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A Classic Film: Citizen Kane by Orson Welles

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The sign and fence symbolism Kane himself, and as the camera shifts beyond the audience are beginning to look inside of the man Charles Foster Kane. To that extent, the mansion is a metaphor of Kane and the fence is the wall he places around himself to block out others. The music begins, a long slow song that adds mystery and anticipation within the audience. The music is a very important part of the opening scene and is written by Bernard Herrmann. It sets the mood for the whole film and begins to develop a character. The sound in the opening scene is eerie and haunting, implementing the setting of Cane’s old dark mansion.

Herrmann created a leitmotif (leading music) that symbolized Cane’s power; this motif is heard in the very opening of the scene. The motif is five notes long and uses a triton to create a tone that is dark and sinister. The inspiration for this five-tone phrase was derived from an old Gregorian chant. Herrmann contrasts this motive with another in the opening scene called Rosebud. It is a set of five notes and though it does have a similar rhythm to Cane’s power motif, it ends with a falling fourth which gives it a much more hopeful sound.

This motif is associated with Cane’s happier memories, his youth and his sled “Rosebud”, the word that the plot revolves around. As Hermann says himself, the meaning of the word rosebud is actually given in the opening scene, the short motif played after Kane utters his famous last word and later on during the film as a young boy. Throughout the opening scene these two motifs are played, both of which are an important part in introducing the story. The camera scans up a number of eerie looking fences, as if its about to reveal something sinister. The audience is then shown images of a neglected estate.

A slow fade in and out is utilized between each image, emphasizing the scenes eeriness. While this movie is in black and white the audience are shown a certain focus and story behind Cane’s estate. Arson Wells used light and shadows as a crucial part creating the atmosphere. In the opening section of Cane’s estate the shot is filled with images, each at a slightly different angle. Strong blacks against a grey sky draws the viewers eyes to certain points and a mixture of shades are utilized to fill the screen. Each shot is carefully composed, drawing out a certain tone that foreshadows the stories plot.

Using soft dissolves between each image the director highlights their precise choices and also adds a fluid exchange that moves the opening scene. The images are each showed still and clear, giving the audience a chance to take in every shot. This filming technique is called deep- focus and is well used by the cinematographer, Gregg Tolland. The technique is to fill the screen without having a specific focus and balances out the foreground and background. A soft mist is utilized to hold the mystery about Kane and to add to the haunted atmosphere.

The mist always seems to be moving closer o the castle and apart from a few other features it is the only object moving in the shots. It is important to also add that Cane’s castle is always shown in every image, either as far away or a reflection. It is positioned in the top third of the screen, a silhouette of black with a window of light that the audience is moved closer too. This castle is Charles Foster Cane’s estate, Canada. The shot moves closer to an illumined window, a sudden light switching off as the music climaxes and cuts. The camera switches to inside the castle, showing a silhouette of a body in a bed.

Snow engulfs the shot as a small cottage inside a snowball appears. A sudden jerk as the camera zooms out to the hand holding the snow globe. An extreme close up is utilized as a mans mouth whispers the words “Rosebud. ” It is the only close up in the opening scene and Rosebud is the only word spoken. This is an interesting technique to emphasize the word and foreshadow its importance. The word Rosebud is the impetus of the story, leaving the audience to wonder what it could mean and how the story will continue from there. A nurse then rushes into the room, her image only seen in the reflecting of the Rosen snow globe that had been dropped.

Apart from Kane she is the only person depicted in the opening scene, however, no words are spoken from her. The woman is shadowed as she places the dead man to rest; a shot with the silhouette of the body on the bed is used again as the final image. It is interesting to note the sequence in which the director played the opening scenes. He began with the leading characters death. Similar to the Shakespearian play of Romeo and Juliet, Citizen Kane begins with a mystery. It tells the audience what happens in the end, however it does not tell us the circumstances of how ND what his life was like.

It leaves the audience in a somewhat state of shock. What is “Rosebud? ” (His final last words) And where will the story be taken? Citizen Kane was an innovative and controversial film of its time. Part of the controversy centered around the influence for the plot, many people believing it loosely resembled the life William Randolph Hearst, who was an important and powerful man of the time. It was a brave move by Arson Wells to create the film, however the discussion around the topic ensured its success. Aside from the introverts the film was well known for its technical effects, many of which had not been utilized before.

The majority of the film is presented as flashbacks; this technique had not be used to the same degree before. It was the beginning of a long line of films that used flashbacks as a key part to their plot. As seen in the first scene static camera work was popular in those days, however, after the first scene Arson used a variety of movement shots. For many of his scenes he told the actors to keep still as he moved the camera around, this felt to the audience s if they were moving around with the scene instead of being onlookers.

Citizen Kane abandoned the current conventions and refused to stick to original themes. When it first came out it defied easy characterization into a particular genre. In the first opening scene Arson used techniques that defied normal genres of the time. Techniques such as the extreme close-up of Kane as he spoke his last words were not commonly used in the time period; the camera was generally some distance away from the person. As well, the snow globe in his hand represented a foretelling of what was to happen, foreshadowing the series of vents that would become the main point of the film.

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