Orson Welles, born in 1915 had acted at the Gate Theatre in Ireland and Broadway by the time he was19, providing the grounds for theatrical techniques and developments to be acquired and used to create perhaps the best film of all time, Citizen Kane. Welles is considered to be a director ahead of his time and with the combined efforts of himself as co-writer and Mankiewicz they created a pioneering film, an emotional chronology liberated from the confines of time and space.
Citizen Kane is a film created in 1941, based on the life of publisher William Randolph Hearst, an icon of his time, and his rise and fall from power. Citizen Kane has a complex theme and a circular or spiral-like structure in which more depth is acquired each time the movie passes over Charles Foster Kane’s life. Also, Citizen Kane relies heavily on style and visuals, making use of camera, style, techniques and lighting to portray Kane’s rise and fall from power, as well as the utilisation of swift montage sequences, allowing abrupt ellipses of time and space.
At the beginning and the conclusion of the film the audience is faced with the foreboding “NO TRESPASSING” sign and the black wire fence behind it. This long shot of Xanadu sends a message of hostility and concealment to the audience. As the film moves on the viewers are made aware of the death of Charles Foster Kane and his intimate, personal dying word ‘rosebud’, pushing the viewers to question what this must mean. Which is basically what the plot for the film is an attempt to peel back the layers of Kane’s life and depict the fundamental truth of Charles Foster Kane.
The film’s slow pace permits Welles to reconstruct the life and times of Kane so that the audience begins to care for and emphasise with Kane, this is why the search for Rosebud and, therefore, the meaning of Kane’s life and actions, are conveyed through memories and flashbacks triggered by Thompson, the reporter for “News On The March”, in the minds of those closest to Kane in the early stages of his life. Thompson pieces together the memories of those who knew Kane in an attempt to discover ‘who’ or ‘what’ rosebud was. At this stage it should be noted that the memories are shown from different people’s points of view, which can be, and are most often, stained with the narrator’s specific prejudices, which may render the recollections to some people, vague and unreliable.
In Citizen Kane, Orson Welles and Gregg Toland employ an exhaustive range of old and never before used techniques, many drawn straight from theatres, deep focus being one of these.
A first for the film industry, deep focus allowed scenes from Citizen Kane to be interpreted in multiple ways, increased the symbolic relevance and scenery of the background and permits the audience to distinguish the focal point of the scene.
Position and movement within these themes determined for the viewer where they looked first. Techniques such as deep focus require the use of sets, lighting and camera angles to make objects or people look larger or smaller than they actually are and helps to depict themes within the film such as isolation and power. For example, from the scene where Charles Foster Kane is taken away from his family in Colorado, onwards, the power to alter Kane’s future and world is in the foreground of the shot:
-Kane’s mother signs papers in the foreground with Thatcher while his father is in the mid-ground and Kane is seen playing in the snow, through the window, with Rosebud, in the background.
– This links to the scene in which Kane signs over editorial control of The Inquirer as both scenes make use of the deep focus camera to depict power and also in the fact that there are windows within Thatcher’s office to belittle Kane and make him feel as if he is a child again, with Bernstein and Thatcher signing papers like his mother and Thatcher did while he is at the window. This conveys that he is starting to lose the control he has to alter people’s point of views.
Gregg Toland, the cinematographer for Citizen Kane, uses techniques such as lighting and camera work to make the power that Kane possesses appear dark, dreary and unappealing to the audience and heightened sound is used as features of a delicately detailed soundtrack, helped along by Bernard Herman’s musical score.
Citizen Kane also broke new ground for cinema in the story-telling domain as the audience first sees the death of a solitary Kane in his old age and then the director hits rewind and takes the viewers on a trip down memory lane with Thompson, Susan Alexander, Bernstein, Leland and Thatcher, to try and discover the intricacies of Kane’s life and the meaning of his last word, ‘rosebud’.
Welles, Mankiewicz and Toland depict the memories and flashbacks vividly from newsreels, memoirs