How Can You Call Yourself Educated if You Haven’t Seen Citizen Kane?

Posted by Michael Pinto on Dec 26, 2008 in Cinema |

Citizen Kane

Recently I was talking about the topics of great films with a college bound liberal arts student and I made a shocking discovery: The student had never once seen Citizen Kane. It’s frankly shocking to me as an American citizen that in the United States of America that you can graduate from high school without having seen at least one viewing of this film.

There are so many reasons to teach this film — the screenplay alone is a great example of theater, a play with a rightful place in every English class alongside every other classic from Shakespeare to Arthur Miller. What’s wonderful about Citizen Kane is that it’s a film about all of the universal themes like love, greed and hope — yet it’s also a wonderful period piece about the history of the United States:

In fact I’d dare say that you can’t understand the character of our country unless you’ve seen this film: Citizen Kane should be used to teach the subject of American history — it touches on so many topics that were critical to the formation of United States after the Civil War: the gilded age, robber barons, the Spanish American War, yellow journalism, progressivism, the great depression and even the isolationism that took America into World War II. If I had to pick just one example of American culture to explain our civilization to a future historian this gem of cinema would be it.

The film is also very approachable to a younger audience — yet one can watch it on so many levels as you get older. Having students watch Kane would engage them and get them excited about learning. There is so much about this film that speaks not just to history, but about the times that we live in today. The role of celebrity, media and power are just as important in today’s world of 15-seconds-of-fame as they were when Orson Welles directed the film back in 1941. If every high school student in the United States watched this film we’d see the cultural dividends paid back over the course of a generation.

Citizen Kane

Lastly in our age when media literacy is so important the filmmaking techniques of Kane would give students the basic building blocks required for using digital video tools. We owe it to the upcoming YouTube generation to teach them the language of cinema — what better film is there for teaching the craft of pictures in motion? By the way I’m not just going on this rant because the film is a favorite of mine, but because so many critics over so many years have agreed that Citizen Kane is one of the greats:

So I’d like to ask all of my fellow film bloggers to take up this cause and spread the word. Maybe there will never be a day when Citizen Kane is shown in every high school in America, but even if just a few schools started doing this it would be a victory. Better yet this doesn’t have to be a top-down movement — even if we could get more parents to make sure that their kids watched Citizen Kane we would be a more literate society.

Citizen Kane

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