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The Essential Orson Welles - Citizen Kane

Prior to the screening, Oscar-winning visual effects supervisor Craig Barron and Oscar-winning sound designer Ben Burtt will investigate some of the secrets behind the making of Citizen Kane

A reporter pieces together the extravagant and mysterious life of newspaper tycoon Charles Foster Kane in the feature directing debut of 26-year-old wunderkind Orson Welles. Having inherited a mining fortune left to his mother by a boarder, Kane fashions a media empire and a lavish, increasingly isolated lifestyle that includes political bids and the building of Xanadu, a baronial Florida castle touted to contain “the loot of the world” and “the biggest zoo since Noah.” 

Orson Welles and Ruth Warrick in

Citizen Kane proved to be a hard act to follow, not only for its maker but for the rest of American cinema. The film’s impact has only intensified over the ensuing decades, leading François Truffaut to declare, “Everything that matters in cinema since 1940 has been influenced by Citizen Kane.” It regularly appears atop polls of the best films ever made. Welles directed himself and his Mercury Theatre players — some of whom, including Joseph Cotten, Agnes Moorehead and Everett Sloane, were making their screen acting debuts — to unforgettable performances. But even more impressive was Welles’s grasp of the technical art of moviemaking. Among the film’s many splendors are Gregg Toland’s black-and-white cinematography and groundbreaking use of deep focus, Robert Wise’s fluid editing, Van Nest Polglase’s elegant art direction, the dazzling visual effects (incorporating a variety of techniques including matte paintings and miniatures) of Vernon L. Walker and Linwood G. Dunn, and Bernard Herrmann’s evocative score, his first composed for the screen. All of these elements are tied together by the witty, complex screenplay by Herman J. Mankiewicz and Welles, which earned the film its only Oscar (it received nine nominations, including Outstanding Motion Picture, Directing, Black-and-White Cinematography, Score and Actor for Welles’ performance).

1941, 119 minutes, black and white, 35mm | Written by Herman J. Mankiewicz, Orson Welles; directed by Orson Welles; with Joseph Cotten, Dorothy Comingore, Agnes Moorehead, Ruth Warrick, Ray Collins, Everett Sloane, Orson Welles.

Screen legend Orson Welles was a pioneering filmmaker and raffish public personality, best known for the remarkable achievement of Citizen Kane. This series presented by the Academy will focus on Welles as a trailblazing director, presenting nine of the 11 films completed in his lifetime (several of them screening in brand-new restorations). As a body of work, these films – from the serene grandeur of The Magnificent Ambersons to the noir intrigue of The Lady from Shanghai and Touch of Evil – reveal the dexterity and inventiveness of Welles's craftsmanship. The series will offer examples of his dazzling technical expertise, such as overlapping dialogue, potent bursts of montage and bravura cinematography, and explore the themes that fascinated him, from anti-heroes corrupted by power to the dangers of pursuing uncomfortable truths. These films are a testament to Welles the tireless visionary, who, whether in the lap of studio luxury or exiled in Zagreb, approached each motion picture as a mystery that only he could unravel.

The series runs from May 3 through June 7. For more screenings, please visit our Events page.


Event Information

Saturday, May 10 at 7:30 p.m.
Bing Theater
Los Angeles County Museum of Art
5905 Wilshire Blvd, Los Angeles

$5 general admission
$3 Academy members, LACMA Film Club members and students with a valid ID.

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