Orson Welles’s great classic, Citizen Kane, took over as the critics’ No. 1 choice ever in five Sight & Sound polls from 1962 through 2002. The movie had reigned supreme as “the greatest” for almost half century.
We should explain that the highly respected British movie journal Sight & Sound – - published by the British Film Institute – has been polling international critics every 10 years since 1952, asking them to identify the best movies of all time.
This is the gold standard of movie polls, an extensive culling of the views of cineastes all over the world. Sad to say, from our point of view, Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo took over the top spot in the 2012 edition of the Sight & Sound poll, with Kane coming in second.
Be that as it may, Welles’ handling of Charles Foster Kane, as inspired by the life of press magnate William Randolph Hearst, remains an intriguing subject.
How much of the movie came directly from Hearst’s life? Was Kane, in effect, Hearst?
Let’s see how well you un-knotted this subject. (Answers today; to review the questions, just scroll down to the blog below).
1) Answer: b) False. The line: “you make the pictures, I’ll make the war” is, wrote Welles, the only purely Hearstian element in ‘Citizen Kane.’
2) Answer: b) False. The upbringings of Charles Foster Kane and Hearst were vastly different. As Welles noted, the latter was born rich, the son of an adoring mother. Kane was born poor, raised by a bank.
3) Answer: b) False. Susan Alexander Kane bears no resemblance at all to Marion Davies, wrote Welles. The wife (referring to Alexander) was treated as a puppet and a prisoner. Davies, on the other hand, was never less than a princess.
4) Answer: a) True. Wrote Welles: Davies had her choice of rich, powerful and attractive beaux before Hearst sent his first bouquet to her stage door.
5) Answer: b) Welles doesn’t say, but it’s generally agreed that the Charles Foster Kane character with operatic ambitions for his wife was roughly based on Samuel Insull, a Chicago utilities magnate who was a local powerhouse (pun intended) in the twenties and thirties. He married stage actress Gladys Wallis when he was 41 and she was 24. The operatic connection is that Insull was instrumental in building Chicago’s Civic Opera House, which opened in 1929 with a production of Aida. Both the opera and the cast were chosen by Insull.
6) Answer: b) False. Welles didn’t know Davies terribly well — they were hardly friends for obvious reasons — but he admired her as an actress. He wrote: Marion Davies was one of the most delightfully accomplished comediennes in the whole history of the screen. She would have been a star if Hearst had never happened.
7) Answer: b) False. Welles felt that Hearst’s backing of Davies cast a shadow. Could the star have existed without the machine? The question darkened an otherwise brilliant career.
8) Answer: Onassis.
9) Answer: Hearst. Onassis for all his riches were a mere celebrity in gossip columns. For his part Hearst, according to Welles, published gossip columns; he practically invented them. The difference is immense.
10) Answer: b) False. Wrote Welles: Hearst built more than one castle, and Marion was the hostess in all of them.