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Citizen Kane

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Citizen Kane

  1. 1. ‘The greatest film ever’ - Citizen Kane (Orson Welles 1941)In 1998, the American Film Institute put Citizen Kane at the top of its list ofthe one hundred greatest movies of all time. Released in 1941, it was the firstmovie Orson Welles co-wrote, directed, and produced. Welles was onlytwenty-five at the time and widely considered to be a theatrical genius.Citizen Kane didn’t receive the viewership or accolades it deserved until the1950s, when the film’s considerable innovations became clearer. Thecinematographer, Gregg Toland, who went on to achieve great fame, usedtechniques such as deep focus, low camera angles, and optical illusions to tellKane’s story. For the first time, ceilings were visible in several scenes, createdby draping black fabric over the lights and microphones that hung from the topof the sound stage. Toland’s skilful application of new or rarely usedtechniques proved revolutionary. Some of the film’s innovations that hadcontributed to its commercial failure, including the non-linear narrative andsombre conclusion, eventually set Citizen Kane apart from films with moretraditional structures and happy endings. Along with its remarkable cinematicachievements, what ultimately elevated Citizen Kane to such revered heightswas the character of Kane himself. Despite the reporters attempts to uncoverthe real Kane, Kane remains an enigma. The depth of Kanes isolation andloneliness results in a portrait that has haunted and will continue to hauntgenerations of audiences.When Orson Welles released Citizen Kane it lost money at the box office. Thepublic wasn’t ready for such an experimental approach to film form. But timehas shown that Welles did something more important than just pleasing anaudience. He changed the face of filmmaking in Hollywood by pushing thetechniques in new directions and challenging the rule of “invisibility.”Citizen Kane made cinematic advances on many fronts, and its most significantcontribution to cinematography came from the use of a technique known asdeep focus. Deep focus refers to having everything in the frame, even thebackground, in focus at the same time, as opposed to having only the peopleand things in the foreground in focus. The deep focus technique requires thecinematographer to combine lighting, composition, and type of camera lens toproduce the desired effect. With deep focus, a filmmaker can showcaseoverlapping actions, and mise-en-scène (the physical environment in which afilm takes place) becomes more critical. Effectively manipulating the mise-en-
  2. 2. scène for deep focus actively engages the whole space of the frame withoutleaving the viewer confused. Deep focus is most effective in scenes that depictKane’s loss of control and his personal isolation because it gives the audience aclear view of the space Kane commands as well as the space over which he hasno power.The cinematic style of Citizen Kane, especially its use of extreme deep-focusphotography, was ground-breaking and innovative as the film’s narrativetechnique. At the time, the prevailing Hollywood style was characterized bydiffuse lighting and shots with a very shallow depth of field. It was Welles’cinematographer, Gregg Toland, who pioneered this use of deep-focus.Despite Hollywood’s standard of using apertures of between f2.3 and f3.2 forinterior shots, nearly all of the film was shot at f8 or smaller.Welless achievements in this film marked a new direction in cinema. Manycritics argue that Citizen Kane, with its inventive use of lighting and shadow, isthe first film noir, or at least the direct predecessor of noir, a genre thatemploys dark, moody atmosphere to augment the often violent or mysteriousevents taking place.In Citizen Kane, Welles and Toland blend camera movement with the drama ofthe scenes, and use it more spectacularly. They extend the device in twodirections, and in doing so they challenge Classical Hollyood’s convention ofInvisible Style. A good example is the introduction to El Rancho, where SusanAlexander works as a singer. The camera begins on a sign outside therestaurant and then climbs upward to the roof. Then it glides forward, throughanother sign, and approaches a skylight. When it reaches the skylight, Wellesuses an “invisible” dissolve to cut to a high-angle long-shot of the interior of ElRancho. This camera movement calls attention to itself as a spectacle. Not onlyis it unusual to begin a scene by climbing up a building and floating across itsroof, the cut through the glass window (skylight) is obviously impossible.Welles uses the crane shot to blend a miniature model of the outside of therestaurant with an actual set. The shot establishes space and sets up the scene,but it does this in an overt and noticeable way.
  3. 3. Is Citizen Kane the Greatest Film Ever Made? (Orson Welles, 1941)What is viewed by many in the critical community as the greatest achievementin the history of cinema, is seen by others as anything from average todownright boring. Thus this is not an objective question and is subject toindividual opinion rather than an outright statement of fact.Your task is to write a 1,000 word film review, the title of your film review isthe question above. Your job is to write a well-rounded film review, you shouldbe able to show appreciation of the artistic merits of the film my commentingon the use of the micro features in specific scenes. You need to comment onthe narrative techniques used to tell the film story and how this had an impacton you. In addition, I encourage you to constructively air your opinions on anydislikes of the film, but again in doing so, you must refer to specific aspects ofthe film.Below you will find a structure to help you write your review and also possiblediscussion points you may want to cover. There are also clips of the film savedon the Macs.  Opening paragraph – summarise the film and it’s story/plot - give early suggestions about your general view of it  Provide general indications to what you liked and disliked about the use of micro features in the film – ensure that you make clear that this film was ground breaking/ innovative for its time  Become more specific about the positive things you liked about the film. What did you like? Why? Refer to specific scenes/ sequences and their use of the micro features or the use of narrative tools  Discuss the negative things you thought about the film. What didn’t you like? Why? Refer to specific scenes/ sequences and their use of the micro features or the use of narrative tools  Characterization – talk about the characters (what do we really know about Kane?), did you like them? Did the actors play them well? What was it about their portrayal what you liked or didn’t like? Other impressions of the characters, did you feel empathy for certain characters? How? Or Why? Are there certain characters that audience members will not like? Why not?
  4. 4.  Final comments – general comments that summarize your view of the film, and also any moral lessons that you feel came across. Most importantly provide a comment on whether Citizen Kane is the greatest film ever made and whether you can see its influence on contemporary film.Discussion points  Film opening  News Reel as a narrative device  Use of lighting within the film  Flashbacks as narrative devices  Use of deep focus - When Kane’s mother gives him up (you can also refer to other micro features) - Thatcher loses his estate  Cinematography as spectacle  Elliptical editing/ compression of time (there is more than one example)  Montage  Whose perspective was the story told from?

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