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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Relat­ed Con­tent

Orson Welles’ Last Inter­view and Final Moments Cap­tured on Film

Orson Welles Nar­rates Plato’s Cave Alle­go­ry, Kafka’s Para­ble, and Free­dom Riv­er

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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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