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Essay/Term paper: Citizen kane

Essay, term paper, research paper:  College Papers

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Having success the first time around is very uncommon. Orson
Welles's first feature film richly realizes the full potential
of excellent craftsmanship. Citizen Kane is almost indisputably the
greatest achievement in the history of filming. In 1941, this film was
considered by many as the best film ever made. This film is about the
enormous conflict between two twentieth-century icons, publisher
William Randolph Hearst and the prodigy of his time, Orson Welles. The
rather overwhelming beginning of an opening sequence is still as
electrifying as any in the history of movies. That tarnished sign on a
forbidding black wire fence is the first thing we see in Orson Welles'
Citizen Kane. Citizen Kane is a movie about perception and
projection. Indeed, with the complex theme the whole movie seems to be
placed in a kind of psychological trauma for the viewers. Citizen Kane
is a portrait of a public and private figure that remains tantalizingly
unfinished. Excellent acting was revealed for the first time as these
new roles played out. Orson Welles was a director ahead of his time
and his portrayal of Kane shows his acting ability. This film is one
of the first films to rely heavily on style and visuals, Citizen Kane
uses camera, lighting, and set techniques to show Kane's rise and fall
from power. The movie as a whole -- though as artistically satisfying
as a picture can get -- also leaves us with certain unexplicated pieces
of Kane's life that only we, as viewers of Citizen Kane, can put
together for ourselves.
There's no doubt that Citizen Kane is a great movie. It is a
pioneering film that forever changed film making. Its plot is
one of the most creative and original in all of movie history. Citizen
Kane is a brilliantly made film. I can't really take the full impact
of it because it was made in 1941, and all the film techniques Welle's
used, are used frequently today. Nowadays, a film has to be
emotionally involving and have an original plot to get recognition.
But back in the 40s, no one had ever seen some of them before, and so
it was new and original.
Conversely, the film features rapid montage sequences
permitting sudden ellipses of time and space for the first
time. This was a special technique that Orson Well used time
progressing. Opening and concluding with the famous NO TRESPASSING
sign outside of his palace, Xanadu, the film depicts newspaper giant
Charles Foster Kane's economic and spiritual rise and his eventual
ruin. The film opens with a long shot of Xanadu - the private estate
of one of the world's richest men. In the middle of the estate is a
castle. We see, inside the castle, a dying man examining a winter scene
within a crystal ball. As he drops it, it smashes, and one word is
heard - "Rosebud". What follows are pieces of newsreel like footage
detailing how Kane amassed his fortune, and turning around full circle
at the end. Rosebud becomes the elusive focal point for a newsreel
reporter's investigation into the life and times of Citizen Kane, an
exploration which provides the plot framework for the movie. The
viewer first watches as Kane speaks his dying word -- "Rosebud" -- and
then follows newsreel journalist Thompson who interviews Kane's
closest associates, hoping to find the meaning of "Rosebud", and
perhaps Kane's life. The structure of "Citizen Kane" is circular,
adding more depth every time it passes over the life.
The movie opens with newsreel obituary footage that briefs us
on the life and times of Charles Foster Kane. They provide a
map of Kane's trajectory, and it will keep us oriented as the
screenplay skips around in time, piecing together the memories of
those who knew him. Curious about Kane's dying word, "rosebud," the
newsreel editor assigns Thompson, a reporter, to find out what it
meant. He triggers every flashback, yet his face is never seen. He
questions Kane's alcoholic mistress, his ailing old friend, his rich
associate and the other witnesses, while the movie loops through time.
Welles and Mankiewicz created an emotional chronology set free
from time. But in 1941, film had only been around for a few
decades, making it remarkably easy for a film to be original, not only
because technology was improving, but because the ideas were from
fresh, new directors. Yet, Citizen Kane is still original today. A
film that can use so many different techniques and still incorporate a
good story has to be good.
Namely, that Citizen Kane is a complex, engaging story told
consummate skills. At any rate, Kane seems to summarize quite well
within the above-described "layer" framework, and I hope to quickly
demonstrate how below.
