Challenging Kane



Every ten years since 1952, Sight and Sound, the monthly publication for the British Film Institute, has asked critics and directors to vote for their top ten films of all time. Since 1962, the Orson Welles classic 'Citizen Kane' has won this poll and been declared the greatest ever film but how has it managed to do so? And will a film that was made 71 years ago triumph once more as the magazine conducts the poll again in 2012?

Orson Welles directed 'Citizen Kane' in 1941 when he was just 25 years old. The story of newspaper magnate Charles Foster Kane was interpreted by many as a thinly veiled fictional parody of the real tycoon William Randolph Hearst. Hearst was so enraged by the film that he banned any mention of it from his newspapers and although 'Citizen Kane' was a critical success, it failed to make its money back and faded from view.

Film historian and broadcaster Matthew Sweet investigates how the film's reputation was restored in the 1950s, partly thanks to French critics writing for the Cahiers du Cinema magazine who championed cinema as an art form. He explores how the film's critical reputation continued to go from strength to strength over the next half century.

Matthew is voting for the first time in this year's poll and included 'Citizen Kane' in his top ten. He says: "I couldn't help myself. It's very hard to think of a film that's greater and it's hard to ignore its history of greatness. But mainly I put it there for personal reasons. When I was fifteen I saw 'Citizen Kane' at the Manchester Cornerhouse - sitting on the floor, because too many tickets had been sold. It's the moment, I think, when I started taking cinema seriously."

Helping Matthew unravel the secret of the film's success are the director and friend to Welles Peter Bogdanovich, biographer & critic David Thomson, author of 'Citizen Kane' Professor Laura Mulvey, film-maker Mark Cousins and critic Peter Cowie. Sight and Sound editor Nick James reveals to Matthew the results of the poll and whether 'Citizen Kane' has won again at the end the programme.

Producer: Simon Jacobs

A Unique production for BBC Radio 4.


Matthew Sweet asks if Citizen Kane should again be voted the greatest film ever.