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Friday, March 4, 2011

I'm Smarter than Roger Ebert (Not Really)

One of the many things I love in this world is movies.  All kinds of movies: sci-fi, horror, drama, westerns, comedies, etc.  My tastes are pretty eclectic.  Don't believe me?  I own Clue on DVD.  Yes, the movie starring Tim Curry that was based on the board game.  It's funny, and I like it.  Anyway, one of the things I love to do while watching movies is to try and catch mistakes in the movie: a beer bottle changes places in the middle of a scene, a Storm Trooper bonks his head on a door frame, Dorothy's ever-changing hair length in The Wizard of Oz, etc.  These mistakes are called gaffes or continuity errors.  There is actually a large number of people who try to catch these oopsies for fun, and yes, we are all nerds.

In defense of filmmakers everywhere, let me explain that movies are not easy to make.  If you have ever actually sat through the closing credits of a movie, and I can almost guarantee that you haven't, you have noticed how many hundreds of names there are.  Imagine trying to coordinate all of those people without making a mistake.  In addition to the sheer size of the workforce, movie scenes are not shot in the order in which you see them.  That would be a logistical nightmare.  Part of a scene involving two actors may be shot using just one actor and a stand-in on one day, and the other actor and a stand-in on a completely different day.  Therefore, it is understandable when a movie shows an actor with two vest buttons closed in one shot and three in the next shot.  The movie I am getting ready to talk about, however, has one of the largest and most inexcusable gaffes in the history of ever: Citizen Kane.

For those who don't know, Citizen Kane is the story of the rise (and fall) of Charles Foster Kane, an extremely wealthy and power-hungry media baron.  (Imagine Bill Gates was into newspapers instead of computers.)  The movie starred and was written and directed by Orson Welles back in the days before he developed his own gravitational field and started pushing crappy wine.  It starts with Kane uttering the word "Rosebud" with his dying breath, and it is told in flashbacks courtesy of a reporter who is trying to discover the tantalizing mystery of the meaning of Kane's last word.  This reporter will not rest until he finds out exactly what, or who, Rosebud is.

Thanks to this movie being a thinly-veiled biography (and some would say character assassination) of a real media baron - William Randolph Hearst - at the time (1941), it didn't do very well in theaters.  Hearst owned a large enough percentage of God's green Earth to make sure that this movie didn't play in too many packed houses.  Since then, however, it has become regarded as one of the best movies in the history of cinema.  Greater even than High School Musical and Twilight combined!  The American Film Institute repeatedly ranks it at the top of its annual lists, and even Roger Ebert has stated: "So it's settled: Citizen Kane is the official greatest film of all time."

Here's the problem:  Remember how it was Kane's dying word, "Rosebud", that launched this whole investigation?  The whole movie was basically an investigation into Kane's life to find out what Kane meant by "Rosebud"?  No one was with Kane when he died.  The movie takes great pains to show how alone Kane was in his last days: an empty mansion, "No Trespassing" signs all over the place....  They even show the room his deathbed is in.  No one was with Kane when he died, therefore, no one heard him say "Rosebud".  How did the reporter know what Kane said as he was dying - the word that sparked the entire investigation, and therefore the whole movie?  Granted, a nurse walks in right after he croaks, but I doubt she heard his whispered last words across 20 feet of room and through a heavy wooden door.

The "official greatest film of all time" is based on an impossible premise.  Suck it, Ebert!

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