Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Why do we still compare films to Citizen Kane?

A couple years ago I watched a movie called Raising Helen. It wasn't good. It wasn't bad.

It was meh.

At work the next day, some young lady at lunch brought up the movie. (I guess it was popular at the time).

"I'm just wondering if it's good or not," she said from across the table. "I'm not sure if I want to invest two hours of my life in it if it sucks."

"I saw it," I chirped from behind my newspaper with a mouthful of Charlie's Steakery Chicken Philly sandwich hanging out of my mouth.

"You did?" she seemed a bit surpised. (I guess I didn't look like a romantic comedy type of guy) "What did you think?"

"Well," I responded looking up from a rather sad Funky Winkerbean comic strip. "It's no Citizen Kane."

[Insert bird chirping and grasshoppers clicking sound]

"But, I haven't seen Citizen Kane," the plucky, little 25-year old replied.

Of course she hadn't seen Citizen Kane.

In fact, if I were to take a poll, I would bet money that 75% of people under 30-years old haven't seen it either.

Sure, movie aficionados from all over the world have seen what many people consider the very best motion picture in terms of story, intricate plot, cinematography, extraordinary acting and overall direction.

When someone refers to Citizen Kane, they're bringing up a quality film that's reaped a huge amount of rewards, accolades and respect from not only the movie-going public and critics but non-movie lovers as well. Simply put, director/screenwriter Orson Welles and his crew made the quintessential film of which every other motion picture is judged.

Or rather that's why everyone used to bring it up.

For all of those unaware, Citizen Kane was made in 1941. Now, I'm thinking to myself, there has got to be another movie made in the past 67 years that can be comparable to this fine piece of filmmaking.

So there I was, mouth agape, with french fries dipped in ketchup dangling from my mouth. A table of women stared back at me waiting for a response.

The brain was working. The factory was processing information. Suddenly the light bulb flickered and my motor skills kicked back into sequence.

"Well," I said as I commenced chewing. "It's no Shawshank Redemption, but it's worth seeing."

"Oh, thanks, I guess I'll check it out then," she said as she continued her conservation with her co-workers about how mush she adores Kate Hudson.

Game. Set. Match. Genius.

So, there you have it. From now on, when I'm comparing a so-so film to a great masterpiece of a film, I'm thinking about swapping Citizen Kane with The Shawshank Redemption.

To further add to my defense I pulled this quote from IMDB.com:

As with many films that gained legendary status as years went by, such as Blade Runner and Citizen Kane - [Shawshank] prospered on home video. It has thrived on IMDb's Top 250 for quite some years, almost always in the top five. The simple fact is that the film speaks to a lot of people on some level, and its message of hope and inspiration is one that appeals to vast arrays of people. Some great movies are more geared towards certain demographics, whereas Shawshank has almost universal appeal, and that's probably why it is so well-regarded on sites like IMDb.

You know what? I couldn't have said it better myself.


Eric Wiley said...

Shawshank. I'm only writing because of my history with both the original story written by Seven King and then the movie viewing experience - not to bash on your piece, which I enjoyed reading and am glad you shared.

So here goes - I read King's original version in a collection of four novella's published under the title "Different Seasons" when I was still in high school and loved it. So I was naturally excited to learn that Shawshank was based on the story.

While exiting the theater after having watched the film, I remember saying to my date (who is now my wife), "They very accurately conveyed the feeling of serving a long prison sentence."

Your Finest Eimer said...


Thanks for the response. I'll tell you why I chose Shawshank. My mom, my dad, my brother, my girlfriend, my 11-year old neice and my uncle (who hates movies), were all sitting by the TV around Christmas-time this past year. We were switching the channels and Shawshank came on and everyone in the room, save my grandma, said they loved the movie. That's about as different a demographic as you're going to get. For the life of me, I can't think of any other movie that everyone agrees is a great movie. Titanic, The Godfather Part 2, The Princess Bride and Blade Runner come to mind, but they're niche movies. For some reason, in my opinion, this prison movie spans generations on the likability scale.