Alex and Andrew Debate the Sight & Sound List: Part Two

Picking up where we left off two days ago, Alex and Andrew continue to debate Sight & Sound’s list of the “Greatest Films of All Time.” Be sure to check out Part One if you missed it.


Alex, I grant you every single point about Citizen Kane…I find the story as compelling as you do, and the idea that it takes an entire cast of characters to make an individual life is a profound one which may never have been as fully realized as Welles and Mankiewicz realized it. This being said, your description of Kane could just as easily be applied to Jay Gatsby, Julian English, even Michael Corleone in his way…and I have felt much more emotionally overwhelmed by The Great Gatsby, Appointment in Samarra, and even the two Godfathers (even though I’m not a giant fan of part one) than by Kane. Maybe my problem is I always come at film more from the writing/story perspective than the pictorial/mise-en-scene perspective. I hold both as the two equal standards of judgment, but the story takes precedence only because of my turn of mind. (And I’m not saying you discount story…I know you and your love of movies too well to make such a horrid and untrue claim…but you and I see movies from slightly different angles, just slightly, but still.)

Anyway, my point: with Gatsby, English, Corleone, Scottie, I see them as Shakespearean tragic heroes, good men brought to death, be it actual or spiritual, by a flaw. Kane is never presented that way, which makes empathy for him harder to obtain…and on the one hand, this may part of the brilliance of Citizen Kane, that the protagonist is so down-to-earth and recognizable and presented without either endearing or purely villainous qualities…Kane is neutral, is Everyman despite being the MAN among men, is recognizable. But at the same time, Welles’s refusal to give the adult Kane, his Kane, any character trait I can relate to beyond his very human ambition, anything which makes me feel involved with him, means that I only appreciate the film for that intricate and dense plotting. Don’t get me wrong, I love a film, a novel, anything with a whirling story like Kane which is so well-told. And I will never deny Kane’s greatness for an instant. You will see it appear on my own top ten list at the end of this reply because I know how much we all owe Welles. I am simply trying to understand why people are now disinclined to rank it as number one, and I think it is because it lacks the pull on the heart, even though it may be the darkest corners of our heart, which is found in Vertigo.
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