Citizen Kane

     The classic masterpiece, Citizen Kane (1941), is probably the world's most
famous and highly rated film, with its many remarkable scenes, cinematic and
narrative techniques and innovations. The director, star, and producer were all
the same individual - Orson Welles (in his film debut at age 25), who
collaborated with Herman J. Mankiewicz on the script and with Gregg Toland as
cinematographer. Within the maze of its own aesthetic, Citizen Kane develops two
interesting themes. The first concerns the debasement of the private personality
of the public figure, and the second deals with the crushing weight of
materialism. Taken together, these two themes comprise the bitter irony of an

American success story that ends in futile nostalgia, loneliness, and death. The
fact that the personal theme is developed verbally through the characters while
the materialistic theme is developed visually, creating a distinctive stylistic
counterpoint. It is against the counterpoint that the themes unfold within the
structure of a mystery story. Its theme is told from several perspectives by
several different characters and is thought provoking. The tragic story is how a
millionaire newspaperman, who idealistically made his reputation as the champion
of the underprivileged, becomes corrupted by a lust for wealth, power and
immortality. Kane's tragedy lies in his inability to experience any real emotion
in his human relationships. The apparent intellectual superficiality of Citizen

Kane can be traced to the shallow quality of Kane himself. Even when Kane is
seen as a crusading journalist battling for the lower classes, overtones of
self-idolatry mar his actions. His clever ironies are more those of the
exhibitionist than the crusader. His second wife complains that Kane never gave
her anything that was part of him, only material possessions that he might give
a dog. His best friend, Jedediah Leland, was a detached observer functioning as
a sublimated conscience remarks to the reporter that Kane never gave anything
away: "he left you a tip". In each case, Kane's character is described
in materialistic terms. What Kane wanted - love, emotional loyalty, the
unspoiled world of his boyhood, symbolized by "rosebud", he was unable
to provide for those around him, or buy for himself. The intriguing opening is
filled with hypnotic dissolves from one sinister, mysterious image to the next,
moving forward closer and closer. The film's first sight is a "No

Trespassing" sign hanging on a giant gate in the night's foggy mist,
illuminated by the moonlight. The camera pans up the chain-link mesh gate, which
dissolves and changes into images of great iron flowers or oak leaves on the
heavy gate. On the crest of the gate is a single, silhouetted, wrought iron
"K" initial. The gate surrounds a distant, forbidding-looking castle
with towers. The fairy-tale castle is situated on a man-made mountain, obviously
the estate of a wealthy man. The same shots are repeated in reverse at the very
end of the film. The initial and concluding clash of realism and expressionism
suggests in a subtle way, the theme of Citizen Kane. The intense material
reality of the fence dissolves into the fantastic unreality of the castle, and
in the end, the mystic pretension of the castle dissolves into the mundane
substance of the fence. Matter has come full circle from its original quality to
the grotesque baroque of its excess. As each flashback unfolds, the visual
scenario of Citizen Kane orchestrates the dialogue. A universe of ceilings
dwarfs Kane's personal stature. He becomes the prisoner of his possessions, the
ornament of his furnishings, and the fiscal instrument of his collections. His
booming voice is muffled by walls, carpets, furniture, hallways, stairs the vast
recesses of useless space. Gregg Toland's camera set-ups are designed to frame
characters in the oblique angles of light and shadow created by their artificial
environment. There are no luminous close-ups in which faces are detached from
their backgrounds. When characters move across rooms, the floors and ceilings
move with them. This technique which is highly unusual, tends to dehumanize
characters by reducing them to fixed ornaments in a shifting architecture. The
choice of camera position was an important factor in getting across artistic and
psychological effects. To the photograph a person or object from below, distorts
that object. It tends to elongate a person, making him seem more important. It
also intimidates the audience, since it is in the inferior position of looking
up. The scene gives an added power to the person on the screen. Kane is indeed
bloated and enlarged by his material possessions, and in comparison, the
audience feels very small. Yet it is precisely his excessiveness, which has
distorted him and made him grotesque to our sensibilities. Kane is a selfish,
greedy man, and his actions have distorted his life and appearance. The movie is
a visual masterpiece, a kaleidoscope of daring angles and breathtaking images
that had never been attempted before. Toland perfected a deep-focus technique
that allowed him to photograph backgrounds with as much clarity as foregrounds.

Such as the scene where Kane's parents discuss his future while, as seen through
the window, the child plays outside in the snow. There's also an extremely
effective low-angle shot late in the film where Kane trashes Susan's room. Sound
montage is used extensively with the flashback scenes to denote the interval of
time within related scenes. A character will begin a sentence and complete it
weeks, months, or years later in a different location. On occasion, one
character will begin the sentence and another will complete it in the same
manner. This sound thread results in a constriction of time and an elimination
of transitional periods of rest and calm. Aside from the aesthetic dividends of
pacing and high lighting, Citizen Kane's sound montage reinforces the unnatural
tension of the central character's driving, joyless ambition. One brilliant use
of sound montage, is when Kane and his wife are arguing in a tent surrounded by
hundreds of Kane's guests. A shrill scream punctuates the argument with a
persistent, sensual rhythm. It is clear that some sexual outrage is being
committed. When the parakeet screams at the appearance of Kane, the sound
linkage in tone but not in time, further dehumanizes Kane's environment. In the
baroque world that he had created, Kane is isolated from even the most dubious
form of humanity. In all respects, the techniques used in Citizen Kane are a
reflection and projection of the inhuman quality of its protagonist. In the way
the techniques are used to distort and magnify the characters in the film, we
understand what the film is trying to get across. Citizen Kane represents an
intense vision of American life, a life in which materialistic elements are
distorted and magnified at the expense of human potentialities. The implied
absence of free will in the development of Kane's character is thematically
constant with the moral climate of his environment. As the techniques used have
not been limited in form, so too, Kane's magnitude unchecked by limiting
principles or rooted traditions, become the cause of spiritual.