Analysis of Cinematography in The Film Citizen Kane

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About this sample


Words: 1894 |

Pages: 4|

10 min read

Published: Jun 9, 2021

Words: 1894|Pages: 4|10 min read

Published: Jun 9, 2021

The media depicts people in different perspectives that leave individuals with the urge to dig into their true character and complications hidden in their reputation. Citizen Kane, produced and directed by Orson Wales is among the highly rated and most famous films in the world and surrounds the mysterious life of Charles Kane. The film makes use of remarkable narrative, scenes and cinematic techniques and innovations to present its argument and meaning. Two fascinating themes have been developed in the film. First regards the weight given to material wealth and humiliation of a public figure’s personality. These themes have been integrated together to bring an irony of the story of an American figure whose story of success turns into loneliness, feelings of nostalgia and eventually death. The characters in Citizen Kane are used to develop the personal theme through verbal utterances while visual implications help in developing the theme of materialism. These distinctive styles together unfold the form of the mysterious story which revolves around the tragedy of millionaire newspaperman, called Kale. Kale builds his reputation underpinning himself as the person whom the under privileged can look upon. However, he becomes greedy for power, wealth and immortality which completely corrupt his personality. Kane believes that he can buy anything that he did not have, as seen in the instance he tries to offer his second wife material possessions in exchange for her love. The visual brilliance in Citizen Kane that is shown through Gregg Toland’s camera work and mise-en-scene makes the movie great in portraying its meaning as described by Carringer. These include lighting, camera movements, screen frame size and deep and long shots.

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The main form of the movie is the use of flashback and deep focus to show the plot and allow the audience to understand Charles Kane’s final words through interviews with the fundamental people in his life before he died. The flashbacks reveal the ultimately unhappy life that Kane lived, especially with Emily, his first wife. In one scene, the couple sits close to one another when Emily starts accusing him of lack of free time. Occasions follow back-to-back with spinning camera techniques introducing them, with the last one showing the couple sitting far apart from each other. This illuminated the possibility of separation between them and gives the audience the hint f a divorce. The conversations are characterized with lower angle filming giving the viewers the chance to only see a single face of the characters in the scene. The sole perspective focus of the character brings the idea that the story had multiple truths. In most cases, the camera angles upwards to the film’s stronger characters and angles down to the others. In instances where Kane is talking to his wife Susan, the camera places her in a subordinate position, angled in such a way that he is looking down on her. In addition to that, a dark shadow crosses the face of Susan beneath Kane showing the audience that she only existed in the shadow of Kane. As the story progresses, Kane is shown begging Susan not to leave her, with the camera shooting him at eye level hence putting them on the same level. As Susan walks away to leave him, light is seeing surrounding her, illustrating that she had gained some power and left Kane’s shadow that was hovering her.

The movie uses camera positions to put across psychological and artistic effects, the detachment existing in Kane’s life, with the opening sequence of first scene revealing the world in which Kane lived in. In the opening of the Citizen Kane’s scene is a shot from which a sign written “NO TRESSPASSING” is revealed. According to Carringer the camera shows a close up on the fence and ban, portraying that the audience is going to see into the forbidden place. A fade in effect introduces a second shot through tilting the camera up on the fence, seemingly large enough to give the viewers an idea that they can see what is behind it, creating an illusion. The cinematographer continues moving the camera vertically, revealing a shot through which a gate labeled “K” can be seen at the behind of a castle. This shows a deep focus of the camera that gives us the view of two elements at the same time i.e. the castle and the gate. This shot dissolves to another one showing two other elements, the castle and a cage which substitutes the gate. The dissolvence continues, eventually revealing the major element with the background of the castle represented by light emanating from its window. This is the castle belonging to Charles Kane and the no trespassing sign on the fence tells the audience how he had secluded himself from other people. All the shots are comprised of music and photography, where the music is cut with the going off of the light from the castle window at the last shot. All these shots and the revealed elements express the realism of the movie’s theme, materialism and functional meaning of getting into Kane’s bedroom. The technique and the accompanying weary music play the role of drawing the viewer’s attention and set the mystery’s tone.

The image of snowstorm is created to let the viewer see the glass glob, which is fast zoomed out making it invisible, signifying how significant it was. The zooming out of the glass glob is a metaphoric representation of the internal conflict in Kane that was yet to be solved. The camera then closes up on Kane’s face, his ambiguous character revealed by the viewer’s inability to see his facial expression. The focus of the camera is stressed on his mouth to emphasize on the word “Rosebud”. When the word is said by the dying Kane, it is hardly heard. Kane’s sound, the noise and silence prevailed before his death tells the viewers how important the word was in the movie plot and increases their suspense on its mystery. The glass glob falls down immediately he passes on with change in camera angle allowing viewers to see it. Tumasulo described its shattering illustrated the heartbreak that Kane was experiencing at that time. The following shot shows a nurse entering the room through the broken glass in a distorted angle and another one enlightening the dead man’s body. These two shots continue to contribute to the sense of uncertainty of which the dead person is, thereby hiding his identity and building on the mystery of the story. All the stylistic techniques used in this first scene are meant to establish certain reactions that Orson wants from the viewers, hooking them from the beginning of the movie and keeps them eager to discover the whole mystery.

