The original title for the movie Citizen Kane was AMERICAN.
To this day, many viewers still believe the mysterious word Rosebud, whispered twice in the movie, when Kane dies and when his second wife leaves him, represents an object or a person. Rosebud is actually a time.
To constantly guide the audience to understand the meaning of Rosebud, time is referenced within the story of Charles Foster Kane throughout the movie. So is reality. Characters are seen talking in the reflection of windows, through a glass window, in shadows, in tiny reflective sources and most obviously, through the memories, or reflections, of several characters. The movie begins with a version of a man's life told by an old fashioned media, the news film. A film is a mixture of light,reflection and glass, the celuloid projected through glass onto an opaque backdrop.
Citizen Kane remains a cliche addition on the must see lists of almost every player in Hollywood or film history. It remains a marker of stature because of the technical innovations in narrative, the flashbacks, the unreliable narrators, the camera angles and constant reminders of storytelling devices. It deserves to be re-visited for it's technical acheivements alone. Citizen Kane offers another much more valuable contribution to culture than it's formidable mise en scene. The movie also captivates audiences and critics with it's explorations of power, corruption and vanity.
But the viewer finds themselves caring about this greedy, cold and narcisist man, Charles Foster Kane. Why?
Early in Kane's career we find he has constant battles with authority. His guardian has always tried to control Kane as a child and then as a young man. When his guardian warns a 25 year old Kane that he is going to lose money on his publishing ventures, Kane says, As long as there are "decent hardworking people in this country being robbed blind by money mad pirates who don't have anybody to look after their interests" he will be the one to print the news for them and represent their concerns. Kane's battles with authority begin altrusitc for the underdog until power comntrols Kane and becomes the abuser himself. Both his wives are starved for his attention and love. He betrays his best friend by his corrupt ethics no longer the champion of the working man, but rather a champion only for his own desires and status.
Not only do we begin our quest to find out who is Kane through a newsreel, we follow a journalist who is sent out to discover, what made this man tick, and why did he say the word "Rosebud" on his death bed? The layers and formats for storytelling never cease throughout the movie. Eventually no one but us finds out what Rosebud really is. Something far more powerful and intangible than an object, a history or status.
For thousands of years humans have had economic stature associated with possesions and consumption. Our life depends on what we consume. Conspicuous consumption has manifested within economies in several fashions. In one manner having jewels and fine fabrics and wearing them was a way to frighten or impress our rivals. Jewels came from the deep earth, depended on slaves and gruelling labour to possess them. One's rival would feel how could they possibly compete with such a tribe who could attain mysterious magic light from deep within the earth. Fire and jewels have long been associated with magic.
Another form of conspicuous consumption was practiced by a social leader by giving away such items. A tribe or societies leader who kept the trinkets of power to themselves was looked down upon, their status was maintained instead by doling out food, jewels and animals. (today we see Rosie, Bono, Madonna, Oprah practice this form of conspicuous consumption)
Today conspicuous consumption has quite a different meaning. When someone drives an SUV or van, wears designer logos and clothes and carries a cell phone or drinks expensive lattes and cappucinos, they are not showing their individual status. Most people go into serious credit troubles to pay for their vehicles and designer clothes and drinks. Conspicuous consumption now reflects ones allegiance to the masters and leaders of our culture. We dress like them, eat like them and we all know one can not change their status within our culture unless one looks like the political and financial elite. When we drink a latte or drive an SUV we are not broadcasting our high status we are proving our submission to our dominators. Risking our own financial and environmental stabilty we demonstate our belief in their worth over our own worth.
Citizen Kane was a shopaholic. He bought endless things and created his own world grasping for a feeling that was lost in time. Much has been made about the movie being inspired by Randolph Hearst, a man whose life paralled Kane's, but the source of Kane's conflict was taken from Orson Welles childhood. The drive for acceptance and praise is rooted in many peoples dedication to fitting into our society. We want our masters to accept us and grant us ascent: our status within this closed economic matrix represents love and authority approval. Changing the title from American allowed the movie to become global in recognizing the end of childhood as a catalyst for how we live as adults. The profound abyss in Welle's childhood worked it's way into the script and drives home the danger of alienation and abandonment within families and communities that causes most conflict within our world today.
Citizen Kane still deserves to be on all must see movie lists.