Elements of Film
14 May 2012
1) “Citizen Kane” is one of the most influential ever made. Discuss this statement.
Orson Welles creating and making Citizen Kane can be seen as the pinnacle point of his career in filmmaking. This film was made during the black and white era, and Welles took different aspects of the film and made it visually stunning and consuming to the audience. Through the cinematography, storytelling techniques and special effects, Welles created an influential movie that was ahead of its time. Louis Giannetti (2001) explains that Welles used a technique called deep-focus photography which “involves the use of wide-angle lenses, which tend to exaggerate the distances between people- an appropriate symbolic analogue for a story dealing with separation, alienation, and loneliness” (490). This gets the audience involved in the information that is being given to them during a certain shot. Giannetti uses the example of Alexander’s suicide attempt, to explain what deep focus actually means. Ginannetti (2011) clarifies this term by saying “the layering of the mise en scene is a visual accusation: (1) the lethal dose was taken by (2) Susan Alexander Kane because of (3) Kane’s inhumanity” (491). The cinematography in Citizen Kane allowed the audience to be engulfed by the how the scenes were shot and the different features that went into it. Another influential part of the film was how the story was told and the special effects used during this era. Giannetti explains, “the flashback structure of Citizen Kane allows Welles to leap through time and space, cutting various periods of Kane’s life without having to adhere to a strict chronology” (507). The sound and storytelling combined together made the movie entrancing for the audience, the older Kane got, the darker the music became, leading the audience to understand the story in a visual stunning way. In the end, “Welles was one of the great lyricists of the cinema, and his stylistic rapture is best illustrated by the ornate visuals, the dazzling traveling shots, the richly textured soundtracks, […] the highly fragmented narrative, and the profusion of symbolic motifs” (514). This is the reason why so many movie producers, writers, directors, etc believe that “Citizen Kane” is the most influential movie ever made.
2) What had Orson Welles done in his first 23 years of life to warrant the Hollywood Film Industry offering complete creative control to a first time filmmaker?
Welles first travelled to Europe in search of artistic creativity throughout Ireland. It wasn’t until he was casted in Jew Suss, that his name and acting skills became really known. He got the role in playing the Duke by saying that he was an actor and a star; therefore, Gates decided to put him in this film. Fortunately, his acting in the movie paid of actually making him known in the cinematic and entertainment industry. From there, Welles returned to the United States and was offered a writing project with Everybody’s Shakespeare. He also starred in a couple of off Broadway productions getting his foot even more into the entertainment industry. Besides being an actor, Welles also was a radio actor where he eventually became instantly famous. He did the adaptation of The War of World by H.G. Wells, where his creativity with the story of using fact and fiction to gain the attention of the listeners, which he easily did. He was so successful with this performance that he actually had the public believe these were true events occurring. Consequently, because of his famous performance of the radio show, he gained numerous offers from the Hollywood industry. Now that he was introduced to Hollywood because of his creativity and acting abilities, he would eventually make his first movie Citizen Kane, which would be overwhelmingly successful.
3) Pick an extended scene or sequence from “Citizen Kane” and discuss the storytelling technique by analyzing any combination of its component parts (direction, writing, performance, cinematography, production design, art direction, editing, sound, score, etc).
The opening of Citizen Kane, I believe has a unique style to because you don’t really see this type of visual creativity during this particular movie era. The movie starts in darkness with the start of eerie music, leading the next screen shot of an old ramshackle fence. The camera slowly glides up the fence where there is a close-up of an old “no trespassing” sign. The little lighting combined with the cold and mysterious music, allows the audience to want to see what behind the fence, and question the reasons for why the place looks like this. The camera continues to dissolves into even more images of what lies behind the old fence. When the audience finally gets to see what is behind the fence, it is an image of Xanadu, which is Kane’s rundown house. The scene shot is of the rusted gates and in the far back, the house is seen as dark, gloomy and with fog covering. This creates the atmosphere of uncertainty of what lies within the house. As the music grows more intense and the images keep suspending into each other, the camera uses crane shots to focus closer on the castle. Once there is any extreme close-up on the house with one light on in the window. Everything else in the scene is shown through low-key lighting except for the light in the window until it is quickly turned off for a brief moment. The window is quickly relit but the shot is from inside of the castle and not outside. Now the audience is curious to see what exactly going on. Moments later, the scene is now of snow falling transforming into a snow globe in the hands of a man. The special effects used within this brief scene have great significance of things to come. The snow globe drops and there is a close-up of Kane saying “Rosebud” as it falls and breaks. The audience is now feeling uneasy and trying to figure out the significance of rosebud. From there, there is a focus on the reflection of the broken glass where the audience can see the nurse walk in the room and pronounce him dead. This brief opening sets the dramatic plot for what is to come. The dramatization, special effects, different screen shots, and the music create and entrancing plot for the audience.