40s Time Capsule: Citizen Kane (1941)

One of the greatest achievements in cinema during the 40s was Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane (1941). What’s even more amazing is the fact that a first-time director, at the age of 24, and actors that had never worked on a movie before, created one of the most influential movies of cinema’s lifetime. Welles crafted Citizen Kane in a non -linear narrative format. This meant that the story was told in a manner according to character progression and not to time. Citizen Kane starts as a camera pans upwards in front of a fence that reads, “No Trespassing,” and ending the opposite, with the camera panning downwards. But there is a similarity: starting with Kane’s demise and ending with the ramification of Kane’s death.

During these sequences, Welles used a mixture of film reel and matte paintings to show how glamorous of a lifestyle Charles Foster Kane lived, in Xanadu. There are numerous shots of reflections: in water, in mirrors, in windows; the most famous being towards the end of the movie with the hallway of mirrors, showing Kane’s infinite self-obsession and greed. In a sequence near the beginning, where a news crew is watching a documentary of Kane in a screening room, there’s use of camera motion in context of journalism and breaking news much like how a camera crew, will follow around celebrities in their every day life. This shifts the perspective of the film from an unbiased, documentarian view, to revealing a more journalistic aesthetic. Welles also frequently casts shadows on scenes to hide half of the characters face, particularly with the journalists. He does this to emphasize the importance of Kane’s character in relation to the side-characters, making the camera angles/shots just as elitist as Kane himself.

Still from Citizen Kane

Among other tricks, Welles is credited with the first use of overlapping dialogue to create a specific atmosphere. He uses the set pieces to seclude and alter the audio effectiveness. He constructs the film’s sound design around each set. For instance, there’s a scene with a phone booth in which the audio transitions from outside of the booth to inside, seamlessly. It’s a very sharp distinction and cut. There are recurring gags throughout the film: echoing of certain rooms, atmospheric lighting, and even a gag in which doors shut on the camera, referencing, again, how elitist Kane’s life truly is; the audience isn’t allowed to see behind closed doors. Even with all the tricks, many scenes lack cuts to allow for pans and twirls, letting the camera show the scale of the set and for spatial awareness.

There are deep focus shots even while tracking, such as the scene involving Kane as a child back at his parent’s house. Orson Welles gives himself an acting credit for playing Kane at the end of the credit roll. Welles, at 24, was able to convince audiences of Kane’s aging body as time passes. Even going to method acting in using his broken leg to add character mannerisms. Citizen Kane has one of the better uses of practical makeup, as the audience can believe that Welles is aging with Kane himself. The elliptical editing allows the passage of time without glaring transitions between each segment in time. Citizen Kane has had a profound impact on many filmmakers’ influences in today’s cinema culture. A main reason for this standard is because of how simplistic the use of “Rosebud” was within the confines of the plot.

At first, Welles tricks you into thinking that Rosebud refers to one of the many characters in the film, many of whom we meet as the investigation continues. By the time the credits are about to roll, there’s a strong sense of desire to wrap-up the plot. It appears that the investigation went as far as it possibly could have, and yet it isn’t until the final moments that the audience realizes that Kane was reflecting upon his childhood; the innocence he carried with him as a kid. He knows that he became a monster, and his final words were calling back to his past self for forgiveness. It’s deeply poetic and moving.

Author: Jared Charles

I am the owner of The Burrow Reviews. Currently studying Film, English, Political Science, and Gender Studies.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s