When the American Film Institute announced its list of the 100 greatest movies last year, nobody was that surprised to see Citizen Kane towering over the other 99 choices, looking down at them from its comfy top slot. In fact, ask anyone what they think is the greatest film of all time and chances are they'll say the same - even if they haven't seen it. So is it finally time to knock Kane off its skyscraper-high pedestal? It's just some old, crackly black-and-white flick, innit?
Well... no. As tempting as it is to engage in a bit of controversy-baiting iconoclasm, there's no way you can slate it. More recent `classics' (The Godfather, GoodFellas, Pulp Fiction) may strike more of a chord with today's cinemagoers, but Kane is the granddaddy of them all. You can read essay after essay, article after article as to why: the innovative, flashback-structure of the script; the bold use of sound; the amazingly convincing make-up; the fact that Welles, still only 25, co-wrote, directed, starred in and produced it, excelling in each role. But, most tellingly, Welles decided to share his title card with cinematographer Gregg Toland, revealing just how important the look of the film was.
And this is why anyone who's even vaguely into cinema should make the most of this opportunity to catch Kane on the big screen. It's a visual feast, from the moody, horror-flick style opening which hovers over the gates of man-made mountain Xanadu, to the opera-house scene when we levitate hundreds of metres from Susan's awful stage debut to the workmen flinching in the rafters. And while certain scenes (the song-and-dance routine, for example) have dated rather badly, anyone who thinks of pre-'50s movies as being static and stagey will be amazed to see camera techniques you'd more readily associate with Scorsese or Leone.
Welles fans will obviously leap at the chance to watch his best work on something more sizeable than their TV, but those of you still wondering what all the fuss is, was, and forever more will be about, should take this chance to find out.
Watch the trailer
Great dialogue, great cinematography, great acting, great music, great movie: Citizen Kane is the biggest cinematic landmark since pictures first started moving. Never seen it on the big screen? Then bathe your eyes in Welles' magnum opus.