Often touted as the greatest film of all time, Citizen Kane is the crowning jewel of the experiments conducted by Orson Welles over the course of his illustrious career. The apotheosis of the innovative spirit of the cinematic art form, Citizen Kane chronicles the meteoric rise and fall of a media baron who has the capital to purchase anything he wants in the world but all the objects combined cannot fill the void within him.
The impact of Citizen Kane was monumental, especially due to the fascinating cinematography of Gregg Toland which showed how the camera can have a distinct voice as well. Such observations were used to formulate the auteur theory in France which facilitated the rise of the French New Wave and influenced filmmakers such as Jean-Luc Godard and Truffaut.
Citizen Kane’s general narrative is as old as time itself. However, Welles situates it within the frameworks of 20th century American capitalism and fashions the figure of Kane after media barons like William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer among other prominent figures in the industry who maintained a hegemonic control over the supposed fourth pillar of democracy.
When Welles was asked about the sociopolitical commentary that is embedded within the textual body of Citizen Kane, he answered: “I must admit that it was intended, consciously, as a sort of social document — as an attack on the acquisitive society.” He added, “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”.
Many of those media barons were angered by Citizen Kane but the person who took it the worst was probably Hearst, one of the most powerful men in the country at the time. He did everything in his power to stop the production of the film and even started libel campaigns against the filmmaker in order to make him step down.
One particularly bizarre attempt to stop the making of Citizen Kane is the time when Hearst tried to frame Welles for a crime that he never committed. Hearst had arranged for a minor girl to wait in his hotel room with a photographer on standby to capture the moment and spin it as something illicit. Thankfully, a police officer warned him about what was going to happen and Welles escaped the ambush.
Hearst maintained a lifelong grudge against Welles and placed a personal ban on Citizen Kane in his household which was broken in 2012 when the Hearst estate arranged for a screening of the film at Hearst Castle. Welles even claimed to have run into Hearst inside a hotel elevator on the opening night of the film and invited him to the premiere: “As he was getting off at his floor, I said, ‘Charles Foster Kane would have accepted.’ No reply.”