‘Why Is Citizen Kane So Great?’

Home Video Picks & Passes 11.21.21

‘Citizen Kane’
‘Citizen Kane’ (photo: RKO, public domain)

Citizen Kane (1941) — PICK

“Why is Citizen Kane so great?” The question has been asked in countless film classes. (A Catholic variation I’ve often heard is: Why was Kane one of only 15 films honored in the “Art” category of the 1995 Vatican film list?) The origins of the film’s golden reputation — along with the film classes in which it’s talked about! — are tied to a revolutionary Catholic film theorist, André Bazin, whose ideas (like those of Pope St. John Paul II) were shaped by Christian personalism. Bazin co-founded the auteur theory of cinema, which focused on how talented directors express their vision through imagery. Kane was the auteurists’ Hollywood dream movie. 

At the height of the studio system, when directors were considered work for hire, Orson Welles and his collaborators had unparalleled freedom to do whatever they wanted. The result: a virtuoso cinematic portrait tackling the mystery of man from almost every significant angle except religion — love, money, power, sex, politics, despair, death — asking anew the 2,000-year-old question, “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul?” A new Criterion edition includes a 4K UDH restoration and a raft of new and rare bonus features. Among these are three outstanding, mostly non-overlapping, audio commentaries: a new one from James Naremore and Jonathan Rosenbaum and two classic ones from Peter Bogdanovich and Roger Ebert. The 1991 BBC documentary The Complete Citizen Kane is also worth a watch. 


CAVEAT SPECTATOR: Implied adultery; divorce and remarriage. Teens and up.