Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Final Exam: Citizen Kane

Georgia Gordon

“Citizen Kane” is one of the most influential films ever made. Discuss this statement.

Citizen Kane is a timeless movie, more or less for its advances in cinematic elements.  Arguably the most important advance in film at this time that Orson Welles was able to show with the world with Citizen Kane was that of deep focus
Along with the film technique of deep focus, Welles and Gregg Toland, his cinematographer also incorporated a technique known as “wipe”, along new and interesting camera angles.

Orson Welles had been given more power over casting than was heard of at that time, and it is ended up being a good thing.  The acting from his “mercury cast” worked well with the film techniques used by Welles and Toland.  Even though none of the actors had ever acted in a Hollywood movie before that, they had excellent theatrical stage training, which worked well for the mise en scene of the film.

There was also creative storytelling in this film as well.  The movie is almost that of a biographical film, exploring Kane’s entire life.  As the story goes on, and time passes for the movie viewers, time passes in the movie as well as Charles Kane ages.  However, the movie is not told in perfect chronological order.  Instead, certain segments overlap and different stories and perspectives of Kane are told (through his wife etc.)  The story describes Kane as a complex man with a lot of depth, so it is no wonder the viewer is left with questions at the end. 

Citizen Kane, with its unique film techniques of shadow, and lighting, is argued to be the first film noir, and is therefore important just in itself, but it also gets its credit as one of the most influential films ever made by other film techniques, style, and creative storytelling.  Welles really stepped out of the box for this one and took a chance, which paid off.

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?

By his early twenties, Orson Welles had more experience in theater production than most others his age.  After directing notable theater productions such as An Innovative Adaptation of Macbeth and The Cradle Will Rock, Welles directed and narrated a radio adaptation of H.G. Well’s novel The War of the Worlds, which he performed for Welles’ radio drama series Mercury Theater on the Air.  This particular project became a hit, boosting him to a higher level in the industry and he was almost instantaneously recognized by Hollywood.  Because of his impressive previous work, he was given complete creative control by the Hollywood Film Industry for his first film, Citizen Kane.

Pick an extended scene or sequence 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 scene I am choosing to analyze is when Charles is shown as a little boy playing in the snow outside with his sled, which he named Rosebud.  In this powerful scene, we see a young boy who is content with being by himself.  Even though there are no other children to play with him at that time, and his parents don’t seem to have a lot of money, he seems really happy and at peace.  If we backtrack a little bit to where his parents are in the house, we see the mother signing the paper, Charles’ father, Mr. Thatcher, and Charles through the window having fun in the snow.  This use of deep focus (Charles in the background through the window) is one of the creative cinematic techniques I discussed earlier.  For example, typically the shot would be just the mother signing the paper.  However, in this case, we get to see everybody, and everybody is in focus.  This gives the audience a chance of where to look.  Then, when they are all outside, the whole focus of the photography is on the boy, and everyone is staged around him.  At the end of the scene, we can see that it was edited to have a close up of the mother, then the mother and son, and then down to just the son.  This concludes the dramatic focus on the boy.  After this, the close-up “dissolves” from the boy to his sled, rosebud, which plays a very important role in the film.  The sound that transitions this scene to the scene of the boy and Mr. Thatcher at Christmas is that of what sounds like sleigh bells, as Charles is opening up his Christmas present, which looks to be a nice sled.   Lastly, the writing was also important for me in this scene.  It is hard to figure out the mother when she says “I have had his stuff packed for a week” to Mr. Thatcher as she is looking out the window.  This prompted me to evaluate whether she was happy the boy was leaving, or if it was too sad and she just did not want to think about it.  Then, at the end of the scene, we are led in the direction that the husband is not a great father.  This is what the mother leads us to believe, as she says “…Where he can’t get to you anymore”.  This was a powerful scene for me, because it basically set up the whole movie.

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