Film Review: Citizen Trump
How “Citizen Kane” Explains Donald Trump
Robert Orlando’s 2020 documentary shows Trump’s favorite film is a road map to his methods
Donald Trump was delivering remarks when a Secret Service agent told him shots were fired outside. They needed to move.
“Excuse me?’’ Trump asked. “Oh.’’ He walked out of his press conference, returning soon after.
Anxious reporters peppering him with questions, Trump, unmoved, wanted to get back to his agenda: “Do I seem rattled?’ The world’s always been a dangerous place… I didn’t even think about not coming back.’’
In “Citizen Trump: A One Man Show,’’ Robert Orlando compares Donald Trump to the subject of their favorite film, the 1941 classic “Citizen Kane.”
“Trump knew from early on that he who controls the story controls the world,’’ Orlando argues.
With his combination of compelling graphic art, classic film techniques, and analysis, Orlando is all about the story, showing how all the pieces connect: Then concluding with a series of questions to make you ponder.
The late Jerry Lewis, in one his last interviews in 2015, told EWTN News’ Raymond Arroyo, that Trump was “great… Because he’s a showman, and we’ve never had a showman in the president’s chair.”
When Arroyo pointed out Ronald Reagan was an actor, Lewis said his old friend Reagan was “different,’’ long preoccupied with politics. For Trump, “the show,’’ one big ongoing performance, shaped his public persona and narrative.
The one thing Trump always needs, according to his first wife, Ivana, is “Attention. He needs a lot of attention.’’
Showmen are either at the center of the stage, putting the pieces together, or both. Trump, like the Charles Foster Kane character, is always focused on the show, even judging potential cabinet members on whether they have “the right look” for the particular role they will play.
As a teenager, Trump considered spending his life as a “filmmaker’’ or movie mogul. He also wanted to attend the famed USC film school before following his father into real estate.
“I was attracted to the glamour of the movies, and I admired guys like Sam Goldwyn, Darryl Zanuck and most of all Louis B. Mayer,” Trump writes in his 1987 bestseller “Trump: The Art of the Deal.”
In a February 2020 rally in Colorado Springs, Colorado, Trump began asking his fans why “Parasite,’’ a South Korean film, won the Academy Award for Best Picture. He started asking about classic movies, adding “Let’s get ‘Gone With the Wind’ back, please? ‘Sunset Boulevard.’ So many great movies.”
Let’s go on with the show
Orlando explains how “the show’’ drives Trump’s story, actions, and goals just as it shapes the media mogul at the heart of “Citizen Kane.” Both “Citizen Kane’’ and “Citizen Trump’’ star a big, loud, and proud protagonist:
- “He knew how to win the media,’’ Orlando says of Trump and the Charles Foster Kane character. “He learned early on that stories always need conflict, a hero, a victim, and a villain… Like Kane, he knew how to stir up a crowd and put on a show.’’
- Both Trump and Kane would perfect the role of “anti-hero,’’ not always being more morally upstanding but casting themselves as the brave battering ram to knock down the doors of a corrupt system.
- Whoever controls the narrative and agenda holds real political power, both learned: “Every hero needs an enemy, real or imagined.’’
- Four years ago, Trump hired Steve Bannon, a film documentary maker, and Roger Ailes, the founder of Fox News, to help him win the White House. They built on a narrative he’d been advancing since the 1980s.
- Just as Trump had his base chanting “lock her up,’’ Kane delivers his stump speech in a similar tone, vowing to have his political foe investigated and convicted. Trump “thinks more like a TV critic than a political analyst.’’
- Both Trump and Kane had their humiliating and humbling headlines related to women and brushes with losing everything.
- In “How to Get Rich,’’ Trump argues reading Carl Jung taught him the importance of “creating a persona,’’ but cautions you don’t want to become the persona.
- Like an episode of “House of Cards,’’ Trump will play his part. At rallies or other events, Trump then seems to “break the fourth wall,’’ of theater, speaking directly to his audience, revealing his commentary and unscripted thoughts on the big show going on around them.
- Both Trump and Kane learned the glory of achieving great goals and the humiliation of being humbled. Orlando tells the story of Trump pointing out a homeless man and saying the homeless man was worth more money because he didn’t have the $900 million debt Trump amassed when his casino deals went bad.
- “Citizen Kane’’ starts and ends with reporters trying to figure out the meaning of Kane’s dying words, “Rosebud,’’ while Orlando shows reporters getting frantic about the meaning of Trump’s “Covfefe’’ Tweet.
Trump and Kane as molders of media
Orlando has a history of studying larger than life bold leaders. He previously chronicled the partnership of Ronald Reagan and St. John Paul the Great in 2019’s “The Divine Plan,’’ and is also the director of “Silence Patton’’ and “A Polite Bribe’’ on the life of the Apostle Paul.
“In early spring, at the height of the COVID outbreak in New York City, severe bronchial issues stopped me in my tracks,’’ Orlando explains. “I tested negative for the virus, but other family members did not. We weathered the storm physically, but I also was forced to temporarily close my company and put other projects on hold. As was the case for so many Americans, the imposed downtime became a time of self-reflection.’’
Orlando has watched “Citizen Kane’’ dozens of times and taught a course on it in film school.
Watching it again during the lockdown, “I had an epiphany. The parallels between Charles Foster Kane and our current president astounded me. How had I not seen this before? Donald Trump — not as a for-or-against politician, but as a media persona — is a modern-day, real-life Citizen Kane.”
Even more intriguing? When Orlando discovered Citizen Kane is Trump’s favorite film, he dug deeper. Has Trump modeled his own life after the main character?
Orlando shows Trump building his brand as a similar “anti-hero” standing up for “the forgotten men, steer the country through a pandemic, a market crash, and fight for the American soul.”
Is this a pro-Trump or anti-Trump film? Neither. Orlando, like the reporter in the movie, is on a quest to understand what makes Trump tick.
“For me, the riddle of the Citizen Kane story was not only the traditional one about the sled ‘Rosebud’ and its hidden secret of Kane’s life,’’ Orlando says. “For me, the real question became, if Trump’s life is indeed an echo of Kane — in wealth, media-savvy, and ambition — might he also be facing a similar tragic ending?”
You are what you consume
In 2012, Trump told Movieline his top five films were “Citizen Kane,” “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly,” “Gone With the Wind,” “GoodFellas” and “The Godfather.”
Trump also speaks highly of “Air Force One’’ where Harrison Ford performs the role of president with a definite tough action hero feel.
“Citizen Kane was really about accumulation,” Trump said in a 2002 interview. “At the end of the accumulation, you see what happens, and it’s not necessarily all positive.”
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