What happens when the juggernaut industry known as Hollywood turns the lens on the larger world of power and profit? In this series, Matthew Pejkovic explores how the focus of the business movie has evolved over the years, from media moguls and corporate raiders to working girls and Gen-Y geeks — larger-than-life characters inspired by (and inspiring) real-world counterparts.
Citizen Kane (1941)
Often cited as one of the greatest films of all time, Citizen Kane was a controversial and innovative film which wowed critics and audiences alike, but behind the scenes it was one step away from never appearing in a cinema.
The brainchild of 27-year-old wunderkind Orson Welles who starred, wrote and directed, Citizen Kane tells the story of media tycoon Charles Foster Kane and how his relentless ascent to the top brings him unparalleled power but leaves him a lonely old man.
What made Welles’ work that much more special was that he based Kane on the life of powerful, real-life business magnate William Randolph Hearst, who didn’t take too kind to the less than flattering depiction.
Much like Rupert Murdoch today, Hearst was a divisive figure who had his fingers in a lot of pies and influence in all corridors of power. Creating a publishing empire which spread across 30 newspapers (including the San Francisco Examiner and The New York Journal), as well as maintaining a successful political career which saw him twice elected as a Democratic congressman in the U.S. House of Representatives, Hearst was a figure who exercised enormous clout and was willing to use it.
So when Hearst heard of a film in which he was depicted in a negative light, Hearst sprang into action, utilising his influence to stop Citizen Kane from playing in theatres and rallying the whole film industry in a bid to purchase the negatives from Welles and destroy the film.
Yet Welles was having none of it, taking on Hearst and seemingly the whole world to have his film seen, leaving an undeniable mark on cinema in the process.
While today’s climate makes it easy for public figures like Hearst to be scrutinised (even to the point of having pies thrown in the face, a la Rupert Murdoch) Welles faced career suicide in his refusal to lay down for the man and in doing so created a film that portrayed big business and the media in a whole new light.
Citizen Kane Trailer
Matthew Pejkovic is a freelance film journalist located in Sydney. He writes for various print and online publications including FilmInk and The Retiree. He also runs his own website, Matt’s Movie Reviews.net, and you can follow him on Twitter via @mpejko.