Friday, October 26, 2012

Citizen Kane and Me (2): Citizen Kane

I haven’t really answered these questions yet: what is Citizen Kane, and what does it represent?

The first time I saw Citizen Kane I remained blind to its munificence, I didn’t understand Welles’ genius. I saw only a good story told in an innovative way with a surprise ending implying a simple moral about “wealth doesn’t provide happiness”. Sure, I appreciated how Welles uses deep focus, ellipsis or a fragmented chronology, but for me these techniques were simple narrative tools, not a way to shape the world, as they really are. If, as I was arguing last time, an artwork is more than a material object, then a description of this object can’t stand as a valid critic. When I write “in the suicide scene, Welles uses a deep focus that economically tells the story by condensing all the necessary information in the same shot”, I’m merely describing the film. It’s not like I’m wrong, but it’s trivial. What do these images tell us, why did Welles use deep focus instead of rapid editing? An artwork presents a singular perspective on the world, and the critic’s job is to illuminate this perspective through a retelling of his experience with this oeuvre.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Citizen Kane and Me (1): Me

What is Citizen Kane? Obviously it’s a movie, but what does Citizen Kane represent, or what do we mean when we say “this is the Citizen Kane of videogames”, or “there is no Citizen Kane in videogames”?

Orson Welles’ masterpiece is usually recognized as the “best movie of all time”, it’s a symbol, it's the pinnacle of what cinema is capable of. If cinema is an art, then Citizen Kane is the truest artistic expression of this medium; it represents the idea of perfection of an artistic idiom. So when we say “this is the Citizen Kane of videogame”, we’re really saying “cinema became an art with Citizen Kane, or at least this movie helped cinema to be officially acknowledged as an art form, or Citizen Kane is the undeniable proof that cinema is art, so the game X accomplishes the same operation of artistic validation for the videogame industry”. But Citizen Kane didn’t become Citizen Kane (this symbol of absolute perfection) until the 60’s, when cinema was already largely considered as an art, and anyway cinema, at first a simple parlor trick shown in fun fairs, did not become an art because of one movie. Art didn’t suddenly appear during a projection for the benefit of unwary spectators: cinema became an art form because it was conceived and discussed as such by critics, theoreticians and the audience. I could describe Citizen Kane as a simple product created by several individuals working in an industrial fashion, mass produced and distributed in many copies that were more or less the same. I could write about Citizen Kane without even mentioning that it’s a work of art, the same way I would do about some can coming out of an ordinary factory. Would I be wrong? I don’t think so, cinema is by essence an industry, my description of Citizen Kane would be incomplete, but it would still express some undeniable aspects of this object.