Film – Bolen
Citizen Kane film analysis
Citizen Kane by Orson Welles is often considered the most influential American movie ever made. The tale of a newspaper mogul’s rise to fame and fortune and eventual crash, the storyline is not as much groundbreaking as the use of innovative film techniques. Welles’ creative of cinematography offers additional insight onto the life of Charles Foster Kane. Only 25 years old when the film was produced in 1941, Orson Welles paired with older cinematographer Gregg Toland. Robert Carringer writes about the collaboration between the two. “What attracted Welles to Orson is clear enough: his long year of experience, the prestigious stature of most of his assignments, a recent Academy Award […] and a reputation for unconventionality” (Carringer). Known for modifying his equipment, taking risks, and experimenting to get new techniques down, Toland was the ideal partner for the ultra-creative Welles. Neither wanted to take the conventional approach to producing Citizen Kane. From the start of the filming process they were introducing new ideas and methods, from high contrast lighting to low-angle camera setups to unusually long takes. One of the men from their camera crew remembers; “the whole purpose of this early shooting was to ‘prove certain new techniques’” (Carringer). Although both Welles and Toland had used a few of the techniques before, Citizen Kane was the first movie that was recognized for its successful utilization of so many new ideas.
Two revolutionary techniques are used frequently in the film: deep focus cinematography and deep space composition. Both are key in portraying the ebb and flow of Charles Kane’s power and confidence. According to the Looking at Movies textbook, deep focus cinematography puts all three planes in perfect focus (Barsam). In Citizen Kane, the very first flashback to Kane’s childhood displays this technique. In this famous scene Charles Kane’s parents sit with a young Mr. Thatcher. Outside the window, young Charles is in perfect focus playing on his sled. The film audience watches Charles continue to enjoy his time outdoors as his mother, in contrast, signs away his freedom. Another significant use of deep focus cinematography occurred in the scenes surrounding Susan Alexander’s attempted suicide. When Kane and the doctor break in to Susan’s door the camera shows the bottle of pills in the foreground by her bed, Susan herself, and the two men, all in perfect focus. As Kane moves closer to Susan Alexander, he and the medicine bottle are equally illuminated and in focus, raising the question of how Kane himself had a hand in her suicide. Deep space composition, on the other hand, allows the filmmaker to manipulate the sizes of objects and people in the frame they are shooting. When an older Charles Kane meets with Mr. Thatcher to discuss his financial position deep space composition is key as Kane moves from the foreground to the background. When Kane moves to the windows his frame shrinks and he appears miniscule in comparison with the room and other characters. Similarly to the scene from his childhood where his mother gives him to Thatcher, Kane is once again having his freedom signed away. Toland and Welles do not rely solely on deep focus or deep space to expose Kane’s situation. In the opening shot the camera slowly pans around the abandoned Xanadu. It is apparent that Kane has an immense amount of power but also an