AFI #1: Citizen Kane

CitizenKaneStill_1Well, what started as a fun little project on April 17, 2011 has finally come to an end on this the last day of 2013. Ironically, this project began and ended with a disappointing film. I may be in the minority, but I didn’t like AFI #100 Ben-Hur at all, and I can’t say I enjoyed the apparent best American film ever made, Citizen Kane. I didn’t dislike Citizen Kane, I just thought it was much ado about nothing. It certainly isn’t the best American film of all time in my opinion. There were, however, so many amazing films on the AFI list and the project was well worth the experience.

I get that Citizen Kane was ahead of its time in terms of cinematography and editing, but the truth is I’m not a filmmaker so I don’t really care about that. The most innovative technical aspect of Citizen Kane is the extended use of deep focus, according to Wikipedia. Good for Orson Welles. I don’t think any of the other films on the AFI list made the list based on technical merits, yet a jury of 1,500 film artists, critics and historians determined that Citizen Kane was the greatest movie of all time. Okay, I’m not here to disparage the AFI — after all I chose to watch the films on their list. But I’ve seen a shitload of films in my time, some on this list and some not, and I can think of tons that are better than Citizen Kane. Of course, art is subjective.

I did, however, like the themes embedded in Citizen Kane. What I got out of it was that life is about more than acquiring things and wealth, and that happiness is found in the little things. For Charles Foster Kane that meant at the end of his life, a life in which he achieved great wealth and power, he was never happier than when he was a child playing in the snow with his sled. As someone who values life’s simple pleasures I can relate to that message. Critics have also suggested the film is an indictment of capitalism itself, and I can see that and I appreciate that sentiment too. To think that Welles broached these subjects on film in 1941 is pretty impressive given the heightened patriotism of the World War II generation.

So, I don’t agree with the AFI jury but that shouldn’t be a surprise. I didn’t set out to critique the list, but rather to complete a project and the AFI list was as good a list as any. I have to admit though that finishing this quest is both fulfilling and a little bittersweet. I need another list! I have thought of a few ideas, but I’m open to suggestions for the next project. I have considered watching the entire James Bond catalog in order. Or watching every Woody Allen film in order despite having already seen them all and knowing that my wife hates Woody. Anyone know a good list of the best indie films? I’ll be taking suggestions but I suspect I’ll want to launch into something new pretty quickly so send your ideas pronto.

All that said, I’m not quite finished with this project. Several people have asked me during this project about my overall impressions of the AFI list, whether there were any major surprises either way, and of course what are my favorite films. I suspect I have one or two more blog posts coming over the next day or so on these subjects so stay tuned.

Thanks to all of you who followed along with me on this crazy trip. In the 20 months since I started it I moved to California and back, changed jobs twice and had a friggin’ heart attack. I watched movies that I rented at stores, borrowed from the library, downloaded off the Internet, and streamed on NetFlix, Amazon and Google Play. I watched films by myself, with my family, and a few times with friends. It was tons of fun!

Happy New Year!

 

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