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Mike Lunsford

January 24, 2010

The Off Season: Going on a search for ‘Rosebud’

The following story should come with a “spoiler alert,” one of those pulsating red neon scroll bars that allows the reader to know that the writer is about to give away some critical piece of information — a joke’s punch line, a novel’s resolution, a movie whodunnit’s killer…

If you have never seen the classic film, “Citizen Kane,” and you don’t want to get the lowdown on it, kindly move now to the lottery information on page 2. I had never heard of “Citizen Kane” until I took a course in mass media during my freshman year at Indiana State. My instructor, Gary Steinke, did for me, as my students would now say, a “solid,” by introducing me to that film, which was recently, once again, named the all-time greatest movie by the American Film Institute, if such rankings really matter.

I loved the movie from that first time I saw it, its incredible deep-focused black-and-white images flickering away from one reel to the next as I sat absorbed in my cramped oak student desk in a second-floor Dreiser Hall classroom. I’ll leave its merits for others to argue; what interested me most then, and still intrigues me now, is Kane’s sled, his now iconic “Rosebud.”

To make a long movie short, “Kane” is the story of Charles Foster Kane, a multi-millionaire publisher. The fictional character was supposedly based on the very real newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst, who forbade anyone in his presence to even mention it. As the film begins, Kane dies in the icy bedroom of his cavernous mansion, Xanadu. Before he expires, he drops the snow globe (it was his second wife’s) he has been holding and croaks the word, “Rosebud.”

Kane’s final whisper sets the film’s plot into motion as a reporter leaves no stone unturned in an attempt to discover what the dying man really meant. He never finds his answer, but in the movie’s final scene the viewer sees Rosebud consigned to the flames of Xanadu’s furnace, nothing but a piece of worthless trash amidst a sea of the old man’s endless collections. The sled was just a tiny bit of Kane’s life, yet, perhaps the only enduring happy memory of his childhood

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