In the search of "Rosebud" the death of publishing lord and
leading American Citizen Charles Foster Kane, a reporter is
given the assignment of finding the key to the manner and ceremony of
his life. He is directed to discover what Kane meant by the word he
uttered on his deathbed - "Rosebud" - and in doing so, gain the
requisite knowledge to explain Kane. The story of the film, then, is
thusly couched: it is an attempt to peel back the layers of Kane's life
and illuminate the essential, inescapable truth of Charles Foster
Kane. The most logical place to start in that search is the topmost,
the epidermal layer: the Public Man. The deathly, dreamlike hush of
Citizen Kane's shadowy prologue jumps abruptly into that blaring
newsreel ("News On the March"), which introduces us to the Official
Version of the Life of Charles Foster Kane. Hence the film's beginning
with the "News On The March" briefly summarizes the life of Leading
American Citizen, Charles Foster Kane through a parade of his various
public accomplishments. But when the film runs out, flipping on the
reel of the projector, we're left in the dark -- with that
summarization, in its very brief-ness, lacks something, and so the
reporter is directed to seek further - to seek the meaning of
The next layer - Kane's financial underbelly, as neatly
bookended by his financial advisor, a Mr. Thatcher - provides
more in the way of amusement which build toward a more realistically
characterized Kane, but still fails to provide any information of final
substance. So the closely related layers of Kane's occupation and his
ideals are pierced, are then peeled through the recollections of a Mr.
Bernstein who worked for Kane at one of his papers. With no more
success; we are left with a more fully drawn person, but one who is
still, essentially, unknown. Not a single person yet interviewed
knows what is the final words "Rosebud". Boldly, our reporter
The next layer will surely reveal something of value, Jedediah
Leland (who says, at one point, "If I'm not his closest friend,
he never had one..."), we are still left with only a partial portrait.
"Rosebud" is still distant. So our reporter reaches what he knows is
as close to the core of Charles Foster Kane as he will get: he speaks
with the second Mrs. Kane. With a final, incredulous gasp, he (and we)
learn that not only does she not know definitively what "Rosebud"
means, but that she more than anyone failed to make sense of Charles
Foster Kane.
Achievement is only further emphasized by Citizen Kane's
expressionist set design and Welles's genius as an actor and
director. Kane's characters move through the deep space of the film in
real time, quite unlike any other film before or since Citizen Kane.
Herman Mankiewicz, an experienced screenwriter, collaborated with him
on the inspiration of the life of William Randolph Hearst, who had put
together an empire of newspapers, radio stations, magazines and news
services, and then built to himself the flamboyant monument of San
Simeon, a castle furnished by rummaging the remains of nations. As his
cinematographer, he hired Gregg Toland, who had experimented with deep
focus photography--with shots where everything was in focus, from the
front to the back, so that composition and movement determined where
the eye looked first.
For his cast Welles assembled his colleagues, including himself
playing Kane from age twenty-five until his deathbed, using
makeup and body language to trace the progress of a man increasingly
captive inside his needs. Thompson (William Alland) interviews
provides a different perspective, a contrasting image of the same man:
Charles Foster Kane. Also the screenplay by Mankiewicz and Welles is
densely constructed and covers an amazing amount of ground. Including
a sequence showing Kane inventing the popular press; a record of his
marriage, from early bliss to the famous montage of increasingly chilly
breakfasts; the story of his courtship of Susan Alexander and her
disastrous opera career, and his decline into the remote master of
Xanadu. The film's construction shows how our lives, after we are
gone, survive only in the memories of others, and those memories butt
up against the walls we erect and the roles we play
The movie is mostly told in flashbacks as this investigator
track down people who knew Kane and try to find the meaning of
his final word. It is such a simple idea, and yet, it allows Orson
Welles to paint with broad visual strokes. The movie is a work of art
and uses so many different techniques, that you have to admire the
spirit and energy of the film. Its slow pace allows Welles to
reconstruct the life of Charles Foster Kane so that we somehow begin to
care for Kane. We progress through his childhood and end at the
deathbed, and as he says his last word and drops the paperweight, we
feel a sense of wonder and confusion. We still do not know what
Rosebud means. No one seems to. And no one ever will... except us--the
In one of the film's most memorable images, Kane, having torn
apart in anger the bedroom of his wife, walks trance-like down
an echoing corridor lined with mirrors, where his reflection is
multiplied a hundred-fold into the distance. Other examples of
techniques is of the camera surmounting several layers/levels of fences
and, in a series of dissolves focused on a lit window in a distant
tower, moves across the dark, spooky, deserted grounds of Kane's Xanadu
estate. That window remains in the same place in the frame -- upper
right-hand corner -- in each successive shot, including one that turns
the image upside down. As we approach the window, a light inside (and,
soon, a life) is put out. Another match-dissolve takes us almost
gradually from outside Kane's castle to inside his room, where it is
snowing. A house sits nestled in a soft, white landscape, but the
camera pulls back rapidly and we see it's one of those little liquid
globes with fake flakes inside. This wintry world held tight in the
palm of his hand, Charles Foster Kane loosens his grip on life. The
glass bubble bursts on the floor as his disembodied lips whisper:
Welles knew that low-angle shots showed power, but the optical
illusion was something just first being capable of showing on
film. One of the best scenes in the film uses deep focus well,
however, for an optical illusion, such as deep focus to work, you need
the use of lighting, sets, and camera angles to make things look
bigger, or smaller, than what they really are. In the scene where Kane
walks back to the windows, Kane is the object which shows that those
windows are much bigger than at first thought. In this scene, Kane
hands over the company in Thatcher's office. The windows in the
background look like normal, but after Kane signs the contract, he

walks back to the windows and we see that the windows are really much
more bigger than at first thought. He has suddenly become a small man.
