Star Trek and Citizen Kane share a few, fascinating connections.
Star Trek isn’t the only popular culture phenomenon celebrating an anniversary in 2021. Orson Welles’ magnum opus Citizen Kane is 80 years old.
Frequently cited as “the first truly modern movie” and the greatest U.S. film ever made, Citizen Kane continues to captivate audiences. Its cinematic innovations, intriguing narrative structure, and bravura performance from director and co-writer Welles in the title role make it a classic.
But apart from sharing an anniversary year, what do Star Trek and Citizen Kane have to do with each other? The connections are few, but fascinating. Whether they add up to any grand, larger design is up for you to decide, just as viewers must decide whether the word “Rosebud” explains Charles Foster Kane’s life.
1. The son of Citizen Kane’s co-writer co-wrote a Star Trek episode
If you’ve seen the Netflix movie Mank, you know something about the life of Herman J. Mankiewicz, who shared screen credit and the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay with Orson Welles for Citizen Kane.
A quarter century later, Don Mankiewicz, one of Herman’s three children, wrote the story and co-wrote the script for “Court Martial” in Star Trek’s first season.
Not altogether unlike Citizen Kane, “Court Martial” is about a search for truth from competing narratives, and features a man who aspired to be great brought low.
Perhaps Don Mankiewicz wanted to subtly evoke his father’s masterpiece in his sole Star Trek script?
2. The editor of Citizen Kane directed Star Trek: The Motion Picture
Orson Welles hired a young film editor named Robert Wise to edit Citizen Kane. Wise’s work earned him an Academy Award nomination. He also edited—and, some claim, ruined—Welles’ next film, The Magnificent Ambersons (1942).
Wise soon became a director. Remembered best for helming West Side Story (1961) and The Sound of Music (1965), he also directed the sci-fi classic The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), and beamed into the Star Trek universe in 1979 to direct the Enterprise’s first voyage onto the silver screen.
The Fifty-Year Mission (Gross & Altman, p. 336) quotes Wise:
"From the beginning I liked the idea of doing Star Trek. It was really the fascination and the desire to do a film that dealt with the experience of being in space."
On his Citizen Kane Minute podcast, Rob Kelly and guests frequently remind listeners Citizen Kane is a film full of special effects—sights and lights moviegoers had never before seen.
One can’t help but wonder whether and how Wise’s experiences cutting Welles’ movie shaped his direction of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, another attempt to give audiences a startingly new visual experience.
3. The creative force behind Citizen Kane promoted Star Trek: TMP
When marketer Merv Bloch wanted “an important voice” to narrate the trailer for Star Trek’s first big screen adventure, he turned to the inimitable and impressive voice of Orson Welles.
Welles’ work on the trailer is nothing more than a statement of the movie’s tag line, a recitation of the cast and characters’ names, and a reading of the title and top-line credits. But Welles, being Welles, can’t help but infuse his few words with an air of mystery and anticipation entirely appropriate to the occasion.
The Collecting Trek blog doesn’t think much of the trailer, and Star Trek writer Howard Weinstein agrees, telling the blogger it was “miserable.” But because it’s graced by one of Hollywood’s most legendary voices, I think it deserves some respect!
In their anniversary years, its clear both Star Trek and Citizen Kane will loom large for decades to come. Who knows whether more connections between the two will emerge?
Maybe the Discovery’s sentient computer will skip Buster Keaton on the crew’s next movie night and show Citizen Kane instead!