Film Studies: 'Citizen Kane' must be banned - for its sake, and for ours

Last Friday, at the London Curzons "and at selected cinemas across the country", Citizen Kane opened in the closest to a general release it has enjoyed since 1941. "The greatest film ever made," said the ads. But then I noticed this reckless dismissal, this height of naivete - its "U" certificate. U! No parental guidance! No scholarly introduction? Just that enormous, complex, sensual experience, that song of power, the crowd and applause, that bottomless well of solipsism, for any six-year-old innocent enough to wander into the Curzon?

Sleepless nights followed as I considered the destiny of this great film. Until at some 3.20am or other I had a saving vision, as drastic as it is cleansing. I saw coachloads of schoolchildren being delivered to the Curzon for the first showing on the Friday - like those disconsolate crocodiles of delinquency urged through the National Gallery to behold dumb wonders - a solemn, eloquent figure (I nominate Simon Callow), dressed in black, comes before the throng and stills chatter with these words: "Ladies and gentlemen, children - sadly, it is not possible to show Citizen Kane. Owing to a bizarre circumstance in Mr Welles's untidy estate, the film can no longer be seen."

Quickly enough, the management of the Curzon hears young restlessness and the wailing of betrayed teachers - so they substitute Starship Troopers or Scream 2, and the kids have a jolly enough two hours. The teachers enquire at the box office, "Is this a temporary problem?"

"Alas, no," says Simon Callow. "Citizen Kane has been withdrawn. Like the contents of Xanadu itself, every copy is being collected and burnt."

"But isn't it the greatest film ever made?" whine the teachers.

At which point, I step forward to support the exhausted Callow with this further explanation: "Only if we can destroy it."

You think I'm joking. But sometimes, only black humour can get at the awkward truth.

You see, I don't know if anyone really watches Citizen Kane any more - so that its stretching of space works like music on our pulse. Rather, it's become like the Tower of London - a derelict piece of real estate made more or less credible, worthy and entertaining by the hype of the various Beefeaters who conduct the tour. And in the case of Kane, the Beefeaters are Callow, Bogdanovich, McBride, Brady, Rosenbaum, Carringer and myself, plus the sardonic accounts by Welles himself, a man as good at advertising as he was at magic. The film has become so venerable and celebrated, it hardly has air now to work as a movie.

There is a rhythm in the history of a movie. A great part of the arc of Kane - its soaring across the brightest heaven of invention - is that the picture came top in Sight & Sound's polling of critics in l962, l972, l982 and l992. I would be surprised, supposing another poll takes place in 2002, if Kane was not still the champion of champions. For I have to say - no matter how poorly this reflects upon the medium of film - that I cannot see how anything as large and profound, as modern or entertaining, is likely to be made in the next two or three years. Welles is film's Shakespeare - but look what centuries of that eminence have done to Shakespeare in the minds of the young.

Here's another curious thing about Kane's history: Sight & Sound conducted its first poll in 1952, at which time Citizen Kane did not figure. (You may be interested to learn that in '52, the champion films were Bicycle Thieves, City Lights, The Gold Rush, Battleship Potemkin, Louisiana Story, Intolerance, Greed, Le Jour se Leve, The Passion of Joan of Arc, Brief Encounter, Le Million and La Regle du Jeu.)

No one needed to withdraw Citizen Kane in 1952. The way of the world then was that the only place to see films was in cinemas booked out with new pictures. There was no video; there was little yet in the way of films on television; there was only the Classic art-house circuit that offered "old" films in repertory. And Citizen Kane had been a commercial flop in 1941. It was true that the few books on film spoke warmly of Kane, but it was largely unknown, and effectively beyond recovery.

In short, ladies and gentlemen, it was just about the most desirable film I could imagine when, one day in the mid-1950s, the Classic in Tooting, elected to revive it. I saw it there - alone. I was probably 14 or so, but I was terrified, because I had never been so moved by the medium, and had never seen my hideous future so clearly.

Of course, such a reversal of cultural order is fanciful: how could we pay a police force to stamp out every video? But imagine for a moment the desire that might ensue, the rage at being thwarted or forbidden. Consider the stories that might circulate underground about this great, great work. As it is, today, that is how we feel about The Other Side of the Wind, a Welles film never quite finished, but likely to find some release by 2002. That is sexy, and it may be years before we find the wit to see that the unseen Wind is also a bit of a mess.

But Kane now is like the wreck of a forgotten tycoon who cannot quite find the right word to say before he expires.

Citizen Kane (U) is out now

Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film Ridley Scott reveals truth behind casting decisions of Exodus
Arts and Entertainment
An unseen image of Kurt Cobain at home featured in the film 'Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck'
filmThe singers widow and former bandmates have approved project
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden and Edwina Currie are joining the I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here! camp
Arts and Entertainment
George Mpanga has been shortlisted for the Critics’ Choice prize
Arts and Entertainment
Roisin, James and Sanjay in the boardroom
tvReview: This week's failing project manager had to go
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
A comedy show alumni who has gone on to be a big star, Jon Stewart
tvRival television sketch shows vie for influential alumni
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Arts and Entertainment
Image has been released by the BBC
Arts and Entertainment
Will there ever be a Friends reunion?
Harry Hill plays the Professor in the show and hopes it will help boost interest in science among young people
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
A Van Gogh sold at Sotheby’s earlier this month
Arts and Entertainment

MusicThe band accidentally called Londoners the C-word

Arts and Entertainment
It would 'mean a great deal' to Angelina Jolie if she won the best director Oscar for Unbroken

Film 'I've never been comfortable on-screen', she says

Arts and Entertainment
Winnie the Pooh has been branded 'inappropriate' in Poland
Arts and Entertainment
Lee Evans is quitting comedy to spend more time with his wife and daughter

Arts and Entertainment
American singer, acclaimed actor of stage and screen, political activist and civil rights campaigner Paul Robeson (1898 - 1976), rehearses in relaxed mood at the piano.
filmSinger, actor, activist, athlete: Paul Robeson was a cultural giant. But prejudice and intolerance drove him to a miserable death. Now his story is to be told in film...
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is dominating album and singles charts worldwide

Arts and Entertainment
Kieron Richardson plays gay character Ste Hay in Channel 4 soap Hollyoaks

Arts and Entertainment
Midge Ure and Sir Bob Geldof outside the Notting Hill recording studios for Band Aid 30

Arts and Entertainment
Look out: Broad shoulders take Idris Elba’s DCI John Luther a long way
tvIdris Elba will appear in two special episodes for the BBC next year
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

    Christmas Appeal

    Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
    Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

    Is it always right to try to prolong life?

    Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

    What does it take for women to get to the top?

    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
    Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

    Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

    Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
    French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

    French chefs campaign against bullying

    A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

    Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
    Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

    Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

    Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
    Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

    Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

    Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
    Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

    Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

    The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
    Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

    Sarkozy returns

    The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
    Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

    Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

    Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
    Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

    Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

    Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game
    There's a Good Girl exhibition: How female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising

    In pictures: There's a Good Girl exhibition

    The new exhibition reveals how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
    UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover - from advent calendars to doll's houses

    UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover

    It worked with cupcakes, doughnuts and macarons so no wonder someone decided to revamp the humble biscuit