Cinema buffs are celebrating this week the 70th anniversary
of Citizen Kane, held by many to be the greatest movie ever made. I saw it once
and was very disappointed — I didn’t find the newspaper mogul a compelling character,
and as for the cinematic techniques, they largely went over my head. I admit I am
no movie expert. Perhaps it is a wonderful character study.
On one subject, however, it is no guide at all: marriage. An
article in the Financial Times
has highlighted a sequence in which one of Kane’s associates in life is talking
about the great man’s first marriage to Emily Monroe Norton, a President’s
niece. It’s captured in this YouTube video — “16 years of a marriage elided into
a two-minute mealtime montage”, with the movement all downhill.
The narrator comments, nodding sagely, “It was a marriage,
just like any other marriage.”
Was this just avant-garde cynicism back in 1940? After all,
marriage was more popular than ever in the post-war period through the 1960s,
and television sitcoms tended to celebrate family life. Yet the movie industry
since then has been largely destructive of family values, taking the Citizen
Kane line, complete with affairs and second marriages.
It would be a redeeming feature of the film if the
mysterious “Rosebud” that Kane utters on his deathbed were a sign of regret for
his failure in love, but it turns out to be the name he had given to a sled in
his (impoverished) childhood — an allusion to the only time in his life when
he was truly happy. Poor Charlie Kane, the last thing he needed was the excuse
that his marriage was “just like any other”.