spoke for millions of the underprivileged, loved and hated by the people, and even married the president’s niece He, himself, is a big piece of news. Certainly, “Newspaper owners became powerful figures.” (Hague and Harrop, 2004 p. 106)
Second, newspaper is described as “engines of propaganda for the constantly changing policies, desires, personal wishes and personal desires of [their owners]…What the proprietorships of these papers is aiming at is power and power without responsibility...” (Curran and Seaton, 2003 p. 64, as cited in Hague and Harrop) Owners of media, be it a newspaper, television or radio, have a mandate on what will they show to the public. For an instance, when Kane fight against Public Transit Company, he chose to promote the interests of the underprivileged as the owner of the newspaper not as one of the major stockholders of the company. Another was when he disregarded his principles and told his wife, that people will think what he tells them to think. Also, when he said, “I’m an authority on what people will think. The newspapers for example, I run several newspapers between here and San Francisco.” His intense desire to make his second wife, Susan Alexander, famous, recognized and loved by the people, urged him to manipulate the reviews written about her wife’s opera performances.
Third, “people make political choices […] based on the issues and policy positions on offer […] widens the media’s political influence […] through which information about issues and policies, and therefore political choices, is presented to the public.” (Heywood, 2004 p. 203) The public depends greatly on mass media for information. It is through this information that the public makes their decisions or choices, individually and collectively. In the film, political campaigns and advertisements provide political choices for the public. Kane used his newspapers to publish cartoons with Gettys wearing a convict suit, in a way, projecting to the public a bad image of his rival. The scandal about Kane’s affair with Susan was a compelling one. It ended his first marriage with Emily and his short-lived political career. To save face from the public, his newspaper decided to print, “Fraud at Polls”.
Alongside with being filthy rich and influential, he acquired power. By means of this power, he could almost do everything and have anything in a snap of a finger. But then again, “power tends to corrupt and, absolute power corrupts absolutely” (Lord Acton, as cited in Heywood). He wants to do things only based on his terms. Just like what Susan said, “Everything was his idea.” Even the love his longing for, he wants the people around him to love him on his terms. In the end, he had EVERYTHING and NOTHING at the same time. He even said, “… If I hadn’t been very rich, I might have been a really great man.” His life is characterized by lost of innocence, filled with regret, broken marriages and friendships, and failed political ambitions. He found himself alone and miserable. Until the end, all he yearned for was love. Undeniably, wealth and power are not the ones that could make a person feel complete, loved and cared for. There’s more to life than being a man of great influence.
As a conclusion, I believe that the film, Citizen Kane, is effective enough to convey not only political messages but also life’s lessons. It portrayed the media, particularly the newspaper, as an agent of political socialization, the perks and risks involved
with having power, the limitations of being influential and the significance of family and friends. The film was able to provide the means for my mind, as a viewer, to think, to work, to draw conclusions and meanings, to theorize, to anticipate events and to relate it to my own life. Though I do not consider Citizen Kane as the best film I have seen, I wont deny that it is indeed a great one. I’m not an avid viewer of films, be it fiction or non-fiction. I only watch if it’s required, somebody ask me out and lucky enough to get free movie passes, not as a hobby or past time. We all have our distinct sets of criteria, and different levels of exposure and knowledge about films, to judge. Anyone, be it a stranger or a friend, can say that a film is great or even the greatest.
- J. Bartolome
Citizen Kane is about the life of a wealthy newspaper man who hungers for love. Famous for its intriguing line “Rosebud”, CK has dominated the world of cinema. Orson Welles who happens to be the director and Mr. Charles Foster Kane, himself, was considered a genius for making this revolutionary film. At the age of 25, he has made a significant change both in the technical and story-telling aspects of the film industry. He was actually a radio man when he was offered by the RKO Radio Pictures to do a movie that he wanted. Thus, he employed most of his colleagues in the radio industry to make this particular movie.
