The Thirty-Six or Thirty-Seven Greatest Movies of All Time

Elsewhere in this little magazine, a spunky fellow whose company we enjoy and whose opinions we respect goes after Orson
By Peter Kaplan

Elsewhere in this little magazine, a spunky fellow whose company we enjoy and whose opinions we respect goes after Orson Welles in a roundabout way. This is an OK thing to do, except that it offends those of us to whom Orson symbolizes...oh shit! That's what Bogdanovich does: "Orson said to me yesterday...I asked Orson what he thought and you know Orson..."

But he is Orson to those of us who own his work, who have been thunderstruck by his audacity and oh, how to write love letters to fat men?

At lunch the other day, sitting with an actor, I remembered the first time I saw Citizen Kane. He remembered too, and we compared gurgled memories of How It Was the First Time. This is a fairly routine thing to discuss, I realize; in New York, Oxnard, Peru, Indiana, and bless it, Kaplan, Louisiana, hums of versation rising from cafeteria tables like locust clouds, and if you poll each little bug here's what he'll say: "The first time I saw Fred Astaire dance I was transfixed...after the first time I saw the Seventh Seal I couldn't win a chess game for a month...the first time I saw Abbott and Costello I nearly busted a gut!"

Movies still are pretty much a national virus, and to people who really love them, Citizen Kane is the item to measure the others against. It's such a self-conscious work, that every frame lectures the viewer on film and stagecraft both--and even though its technical precocity makes it something of an exhausting film to watch, you want to watch it over and over after it's finished. Kane is the object lesson in American movies--in itself, in legend, in its tradition. It's not the starting point, but the center around which everything else moves. It's a construct, not a natural--a device, not entertainment and it's never been a great popular success. Too self-serious to project a world of beauty into which one would want to project oneself, Kane is too dark and heaving a work to have dignity; Kane's immaturity makes it condemnatory. It challenges the order of things, it's disruptive. Welles and the young people who made the movie weren't interested in romanticizing the old doffers and tyrants who ran things.

Welles, who is interested in artifice, never molded a picture just out of his own experience. If his pictures don't have the warmth of a picture album, it's because he is the least autobiographical of filmmakers.