Martin Scorsese Explains How Orson Welles Managed To Pull Off Citizen Kane

Previously, we discussed iconoclasts and how they influenced Hollywood’s filmmaking. They innovated new storytelling styles and somehow pointed out the flaws in the art form itself. Filmmakers started using the tales of an ugly, cruel society as the backdrop for their romantic setup. It was the form of using subtexts in a way that would help the audience to relate to the realism. Society was ruled by people’s greed, leaving the lovers to paint their romance with agony and despair. A brief moment of togetherness and a tiresome journey of soliloquy; this was the predictable destiny that awaited in every corner of the lovers’ lane.


Stroheim And His Take On Society’s Disdain For The Lovers

Erich von Stroheim was one of the most vivid iconoclasts who nurtured his characters with visible details. In his 1927 classic “The Wedding March,” he established a tragic fairy tale with a poor musician’s daughter as Cinderella and the successor of an aristocratic family as her Prince Charming. They fell in love with each other and very much agreed to marry, but as greed controlled the ambitions of men, the story took a drastic turn of events. The young prince’s father was already a ruined aristocrat who made a bargain that involved his son marrying a crippled woman. Cinderella lost her Prince Charming while society feasted on destroying the lovers’ souls. This is how iconoclasts used the platform to willingly comment on the wrong sides of the community they were living in. However, Stroheim paid a high price for his overstepping and rigidity; the qualities that made him an unstoppable artist eventually destroyed him. He lost control of most of his projects, and according to Martin Scorsese, “they would all be fragments of broken visions.”

The Director Who Punched Hollywood’s Top Executive

We know that the relationship between producers or executives and filmmakers doesn’t always go well. But to think of a Hollywood filmmaker bashing one of the executives in the 1930s is something revolting. Rowland Brown’s outstanding career ended when he punched one of Hollywood’s top executives at that time. His 1932 classic, “Hell’s Highway,” introduced the rebellious behavior of men and even justified it with the horrifying conditions at the prison camp. The defiant behavior reflected the desperation of the country.


How Warner Brothers’ Was Affected By Social Consciousness

Warner Brothers started making a few topical films that allowed the grim reality of social depression to become the subtext. Darryl Zanuck, then head of the production, asked his writers to gather their subjects from news headlines. Filmmaker William Wellman’s “Wild Boys of the Road” (1933) was influenced by social consciousness. The story was about teenagers forced to leave their houses to find work as their parents lost their jobs during the Great Depression. With a big production house like Warner Brothers, you can expect the socio-political context to be painted on a much broader canvas. It was the same with this film, alongside the gripping drama of the vagabond life of the teenagers. As Martin Scorsese said, Wellman had a natural feeling for the vagabond life, the homeless youngsters, and their battles with authority. The filmmaker was always sympathetic to the outcasts and the rebels.

How Did Orson Welles Manage To Pull Off Citizen Kane?

Martin Scorsese said during the documentary that Orson Welles was perhaps the greatest and the youngest iconoclast of all time. Orson Welles was given unparalleled authority by RKO studios, including what’s known today as the right to the final cut. At that time, only legendary actor and director Charlie Chaplin would have had such freedom in his productions. Giving a filmmaker the space he needed was close to giving him a weapon to destroy everything he wanted. Orson Welles explored so many aspects of misusing power and wealth through his lead character that it genuinely spoke on behalf of America’s traditions. There were people in Hollywood who were so angry with this film that they even put pressure on RKO to destroy the negative. According to Martin Scorsese, the most astonishing part of “Citizen Kane” was the style that drew attention to itself. Welles used every narrative style and technique, such as deep focus, high and low angles, and wide-angle lenses, to produce one of the greatest hits in the history of filmmaking. Welles once said, “I want to use the motion picture camera as an instrument of poetry.” Later, Welles admitted that he had the best contract during his time in “Citizen Kane.” There were no executives on the set; nobody had to look at anything he was making. The filmmaker just made the picture, and that was it; nobody questioned anything. Welles admits that if he had not had that contract, the whole film would’ve been stopped at the beginning. However, he was never allowed such freedom in the later stages. He jokingly says he always loved Hollywood, but Hollywood never felt the same for him. Welles had put together everything to make “Citizen Kane” one of his most remarkable works, and the result was astounding. To this day, “Citizen Kane” is considered the bravest approach made by a filmmaker. It also remains a cult classic in the history of Hollywood. Whenever filmmakers had their share of freedom, they produced great art pieces; “Citizen Kane” was one fine example.



Throughout his career, Orson Welles expanded the creative aspects in different ways. To establish Kane’s political ambitions, he created fake newsreel footage. A filmmaker like him, given the opportunity and freedom, almost destroyed every aspect of American democracy. This is what iconoclasts were capable of. They made eye contact with the system and challenged it from within. The audience was starting to understand society, and these iconoclasts were responsible for it. The journey was long, but it ended with these filmmakers when the aristocrats felt the struggle of the lower class; society felt the necessity to question authority. Films have now won the war against the authorities; it was time for the platform to contribute to an even larger vision. The likes of Charlie Chaplin, Billy Wilder, Elia Kazan, and Stanley Kubrick were super ready for this task.

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Shovan Roy
Shovan Roy
Shovan Roy is a creative content writer. Formerly he used to write film reviews on an international film festival website named Beyond the Curve International Film Festival. He also interviewed global directors. He also interviewed one of the characters from the show 'Trailer Park Boys', Mr. Bernard Robichaud, platformed in Netflix. Shovan tends to write through the third person narrative and he loves to do psychoanalysis. He can't say that he has mastered it but that is some sort of hobby of his. Film is a platform where he loves to spend most of his time learning.

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