It’s certainly a strange twist of fate for a film commonly regarded as the greatest work of cinematic art ever released: Thanks to a decades-old review, however, “Citizen Kane” lost its “100% Fresh” rating on movie review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes this week.
This isn’t the first time that Orson Welles’s masterpiece has gotten a knock from a prominent critic. When it was first released in 1941, in fact, “Citizen Kane” was not recognized for its formal breakthroughs or advanced cinematic techniques; most of the attention that the film received resulted from Welles’s transparent criticism of the prominent newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst.
Several elements of Hearst’s life were indeed lampooned by Welles: Specifically, Hearst’s troubled relationships with women were explored in depth within the film. Then one of the most powerful men in the world, Hearst privately raged against “Citizen Kane” and succeeded in having Welles blacklisted from the Hollywood studio system.
For the rest of his career, Welles was forced to work as an outsider within the mainstream film industry. Relying on funding from admirers in Europe, Welles embarked on a series of ambitious followups to “Citizen Kane.”
For example, Welles’s “Chimes at Midnight” remains a highlight of the filmmaker’s body of work; an adaptation of several storylines taken from the work of Shakespeare, “Chimes at Midnight” received little attention in the United States when it was released in 1965. The film was funded by Spanish and Swedish producers; in Europe, Welles had always managed to cultivate a reputation as a leading filmmaker.
For decades in the United States, however, Welles’s films were only appreciated by a select group of movie diehards. With time, the critical reputation of “Citizen Kane” increased and put Welles back on the map. The film’s influence on directors like Francois Truffaut and Steven Spielberg was immense; throughout the 1970s and early 1980s, Welles was once again the toast of Hollywood. Among leading filmmakers, “Kane” is still widely regarded as the greatest movie of all time, and Welles is often thought of as an auteur of unparalleled genius. Certainly, “Citizen Kane” has outlasted more than a few negative reviews. An imperfect record on Rotten Tomatoes probably won’t detract from the film’s status as a great work of 20th Century art and the veritable Mt. Everest of artistic filmmaking. Welles himself would undoubtedly have had a chuckle about the film’s latest fiasco before moving on to his next project.