[Note: spoilers ahead for Citizen Kane ... tbh, if you haven't seen it by now, that's on you.]
I hate Citizen Kane.
That’s a sentence I used to be scared of saying. As if doing so in the wrong professional circle would get my filmmaker license revoked.
“Citizen Kane is the best film of all time,” they say. “Rosebud is the greatest plot twist ever.”
Nothing makes me cringe faster.
First of all, no, it isn’t. The best film of all time is clearly A Knight’s Tale.
Secondly, and let's ruin the movie for you: Rosebud is his sled. It’s a toy. A child’s plaything! I have a theory that no one actually believes his or her own praise for this movie. It’s just this thing we keep telling ourselves—a fallacy that we as society have all agreed to. It’s like pineapple pizza. Or playing “Born In The USA” on the Fourth of July.
Kane was one of the two movies forced upon us in every single undergrad film studies course at Rutgers University (the other was Breathless, but I’ll save my Godard rant for another time), and honestly every time I watched it, I always remember thinking it’s … fine. You know, it’s a movie. Sure, it may have been revolutionary for the day, I guess. Deep-focus and all. But I absolutely despise the notion that we should revere and worship Orson Welles’ freshman outing. Touch Of Evil is simply a better film. His adaptation of War of the Worlds caused global mass hysteria, and that was just a radio play. Besides, not even a year after Kane released, Welles gifted us one of the greatest sequences ever committed to celluloid: the end credits of The Magnificent Ambersons. (He narrates them! It’s incredible.)
I love Sonic The Hedgehog.
How’s that for a segue? Gotta go fast ...
I saw it opening weekend at the Century City AMC in the beforetimes, and I remember it like it was yesterday. I walked to the theater from my apartment on the edge of Westwood and sat alone toward the front. Just as the room went dark, my roommate arrived (having originally declined my invitation of course) and sat down next to me. Neither of us was really expecting much, but for the next one hundred minutes we were smiling ear to ear. It was spectacular. Jim Carrey channeled a hilariously chaotic Doctor Robotnik in a way that’s only him—something us 90s babies have sorely missed since Ace Ventura. And Ben Schwartz’s ever-radiant Sonic captured my heart faster than a spin-dash in the Green Hill Zone. It was the first time in a long while I had such an overwhelmingly positive, visceral reaction to a movie, and sadly, I haven’t been in a movie theater since [as of this writing, we're still in a pandemic].
Sonic made me feel. Plain and simple. I understand there are objectively stronger movies out there. You know, those Criterion Collection releases that you have on your shelf but never watch. I’ve seen plenty of movies that are deeply nuanced and interwoven with poignant character drama and macro cultural significance and commentary. But oftentimes those films fail to invoke the blissful joy I felt while watching Sonic blow up Eggman’s flying robots. And this goes for a wide cross-section of broad-stroke, accessible films that don’t require much audience engagement. Is there anything better than just shutting your brain off for a couple of hours and enjoying the ride? To put it another way, are you not entertained?
This is entirely our fault, by the way. It’s OK to admit it. Too often we spend so much time researching an entire film or show’s premise before it premieres, doing deep background checks on the cast, director, writers, studio, studio intentions, franchise potential—as if Variety is going to quote our Letterboxd account review during their coverage on opening weekend. By the time we actually go into the theater, or hit play on Netflix, we have already decided if we’re going to enjoy it. We all at one point were thinking that a movie about the blue anthropomorphic hedgehog couldn’t possibly be good (in the spirit of honesty though, that first trailer didn’t help). Likewise, we’re all told that Citizen Kane is great, and therefore we must like it, or at least appreciate its greatness. The lens and context in which we view a piece is dangerously influential on our own enjoyment. And transitively, as Twitter hot takes emerge after a film or show’s release, we all collectively decide whether we want to praise or trash it.
FYI, I know I’m speaking in gross generalizations here. Clearly, enough people enjoyed Sonic because the sequel is already greenlit. Let’s try another beloved IP as an example—one with a large, healthy fan base of true devotees who praise the transformative nature of an individual director’s impression on their universe. Let’s talk about Star Wars.
Please use this time to forcibly exhale and calm your anxiety.
It’s OK if you didn’t like the sequels. I’m just going to say it though: Rise of Skywalker is fun. It’s a lightweight adventure with a lot of joy, not unlike Return of the Jedi. Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi is interesting. It’s a darker reflection of the franchise examining itself, like Rey in the force-mirrors and Luke’s force-encounter with Vader in Empire. And Force Awakens is as Star Wars as it gets. My enjoyment of one kind of story doesn’t negate my ability to enjoy another. Sure, they’re all different, and I have my own personal ranking system for the films that I think are stronger than others. But it’s OK to like them if you like them. Don’t hide it. Despite some of Rise’s incredibly cringe-worthy moments (and there are many), there is happiness in the cheese.
Where I’m going with all of this is that we as creatives and artists need to do better at finding that happiness in the art we consume. There is always a time and place for criticism, and healthy criticism is vital to the survival and growth of any artistic community. There needs to be mutual respect between creative and consumer after all, like any salesperson of any product. However, life is just too damn short to prevent yourself from enjoying something as an adult that you, as a kid, would have gone crazy over, merely because it didn’t have a screening in Cannes.
When I was applying to graduate film school, some “coaching” I received from certain academic individuals was to only discuss my affection for films of a certain pedigree. Here I was working on my essay about the personal impact films like The Blues Brothers, Animal House, and My Cousin Vinny had on my development as an filmmaker and comedy writer; and this advisor of mine recommended I swap those out for Paul Thomas Anderson and Wes Anderson (affinity for Both Andersons is apparently the secret to getting into film school I’m told). Needless to say, I bombed those applications because I wasn’t being truthful about my own enjoyment or sensibilities. The one program I rolled the dice with and talked about my love of musical absurdity, f-bombs, and car crashes in my interview is the one that said yes.
If you truly love The Andersons, Wong Kar-Wai, Fellini, Antonioni, Godard, Scorsese, Jarmusch, Lynch, et al—I’m happy for you. I really am. The art of cinema is, in my opinion, the greatest medium we have. I hope when you watch those films, you feel the same way I do when I watch Spielberg, J.J. Abrams, Ron Howard, Jennifer Lee, James Gunn, John Hughes, Patty Jenkins, or Edgar Wright.
I hate Citizen Kane. I hate that the art community has convinced itself that work with no contemporary today must continue to be the gold standard of quality and expression. I hate that within artist circles there is this faux admiration for work that only exists because there is pressure to project that admiration. And I hate that major voices in the industry continue to tell us that The Avengers, Star Wars, Justice League, Ghostbusters, Harry Potter, Fast and the Furious, Pirates of the Caribbean, Toy Story, The Minions, and so many others are something less than “cinema.”
Sonic The Hedgehog is cinema.
I love Sonic The Hedgehog.
*Feature Photo: Orson Welles in Citizen Kane / RKO Radio Pictures