Citizen Kane and Ivan, Part II
At the Telepix
The first time I saw Citizen Kane was two years ago in a small art house across from St. Sulpice in Paris. When the film ended, I noticed that the audience was full of young French film buffs clutching their Cahiers du Cinema and chattering fervidly about Orson Welles and what a revolution he had caused with this movie.
No one would deny that Citizen Kane in 1941 opened up hundreds of new possibilities for film directors, but twenty years have passed since then, and filmmakers have imbibed Welles' techniques so fully that they use them almost unconsciously. The time has come to stop regarding Citizen Kane as a bag full of brand new tricks; the tricks are no longer new, but the cultists won't be satisfied unless they have told you about every sort of shot that Welles used for the first time. I am only slightly more annoyed when opera fans talk about Mozart's daring use of the quartet in Idomeneo; he may have shocked Vienna in 1780, but now we ought to be far more interested in the quality of the quartet as music, not music history.
As a matter of fact, the quartet is fairly insipid, but Citizen Kane remains an exciting film. Welles invented and perfected his style all at once, and it is this instant mastery that brands him a genius far more than his originality.
Quite appropriately, he chose to tell the story of a man (William Randolph Hearst) who shared his talent for big ideas and big success. And yet, he did not take the easy way out and laugh at Kane for the pompous megalomaniac that he was; he strove to make him a human being instead of a straw man like the one Andy Griffith played in A Face in the Crowd, a movie vaguely reminiscent of Kane. Indeed, Welles could never be called supersubtle in his characterization of Kane as a love-starved neurotic, but then he entirely avoids simple caricature and bludgeoning satire.
By way of vivid contrast to Welles the Wunderkind, the Telepix offers up Eisenstein, the past master; and by this stage in his career, Eisenstein's mastery had definitely passed. In Part I, lumbering and contrived as it is, at least one can take pleasure from the intricate visual patterns that Eisenstein creates; in Part II, all that remains is a bevy of intolerably melodramatic actors wearing ludicrous hills of fur, droning like a Russian language record played at too slow a speed, and walking with all the grace of Kate Smith in a cha cha contest. In addition to this, Eisenstein switches somewhat incongruously from black-and-white to color to bronzetone, and though some might call this kaleidoscopic, I call it hokum.
As it stands, this double bill lasts about one hour too long. By leaving after Citizen Kane, you will miss an epic longueur and still have a chance to see a film that can hardly fail to please almost anyone.