CITIZEN KAEL, A VIDEO ESSAY

CITIZEN KAEL, A VIDEO ESSAY

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By Monica Delgado

In her famous two-part 1971 article Raising Kane, American film critic Pauline Kael rants against Orson Welles’ outright authorship in Citizen Kane, the tip of the canon of film history. Her research was easily disproved by filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich and the critic, her great opponent, Andrew Sarris. In that text, Kael maintains, in order to go against the defenders of the so-called policy of the authors, that Welles was not the absolute author of Citizen Kane, and that the weight of authorship falls on the figure of the renowned screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz (who had worked with Josef von Sternberg or the Marx Brothers) and questions some decisions of style, staging, and context attributed – and assumed – by Welles. Was this first Welles film, a work of authorship?

Beyond this problem that Kael establishes, his text remains as a great conjunction of cinephile frenzy, of appointments, of relationships about the world of journalism, millionaire production, the environment of the scriptwriters, the love of theater seen as cinema, and Hollywood’s overwhelming and mercantile system. That is, in her analysis, she highlights the importance of contexts, but also because she concludes that Kane is, above all, a parody of a journalism mogul, an ironic story about the national.

Peter Bogdanovich, in an article published in Esquire, in October 1972, entitled The Kane Mutiny, responds to Kael, and maintains that he has interviewed Welles himself and clarified the points that she has managed to misinform, especially since the relationship of the famous filmmaker with Mankiewicz. The text is rich in details, and yes, it leaves criticism in a bad way on several points, especially because we know from Welles himself the details in the decisions of photography by the hand of Gregg Toland, the expressionism of images, and from his collaboration with Mankiewicz. Yes, Welles was not 100% author of Kane, but he does make it clear that he enriched the script and dramatically nurtured it with various elements of the time, radio or theater.

Although today we know that Kael’s arguments were not solid, however, she revealed an absolute passion to dismantle the films and defend his positions. She states in her text that Citizen Kane should not be so valued as a unique genius, since in its superficiality it is confirmed that it is a “gothic comedy” with echoes of other films of the time:

“Kane” is closer to comedy than to tragedy, though so overwrought in style as to be almost a Gothic comedy. What might possibly be considered tragic in it has such a Daddy Warbucks quality that if it’s tragic at all it’s comic-strip tragic. The mystery in “Kane” is largely fake, and the Gothic-thriller atmosphere and the Rosebud gimmickry (though fun) are such obvious penny-dreadful popular theatrics that they’re not so very different from the fake mysteries that Hearst’s American Weekly used to whip up—the haunted castles and the curses fulfilled. “Citizen Kane” is a popular masterpiece—not in terms of actual popularity but in terms of its conceptions and the way it gets its laughs and makes its points. Possibly it was too complexly told to be one of the greatest commercial successes, but we can’t really tell whether it might have become even a modest success, because it didn’t get a fair chance [1].

Her statement is not only declarative, but describes some elements to confirm that, above all, Citizen Kane is an ironic comedy about the world of journalism and its moguls, rather than a dramatic experience of rise and fall. For Kael, the film is a pastiche that draws too heavily on Broadway comedies about newspaper writing (in her famous text she exemplifies this relationship very well) and early talkies that sought to be Gothic, Expressionist, and theatrical. I mean, nothing new. For Kael, the gothic comedy called Citizen Kane does not end with THE END that appears with the Rosebud symbol burning, but expands to the montage of the credits, since she considers that in the logic of the “gothic comedy”, satire is extended there.

The plans used by Welles in the end credits (due to a use of the time, since it was not possible to have the exact copies of the scenes already cut and edited, that is why they appealed to behind the scenes or discarded scenes), and that are very similar in form and gesture to those that appear throughout the film, acquire when confronted (as I do in the video that I propose) an intention despite the fortuitous, and that confirms the renunciation of solemnity. The moment in the credits, where actor George Coulouris appears playing Kane’s petty tutor who refuses to invest in the journalistic field, is illuminating for Kael’s thesis. Coulouris appears in a different attitude that on the scene of the film, since in the credits he looks surrendered to Kane’s idea of ??wanting to buy a newspaper, especially since as spectators we already know where all this millionaire impulse ended.

This example embodies Kael’s instinct, as it somehow confirms the comic tone. For her, this is the true end of Citizen Kane. The use of the discard scenes in the credits corroborates the pastiche. The humorous touch as the closing of an epic.

Through these shots, Welles shows the intention of perfection with the care in the staging, while Kael takes the sequence of credits as the superficial tone that weakens the author.

Notes

[1] Excerpt from Raising Kane (1971), The New Yorker, February 27, 1971.

 

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