Film Analysis: Citizen Kane

The film, Citizen Kane directed by Orson Wells (Mercury Productions, RKO Radio Pictures, 1941) took great steps as far as the film industry is concerned.  The film used techniques that were never seen before and paved the way for future films.  The techniques used made films more enjoyable and easy to watch, they showed us more (literally).

One was deep focus; this allowed everything in the background to be in focus.  Prior to this film only the characters and “the main objects” in the shot were focused.  Now you could see clearly object, building, people, etc in the background, foreground, and everything in between perfectly clear.  Before Citizen Kane films where shot without a camera angle.  The camera was pointed straight and all that was in the shot was the actors, most of the time just from the waist up.  Viewers never knew what was going on in the scene other than what was seen around the actors.  Citizen Kane used low angle shots.  So now not only can you see the entire actor (in most shots) from the legs all the way to the top of their head, you could also see the ceilings, the wall all the way on the other side of the room.  For the first time the actors were not the main focus or at the center of the shot.

In my opinion this gave more depth to the shot and more of a “life like feeling” to the set.  Whether the film was done in a studio or on location, old films didn’t really make me believe that the scenery was real.  It always seemed to me like everything in the background was fake.  Now with these low angle shots, even though it may be fake scenery it gave me the feeling that the film was really being shot on location, in this case in a newspaper company.  Now that you can see the ceilings, everything is in focus, you can see almost the entire room, the camera is just not zoomed in on the actors, and it gives the film more of a “life-like” feeling.

The scene that I think best exemplifies this was the scene when Mr. Kane’s wife decides to leave him.  We see her grab her suitcases and walk out the long hallway while Kane is left yelling at her to come back.  As she is walking down the hallway everything is perfectly clear, we see her walk through doorways, even see a guy which I am assuming is a butler look back down the hallway right into the camera and we see him clearly.

Once Kane realized that she wasn’t coming back he got so mad and upset that he began throwing things around the room.  Chairs, furniture, anything he could get his hands on.  Doing this while screaming, and with the low angle shot we could see everything going on, we could see what he threw hit the wall or the floor, and we could hear it just as it happened.  The sound in this film was right on target as well.  The low angle shot depicted him as a big man, strong, and powerful, which he really wasn’t.  He had all the money he could ever need, had everything he ever wanted and now had no wife and no friends to share it with.  Not to mention his newspaper business was slowly dwindling.

This movie was done during war time, but I think the main point of the story of the film was/is even if you have everything you still may not be happy.  Kane had everything a man of his time could ask for and int the end he lost it all.  There is no point in having everything if you don’t have people to share it with, no one likes to be alone, no matter how rich you are if your alone odds are you will not be happy, and Kane is a prime example of that.  The main point of the cinematography was to show all the new techniques that were available, and I believe that some scenes were there just to be able to show off some of these techniques.  Anyway you look at it this was a great film, it paved the way for new films and forever changed the way films were made.

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October 2010