Citizen Kane

Citizen Kane

Following the death of publishing tycoon Charles Foster Kane, reporters scramble to uncover the meaning of his final utterance; “Rosebud”.


“There’s no point pushing the first open door of the year by saying how beautiful Citizen Kane is. But there is a point in wondering about the transfer on television of this old masterpiece (1941). For it’s precisely what we now call ‘media’ that Welles is already talking about. It’s leaning over the cradle of the media that Welles has had his best success. This success belonged for a long time to the history of cinema but, with time, we understand more and more that they also represent a kind of historical ‘right to look’ of a filmmaker – Welles, a great mediator – over a world – the media – that is distancing itself from cinema (after having picked its pockets).”

Serge Daney1


“I began this essay with ways in which the political rhetoric of Citizen Kane might find a ‘rhyming’ relationship with contemporary politics and the economic crisis. But there is a further resonance between ‘now’ and ‘then’. The film’s dominant allegorical image is surely that of isolation from the world within the self-constructed ‘womb/tomb’ of Xanadu. Although, as I suggest in the book, this image is a critique of American isolationism in the face of the war against fascism in Europe, it is also an image of individualism more generally. This, too, has an immediate resonance today as conservative politics, and financial capitalism (in the form of ‘the banks’), reject social and economic policies of collective responsibility and social cohesion. But perhaps, beyond these rhymes across the decades, Citizen Kane hints that history and politics need to be deciphered, as a spectator might decipher the imagery and structure of a film.”

Laura Mulvey2


“The production is, in general, worthy of its vast subject. The cinematography has a striking depth, and there are shots whose farthest planes (like Pre-Raphaelite paintings) are as precise and detailed as the close-ups.

I venture to guess, nonetheless, that Citizen Kane will endure as a certain Griffith or Pudovkin films have ‘endured’ – films whose historical value is undeniable but which no one cares to see again. It is too gigantic, pedantic, tedious. It is not intelligent, though it is the work of genius – in the most nocturnal and Germanic sense of that bad word.”

Jorge Luis Borges3


« Jeune vieillard, vieil enfant, chuchoteur hystérique ou déclameur doux, Orson Welles aura trouvé chez un manipulateur d'un autre genre, Jean-Paul Sartre, l'un des rares critiques de Citizen Kane à sa hauteur: « Nous sommes constamment débordés par ces images trop ridées, grimaçantes à force d'être travaillées. Comme un roman dont le style se pousserait toujours au premier plan et dont on oublierait à chaque instant les personnages. » Seule une grande connivence de Sartre avec le projet wellesien, une connivence de fond, peut expliquer une telle clairvoyance. « Tout est analysé, disséqué, présenté dans l'ordre intellectuel, dans un faux désordre qui est seulement la subordination de l'ordre des événements à celui des causes», disait encore Sartre, ajoutant que « tout est mort » dans Citizen Kane, un film où « les inventions techniques ne sont pas faites pour rendre la vie ». »

Louis Skorecki4

  • 1Serge Daney, “Citizen Cain”, Libération, 1989. [Translated to English by the wonderful Serge Daney in English.]
  • 2Laura Mulvey, Citizen Kane (London: Bloomsbury, 1992).
  • 3Jorge Luis Borges, “An overwhelming film”, Selected Non-Fictions: Volume 3 (New York: Penguin Random House, 2000).
  • 4Louis Skorecki, « Citizen Kane », Libération, 2001.
UPDATED ON 19.07.2021