Citizen Kane: A Filmmaker’s Journey
author harlan lebo / out now
Legend has it Orson Welles learned to read at the age of two, discussed politics at three and wrote his first play at nine. it’s not surprising, then, that Welles, aged just 25, went on to write, direct, produce and star in arguably the greatest Film Of all time.
already the author of coffee-table book Citizen Kane: The Fiftieth-anniversary
Album, harlan Lebo has written this text-heavier celebration for its 75th birthday, dividing his analysis between two uneven sections. the first is a soup-to-nuts ‘making of’; the second is a collection of interviews, scene-by-scene breakdowns and ephemera for everyone’s inner film student. taken together, they represent a thorough and entertaining entry into the crowded Kane library.
Lebo doesn’t skimp on the two big battles that bookend the film’s creation. the scramble for credit over who wrote the screenplay, Welles or herman J. Mankiewicz, is covered with a deep dive into previous drafts, dropped titles
(American; John Citizen USA) and the nitty-gritty of who wrote what. equally satisfying is Lebo’s account of William Randolph hearst’s attempts to quash Kane, arguing it was a thinly veiled attack on his life. the underhand tactics started at cajoling MGM to blacklist stars who attended Kane’s premiere, then descended to planting a 14 year-old girl in the director’s closet, with two photographers waiting to pounce.
Like J. W. Rinzler’s Star Wars books, this makes great use of production reports (40 per cent of Kane’s shots contain special effects), memos and financial records (actor everett sloane, who played Mr. Bernstein, received $2,400 to shave his head) in a forensic investigation of Welles’ audacious filmmaking. Behindthe-scenes legends such as composer Bernard herrmann and cinematographer gregg toland get their due, but Lebo also celebrates unsung heroes including make-up artist Maurice seiderman, who made Welles look younger by using a fish-skin prosthetic. the book lacks the richness and insights of simon Callow’s
The Road To Xanadu, but emerges as a crisp, clear-eyed, romp through Kane history. Perfect for the precocious two-year-old in your life.
Welles on the set of Citizen Kane with co-star Joseph Cotten.