Citizen Kane. The film to end all films. The greatest film ever made. Number one in…well, everything. Probably the worst thing to happen to Kane was for it to end up number 1 on the AFI Top 100 Films. There is just no way it can possibly live up to someones expectations with that kind of reputation. Ever since then, it has divided people into two camps. On one hand, you have the cinephiles who revere it and feel it necessary, no mandatory, to have it as part of one’s own top 100. Anyone who doesn’t is obviously lacking cinematic knowledge. There are varying degrees of this type of attitude that spill over to countless movie blogs where cinephiles proclaim their love to the next obscure foreign film while shitting on a genre movie of lower stature or disguising their love for a movie like Under Seige by adding the title ‘Guilty Pleasure’ to it. The horror and exploitation genre of the 70’s probably go under the microscope the most. It’s this type of cinephile elitism that tends to get under my skin.
On the other hand, you have the genre fans. Or the people who show adoration to Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, 21 Jump Street or Halloween: Season of the Witch without shame. And there’s nothing wrong with liking a genre picture with lower critical stature. While the passion is just as authentic as loving Chinatown or GoodFellas, there is something else going on that, ideologically speaking, is shared with the other camp- looking down on a movie for bizarre and nonsensical reasons. This brings us back to Citizen Kane. It’s become almost cool to knock the movie. Does anyone really like it? I mean really? Well, the answer to that question is a resounding yes. And if you think it’s not, you can get in contact with William Friedkin, Peter Bogdonavich, Spielberg, Scorsese and countless other directors and tell them they are faking it.
Still not good enough to sway your argument? Well let’s put it this way. When discussing any piece of art, one has to look at not just subjectivity but objectivity. Take Pulp Fiction for example. Does anyone really like that film? Or do they just say that because it is the beneficiary of cultural hypnosis? You can also make the same case for Raging Bull, Vertigo, City Lights, The Godfather, Casablanca, or any major movie that has received lots of critical acclaim over the years. All of these movies have contributed to the growth of cinema. Like it or not. It’s not that Kane is just considered greatest film of all time because of film elitism or cultural relevancy. It took all of what was aesthetically possible back in 1941 and added a few new tricks to the trade of the cinematic art form. The same way how a video store clerk wrote a script that changed the structure and the way people talk in movies. Or how a man, whose debut film was a B- horror movie, decided to adapt a book by Mario Puzo. These were major risk takers. Something that is in short supply in today’s industry.
The AFI lists are flawed. I get it. It still doesn’t discount the impact those individual movies have had on cinema. Film is an art form. Above all, it is a medium where one day you can watch Sunset Boulevard one day and follow it up with Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. Both can be enjoyed by the same person. There is no 40, 50, 60 or 70 year rule for an acknowledged masterpiece. Films like Citizen Kane are without an expiration date.