IN THE DARK
written by scott cherney
At last, I have vindicated myself. A wrong in my life has finally been made right. A glaring red mark is now erased from my permanent record. Once I was lost, but now I’m found.
What, you may well ask, is this courageous step (nay, leap!) I have taken which has given me enough inner superhuman strength to live out not just this life, but all the way through to the next two reincarnations as well?
I have just seen CITIZEN KANE as it was originally meant to be seen-on an actual motion picture screen.
(Whoop-ti-damn-diddly-doo. Welcome to the friggin’ party, Mr. Ebert. I’m sorry, but all the guests are long gone. Oh, wait, Joel Siegel’s still here emptying ashtrays…)
Okay, fine, I’m a little late. It’s not like I haven’t seen the dang thing before…only several dozen times since I was a lad of wee, but it was always on TV. After all, CITIZEN KANE was a perennial LATE, LATE SHOW attraction in the prehistoric days before cable. I probably saw it for the first time on San Francisco station KPIX at maybe two in the morning back in the sixties. Even then, it was hard to deny KANE’s power, a tougher feat to accomplish in those days since it was broken up by incessant used car commercials featuring fast-talking hucksters like Ralph Williams, a dead ringer for Lex Luthor.
Only a series of missed opportunities throughout my movie-going life has prevented me from actually making the supreme effort to view what is generally acknowledged as the greatest film of all time in its natural habitat. There are no cute stories or amusing anecdotes to illustrate this failing on my part. Truthfully, it has been a major source of embarrassment to have to admit this shame of mine because I have always claimed to be somewhat of an expert on the cinema, a connoisseur, if you will…someone who eats, sleeps, hell…even farts movies. Not to have seen CITIZEN KANE…really, honestly, truly seen Orson Welles’ masterpiece meant one thing and one thing only.
I was a fraud. Oh yeah. A genuine, bonafide, dyed-in-the-wool-whatever-the-hell-that-means, class A number one F-R-A-U-D.
But, not no mo’, pal.
Now, I can hold my head up high, climb to the top of Gene Shalit’s hair and shout victoriously, “Free at last! Free at Last! Pass the popcorn, I am free at last!”
This soul-cleansing redemption came one recent fall evening at the Guild Theater in downtown Portland, Oregon, a venue that runs shows for the Northwest Film Center. The Guild has an auditorium that is old, musty and damp with seats to match. That, of course, is part of its charm. The screen, framed by soft white light bulbs, was rather small, making me think this might be a 16mm showing, which it wasn’t. The presentation began; stumbling and bumbling like a doddering old fool in the dark. The opening titles, usually the first big rush you get when your anticipation is so high, were illegibly out of frame. The sound level was so loud, the NEWS ON THE MARCH fanfare alone nearly burst open my colon. The print was fairly scratchy in that community college Film Appreciation class way. Instead of irritating the snot out of me, these gaffes actually amused me because they eventually worked themselves out. The Guild basically showed me a good time that night. I might even give it a second date sometime.
Being so familiar with CITIZEN KANE as I have been over the years, I cannot honestly admit this was the life-altering experience I have always led myself to believe. But, we are talking about a piece of work that I know almost backwards and forwards with entire scenes that I can recite almost verbatim.
Still, it was a pleasure to sit with a respectful audience that didn’t talk during the film, laughed at all the right places and even gave me a small sense of pride to be amongst them when they applauded after the closing credits. (There were a couple of knotheads that just HAD to leave just as the sled was burning. What’s the hurry? Afraid you’re gonna miss SPIN CITY?)
With a film as filled with riches as KANE is, repeat viewings make certain aspects more apparent than they were previously. The big screen at this viewing made them stand out even further.
The opening sequence, just before Kane utters “Rosebud” for the very first time, has that eerie tour of Xanadu after dark. With its special effects and matte paintings, it looks damn near like animation, not dissimilar to early black-and-white Disney.
Speaking of cartoons, check out the birds in the background of the Everglades sequence near the end. Just where the hell did Kane and Susan have that picnic anyway…Skull Island? Hey, look over there by the chilled prawns…it’s Bruce Cabot!
Joseph Cotten is very obvious in the shadows of the screening room after NEWS ON THE MARCH. That smile he has on his face looks like he was trying to sneak into the scene.
Dorothy Comingore was hot! Take a look at the early boarding house scene when Susan Alexander is introduced. Small wonder how Kane got his hand caught in that “cookie” jar. Granted, she’s got a voice that would make Fran Drescher squirm, but how can I not pay tribute to the actress who says the immortal line, “Yer awful funny, are-runt cha?”
There is a total lack of any kind of a payoff regarding the death of Emily, the first Mrs. Kane, and their son (played by the ever-popular Sonny Bupp) Surely, it was significant enough to warrant such attention. Their demise seems to be mentioned only in passing, as if it were merely a convenience of the story. Its absence leaves a very obvious gaping hole that I find impossible to ignore from here on out.
Volumes have been written about Gregg Toland’s cinematography and Bernard Herrmann’s music, so let me just add my undying admiration for both of their invaluable contributions, which are even more spectacular in a theater setting. When Rosebud’s secret is finally revealed and the music reaches its crescendo, so did I, in more ways than one. (You figure it out)
Orson Welles as Charles Foster Kane is the single greatest film performance of all time. Period.
After the movie, I drove home about as pleased with myself as I have ever been. Now I sit and wonder why. What was it that I actually accomplished? I went to a movie. (A rare occasion in itself, but that’s another story) The answer lays not in the act itself, but what it represents, which, coincidentally enough is a lot like Rosebud. It wasn’t something I lost and couldn’t get back again. That wouldn’t exactly make me happy. No, watching CITIZEN KANE in the theater that night gave me something I’ve been lacking as late-a sense of being true to myself. You see, I love the movies and, I am proud to say, the movies love me right back. This is part of who I am, even if it is just a piece of a jigsaw puzzle.
This is my Rosebud.
Copyright 2003 by scott cherney