Citizen Kane (1941)

I have always heard of Citizen Kane through TV and film classes.  Everybody called it an amazing epic film.  Even after watching clips, I have never seen what was so special about it.  But now that I have watched the whole film, I can definitely see what people were talking about.

The first question I want to try to answer is why this film was being compared to American baroque.  In class when we were talking about baroque paintings, I think some of the things that were mentioned were the diagonal look, lighting certain figures, and lots of fabric.  One of the few times I personally took notice in the diagonal look was when Kane was an old man in the wheelchair next to his outdoor pool and a statue of a woman was across of him.  It looked that way to me because Kane was screen left front and the statue was screen right back yet both of them stood out. I can’t explain it well but it showed in a way the important relationship between Kane and his statues.  Next, the whole film had many dark shadows but when talking about baroque and lighting certain figures, I took notice in the bar scene when the reporter is on the phone and Susan is at the table in the back (which is also a diagonal look).  Susan is lighted while the reporter is almost pitch black and though the reporter is in the foreground, I noticed Susan more because she was lighted better.  Lastly, the scene where Kane is at Susan’s apartment and they’re talking, we see them talk through a mirror that’s surround by jewelry and cloth which showed the fabric part of baroque because the mirror was centered by those objects.

The next thing to mention would be the use of deep focus.  Three deep focus scenes stood out to me; the first being at the company party, you see everyone at the long table and then later on, when the band and dancers are coming from the background to the foreground. Second is when we see Kane in the news room rewriting the opera critique and from waaay back we see Liebman walking fast towards Kane. Last is when Kane is walking in his mansion after his second wife left him and at one point, we see all these mirror images of him going really far back. Also it seems like any scene involving the hallways of the mansion were deep focus.

Something that definitely can’t be avoided was the use of shadows as a whole.  The extreme shadows that were in the TV news room in the beginning shadowed all the reporters in the room.  Maybe because the lights were supposed to be off because they were reviewing the documentary but the shadows also made the reporters seem sneaky.  And maybe they are because this continues throughout the whole film whenever Reporter Thompson is shown.  I thought at the end we were going to see his face just a little but he has remained hidden.  The film showed that shadows could make someone more intimidating.  That is shown when Susan and Kane are having an argument about singing and he looms over casting his shadow on her body.  It just makes him seem overpowering.

I don’t know if it is just me but there were times in the film when people looked frozen.  Like in the bar scene I spoke of earlier, Susan didn’t move or anything while the reporter was on the phone.  Next was when in the news room, an important man was talking to Kane and three journalists in background seem frozen, I was actually wondering if they were real or not.  Then there was the time when Mrs. Kane was talking to the Politician in Susan’s Apartment during that scandal and in the background Susan seemed to be frozen on top of Kane.

The make-up in the film is something to praise because the characters were able to look old without super special effects.  Though you could tell it was plastic and fake, it was pretty good for something back then.

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Posted by cjenkins   @   1 October 2010

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Oct 3, 2010
8:23 pm

Another example of deep focus you forgot to mention was one of the earliest flashback scenes where we saw Kane as a little boy playing in the snow while his parents were discussing his “future” with Thatcher. It was a shot in which the camera appears to be showing Kane in the snow from the outside. It turned out to be shot from the inside as the camera tracks back to reveal Kane’s mother at the window.

P.S. I like your Bleach header 🙂

Oct 4, 2010
1:46 pm

So you are saying that when we judge whether a painting or a scene is Baroque style or not, we should look for the fabric, light and the diagonal look or something? these 3 elements must be together?
If it is true, maybe the reason why you thought some scenes were frozen is that Welles tried to make those scenes look like a painting. I mean, it was pretty dark where the reporter stood while the area Susan sat was bright and I could find a lot of tablecloth.

Oct 5, 2010
1:08 am
#3 itsumoyume :

Hm, I actually did notice them not moving. But I hadn’t thought of it in your way. To me it seemed perfectly natural. Perhaps Susan wasn’t moving quite much because “she is in deep thought”, or “she is out of it”, was in my mind when I looked at her. And for those reporters, again I didn’t think it was out of place – maybe I’m thinking of another scene? But to me I thought “maybe they’re listening in”, or something of that thought.
Ah, deep focus. I really like deep focus. Every shot that was in deep focus reminded me of pictures, and it helped that they were in black and white. Wait, can our camera’s do deep focus now? Or do we have to do what they did and tweak things to get that effect?

Oct 6, 2010
9:01 pm
#4 ekestler :

I wasn’t in class to watch the film but you pretty much summarized the techniques used in it. You blog is really good! I even notice from clips of the movie I’ve seen in the past the usage of shadowing to emphasize the time period/film noir.

Oct 12, 2010
11:16 pm
#5 Amy Herzog :

What a fantastic discussion– I feel like the series of comments is really helping us to figure something out about how the compositions work in the films.

I do think that the use of diagonal compositions, and lighting, and fabrics/textures are really key here in terms of linking the cinematography to Baroque painting styles. But Cindy and Julie hit on something very interesting in terms of the use of stillness versus motion. The movement within the frame tends to be very limited, or at least focused (versus chaotic motion in many directions at once). We almost get the sense of paintings, or photographs brought to life to illustrate these moments from the past. This tension makes the use of statues even more poignant. Brilliant collective work– I hadn’t thought about this aspect of the film in this way before!

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