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IB Film - Case Studies
Citizen Kane

Director: Orson Welles

Release Date:
1 May 1941 (USA)

Genre: Drama, Mystery

Awards: Won Oscar. Another 4 wins & 9 nominations

Synopsis: The film is about a group of reporters who are trying to decipher the last word ever spoken by Charles Foster Kane, the millionaire newspaper tycoon: "Rosebud." The film shows flashbacks from Kane's life where the viewers see a display of a fascinating man's rise to fame, and how he eventually fell off the "top of the world."

  

It broke new ground in numerous areas. It was one of the very first films to use miniature sets that were filmed to look life size. In order to make the characters look larger than life, they put the camera in the floor and made the ceilings out of cloth so they'd look solid, but microphones could still pick up the sound. It broke new ground in special effects, extra long and distant camera movements, lighting, cinematography, and make-up that aged Wells and made him look like he aged almost 60 years, convincingly, in a two hour movie. It's a revolutionary film.

Film scholars and historians view Citizen Kane as Welles' attempt to create a new style of filmmaking by studying various forms of movie making, and combining them all into one. The most innovative technical aspect of Citizen Kane is the extended use of deep focus.In nearly every scene in the film, the foreground, background and everything in between are all in sharp focus. Specifically, Toland often used telephoto lenses to shoot close-up scenes. However, some apparently deep-focus shots were the result of in-camera effects, as in the famous example of the scene where Kane breaks into Susan Alexander's room after her suicide attempt. 

Another unorthodox method used in the film was the way low-angle shots were used to display a point of view facing upwards, thus allowing ceilings to be shown in the background of several scenes. Since movies were primarily filmed on sound stages and not on location during the era of the Hollywood studio system, it was impossible to film at an angle that showed ceilings because the stages had none. In some instances, Welles' crew used muslin draped above the set to produce the illusion of a regular room with a ceiling, while the boom mikes were hidden above the cloth.

One of the story-telling techniques introduced in this film was using an episodic sequence on the same set while the characters changed costume and make-up between cuts so that the scene following each cut would look as if it took place in the same location, but at a time long after the previous cut. In this way, Welles chronicled the breakdown of Kane's first marriage, which took years of story time, in a matter of minutes.

Welles also pioneered several visual effects in order to cheaply shoot things like crowd scenes and large interior spaces.
The film also broke new ground with its use of special effects makeup, believably aging the cast many decades over the course of the story.

Welles brought his experience with sound from radio along to filmmaking, producing a layered and complex soundtrack. In one scene, the elderly Kane strikes Susan in a tent on the beach, and the two characters silently glower at each other while a woman at the nearby party can be heard hysterically laughing in the background, her giddiness in grotesque counterpoint to the misery of Susan and Kane. 

In addition to expanding on the potential of sound as a creator of moods and emotions, Welles pioneered a new aural technique, known as the "lightning-mix". Welles used this technique to link complex montage sequences via a series of related sounds or phrases. In offering a continuous sound track, Welles was able to join what would otherwise be extremely rough cuts together into a smooth narrative.

Isabella Bogdain

 
 

  

   

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