depicts the corruption of the American dream. More likely, it asks us to question the very premise of the American dream, for in
the dream of prosperity and influence, the American version of success, is inexorably linked with the demise of interpersonal relationships and personal values. When the public persona of Charles Kane emerges, the private persona is diminished proportionately, and thus it appears that public success and private success are mutually exclusive.
It is ironic that a newspaper reporter interviews those closest to Kane in hopes of finding the man behind the public image, for “the man” had ceased to exist—or perhaps never truly existed. Kane’s dying word, “rosebud”, signifies not only a longing for the values of a lost childhood, but also the realization that true adulthood was never experienced, The child never developed into a man capable of love, friendship, or even (ironically) communication. The public power-wielding man manipulated people as a child manipulates toy soldiers. In fact, Kane saw no difference between people and objects; both were mere extensions of his egocentric personality.
Though one might hold Kane’s mother responsible for Kane’s arrested development—noting that her misguided decision to separate Kane from the family at an impressionable age was devastating—one must also note that the emerging public man was deemed successful by society, and/or that his egocentric behavior was not only condoned (by society at large), but often applauded.
Kane’s pursuit of happiness resulted in his deadening isolation, and though this is tragic in itself, the essential tragedy of
concerns the destruction of those myriad others caught in the devastating web of false values and lost idealism. In short, Kane’s loss of idealism symbolizes America’s loss of idealism and/or the essential flaw of the American dream.
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is technically rich, it is suggested that the film be shown to students over a period of three days. Students should be encouraged to jot down examples of the usage of various film elements previously discussed as they view the film. These notes can then be shared in discussion during the last portion of each class period. Individual students will invariably make note of different examples of the variety of film elements. Thus with a minimum of teacher in-put a full-blown discussion will emerge. To insure that most,if not all, of the elements of film are discussed, it is suggested that teachers provide students with note-taking sheets complete with headings for each element. These will not be used during the viewing of the movie. Rather, students will copy their notes on these sheets subsequently. This activity will help to organize the follow-up discussion which will move through the elements of film. The additional time provided for students for copying their notes may also enable them to fill in blank (film element) spots from the memory of their recent viewing of
In fact, I asked my students to try note-talking and discussion as a first response to
My particular class had no difficulties with this, and we enjoyed some interesting discussions. It was particularly interesting to note that a variety of examples of film elements was seen by students. Since essentially every frame of
makes use of some technique derived from film elements, perhaps this was not so surprising. Nevertheless, we learned something from one another, and the spirit of sharing was enjoyed by all.
The following paragraphs provide the teacher of this unit with brief delineations of the elements of film discussed earlier as they relate to
. Some of the information provided must be credited to Sobochack and Sobochack and to Robert L. Carringer, the author of
The Making of Citizen
Kane. By and large such information appears in direct quotes. Many of the remaining ideas emerged from class discussions, and thus my students are to be credited as well. It must be stated that many of the examples of the use of film sound came from the secondary sources Sound is often noted subliminally, and my students and I were much less successful at observing sound techniques. Thus teachers of this unit might expect to have to share at least this portion of the analysis (derived from secondary sources) with their own students.
has been called “an archetype of film noir [and claimed] an enormous influence on the development of that genre.”
The use of high-contrast black and white film reminds us of newsprint which is especially appropriate in a film delineating the life of a newspaper tycoon. The oppositional and/or conflict-indicating quality of this black and white film is often mirrored in choices of costuming in Citizen Kane. For example, an older troubled Kane is often dressed in stark white shirts and black suits while those around him are clad in less oppositional grey clothes. In this way Kane’s internal power struggle (of the public versus the private man) is indicated; at the same time Kane’s dynamic demeanor is contrasted with the mundane appearances of other characters. Internal and external conflicts are subtly illustrated, and we realize that both the personal and public repercussions of such conflicts may be enormous.
Lighting has an immense presence in Citizen Kane. It
serves a variety of functions such as setting the tone of various scenes, foreshadowing the demise of the idealism of Kane, and delineating the effect of Kane’s personality on a variety of characters. It is important to note at the outset that in the depictions of Kane’s early life the quality of the light used is natural. That is, the “crisp daylight style predominates in the parts dealing with Kane’s rise to prominence, Here Kane is seen as a self-starter, an idealist, a reformer, a traditional type—the hope of the future embodied in a genuine American titan. By contrast, most of the harshly expressionistic scenes [those filmed in low levels of illumination] involve the later part of Kane’s story after he has become a petty and ruthless tyrant “
The opening scene of
provides an apt example of the use of lighting in projecting tone. Kane’s castle, Xanadu, is filmed at night. A lighted window and the illuminating effects of fog provide the only means of articulating the structure of Xanadu. It is an eerie scene which depicts loneliness and isolation, and prompts a viewer mood of uneasiness or sadness.
The interplay of light and shadow is very often employed in Citizen Kane. Perhaps the most famous example of this occurs when Kane’s face is shadowed s he signs his “Declaration of Principles” prior to printing it in his newly-organized newspaper. An idealistic Kane is depicted here; his principles have to do with printing the truth and fighting for the underdog. Yet, these principles are immediately and essentially overshadowed. The shadowed face of Kane depicts his inability to live by his principles, and/or foreshadows the demise of his idealism.
