Orson Welles on Where he Found the Confidence to Direct Citizen Kane

Orson Welles on Where he Found the Confidence to Direct Citizen Kane

“Ignorance … sheer ignorance. There is no confidence to equal it. It’s only when you know something about a profession that you are timid or careful.”

Orson Welles


This is Orson Welles’ answer when asked “where he got the confidence as a first-time director to direct a film so radically different from contemporary cinema,” namely, Citizen Kane.

Through ignorance he directed a movie that changed the course of storytelling. Some facts from wikipedia:

  • The film was nominated for Academy Awards in nine categories.
  • It won an Academy Award for Best Writing (Original Screenplay) by Herman Mankiewicz and Welles.
  • Considered by many critics, filmmakers, and fans to be the greatest film ever made.
  • Citizen Kane was voted the greatest film of all time in five consecutive Sight & Sound’s polls of critics.
  • It topped the American Film Institute’s 100 Years, 100 Movies list in 1998
  • It topped AFI’s 2007 update.
  • Citizen Kane is particularly praised for its cinematography, music, and narrative structure, which were innovative for its time.
  • Citizen Kane came after two abortive attempts from Welles to get a project off the ground.
  • Welles was allowed to develop the story without interference, cast his own actors and crew members, and have the privilege of final cut – unheard of at the time for a first-time director.
  • Orson Welles said that his preparation before making Citizen Kane was to watch John Ford’s Stagecoach 40 times. “After dinner every night for about a month, I’d run Stagecoach, often with some different technician or department head from the studio, and ask questions. “How was this done?” “Why was this done?” It was like going to school.”
  • While a critical success, Citizen Kane failed to recoup its costs at the box office.
  • Praise from French critics like Jean-Paul Sartre and André Bazin gave the film an American revival in 1956.

His quote above reminds me of this one from Richard Saul Wurman on selling self discovery instead of expertise.

The scene pictured above is one of my favorites from the movie. So strange to see the main character set completely in shadow like this. Forced me to think about what Welles was saying about the event taking place in this scene.

I wasn’t sure if it would be too old timey to enjoy watching. I was pleasantly surprised.

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Chase, thanks for this post. Citizen Kane is one of my favorite films. It’s like a master class in storytelling and film directing. Every Fall I teach an arts course at my college, and we do a film analysis of CK. Most people have never seen it, but it’s like a treasure box just waiting to be opened.

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