Orson Welles Explains Why Ignorance Was His Major “Gift” to Citizen Kane




In 1998, Roger Ebert had this to say about Orson Welles’ 1941 classic, Citizen Kane:

It is one of the miracles of cinema that in 1941 a first-time director; a cynical, hard-drinking writer; an innovative cinematographer, and a group of New York stage and radio actors were given the keys to a studio and total control, and made a masterpiece. “Citizen Kane” is more than a great movie; it is a gathering of all the lessons of the emerging era of sound, just as “Birth of a Nation” assembled everything learned at the summit of the silent era, and “2001” pointed the way beyond narrative. These peaks stand above all the others.

Citizen Kane blazed many new trails. The cinematography, the story telling, the special effects, the soundtrack — they were all innovative. And they were all woven into an artistic whole by a 26 year old director making his first film. Years later, Welles explained the alchemy of Kane. Ignorance, he said, was perhaps the genius of the film. “I didn’t know what you couldn’t do. I didn’t deliberately set out to invent anything. It just seemed to me, why not? And there is a great gift that ignorance has to bring to anything. That was the gift I brought to Kane, ignorance.”


Of course, Welles is also quick to recognize that Gregg Toland — “the greatest cameraman who ever lived” — contributed to the greatness of Citizen Kane too, providing the right spirit and cinematographic touch. If you’re unfamiliar with Toland’s work, we’ve provided a short mini documentary on the legendary cinematographer below. H/T @coudal

Several films directed by and starring Orson Welles can be found in our collection of Free Movies Online.

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  • Not *just* ignorance, but the brazen willingness to tell the people who claimed they DID know, “screw you, I’m going to do it my way regardless of what you say.” He had courage, and the studio system crushed him for exposing it.

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