(SUB)TEXT: Identity and Infamy in “Citizen Kane” (1941) (Part 1)

It’s a film bursting with objects—the treasure troves of Xanadu, a snowglobe, jigsaw puzzles, a winner’s cup, the famous sled. Even the conceptual elements of the film’s plot are expressed tangibly. Kane’s mind-boggling wealth isn’t an abstraction, but a list of concrete holdings—gold mines, oil wells, real estate. And the news Kane controls and manipulates, when yoked to another noun, is something one can hold in one’s hands: a newspaper. Kane, too, is described as the incarnation of several abstractions. As his obituary tells us, he himself was “news,” as well as the embodiment of whole years in a swath straddling the 19th and 20th centuries. One might call him the American idea personified. But what these terms really mean and how they’re made manifest in Kane is hard to pin down. At times, he seems to be no more than a vast, empty planet around which objects swirl. What’s at his core, then? What did his life mean? One reporter searching for the secret of Kane bets that just one fact—the identity of “Rosebud”—would explain his whole life. Another suggests that it’s in the sum total of his possessions. Yet another thinks, curiously, that even Kane’s actions won’t tell us who he really was. So what, then, determines his or any identity? What’s the measure of a person? The objects they possess? The abstract ideals they claim to stand for? Their actions? Or something still deeper? Wes & Erin discuss possibly the greatest film ever made: from 1941, Orson Welles’s “Citizen Kane.”

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