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#53. Citizen Kane - Music Analysis 

Citizen Kane Title


Within the early moments of Orson Welles’ classic Citizen Kane, we are treated to static shots of the fallen Xanadu. What once stood as a majestic physical manifestation of Charles Foster Kane’s professional achievements, now slowly erodes against a murky stillness. Our personal tour of the abraded Kane estate commences at the “NO TRESPASSING” sign affixed to a rickety metal fence. As we gradually make our wake up towards the castle we pass all remnants of past attempts to surround oneself with life. Even with the shadow of death looming over all corners of Xanadu the extravagance of its sheer brazenness cannot be missed. As the camera travels we are accompanied by the haunting tones of composer Bernard Herrmann’s beautiful score. His “Prelude” serves as a warning, an ominous exhortation to retreat back into the light of day; for there is nothing but the overwhelming regret of a life well wasted inside these stone walls.  As we near the master’s window the horns begin to escalate until both they and the light coming from Kane’s room are smothered all at once. In a silent darkness our eyes and our ears desperately grasp for any sign of life, any breath that may match our own. Once again the soft moan of Herrmann’s horns fill the room like a thick fog, but their emotion has changed. As the screen fills with the floating white flakes of a soon-to-be shattered snow-globe, the “Prelude” transforms ever so briefly into “Rosebud’s” theme, just as the dying man speaks his last word.

Citizen Kane Opening SequenceAs swiftly as the “Prelude” disappeared, it crashes back into the room with a nurse, who seems to be just moments too late. However the word “rosebud” has been heard, and the race is on to identify this mysterious lament of a remorseful man. We will remain as ignorant to the reality of who or what “rosebud” is until the final moments of the film, when Kane’s childhood sled, painted with the enigmatic handle, is tossed inside a burning furnace amongst the countless artifacts that served to define a lonely man. However, as it turns out, Mr. Herrmann spoiled the ending of this classic film well before its final moments. The same “Rosebud” theme heard briefly while Charles Kane took his last breath can be heard not 20 minutes later when we see a young Kane playing with his sled right before he is to be adopted-out to Mr. Thatcher. The more discerning viewer (or is it listener?) could, in theory, ably pick-up on Mr. Herrmann’s clever score, and in turn confidently assume the exact identity of “rosebud.” Call me a skeptic, but even the most learned musical savant would be unable to pick up on the subtle storytelling cues Bernard Herrmann imposes upon the early scenes of Citizen Kane, let alone the common spectator. Both the “Prelude” and “Rosebud” theme are too similar in tone to be characteristically dissected during a viewing, and I argue the sled’s theme is used far too subtly to provoke much thought on the matter. I think the motif of snow is a more obvious clue than the use of music. For whatever reason Herrmann and Welles chose to employ this theme in the manner they did is surely up for speculation. I for one, with the advantage of knowledge and hindsight, am under the opinion that it just makes sense to layer a leitmotif with its inspiration, which in this case is the tiny wooden sled that symbolizes a time in Kane’s life when he was truly innocent.

Kane and Norton in the beginning of their marriageWhile Hermmann’s score is subtly engaged throughout certain key scenes of Citizen Kane, there are several instances where his music is as perceptible as the images on screen. For proof of his virtuosity look no further than the famous “Breakfast Montage,” a scene of quick illustrations showcasing the rapidly deteriorating relationship between Kane and his first wife Emily Norton. With the use of some cunning editing, we are carried through the evolution of nine-years of marriage in just six concise shots. While there is several conspicuous clues on screen that more than allude to their dissolving marriage (the couple are seated farther apart in each scene, the lighting becomes quite harsher, and their dialogue more unwelcoming) the choice of music throughout the montage also clearly chronicles the disbanding of the husband and wife.

Herrmann’s score expertly unifies the couple, wonderfully narrating the action as it unfolds. The music begins in major mode, an elegant waltz that encompasses the love Kane so desperately hopes to find with his new bride. With the passing of time, you can hear the stresses of life affecting the theme. The tension seen on screen is also heard, with the waltz growing louder and faster until it is but a mockery of its origin; a loveless tune dying in a pitiful minor mode. With the end of the montage we know full well the couple is doomed to failure, that Kane’s first attempt at securing honest reciprocated love has been unsuccessful. 



#52. Orca - Review

Orca (1977) posterThe experience of sitting down and watching Orca was not unlike having the best sex of your life with someone so ugly you would be embarrassed to introduce them to your dog. Orca is perhaps the guiltiest of all pleasures, terrible in almost everyway except its nerve.  To view it is to experience it, sheer ludicrousness on celluloid, and it is wonderful. Wonderful in the way only Dino De Laurentiss could deliver.

An overt reactionary cash-in on the newly minted big fish genre following Jaws’ success in 1975, producer De Laurentiis and director Michael Anderson took to the ocean hoping to sail upon big box office returns. Substituting the vicious maw of a megalodonic great white for an oddly telepathic killer whale, Orca is a house of cards built atop a filthy vibrating bed in a sleazy motel – There is no chance it is going to work, but watching them try is half the fun.

Richard Harris stars as the simple but stalwart captain Nolan of the humble vessel Bumpo, a salt-caked charmer that is formed as a perfect mix of equal parts Sheriff Brody, Matt Hooper, and Sam Quint, which is of course deliberate. Nolan is joined by a disparate band of ragtag fishermen covering the gamut of age, sex, and beauty, each filling the roles typically required for a film set out at sea. The paint-chipped Bumpo is manned by Novak (Keenan Wynn), the crusty old first mate; the sexy fish out of water Annie (Bo Derek) and her loyal beau Paul (Peter Hooten) perform the most important of naval tasks, such as repeating the orders called out by Nolan, and tying knots.

