Citizen Kane, 1941

Posted: January 10, 2011 in Uncategorized

One of the most memorable scenes in Citizen Kane was when Charles Foster Kane, as a young man, was discussing his newspaper business with his former guardian, Walter Parks Thatcher. In this scene, the audience begins to understand the personality of Charles Kane. Their conversation reveals that Kane is an extremely confident man (possibly overconfident or arrogant) with an intense and fiery personality. A very famous quote in this scene is when Thatcher tells Kane that his newspaper business cost him one million dollars last year and it would be unwise for him to continue running the newspaper. Kane replies by saying at a rate of losing one million dollar per year, he would have to shut down the company in sixty years. Kane is perfectly aware of how much money he has and it is humorous to see a man not even care to lose one million dollars. In addition to the conversation itself, Orson Welles did a great job with the sounds of the background. For about the first minute of this clip, the workers in the background are going about their business and the audience hears the sounds of them typing. As the conversation becomes more intense, the workers in the background stop their typing and turn to listen. Dropping the background noise changes the tone of the scene completely and the audience becomes even more focused and attentive to the illustrious words of Kane.

(Running a newspaper business)

  Deep Focus

Orson Welles and his cinematographer, Gregg Toland, came up with several new cinematography techniques that have significantly changed the way movies are made today. One of those methods is called “deep focus” which means that every point in the shot has sharp focus. Welles and Toland achieved this with a wide-angle lens to create a large depth-of-field. In the shot above, Kane’s parents, who are inside the house, are in focus as well as Kane himself who is playing in the snow outside. Another way Toland achieved deep focus was by taking two different shots and overlaying them on an optical printer. In the shot taken below, Kane was filmed by himself in sharp focus on the left side and then the other actor was filmed on the right by himself. Then the two shots were combined with both actors in focus.

 Deep focus through superimposing

The way low-angled shots were used in this movie helped Citizen Kane stand out compared to the movies of its time. An issue that Welles had to overcome was the fact that microphones and lights were in the shot when attempting to film from low angles. His solution was to build a ceiling that would drape down and the microphones would be hidden above the cloth. In addition, he cut holes into the floor of the set in order to attain the lowest angles possible. Lighting was also an important aspect of the cinematography in this film. The shot below conveys powerful backlighting which creates a silhouette effect of the actor in front and that person remains anonymous to the viewers. The smoke in the room actually helps to show the light beams that are penetrating into the room. The shot taken of Kane as an old man in front of the mirror is yet another impressive method Toland displays in this movie. Toland was able to position the camera in such a way as to show the multiple reflections of Kane without getting a reflection of the camera in the shot. The symbolic meaning of this shot is to show the reflection of Kane’s life as an old man.

 Low-angle shot

 Backlighting

 Reflecting Effect

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