it’s the most important film in the history of cinema, and it’s the film by which all other films will be measured. that doesn’t necessarily make it the best film of all-time, but it certainly is up there. if you can’t watch the film and respect it then you’re not a cinephile, and though i hate saying things like that, it’s true. it’s impossible to deny the impact of the film. it did many things first, many others best, and it combined so many techniques that had been done before in one, cohesive master opus. toland’s use of deep focus is beyond anything i’ve ever seen and it’s remarkably transparent. during roger ebert’s commentary he makes the point that this film is a special effects film. hearing this took me aback at first, but when you see the seamless nature of the dissolves, the edits, the deep focus and all that went behind making the picture as big and great as it is, then you can’t deny his point.
welles and toland expanded the use of the camera as much as anyone before them, so far as i know. much of this is due to the extraordinary (both in its range of employment and as a technical achievement) use of deep focus. the deep focus is used as a visual device, to complement the well thought out compositions, to strengthen themes or dramatic elements visually, and much more. in other words, it’s not just a great technical achievement by toland, it’s also a perfectly complementing element of the entire film. there’s nothing worse than seeing a director, or other technician, with a great idea but no appropriate outlet for it. this is not a problem for welles or toland – the technical achievements serve the film rather than vise versa.
acting is uniformly excellent. welles is fantastic in the hardest role in the film, but, really, everyone does a great job. bernard herrmann’s score (his first) is very good, but not his best. i watched the film with commentary so i can’t really say i got to listen to it all that much.
ebert’s commentary was pretty good. he talked mostly about the technique of the film, the use of certain shots and lab techniques to bring about certain looks, or the use of matte paintings to make the film appear bigger than the budget allowed. a very good commentary track, but not brilliant.
i don’t know that i have any really well-based criticism of the film. i’ve seen it maybe five or six times and i’ve always seen it differently each time, and that’s a testament to the depth of the film. i think my only reason for not loving the film is that i feel as though the story should have more of an impact than it does. the film does have humanity and heart, but it’s not a film that demands its viewer feel. sure there is an undercurrent of sympathy for kane and the story, especially with the infamous ending, but the film doesn’t ever stray into that area of my heart that films like cool hand luke, the graduate or others do. at the same time i can’t really fault the film, or welles, for this fact. i think that, to a certain extent, welles knew this was going to be the case. i don’t think he wanted the audience to be heartbroken by the story. sad, maybe, but not heartbroken or seriously emotionally invested. some of the reason i think this is because the film is so immense and immensely cinematic. the film is always above us, as is kane. it’s such a piece of cinema that it almost separates itself from its audience. it’s the anti-cinema verite, and thus asks you less to feel and more to think. so that’s why i don’t think it’ll crack my top ten any time soon, but i’ll always recognize is for a true artistic masterpiece.
bernard herrmann, orson welles, gregg toland, agnes moorehead, robert wise, alan ladd, joseph cotten….