Sound montage is another greatly used technique which was used together with camera angles in the movie especially in flashback scenes to symbolize intervals of time in scenes that are related and character’s emotional situations. Orson lets a character start a sentence and takes a long period of time to complete it in totally different place. In other occasions, a character begins a sentence and another one completes it in a similar way. First, after the nurse enters the room to attend to Kane’s body, the scene is cut suddenly and announcements of news begin. There is loud accompanying music which switches the audience from the first scene in Kane’s castle and makes them forget it. Throughout this scene and others, the word rosebud is repeated severally where bass clarinets, bassoons and flutes are used to represent it and create the sense of mystery, vagueness and darkness among the audience. Secondly, another scene begins with camera panning from top to bottom focusing on a statue. Miss Anderson’s voice is heard before her appearance in the shot. The shot then shows the room’s size, with Thompson and Anderson in the same frame. This was to reveal the character of Miss Anderson which was cold and strict. As Miss Anderson was leaving the room, the door’s sound and mixed music made a transition to another shot. Mr. Thompson then goes to a club where Kane’s wife was sitting following her husband’s death. As he goes towards the club, thunder and heavy rain is heard by the audience demonstrating tension, sadness and anger. Kane’s wife refuses to talk to him and while shouting she tells him to walk out of the club. This shouting shows how upset and mad she was about her husband’s death. Thirdly, a scene shows Kane grow up to adult within two shots. This happens when his guardian was handing him his sled and Kane wishes him “Merry Christmas” and expectantly the scene switches to another one showing Kane after approximately fifteen years later. The sentence is then completed “and a Happy New Year”. This gave the audience the idea that he had grown through the continuation of the soundtrack. The film used the numerous mixtures for creating stability between passings of time.

In another scene, Kane and Susan are seen in a tent arguing when suddenly Susan is slapped by her husband. At this very time, the viewer is subjected to the voice of a screaming woman at the background. This soundtrack expresses the inner voice and emotion of Susan after the slap. A similar soundtrack is used in the instance when Susan attempts to commit suicide after humiliation as an opera singer. The soundtrack is pale, and signifies the feelings of humiliation in Susan. Orson Welles made use of music and original sounds to bring reality in Citizen Kane. In most cases, music is used to transition periods and location, for example, in the first time Kane visits Susan in her house, she is shown singing and playing the piano. Mise-en-scene suddenly changes and the audience sees her in different clothes but singing the same song still in her house. Theses soundtracks are used to emphasize on the stressful lives that characters lived.

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Citizen Cane is no doubt a brilliant movie considering the form used to bring out to narrate the story of Charles Kane. Performance of characters and the script are enhanced by the cinematographic technique used in each scene. Various camera angles and shot lengths are widely used to reveal the versions of truth and portray perspectives through which the audience can follow Kane’s story. Dominating this technique is the first scene of the movie which introduces the audience into the life of Charles Kane. From the beginning, the mysterious life surrounding this character is not hidden from the viewers, and this creates suspense with the aim of grasping the truth from flashbacks and interviews. With the unfolding of each flashback, visual scenarios of the movie orchestrate conversations and reveal the film’s thesis which was the character of Kane and his materialistic nature. The camera positions, deep focus and lighting played a critical role in showing the true personality of Kane. He is largely portrayed as a greedy man who thinks his wealth could buy anything. His actions, as revealed by the various techniques and flashbacks, distort his life and delineate him from the rest of the world. The secluded life he lived is shown by the sign in his fence showing no trespass, which made people know little about him even in his death. He was a man who owned everything but died at the loneliness of his house, with happiness and wealth eluding from him.

Works Cited

  1. Bordwell, D., & Thompson, K. (2003). Film Art: An Introduction. New York: McGraw-Hill.
  2. Carringer, R. L. (1996). The Making of Citizen Kane. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  3. Cook, P. (1981). The Cinema Book. London: British Film Institute.
  4. Mulvey, L. (1975). Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema. Screen, 16(3), 6-18.
  5. Naremore, J. (1998). The Magic World of Orson Welles. Dallas: Southern Methodist University Press.
  6. Schatz, T. (1998). The Genius of the System: Hollywood Filmmaking in the Studio Era. London: Faber & Faber.
  7. Thomson, D. (2010). The Big Screen: The Story of the Movies. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
  8. Tumasulo, J. (1971). Citizen Kane: A Critical Analysis. The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, 29(1), 67-76.
  9. Welles, O., & Bogdanovich, P. (1992). This is Orson Welles. New York: HarperPerennial.
  10. Wood, R. (2003). Hitchcock's Films Revisited. New York: Columbia University Press.
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Analysis Of Cinematography In The Film Citizen Kane. (2021, Jun 09). GradesFixer. Retrieved April 17, 2024, from
“Analysis Of Cinematography In The Film Citizen Kane.” GradesFixer, 09 Jun. 2021,
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