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  • 1999-11-18
About the object

Dateline -- New York City, 1941.
"Citizen Kane is far and away the most surprising film and cinematically exciting motion picture to be seen here ... As a matter of fact, it comes close to being the most sensational film ever made in Hollywood." Bosley Crowther 'New York Times'.

"Staggering and belongs at once among the great screen achievements." New York 'World Telegram'.

"Not since Chaplin's A Woman in Paris, has an American film struck an art and an industry with comparable force" Archer Winston, 'New York Post'.

Gold plated metal statue on black base with front plaque inscribed "Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences First Award 1941" and plaque on opposite side inscribed "Academy First Award to Herman J. Mankiewicz for Writing Original Screenplay of Citizen Kane". Statue is a substantial 7.5 lbs, lightly patinated and bears the inscription 'G. Stanley".

Citizen Kane tells the story of an American icon and begins simply enough, with a man's death, and a news reel obituary, in which he is alternately vilified for being a communist, a fascist, a vulgar man of the people, a robber baron and a number of other contradictory stereotypes. When a reporter finds the story intellectually unrevealing, he sets out to penetrate the enigma of the great man. A team is assembled to find people who were close to Kane. And so begins a perplexing journey of discovery to uncover the nature of the enigma known as Charles Foster Kane and, by extension, of America itself.

It was not, strictly speaking, a commercial success. It was densely detailed and structurally unfamiliar for the audiences of the day, more used to stories with a straight line of advance. But more to the point, it was the object of a smear campaign directed by the man it was popularly thought to portray. William Randolph Hearst, marshaled all the considerable resources of his media empire to do his utmost to undermine and destroy the film. Those theaters that showed the picture did so at their peril, and were denied advertising in the pages of Hearst newspapers. In one particularly obscene gesture, Louis B. Meyer offered to pay RKO the full amount of its investment in the picture, if it would destroy the negative before the film could be released.

The picture so many tried so hard to destroy is viewed differently today. The American Film Institute has ranked Citizen Kane as the greatest American film of all time -- this in a field where Selznick's Gone With the Wind is ranked number four behind Kane, Casablanca and The Godfather.

Citizen Kane was different from any movie made previously in the United States. It was a radical departure and in a sense, an awakening of what film was capable, and incapable of achieving under the studio system.

The actors were virtual unknowns, indeed, totally inexperienced in the movie business having been veterans of Welles' New York theatre company. Greg Toland was hired for his revolutionary lighting techniques and his brilliance behind the lens, many of which he manufactured himself from his own designs as they did not yet exist commercially. And, finally, for his most important acquisition, Herman J. Mankiewicz who would in seclusion in the desert town of Victorville, California conceive and write his most brilliant and subversive work -- American.

Herman Mankiewicz *(1897-1953) began his career as a reporter for the New York Tribune, and after serving in the marines during WWI, worked in Paris and Berlin, eventually finding his way back to New York where he wrote for the New York Times, and later became the first drama critic for The New Yorker. In 1926 he moved to Hollywood, and over the next quarter century wrote or co-wrote nearly 50 films. Although he was often uncredited, he had a hand in some very good pictures, including Horsefeathers, Duck Soup, The Wizard of Oz, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Dinner at Eight and others. But his supreme achievement was American, later retitled Citizen Kane for which, perversely enough, he was still almost dealt out of the credits. It may also worth mentioning that the year after he took the Oscar for Kane, he was again nominated for Best Screenplay for Pride of the Yankees.

Propelled by American, Citizen Kane forever changed the character of American cinema. Sound, cinematography, direction, casting were all approached in new ways. And although nominated by the Academy for Best Director, Best Cinematography, Best Score, and Best Screenplay, it won only the latter. The award was shared with Welles, largely because his RKO contract had required that he act, produce, direct and write the film. But it was Mankiewicz whose original conception culminated in the magnificent script for which recognition -- despite all the hostility, distrust and animosity of the Hollywood and Hearst forces -- could not be denied.

And was Hearst's aversion justified? Was Charles Foster Kane really William Randoph Hearst? It can be said that Mankiewicz, a brilliant man and serious student of American history, had chaffed in his part as a bit player in a system which treated the writer as a necessary if contemptible evil. He knew Hearst and of his film mogul pretensions. He had been to San Simeon. He was, in fact, a frequent dinner guest at the castle, and usually sat at Hearst's right hand at the grand table. Where Kane's story departed from Hearst's, Hearst saw misrepresentation; where it paralleled his own, he saw insult, ingratitude and invasion of privacy. Who knows what Mankiewicz saw, but it's clear how he felt. In many respects he represented a whole generation of disenfranchised, and neglected writers. He had here got his revenge, and provided Welles his magnum opus. Welles himself had written about how Mankiewicz felt in these words: "The big studio system often made writers feel like second-class citizens a lot of them were pretty bitter and miserable. And nobody was more miserable, more bitter, and funnier than Mank ... a perfect monument to self-destruction."

Kane undoubtedly was a product of both minds. Yet Rita Alexander, who typed the original script and had custody of all the drafts through shooting, has said that Orson Welles did not write "one single word." Richard Corliss of 'Time' writes, "The obvious answer to the dilemma is that Herman Mankiewicz wrote the film, and Orson Welles directed it." In the end, both men had made history.

And how does Citizen Kane truly stand the test of time, and where is it really in the pantheon of American cinema, and popular culture? David Thomson, the respected film historian and author of highly acclaimed books on Welles and Selznick both, writes in his 1996 biography Rosebud, that "[Citizen Kane is] the greatest movie that ever has been or will be made, the work that sums up the entire medium and holds it in reserve for those prepared to look and consider the ultimate destruction of the thing called cinema."

For this, the most important American film ever made, there exists but two gold statues. Of the two, the one belonging to the Mankiewicz heirs is offered here, while Welles' award is the subject of litigation between the Estate and those currently holding it in their possession.
Rosebud? What is the central enigma that is Kane, which at heart is beyond a simple and ubiquitous case of lost innocence?
"The structure is very intricate; the dialogue is brilliant; the overall view of America and its functioning is ironic; and the mood is pessimistic - not just in wondering whether this man was happy or fulfilled but in its suspicion that meaning itself, and human purpose, is a vain hope. The script's role and originality can never be denied, for Kane is nearly the only movie to suspect that power, wealth, prowess and ambition are forlorn engines, the noise of which tries to hide silence and emptiness." David Thomson -- "Rosebud"
Citizen Kane Citizen Kane Citizen Kane
Citizen Kane

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