Years ago – when I was a teenage film buff, so to speak – I remember reading someone’s description of Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane as “a perfect film.” “Perfect?” I asked myself, “What about that rubber octopus? I’ve never seen anything so phony looking in my life!”
I was thinking, of course, of the rubber octopus we see in Kane‘s “News on the March” segment, the one that appears *swimming* toward us as the narrator (William Alland) portentously describes, “Xanadu’s livestock, the fowl of the air, the fish of the sea….” That octopus is as plainly and outrageously fake as the one Bela Lugosi wrestles in Ed Wood’s Bride of the Monster. It might even be the same one!
Years later, I would realize to what lengths Welles went to make Kane‘s newsreel seem authentic, how the film was scratched and in some shots deliberately misframed, how he got the RKO newsreel department to edit it so it would look like any other newsreel, how he got them to score it with stock music from the RKO library (rather than assigning that part of the scoring to Bernard Herrmann, who scored the rest of the movie), and made generous use of stock footage, just as would be done in a *real* newsreel. That shot of the octopus was most likely something Welles or his editors found in RKO’s stock library. (Much, no doubt, to Welles’ amusement.)
Kane‘s newsreel and its boldly faked authenticity would turn out to be one of the most influential aspects of the film. Woody Allen would construct an entire movie, Zelig, around Welles’ device of having himself (as Kane) appearing in what looks like stock footage of other famous figures. Welles himself would reexamine Kane‘s newsreel – and the whole idea of faked authenticity/authentic fakery – in his documentary-cum-essay, F for Fake. Today, experimental filmmaker Guy Maddin regularly scratches, flashes, and otherwise stresses his footage to make it look like it was shot in the ’20s and ’30s. Similarly, Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez applied computer-generated scratches and splices to the image, and inserted “Reel Missing” title cards and other *mistakes* in their Grindhouse to make it look like an authentic double-feature from the 1970s.
Thus, Kane‘s rubber octopus swims on, forever representing those obviously phony or erroneous elements inserted within the fake to make it look real.