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Sun, Dec 10


Epsilon Spires


In his controversial debut, Orson Welles unleashed a torrent of stylistic innovations to tell the story of the meteoric rise and fall of a newspaper magnate, presenting a self-reflective portrait of American megalomania. Often considered the greatest film ever made, experience it on the big screen!

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Time & Location

Dec 10, 2023, 7:00 PM – 10:00 PM

Epsilon Spires, 190 Main St, Brattleboro, VT 05301, USA

About the event

CITIZEN KANE (1941). Doors 7pm, Film begins at 7:30pm. Popcorn & Refreshments Provided!

In the most dazzling debut feature in cinema history, twenty-five-year-old writer-producer-director-star Orson Welles synthesized the possibilities of sound-era filmmaking into what could be called the first truly modern movie. In telling the story of the meteoric rise and precipitous fall of a William Randolph Hearst–like newspaper magnate named Charles Foster Kane, Welles not only created the definitive portrait of American megalomania, he also unleashed a torrent of stylistic innovations—from the jigsaw-puzzle narrative structure to the stunning deep-focus camera work of Gregg Toland—that have ensured that Citizen Kane remains fresh and galvanizing for every new generation of moviegoers to encounter it.

But how did Citizen Kane become so firmly established at the top of the canon in the first place? 

"Unlike a lot of other classics whose greatness was recognized belatedly, Citizen Kane actually came roaring out of the gate. It was one of the most heavily anticipated pictures of 1941 — partly because young Orson Welles was already a phenomenon of radio and stage, a wunderkind who had made the cover of Time magazine at the age of 23 and whose Hollywood debut had been greatly publicized, and partly because William Randolph Hearst’s media empire began waging a war against Kane once it became clear that the ostensibly fictional character of Charles Foster Kane bore more than a passing resemblance to Hearst himself.

The film’s advance notoriety was both a blessing and a curse. By the time Kane began screening for the press, its theatrical fate was in jeopardy. It's release date had already been moved several times, and efforts were underway by other studios, many whose chiefs had close ties to Hearst — to buy and destroy the print before it could be seen. Oddly, all these efforts may have helped build additional hype around Kane. For journalists and critics writing about the movie (at least, for non-Hearst publications), there was some urgency in making sure that readers knew that the film was good. The original poster’s tagline “It’s Terrific!” seems quaint now, but back in 1941, it was probably answering the question on everyone’s lips: “So, how is it?”

But Kane wasn’t a financial success. Despite the accolades — and that it was nominated for nine Oscars, going on to win Best Screenplay — the movie didn’t make its money back, primarily because the major studios barred it from their theaters. Back then, the Hollywood majors actually owned most of the screens in the country, a fact which had helped power the rise of the studio system. (There is an elegant and touching irony in this: The studios’ control of theaters allowed them to effectively sabotage Citizen Kane at the box office. Seven years later, after a landmark anti-trust case brought about by the U.S. government, they were forced to relinquish their theatrical holdings. This helped precipitate the gradual decline of the studio system and the eventual rise of directors who worshipped Citizen Kane and Orson Welles and who would ultimately transform the industry.)

Back in 1941, the 25-year-old Welles made an ideal target for the right-leaning Hearst organization — an uppity, leftist kid who had scandalized ordinary Americans with his notorious War of the Worlds broadcast, who had staged an all-Black version of Macbeth, an anti-fascist modern-dress version of Julius Caesar, who was at that moment trying to get a production of Richard Wright’s Native Son off the ground. They even tried to get him arrested: Welles recounted that during a lecture tour in Buffalo, New York, he was warned at dinner one night not to go back to his hotel, as there was a 14-year-old girl and a couple of Hearst photographers waiting in his room for him. Welles’s co-writer Herman J. Mankiewicz — whose perceived betrayal in helping to make Citizen Kane was seemingly greater, since he had been friends with both Hearst and his mistress Marion Davies (in David Fincher’s recent film, he writes the script as a kind of score-settling confessional) — did come in for his share of harassment, too but the vast majority of it was directed at Welles, who was more recognizable, and easier to hate."