Of course, none of this could have been done without the
cinematographer. Gregg Toland creates the perfect mood for the film,
making the power of Kane look dark, dreary, and unappealing. Toland's
use of low-angle shots and optical illusions is what makes this film
rise above most great films. Welles knew that low-angle shots showed
power, but the optical illusion was something just first being capable
of showing on film
In addition to its visual features, heightened sound is used in
Citizen Kane as a features of intricately detailed soundtrack,
aided by Bernard Hermann's musical score. Citizen Kane is a rare item
in that it may be the only perfect film ever made.
In radio Welles had developed a special montage technique using
a gradually increasing of voices, each saying a sentence or
sometimes merely a fragment of a sentence. This he carried over into
film, photographing the various speakers in close-up against a blank
background. Spliced together in quick succession, the shots gave the
impression of a whole town talking.
In addition to the techniques the movie is filled with original
visual moments: the towers of Xanadu; candidate Kane
addressing a political rally; the doorway of his mistress dissolving
into a front-page photo in a rival newspaper; the camera swooping down
through a skylight toward the pathetic Susan in a nightclub; the many
Kanes reflected through parallel mirrors; the boy playing in the snow
in the background as his parents determine his future; the great shot
as the camera rises straight up from Susan's opera debut to a stagehand
holding his nose, and the subsequent shot of Kane, his face hidden in
shadow, defiantly applauding in the silent hall.
Yes, we eventually find a symbolic meaning for the riddle of
Rosebud -- even though none of the characters in the film is
ever privileged to discover it. But, in the end, the movie reverses
itself and we back out of the life and works of Charles Foster Kane the
same way we came in: drawing back behind the fence and coming to rest
on that stubborn NO TRESPASSING sign, as the remains of a man's life
turns to smoke in the distance.
There's no doubt that Citizen Kane is a great movie. It is a
pioneering film that forever changed film making. Its plot is
one of the most creative and original in all of movie history. The
cinematography is stunning. Citizen Kane is about those images that we
all reflect and project, the sum total of which -the impressions we
make on other people- are all we that leave behind us. That central,
unsolveable riddle of personality is at the core of what makes Citizen
Kane so endlessly watchable.
As Hearst began his empire with one small newspaper in San
Francisco, then expanded to New York, he always wanted more,
and eventually he controlled the first nationwide chain--with papers in
Chicago, Los Angeles, Boston, and Atlanta. Soon, an estimated one in
five Americans was reading a Hearst paper every week. But in the
course of making Citizen Kane, Welles' huge ego and his youth would
blind him to the extent of Hearst's power and reach; he tragically
underestimated Hearst's ability to counterattack. Indeed, Welles
proved no match for the old man. Hearst threatened to expose
long-buried Hollywood scandals his newspapers had suppressed at the
request of the studios. His papers used Welles' private life against
him, making blunt references to communism and questioning Welles'
willingness to fight for his country. Major theater chains refused to
carry Citizen Kane. Citizen Kane sparked so much controversy that it
wasn't even known if the film would survive the 40s. Some powerful
people wanted the movie destroyed, but the awesome grandeur of the film
overcame the small-minded people. In fact, this film is about those
kinds of people. And I hope you don't take offense if you are one of
them. To see if you are one of them, watch the film. If you hate it
or don't like it, you are. If you love it and consider it one of the
best films of all time, you aren't. If you haven't seen Citizen Kane
yet, go rent it today because it is certainly worth your time and

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