Terry: You make the essential point. Way back when catburglah proposed this thread, the first respondent exclaimed how much fun it was. Over time, one or two members posted slightly different lists, perhaps forgetting an earlier one, possibly having seen a new Welles film or a better print of another. Now we are making it into one of those dreaded "zero sum games" Americans have taken to in the last twenty years or so.
To me, and I think it would have been to Welles, as it seems to be to Lance, the final brilliance of CITIZEN KANE is in its editing, the sheer bursting energy which propels its first hour. Pauline Kael made the point in her early re-evaluation of the film, way back in her unknown days managing the Berkeley Rep, that people from other countries could not quite grasp the wonderful fun (that word again) which Americans might experience watching it. At one level, the quality which impressed me without my knowing quite why, even at the age of nine or ten, was the American exuberance the film generated. I was dazzled by its youth (which was my own within my grasp), and both awed and frightened by its vision of old age. [How true it is!] Only later did I realize that CITIZEN KANE is not just about one American, the guy who won the lottery we dream of, but all Americans, and of course, really, about all human beings. The arc of the film gives us the visual and kinetic equivalent in film time of living a life from childhood to death, with the added advantage or disadvantage of getting more than a peek at what people will say about us, if anything, after we are gone.
It is usually in the editing or the sound (ironically) where some of Welles' later films fail for me, as you describe, Lance. I think it may be that Welles lived his youth at an astonishing clip, so that before he was forty, he seems to have lost the power to express the wonderful, foolish energy of youth. It is as if, with the exception of F FOR FAKE, he is condemning us to live the last half hour of KANE over and over as a film experience. I remember a friend saying to me after seeing the restoration of OTHELLO: "Sad, that at the age of 37, he was finished as a leading man."
Maybe, that's why he kept on with the Magic, maybe that's why Oja Kodar meant so much to him. Magic could charm the child in himself and others (as in F FOR FAKE), and Oja's youth, beauty and artistic zeal buoyed him up. I expect the sudden loss of youth, and its long, slow aftermath, is what he was trying to come to terms with in DON QUIJOTE, certainly in THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND.
I fully agree with you, Lance, that the lists should be fun, and that we should not contend too much over which is "the best."
And though I find, as a son of middle America, more in KANE than you do, Terry, I agree with much of what you say, too. I only hope that all the first time movie reviews you read are not like the one you describe! If so, you would be left with no sense of surprise, scant hope of great expectations.