This post is part of the Discovering Classic Cinema Blogathon, hosted by Classic Film and TV Corner. Read the rest of the posts in this event HERE!
Citizen Kane is far from the first classic film I ever watched. I couldn’t possibly tell you the first one. (Although I did write a post about my first memory of watching a movie in a theater. That film—Irma La Douce—is now considered a classic. I’m just that old.)
I’ve written before about how much my dad loved movies and how that influenced my love of movies. I always watched classic films because he always watched them. We didn’t have much else in common—he and my sister enjoyed hobbies like golf and football together that I did not care for—but we did have the same tremendous love of movies and that’s how we connected.
From a tiny, tiny age I watched film noir and Westerns with my dad because he loved them. They became my two favorite genres. Years later when I went to film school I was surprised and delighted to find out some of those movies were considered among the greatest films ever made.
This brings me to my first viewing of Citizen Kane.
You hear it ALL the time. “No one REALLY likes Citizen Kane, they only say they do because film critics or film school teachers told them it’s a great film.” There was yet another discussion like this on Twitter only a few weeks before the writing of this post.
Well, I am here to prove this wrong.
The time this happened was the early 1970s. I think I was 12 or 13 years old. By then, Citizen Kane had acquired its reputation as one of the greatest films of all time, but I knew close to nothing about it. I recall an episode of All in the Family where it was mentioned (Mike and Gloria used it being on TV as an excuse not to go out with Archie and Edith, when they really wanted to stay home and have sex) but that was pretty much my only frame of reference.
My dad said one afternoon, “Oh, Citizen Kane is coming on. We have to watch it!”
I usually really liked the films he said we should watch, so I agreed.
This was different from other times we watched movies. Occasionally, if it was a really famous film (say, Casablanca) he’d comment a little on it. But this time, there was a full running commentary.
“See the way they show the ceilings in the room? Movies never did that before!”
“See how everything is in focus, even stuff that’s far away? Movies never did that before!”
“See how the camera moves up from the stage to the two guys standing above it? Movies never did that before!”
Now, before anyone says anything—yes, I know, “firsts” attributed to specific movies are usually incorrect. Orson Welles didn’t invent deep focus or crane shots. It was actually cinematographer Gregg Toland who perfected deep focus while making the film and also found ways to more easily include ceilings in the shots. But probably to this day a lot of people still think he did.
That’s not the point. My dad was SO enthusiastic about the artistry of the film, he made ME enthusiastic about it.
“Look at the lighting here! Isn’t that amazing?”
“Look how they make you notice certain things close to the camera! Isn’t that something?”
He also commented on the making of the film and how controversial it was when it was released. He talked about the character of Charles Foster Kane and how unusual he was as a main character in movies at the time.
All of this had a tremendous impact on me. For the first time in my life, I started looking at film as an art form.
My dad did that.
Let me tell you a little about my dad. He wasn’t college educated, he didn’t read books much. After he retired from the Air Force, he drove a truck for a living. He did read the newspaper from cover to cover every day, so he was well informed.
I don’t know how he knew this stuff. At this point in time, there was no TCM, no DVDs with features about the making of films. Maybe he read a news article about Citizen Kane at some point. I wish I had thought to ask him.
Even if he had read an article, that would not explain his love for the film and how important it was to him to get me to love it, too.
He was no intellectual looking for validation from other intellectuals that his views on something were “correct.” My truck driver, “Joe Six Pack” dad just really and truly loved Citizen Kane.
Not just as a movie, but as a work of art.
7 thoughts on “Watching Citizen Kane With My Dad”
Thank you so much for sharing such a precious memory/moment, Debbie. Your dad’s enthusiasm and passion for this film sounds infectious and it’s no wonder he got you interested in the film.
Simultaneously laughing and rolling my eyes at this part: “No one REALLY likes Citizen Kane, they only say they do because film critics or film school teachers told them it’s a great film. There was yet another discussion like this on Twitter only a few weeks before the writing of this post.” 🤣You sure proved them wrong, Debbie. Maddy
Thanks, Maddy! I rewatched the film before writing the post and what struck me the most this time is how it’s more relevant than ever. That is yet another mark of a great film. I think my dad knew instinctively what made a great film great and I loved revisiting those moments watching it with him.
Great post. Your dad sounds like he was a great person. Wish I’d had a chance to talk about movies with him! Here’s a blog post I wrote years ago about Citizen Kane http://nickleshi.blogspot.com/2009/09/why-citizen-kane-is-one-of-greatest.html
He was! Thanks!
Amen, Debbie. It’s unfair that people say no one likes Citizen Kane – as you’ve shown, it’s a really engrossing film, even if you’re not looking at the technical aspects.
I like that your Dad was so enthusiastic about it, and was teaching you how to “read” a film.
A wonderful article. I loved every word.
Thank you so much! So glad you enjoyed it.