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Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane defined his long and eccentric career as a filmmaker and a thespian. It is widely regarded as one of the most important movies ever made, if not one of the very best.
The story, about the rise and fall of megalomaniacal newspaper mogul Charles Foster Kane, was based loosely on the life of William Randolph Hearst, revolutionized the way films were shot, and is a technical masterwork. The journey from page to screen for Welles’ masterpiece is an interesting one, and here are a baker’s dozen of things to know…
1. The film’s opening – just the title, no star names – was almost unprecedented in 1941. It is now the industry norm for Hollywood blockbusters.
2. On the night the movie opened in San Francisco, Orson Welles found himself alone with William Randolph Hearst in an elevator at the city’s Fairmont Hotel. Aware that his father and Hearst were friends, Welles extended an invitation to the magnate to attend the film’s premiere. Hearst turned down the offer and, as he was about to exit the elevator at his floor, Welles remarked, “Charles Foster Kane would have accepted.”
3. To keep studio execs off his back, Orson Welles claimed the cast and crew were “in rehearsal” during the first few days of shooting. It took a number of days before the studio caught on.
4. This was Welles’ very first film. At 25-years old he wrote, produced, directed, and starred.
5. For this movie Orson Welles, along with cinematographer Gregg Toland, invented and perfected what is called “deep focus”, a technique that keeps every object in the foreground, center and background in simultaneous focus. This brought a sense of depth to the two-dimensional world of movies.
6. The camera looks up at Charles Foster Kane and his best friend Jedediah Leland and down at weaker characters like Susan Alexander Kane. This was a technique that Orson Welles borrowed from John Ford, who had used it previously on Stagecoach in 1939. Welles privately watched Stagecoach about 40 times while making this film.
7. During filming, Orson Welles started treating Dorothy Comingore terribly, deliberately humiliating her in front of the cast and crew. This was to make her hate him, strengthening her performance.
8. The scene where Kane destroys Susan’s room after she’s left him was done on the first take. Orson Welles’ hands were bleeding, and he is quoted as saying, “I really felt it.”
9. Despite all the publicity, the film was a box-office flop and was quickly consigned to the RKO vaults. At 1941’s Academy Awards the film was booed every time one of its nine nominations was announced. It was only re-released to the public in the mid-’50s.
10. William Randolph Hearst was so angered by the film that he accused Orson Welles of being a Communist in order to keep the film from being released.
11. During filming Orson Welles received a warning that William Randolph Hearst had arranged for a naked woman to jump into his arms when he entered his hotel room, and there was also a photographer in the room to take a picture that would be used to discredit him. Welles spent the night elsewhere, and it is unknown if the warning was true.
12. The movie’s line “Rosebud” was voted as #3 of The 100 Greatest Movie Lines by Premiere magazine in 2007.
13. Citizen Kane was voted the #1 best film of all time by AFI. Entertainment Weekly has it at #2.