"There's only one person in the world who's going to decide what I'm going to do and that's me." – Charles Foster Kane
On the film's debut in 1941, the New York Times acknowledged that Citizen Kane was "one of the great (if not the greatest) motion pictures of all time." The paper hedged its bets, however, adding that "it was riding the crest of perhaps the most provocative publicity wave ever to float a motion picture," and that this "pre-ordered a mental attitude." The whirlwind surrounding the making of Citizen Kane is well known. Orson Welles, the brash prodigy of stage and radio, earned the envy and scorn of Hollywood veterans by striding onto the RKO lot with an unprecedented contract awarding him a three-picture deal, a massive budget, and the final cut of his first film—the Holy Grail of filmmaking. The controversial subject of his cinematic debut riled one of the most powerful men in the world, and upset the delicate balance of the studio system. Orson Welles earned every drop of ink written about his impending career in film.
Seventy years later, however, it's clear that the New York Times need not have qualified its glowing review. As Times film critic A.O. Scott recently remarked, "Citizen Kane shows Welles to be a master of genre. It's a newspaper comedy, a domestic melodrama, a gothic romance, and a historical epic." And it is still considered the best film ever made. In 1998, the American Film Institute polled 1,500 film professionals. The result was "100 Years... 100 Movies," and Orson Welles's masterpiece lorded over the list. Ten years later, the AFI commissioned another poll. Citizen Kane retained the top spot. As noted by the late, influential critic Kenneth Tynan, "Nobody who saw Citizen Kane at an impressionable age will ever forget the experience; overnight, the American cinema had acquired an adult vocabulary, a dictionary instead of a phrase book for illiterates."