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How 'Citizen Kane' gave The White Stripes one of their best songs

Often cited as ‘the greatest film of all time’, Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane has had an unmatched influence on the world of popular culture, with the film’s identity having seeped into the fabric of the movie industry and spilling over into TV, music and the general zeitgeist. Influencing a whole generation of filmmakers, including the likes of Stanley Kubrick, the Coen brothers, Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese, François Truffaut once said that the film “has inspired more vocations to cinema throughout the world than any other”. 

“I didn’t know that there were things you couldn’t do, so anything I could think up in my dreams, I attempted to photograph,” Orson Welles commented on the production of his classic film. The pre-war 1941 film follows the death of a publishing tycoon Charles Foster Kane (Orson Welles) when reporters scramble to uncover the meaning of his mysterious final utterance, ‘Rosebud’. Written by Herman J. Mankiewicz, itself a story explored in David Fincher’s masterful 2020 film Mank, the screenplay would receive an Academy Award and Citizen Kane would quickly go down as a classic in film history. 

Though, as previously stated, Orson Welles’ film transcended the film medium, inspiring musicians and creatives worldwide, no less than Jack and Meg White of The White Stripes fame. In their third studio album, 2001s White Blood Cells, on their song ‘The Union Forever’, the American duo even referred to Welles’ classic film in the lyrics of the song, using lines of dialogue stripped from the film itself.  

“Sure I’m C.F.K, but you gotta love me,” Jack sings, referring to the protagonist in Orson Welles’ classic, Charles Foster Kane. The song also features a revised version of a number that is sung in the movie, following an argument between husband and wife, Susan and Charles Foster Kane, a band sings “It can’t be love, for there is no true love” mirroring the lyrics of The White Stripes song. “I was thinking about different things people said in the film. I wrote them down and some of them started to rhyme, so it worked out,” Jack White said of the song’s inspiration. 

Somehow, despite a potential copyright infringement suit over their song with Warner Bros. who hold the distribution rights to Citizen Kane reportedly “reviewing the matter” in 2003, the duo was never sued. 

Reviewing the impact of White Blood Cells upon its 20th year anniversary in June 2020, Far Out noted that, “The White Stripes, it goes without saying, were never worried about being cool — and that’s what made them so cool. White Blood Cells, both in the contemporary music scene of the time and the current music scene of today, was and is not cool. And that’s what makes it so cool”. 

Listen to the Citizen Kane reference in ‘The Union Forever’, below.

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