Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Why I Saw “Citizen Kane” When I Was Nine Years Old

The reason I begged my mother to take me to see Citizen Kane when I was nine years old was not because I was some sort of budding cineaste or junior film scholar—
it was because I was a budding special effects geek, with a bookshelf full of film books, including several on visual effects.

In their easy-to-read, yet info-PACKED book, The Saga of Special Effects (published by PrenticeHall in 1977), authors Ron Fry and Pamela Fourzon devote almost a whole chapter to the visual effects of Citizen Kane:
In the film there are oodles of matte paintings, stop-motion animation, miniatures, travelling mattes, rear projections,
and so many of the camera tricks that The Great Orson W. is rightly famous for
(and let’s not forget the contributions of editor—and future director—Robert Wise).

(BTW, The Saga of Special Effects is downloadable here)

For example, this shot of Boss Jim Gettys (directly above) looking down at Kane on the podium is a combo of about five (if not more) elements. You’ve got:
--Actor Ray Collins
--The actors on the podium
--The two groups of people standing in the aisles (which was two separate elements)
--A matte painting tying it all together

Brooklyn-born special effects pioneer Linwood Dunn (perfecter of the modern optical printer—which has been unfortunately replaced by computers…) is responsible for most of Citizen Kane’s effects.

No matter what side of the fence you’re on
—and The National Film Board of Ivanlandia admits a particular fondness, if not OUTRIGHT LOVE for ALL of Citizen Kane
you have to admit that the flick is a technical marvel.

So of course a nine-year-old Ivan of Ivanlandia HAD to see this movie!
And it was playing in a couple of days at the [I forgot the name of the theater, but it’s across the street from Lincoln Center], which also made an appearance in Annie Hall
It’s the theater where, if memory serves, and no, I’m not going to bother looking it up, Alvy and Annie are three minutes late to the movie—
which I thought was stupid at the time (although now I get it), because mom and I would ALWAYS arrive late to the movies—but we’d sit down in the middle of the flick, watch it to the end, and then stay in our seats until the next showing began—remember when you used to be able to do that?

So of course I loved Citizen Kane, but what’s funny is this:
Back in the day, some art and revival movie houses in NYC would not serve stuff like food or soda. But they—or rather, understanding staffers—would often let you bring snacks in.

So after getting our tickets, mom and I went to a deli and picked up some candy and nibbles. Among the purchases was a candy bar, perhaps a Snickers or Three Musketeers….

We probably started munching our junk food the moment we sat down, but it wasn’t until the lights went down and the projector started that I took out the candy bar.
Now, honestly, I was TRYING to be as quiet as I could be as I unwrapped it, so at the time I couldn’t understand why that ugly old lady with the REALLY short haircut kept turning around and going, “SHHH!”

She’d do that, and I would turn around to try and see who she was shushing.
The funny thing was, I did not realize until we were on the way home that the old bat was shushing ME! I laughed and laughed.

Lucky for both of us, I only had ONE candy bar. What would she have done if I had a bag of chips? I shudder to think.


  1. Quite something all around! Excellent.
    .... rosebud.

  2. Citizen Kane really changed the way I looked at movies. Not because of the technical aspects (which I appreciate more now) but because it showed me that old movies weren't just cheeseball romantic comedies like my mom used to watch when I was a kid. It showed me that there is really an incredible wealth of movies that were way ahead of their time and for that I thank Mr. Welles for the most.

  3. Gents: Thanks for the kind words!

    Christopher: My story's sort of bass-ackward to yours--after CK, I was *psyched* to check out more B&W flicks (young me thinking that ALL B&W flicks must be this good), but no dice. The percentage of good-to-bad movies in B&W was just as consistent as with color movies. Sigh... (However, Toestubber (see sidebar) scored me a boot of Welles' MacBeth--I've only watched about 10 minutes, but WOW, it looks great!)

    I read once how Welles actually shared an elevator with William Randolph Hearst in 1941. Welles was in San Francisco for the premiere of CK, and when he got on the elevator: there was Hearst. To break the ice, Welles offered Hearst tix to the premiere, but the publisher stayed silent, staring ahead. When they reached the lobby, Hearst zooms out and away. Welles calls after him, "KANE would have accepted the tickets!"

    (Jeez, this comment is longer than some of my posts...)

  4. "I'm a magician." Nice back story by the way.

  5. Thanks, Dave!
    Now, when are you going to post again at "Rocking Monkey"? And when can we expect you over at the Ivanlandia Palace for some eats?