"But what America dismissed, war-torn Europe embraced. After World War II, Kane opened in France in June of 1946, in Italy in November of 1948, in Austria in September of 1949. Along the way, it became a phenomenon. Francois Truffaut (whose pseudo-autobiographical Day for Night features a scene of the protagonist as a child stealing the lobby-cards for Kane) talks of Welles’s picture as a rite of passage for himself and others: “The appearance of Citizen Kane was an extraordinary event for cinemaphiles of our generation,” he wrote in 1959. “This film, I believe, consecrated a great many of us to vocation of cineaste. It was shown regularly for five or six years, and we went to see it at each showing — first at Marbeuf, it went on to L’Artistic, then to Reflets, to Studio Raspail, to Studio Parnasse, and finally to Cine-Opera which became the Vendome, where it is shown again today,” Truffaut recalled, counting off the cinemas where he and others had seen the movie as if they were stops on a pilgrimage.

It’s interesting that the debates around Kane so often center on who deserves credit for its screenplay — a controversy that Fincher’s latest, Mank, has reignited — since these foreign cineastes were generally responding to something other than Kane’s sparkling, brilliant script. (Indeed, Truffaut noted how poorly it had been subtitled in French.) They were responding to the visual style, to the inventiveness of Gregg Toland’s cinematography, and to Welles’s experiments with sound, much of which was inspired by his background in radio. Still, it took some time for Kane to become a consensus favorite."

"May 1956 finally saw the first major re-release of Kane across theaters in the U.S. But perhaps more importantly, it also began airing on television that year. Citizen Kane, after lying dormant though much of the 1940s and early 1950s, became ubiquitous on a mass medium. That was when a lot of the filmmakers and critics who would go on to define modern American cinema experienced Welles’s work for the first time. (Among them was a young Martin Scorsese, who recalled seeing Kane — on his list of the ten greatest of all time — on WOR-TV’s “Million Dollar Movie” as a kid.)

But it’s not just that Kane was suddenly available. It was also the right movie at the right time. Maybe it had been ahead of the curve back in 1941, but now, the curve had arrived. Synthesizing the stylistic hallmarks of the preceding half century of cinema that came before it, morphing from horror film to mock-documentary to drama to musical to comedy to tragedy, Citizen Kane was a film school condensed into 119 minutes. Welles often credited its achievement to his own inexperience and ignorance: He was able to flout cinematic convention and clichés because he didn’t know any better, and he was able to create such remarkable images because he was willing to let his veteran cinematographer Gregg Toland go to town with the camera and the lighting. 

Despite its limited budget, Kane also had a certain all-American brashness and extravagance, without the old-fashioned epic indulgence of a Gone With the Wind or the jingoistic qualities of some wartime pictures. It looked forward even as it looked backward — an ideal film for a generation seeking to forget the war while also feeling somewhat conflicted about the economic boom that had begun in earnest in the early 1950s. Kane had freshness and cynicism in equal measure."

"Kane and Mankiewicz’s tale of the rise and rise of a businessman who came from nothing, built a massive empire, then lost his soul indulges in the charm and myth of power and money while also showing their downside. It’s a movie about spiritual corruption that lets you nevertheless enjoy the journey towards spiritual corruption. “It is a demonstration of the force of power and an attack on the force of power,” Truffaut had written. Is it any wonder then that directors who adored Kane went on to make such films as The Godfather, Barry Lyndon, Scarface, and Goodfellas?

Kane may have risen to the fore thanks to television, but it grew its lead because in many ways it came to represent both the pinnacle of the American studio system — the most dominant film industry on the planet — as well as one auteur’s rebuke of it."

"The idea of a consensus pick of what work exists as "the greatest film of all time", and for that matter the need for any kind of consensus, is a thing of the past. Citizen Kane, the ultimate canon title, has itself become proof that canons are there to be exploded." -Excerpts from: The Rise (and Inevitable Fall) of Citizen Kane As the Greatest Movie Ever Made, an essay by Bilge Ebiri for New York and Vulture



    Admission for one to CITIZEN KANE. Popcorn and refreshments will be provided! Bring cash for the bar. Please choose your seating with respect for others and let us know if you require special arrangements. Thank you for your support! Enjoy the program!

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  • Sliding-Scale Ticket

    Ticket for one to CITIZEN KANE. General admission is $15. Thanks to a generous grant from the Ben and Jerry’s Foundation, subsidized sliding-scale tickets are available for those who self-identify as experiencing financial hardship. In order to make this program accessible for all, we are offering tickets by sliding scale. Taking equity and inclusion into account, please pay what you can to help support the venue.

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    I would like to add a donation to my ticket to express my support and appreciation of the adventurous and intellectually-engaging programs at Epsilon Spires. Thank you & keep up the good work! Admission for one to CITIZEN KANE. Popcorn & Refreshments will be provided! Please bring cash for the bar. Please let us know if you require special arrangements.

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