American History23 Sep 2010 07:20 am
Universally hailed for its innovative cinematography, music and narrative structure, Orson Welles’ first feature film, Citizen Kane (1941), transformed the fledgling film director into an overnight critical darling. However, rave reviews did little to help Welles’ rookie effort at the box-office, and Kane failed to recoup its (admittedly exorbitant) production cost during its brief theater run.
Condemned to obscurity for failing to meet its bottom line, Welles’ masterpiece was left to molder in the dustbin of film history for well over a decade. Luckily, Kane’s prospects started looking WAY up following the 1954 publication of “Une certaine tendance du cinéma français”, an article about film theory by the then 21 year-old filmmaker and critic François Truffaut.
Published in the (what would become) mythic magazine Cahiers du cinéma, Truffaut introduced the “auteur theory” to film criticism, which holds that a director’s films reflect his or her personal creative vision, as if he were the primary “auteur” (the French word for “author”). In the service of said theory, he and his clique of fellow New Wavers gave major props to the directors of yore who best embodied the “auteur” approach to filmmaking, such as Alfred Hitchcock, Howard Hawks and of course, Orson Welles.
Thanks to Truffaut’s formidable powers of persuasion, there is a basically semi-official consensus among film critics that Citizen Kane is the greatest film ever made, which even led Roger Ebert to quip: “So it’s settled: Citizen Kane is the official greatest film of all time.” It topped both the AFI’s 100 Years… 100 Movies list and the 10th Anniversary Update, as well as all of the Sight & Sound polls of the 10 greatest films for nearly half a century.
Not bad for a film that lived in the RKO Studio basement for thirteen years….
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