CK was considered a revolutionary one because of its use of a unique cinematography. The film used deep focus photography, or simply put – this pertains to shots where everything was in focus, from the front to the back; so that the composition and movement determined where the eye looked first. Moreover, CK also used a circular structure which adds more depth in the story. It is not the usual linear structure which is very prominent in those days (1941). The use of the circular structure created an emotional chronology set free from time making the film more elusive or mysterious by flashing through the eyes of many witnesses.
Though the main conflict of the film is the search for the mystery of the Kane’s last word – “Rosebud”, Mr. Thompson, the reporter assigned to the puzzle of Kane’s dying word, said that “Anyway, it wouldn’t have explained anything.” True, it has not really explained anything but it just denoted that not all things can really be explained. Perhaps, Rosebud just helps the film to go on. It basically acts like a weaver of the story about a great man in American history. Without it, CK may not be as intriguing and mysterious as it was. To add to its mystery, it is believed that CK was patterned to a real newspaper mogul in America named Hearst. Thus due to bad publicities brought by Hearst’s media and political influences, the first release of the film was a financial flop. However, there is more to CK than just by its famous line Rosebud and its relation to Hearst.
The film has actually embedded many allegories and political implications. First, it depicts the history of America in the years 1895 – 1941. It covers the Spanish-American War, the Great Depression and the gutter politics. In all these situations, media’s contribution was clearly shown through the success and the downfall of Kane’s newspaper empire. To be specific, Kane’s newspaper has actually contributed much to provoke the government and inflame the people to battle with Spain. If you can remember, Kane said “You provide the prose poems, I’ll provide the war”. In this era, media has really gotten its power and authority to influence political decisions. This Spanish-American War became the Journal’s war same with the Vietnam war which became the television’s war.
On the other hand, media under the Great Depression has also suffered a major downfall. Thus, Kane’s newspaper empire was actually closed to bankruptcy. But, though it has suffered a major economic downfall, Kane’s empire has still gained another chance and thus continues to influence people. Media, in reality, really has been an influential political machine. It creates both great and worst man in history. Kane gained prominence because of his newspaper’s advocacy for the underdogs in society. But media, itself also destroyed him. This was when Boss Jim Gettys, his rival for the governor of New York, blackmailed him to withdraw from his candidacy. His affair with an aspiring opera singer Susan Alexander depicts the end of his political career. Thus, Kane thought that the people whom he has devoted his power, wealth and time, have betrayed him. Actually, this kind of situation is not new to all of us. We have witnessed this situation wherein a certain prominent politician has thrown out in his position because of a love affair scandal. This gutter politics is not just seen in American political history but in the Philippines as well. Notice that Bill Clinton and Joseph Estrada were well-knowns because of their controversies regarding their mistresses. Well, Estrada was actually involved with other scandals but in the Philippine culture, having an affair was an offset to the public which then leads to a politician’s unpopularity. This only means that morality is really an important aspect in determining a political leader. Until now this gutter politics is still embedded in our nature. People still choose political leaders not through their certain skills but through their morale. Many aspiring political leaders could have been great such as Kane if not because of misleading judgments.
Indeed, CK’s prominence in the world of cinema is not just associated with its unique cinematography. The content itself is a powerful instrument to make people realize how powerful media is in influencing our decisions. We may not be aware of it but most of the time we pattern our own decisions based on how media portray a certain situation. Media is an effective tool to change the feelings and views of the people on a certain person or phenomenon. The film shows that ambition and the will to serve the people are not enough to win the election. Morale, as being project by the media, is still an important aspect even in the contemporary period. Thus, I believe that this film really is a powerful instrument to make people realize how media manipulates most of our everyday life’s decisions. Perhaps, this is one reason why Hearst greatly opposed the film so much that he actually attempted to blackmail Welles through sexual harassment or rape accusations. He is perhaps afraid to degrade the image of his newspaper empire and his personality as well. However, the film still gains prominence even after 66 years of its release proving that its worth is more than just by degrading Hearst Newspaper Empire.
- V. Buagñin