Sunday, December 11, 2005

100 Films: Citizen Kane

This is the way Mr. Hitchcock relates the concept of the McGuffin to François Truffaut [1][2]:
It might be a Scottish name, taken from a story about two men in a train. One man says, 'What's that package up there in the baggage rack?' And the other answers, 'Oh that's a McGuffin.' The first one asks 'What's a McGuffin?' 'Well' the other man says, 'It's an apparatus for trapping lions in the Scottish Highlands.' The first man says, 'But there are no lions in the Scottish Highlands,' and the other one answers 'Well, then that's no McGuffin!' So you see, a McGuffin is nothing at all.

Most mystery storied have a McGuffin, and Citizen Kane [3] is no different. Apparently there is a debate about whether the message of the film is that our essential humanity is an enigma, or if the message is that our essential humanity is a sled [4]. The thematic debates aside, the Rosebud McGuffin at least allows the movie to break the normal biopic mold. What moves the story is the meaning of Charles Foster Kane's life, rather than chronological details of his life. In fact, we learn all the details of his life from the news real footage during the first ten minutes. What follows is a collage of memories from the people who knew him. In a way the structure is like the puzzles that Susan Alexander passes her time with at Xanadu, it begins with the full picture and then continues with flashbacks as though they are puzzle pieces spilled out on a table. We are left to try to put the pieces together intelligibly. At the close of the film the mystery of the meaning of Rosebud is solved, but there are no lions in the Scottish Highlands and Rosebud is nothing at all.

Pauline Kael wrote "Citizen Kane is perhaps the one American talking picture that seems as fresh now as the day it opened. It may seem even fresher." Indeed, it seems fresher every time I watch it. And sadder. Jean Renoir, in La Règle du jeu, has a character say "in this world there's one thing that's terrible, that everyone has their reasons." Citizen Kane seems to imply something even more terrible: that even our reasons, however innocent or however evil, in the end cannot even be understood or explained.


[1] See Truffaut's Hitchcock

[2] Slavoj Zizeck defines it as 'the empty pretext which just serves to set in motion the story, but has no value in itself.' See also the wikipedia definition.

[3] More from Lucas and the IMDB.

[4] Truth be told, though, they don't make sleds like they used to.


At 1:12 AM, Blogger Jason said...

I can't get over how good Kane is. I seriously get upset if I don't watch it (at least) every few months.

Also, Matt, is it possible you could send me some of the lyrics (and even music, if you have it) for some of the Superjock tunes? I've stalled writing the next installment because I want to talk about the songs, and I'm having a rough time doing so from memory.

At 12:03 AM, Blogger Princess GoLightly said...

Ah, but do you know what was in Marsellus Wallace's briefcase in Pulp Fiction? I do, but I am sworn to secrecy.


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