The film begins with the majestic Bumpo fishing off the shores of Canada in search of a great white shark. When their search crosses paths with marine biologist Rachel Bedford (the enchanting Charlotte Rampling) researching orca in the area, a particular killer whale steals Nolan’s attention, inspiring him to change his aim. After a captured pregnant orca miscarries a whale fetus (WITH HANDS AND FINGERS!!) on the deck of the Bumpo, the father of the aborted baby-whale declares a mission of revenge against Nolan and his crew.

Yep... that is a Killer Whale fetus. . . those are handsWhat ensues is an assault fueled by such a frenzied rage it could have made Free Willy’s dorsal fin stand straight up again. Much of the film’s 70s-esque mojo is derived from these outrageously absurd scenes of orcinus rampage. With the telepathic powers of Professor Xavier and the physical might of a battering ram used on the siege of Constantinople; the grieving father is an absolute force of tawdry special effects on the level of King Kong (1976) Flash Gordon and Conan the Barbarian (Yes, the De Laurentiis trifecta of beautiful kitsch).

Orca is the amalgamation of greedy intentions and ingenuous orchestration, thankfully amounting to just about as much guilty fun that can be possibly achieved by watching the slaughter of both man and whale in the most ridiculous methods imaginable. The plot is taken so seriously it only amplifies the foolishness of its reality; the notion of a vigilante killer whale deserves some nuance. With Richard Harris chewing up as much scenery as the killer whale on screen, every moment of Orca guarantees a generous amount of questionable enjoyment. This will now and forever be a member on my list of favorite films.

Here is some more amazing Orca posters from around the world:

Orca 1977 posterOrca 1977 Japanese poster



















Orca 1977 poster



#51. Quarantine 2: Terminal - Review

Quarantine 2: Terminal posterAs unoriginal and uninspired as the first Quarantine, its sequel drops all pretenses of trying to achieve anything other than SyFy-level effects and scares, without any of the effort of living up to the potential of the original Spanish horror film that it aimed to ape. Director John Pogue trades in the handheld news footage style of Rec and Quarantine for a more traditional, and less interesting, cinematic approach, thereby crafting a sequel that is even more unimaginative and characterless than its predecessor. Just take my word for it and watch anything else, surely you can find something on C-SPAN that is more exciting than Quarantine 2: Terminal.


#50. Circus Rosaire - Review

Circus Rosaire posterCircus Rosaire is a thoughtful documentary that follows the remarkable members of the Rosaire family, an eccentric clan of animal trainers that have devoted their lives to the art of the circus for nine generations. The film does a wonderful job introducing us to the remarkable individuals who sacrifice day in and day out caring for and training their wide assortment of animals.  Not only a vehicle to showcase and prove the family’s dedication, Circus Rosaire reveals the hardships of the circus, its slow fall from cultural relevance, and also its many detractors, mainly from animal rights groups. This humble little documentary packs a surprising amount of emotional punch, effortlessly moving from moments of sadness and loss to spontaneous hilarity, the way only true life can. 


New Korean Horror Anthology!

Doomsday Book robotHere is the exciting trailer for the new South Korean horror anthology film Doomsday Book. Anyone that knows me will understand how extremely psyched I am to hear of this film, not only because Bong-Joon Ho and Pil-Sung Yim have something to do with it, but because anthology films are my absolute favorite sub-genre of horror films. Check out the trailer and let me know what you think... all though I already expect to see "amazing," "awesome," and "can't wait!" at least a dozen times!

here is the link to Bloody-Disgusting's original article.


#49. The Mist - Review (kind of)

The Mist - Poster (minimilist)The Mist is damn near perfect. You are not going to get an actual review out of me because I am incapable of saying a bad word about this film. One of the few truly great Stephen King adaptations, The Mist uses the source material as a base of inspiration, but quickly proves its ambitions far exceeded even King’s short story. I love everything about Frank Darabont’s 2007 B-movie masterpiece. It was on my list of top-10 of the last decade (#6) and is one of my all time favorite horror films.

It is the quintessential monster movie, expertly juxtaposing the abominations that are crawling around in the mist against the vile human beings that are hiding out in the small Maine supermarket trying to avoid them. Harking back to the atomic-horror films of the 40s and 50s, Darabont wears his inspirations on his sleeve, going so far as to including a perfectly pitched military conspiracy and the crazed theorists that support it.

Also, and if you have seen The Mist you will know what I am talking about, but I would argue that the “pharmacy” scene is perhaps my favorite 10-minutes in a mainstream horror film since Randy tried to cop-a-feel on the raft in Creepshow 2.  It is intense scary fun, with every jump and scream earned with solid special effects and fantastic performances from the likes of Thomas Jane, Marcia Gay Harden, Laurie Holden, Toby Jones, William Sadler, and the tragically underworked Andre Braugher. Fans of King or Darabont will find a lot to love with this film, and movie fans that have yet to experience The Mist should do themselves a favor and check it out as soon as possible. If you cannot tell, I think it is pretty good.

The Mist monster art


#48. The Perfect Host - Review

The Perfect Host The Perfect Host gambles its entire premise on inspired casting. Take David Hyde Pierce, a well-known television star famous for playing the uppity Niles Crane on Frasier for many years, and have him play against type. In this case Pierce is called upon to play a man that is not at all what he seems. The plot is half the fun (the other of course is watching Pierce chew the scenery for a little bit), so I do not wish to delve into the particulars. Fans of Frasier will get a kick out of watching Dr. Crane play the big bad for a while, however the film’s twists and turns barely kept my interest until the very end, which is a mess. If The Perfect Host has been floating around on your queue for a time I would suggest giving it a shot; the flimsy whodunit plot may keep you on the hook if for no other reason than to find out how it ends.