As Kane’s power increases so does his ability to “cast shadows” on the lives of others. Thus the film maker often depicts other characters literally in Kane’s shadow so as to illustrate the enormous influence of Kane’s personality—and the destructive quality of his presence.
Perhaps the most striking example of the effectiveness of a long-shot occurs in the political rally scene in
. Charles Foster Kane is filmed from some distance and thus is dwarfed—though he stands in front of a vast poster reproduction of himself. The immense contrast between the actual man and the image once again illustrates the public man’s emergence and the private man’s demise.
Kane’s power over others is often Underscored in scenes where he dominates the foreground while other characters are relegated to the middle.ground. Kane is thus perceived as physically superior to-the others and/or as menacing.
“The way in which deep: focus or extended depth of field can show relationships between background and foreground planes is particularly evident in the scene where Kane’s mother signs the guardianship of her son over to Mr. Thatcher (in the foreground). Charles’ father hovers ineffectually in the middle distance while young Charles is visible through the window playing innocently in the snow. Thus the free spirited boy is present in the viewer’s consciousness as we see his mother -put into motion the series of event which will deprive him of his innocence and freedom.”
Kane is often filmed in low-angle shots which emphasize the power of his personality. For example, because of the employment of the low-angle shot, in a post-election scene Kane looms large even though he has lost his bid for the governorship. Conversely, other characters are often filmed with a high-angle shot and thus appear diminished in relation to Kane. Such is the case with Susan Alexander “who appear small even though she is yelling aggressively at Kane.”
Only once in the film is Kane viewed through a high-angle shot. This example is imbedded in the newsreel segment of “the film with the film.” Here an elderly wheel-bound Kane is filmed from above. A hat obscures his face and he is essentially unrecognizable—his powerful demeanor effectively reduced and/or destroyed.
the camera is tilted in order to show entire scenes at an angle. The resultant disequilibrium illustrates a world gone askew. When Kane takes over
, the newspaper office is depicted at an angle in order to foreshadow Kane’s subsequent loss of dignity and integrity. Susan’s cluttered room is also shot at an angle; this employment of the device serves to further emphasize Susan’s confusion and unhappiness.
The most obvious example of subject movement in
has to do with the use of the wide-angle lens. Time and again Kane is filmed from a distance, and yet is allowed to traverse that distance with a minimum of steps.
Thus Kane is viewed as the master of his environment or as domineering and strong.
The most interesting use of a pan shot occurs near the film’s conclusion. Kane’s possessions are shot from above in a slow pan. The many boxes of objects are initially unrecognizable as such, and in their entirety, resemble an entire city shot from the air. Thus the filmmaker is able to broaden the theme of
and/or indicate that Kane’s empty values are mirrored in American society at large.
The use of dialogue in
further emphasizes the contrast between Kane’s public and private lives. Scenes dealing with Kane’s public side present rapid-fire dialogue often at loud levels. Such dialogue underscores Kane’s bravado and insatiable desire for attention. In contrast, scenes dealing with Kane’s private life are punctuated with many silences which signify his ineptitude in personal relationships while simultaneously high-lighting his essential loneliness and isolation. When dialogue is evident in these private scenes, it is invariably muted—and somewhat distorted as in his Xanadu scenes with Susan. This echoic distortion emphasizes the vast emptiness of Xanadu and/or Kane’s distorted values.
Synchronous and Asynchronous Sound Effects
An appropriate illustration of a synchronous sound effect which helps to create realism and at the same time suggests mood can be found early in the film. When the reporter who attempted to uncover the man behind Kane’s public facade enters Thatcher’s forbidding library, the echoic sound of a metal door opening and closing is heard. This sound adds to the realism of the scene by projecting appropriate sound for a metal door (which in fact as cardboard simply made to look metal)
More important, the sound, reminiscent of clanging prison doors, projects a cold and forbidding tone.
An asychronous sound effect much later in the film emphasizes and foreshadows a Kane out of control. After Susan leaves Kane, the hideous squawking of a bird is heard. This sound projects both pain and violence, and is followed up in the subsequent scene by Kane’s exhibition of frustration and pain in his trashing of Susan’s room.
The background music of
is made up of two motifs: “Power” and “Rosebud”. Such themes “embody the contradiction of Kane—the clash between the ideal of childhood innocence and the corruption of [Kane’s] adulthood. They are repeated, whole or in part, in a multitude of variations throughout the score, and these variations follow the story line. Melodically and orchestrically purer in the earlier parts of Kane’s life, they become increasingly dark and dissonant as the film progresses.”
Ideas for Student Reactions to
1. Suggest that students write paragraphs which articulate the
. Share these writing in class.
2. Suggest that students choose a single film element used in
and explain how this element serves to explicate the film’s theme.
A. Try to insure that a variety of elements are chosen by students.
B. Call for an oral presentation in class so that various ideas are shared.
C. Provide time for a second viewing of the film—if students desire. Otherwise, students may refer to their previous notes.
3. Compare and contrast the British films of the same time period(see 1987 unit) with
Comment on thematic similarities and differences.