Media Literacy – Final Research Essay on Citizen Kane

Citizen Kane appears on every film critic’s “Greatest Films of All Time” list as #1 and Orson
Welles as the greatest director.
Assignment: You are to place yourself in the role of film critic and must write a critical analysis of
Citizen Kane. The essay must be 7-10 pages in length, not including the Title/Cover Page and
Works Cited page. The essay must be typed, double-spaced, and use a Times or Times New
Roman 12 point Font. You must also perform critical research from academic, not popular,
sources and the paper must be in MLA format. Copies of the film are on reserve in the library and
widely available. This is assignment is based on information in the Week 14 Criticism
lecture, please read as you prepare your essay as this wil be before the assigned date.
In this assignment, you will play the role of film critic (not film reviewer—see note at bottom) and
answer the question, from one of the following critical perspectives, why is Citizen Kane
considered the greatest motion picture of all time?
Choose a Critical Perspective
It is a fact that almost all critics and film scholars consider Citizen Kane as the greatest film of all
time. No doubt it is a great formalist work from a great auteur. You, as a critic, accept that Citizen
Kane is the greatest film of all time. Approach your critique of the film from one of the following
perspectives listed below. Please put the perspective title in your essay’s title placing it on a title
page. Write your thesis and critical analysis answering why the film is the greatest of all time from
the perspective you choose. Reading ahead to Week 14 Criticism lecture will help you formulate
your thesis. Here are the perspectives:
Eclectic: You are a film critic who places a high value on artistry and aesthetics because, let’s face
it, you are a person of taste and discernment, being urbane and conversant in the arts. Explain your
opinion of Citizen Kane as the greatest film of all time from an aesthetic standpoint (photography,
mise en scene, editing, etc.) describing your personal responses and feelings. Gracefully argue why
you responded the way you do from an aesthetic standpoint. The old cliché of truth and beauty plays
a role in your criticism. Pauline Kael’s single quote at the bottom of page 521 in your text best
describes your role.
Semiotics: You are a critic who, unlike your eclectic colleagues, believes that the shot is not the true
single unifying structure of the film, but instead you believe that there is an underlying symbolic code
that weaves a film together. You believe Kane to be made up of symbols that are derived from the
visual codes, spatial codes, kinetic codes, etc., not the literal or textual meanings from the written or
spoken word. Looking at the rich visual design in Citizen Kane, we inherently recognize and
interpret the many symbols based on our cultural acceptance of these codes. Explore the visual
symbolism of Citizen Kane and how symbols are used in Citizen Kane–how does the semiology–the
symbolic codes that weave through this film–make it the greatest film of all time?
Histiography – Aesthetics: Describe Citizen Kane’s place in the history of filmmaking in terms of
it’s aesthetic contribution to film as an art. You believe that its place in
the historical context of film–what came before it and then what came after it– make it
the greatest film of all time. Why?
Histiography-Technology: Describe Citizen Kane’s place in the history of filmmaking from a
technological perspective. What technologies and techniques were used that made this film the
greatest movie of all time. What was its lasting contribution to film from a technological perspective?
Histiography-Economic: Citizen Kane lost money. It was a box office flop. How could the greatest
film of all time not make money? Did audiences and critics realize its greatness at the time? Why or
why wouldn’t’ they? What kind of economic expectations and pressures was the film up against?
What weaknesses or failings in the studio system, audience or other influences might have led to
this failure?
Histiography -Social and Ideological: You argue that Kane is the greatest of all films because of
the way it communicates its ideology. Clearly you and others are struck by the message of the film
and its underlying value system. How does the film express the ideologies of its Auteur and connect
to the ideologies, values, desires and fears of its audience?
The Auteur Theory: No Doubt, Kane is an extraordinary film from an extraordinary artist, Orson
Welles. Welles was given unprecedented freedom to create a film outside of traditional studio
system practice. This is also a genre film, a biography, but on the other hand it is, as auteurists have
argued, a dialectical film, where the conventions of genre are held in aesthetic tension with the
personality of the artist. How did this come about? How does the mise en scene express Welles’
unique vision? How does it break new ground in the genre of biographical films? As an auteur,
where did Welles go from here—did his other films match his artistic contribution remaining true to
his art? Can he be placed among the great auteurs of film or was he just lucky?
Your paper must have a thesis and the thesis must be in the first paragraph. In proving your
thesis you must provide research from scholarly film sources, journals and books, to support your
argument. You must use minimally 5 sources to help you defend your perspective. MLA
style format (taught in ENG101) should be used with a Works Cited page. Do not use magazines
like People, Entertainment Weekly and other “pop” magazines. There are numerous books
written on Citizen Kane and numerous journals such as Film Comment and others that have
written extensively about this work. Many of these are online and accessible through our library.
Our library has an extensive online database. We also have librarians willing to assist you with
research. Never use Wikipedia or my lectures as a source!
If you use the Internet for research, make sure that the source is legitimate and that you site it
properly (and not just some “Blogger Joe” giving his opinion of the movie or Wikipedia entry).
The college library’s website, accessible through MyCommnet (click on the Library Tab), allows
you to search academic and scholarly works for research but some sources can only be
accessed on campus. College librarians are always willing to help with research but you’ll
need to make an appointment.
For more information on the MLA style format for citations, a guide is available at our college
library site, again available through mycommnet or at
Note: There are clear differences between a Reviewer and a Critic. A reviewer tells potential viewers whether they liked or disliked
a film and why the viewer should or should not see the film. A critic analyzes a film from a given perspective (as above) to give the
reader a deeper understanding of the film and uses academic research to support their perspective and thesis.