Making news,every time

Making news,every time

Seldom does a film which you watched many years ago offer almost exactly the same degree of pleasure.

Citizen Kane

Reliance Home Video,

Rs 499

Seldom does a film which you watched many years ago offer almost exactly the same degree of pleasure. You are now a different person,and that is a different movie,but I am happy to report that my revisiting Citizen Kane this week,via its 70th anniversary DVD,has been unalloyed joy. From the first to the last,it gripped me,just the way it had when I first saw it.

There is very little one can add to all the wealth of material and comment that’s out there for a film that was anointed a classic shortly after it was released in 1941. What I will do is to share a few of my favourite moments from the film,though it’s really,really hard to choose. I saw Citizen Kane a couple of years before I joined my first newspaper. It is a film especially close to my heart because I always got so much resonance,sometimes in a not-too-good way,of that famous Kane edict — if there’s no news,make it. You smirk,and then soberly,you realise how true it can be,in the hands of an unscrupulous anything-for-the-numbers news tycoon. And this,before the age of cut-throat television.

Orson Welles,and his newspaper magnate Charles Foster Kane,must have been prescient,because they foresaw the arrival of the relentless TV news monster. Another of my favourite lines is the one in which Kane declares: News goes on twenty-four hours (to an old-style editor who was used to working half that time,as soon as he takes over a sleepy daily tabloid). It was a rare contract that gave Welles,who made his debut as a director and actor and producer and writer with Citizen Kane,the kind of control over his film that directors today can only dream of,and it gave us a film that was filled to the brim with the kind of clear-eyed,uncompromising portrayal of the news business and the men (no women: back in the 40s,the news business was an all-male domain) who ran it.


Early on in the film,the newbie Kane tells his flustered publisher: If the headline is big enough,the news is big enough. In one stroke,Kane gave us the lesson that some of us have learnt,not always to salubrious effect,as we’ve gone along — size matters. It was exactly the way the influential newspaper baron William Randolph Hearst operated,and the film was largely based on his life,and how the way he did things changed,for ever,the way the newspaper business functioned.

It’s hard to believe that Welles had never acted before,so right he is in this role,which shows him as a young boy sent far away from home and family,growing into an aggressive adult as he takes control of his fortune and fate. Overarching ambition and ego take over Kane’s life and lead him,at his life’s end,to one of the most famous openings in Hollywood history,where he says the word Rosebud,and never speaks again. There is not one minute of the just-under two-hour-long film that seems stretched,or superfluous. It’s not just the direction that’s flawless; the cinematography is jaw-dropping for the kind of special effects it used for a film made nearly seven decades ago. I will leave you with another gem,this time when one character is trying to define Kane for another: He never gave you anything. He just left you a tip.