Sartre Reviews Citizen Kane

If I’m going to write a blog entry about a film, I usually don’t read the reviews until afterward because, good or bad, perceptive or inane, I want my entries at the very least to be authentically mine. After I have written a commentary though, I always read the reviews. If I find opinions similar to my own, I get validation. If I find my opinion differs substantially from the majority, I am surprised. And when I come across particularly good, amusing, or otherwise interesting writing, I am envious. For example, I recently quoted a blurb from the Drafthouse Films information page for Spring, wherein the movie is referred to as “Richard Linklater meets H.P. Lovecraft.” A perfect description. Or, to go a bit further back, there’s this gem from an IMDB user who described Lifeforce as “the greatest naked space vampire zombies from Halley’s Comet running amok in London end-of-the-world movie ever made.”

Anyway, the point is I probably get more excited about reading movie reviews than your average Joe, so when I came across this article title from Open Culture, I was pretty stoked: “Jean-Paul Sartre Reviews Orson Welles’ Masterwork.” So what did the premier French intellectual of the 20th century have to say about the greatest movie ever made? No need to post the link, I can quote the whole thing here:

Kane might have been interesting for the Americans, [but] it is completely passé for us, because the whole film is based on a misconception of what cinema is all about. The film is in the past tense, whereas we all know that cinema has got to be in the present tense. ‘I am the man who is kissing, I am the girl who is being kissed, I am the Indian who is being pursued, I am the man pursuing the Indian.’ And film in the past tense is the antithesis of cinema. Therefore Citizen Kane is not cinema.

Ummm, okay. That’s it?  Really? First some hoity toity condescension, can’t say there’s a big surprise there, and then what? What’s all this crap about tense? He doesn’t like flashbacks I guess? Whatever. They can be campy, sure, just like voice-overs, but I hardly think this automatically reduces the film to the antithesis of cinema. What a dumbass. I can’t believe that’s all he had to say. Even though I did not read any reviews before watching Citizen Kane, I knew–could not help but know–that’s it’s widely considered a masterpiece; therefore, it’s no longer possible to approach a film like Citizen Kane without any baggage. That’s part of the reason I didn’t write an entry for it. Maybe I should though. If I can judge the quality of my commentary based on a juxtaposition with this, I think I missed my calling. I should have founded existential philosophy instead.  (That would make you Simone de Beauvoir, Wanda!)

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