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Citizen Kane is a film from the early 1940s which was directed by Orson Welles. It is often said that it is one of the greatest, or most influential movies created. Its influences can still be felt to this day. The Greek philosopher described many of elements that combine to make a great theatrical performance. These elements are a strong plot, well designed and described characters, well thought-out language, music that fits the tone and mood of the production, and the final key element is having a visually appealing or visually impactful work. Citizen Kane receives high marks in all of these criteria. In fact, it does it so well you can even find a demonstration of each within the first, four minutes of the movie.
The first of Aristotle’s components to explore is the plot. Plot is the story that drives a movie, play, or book. Within Citizen Kane, nearly all of the time in the first few minutes is spent showing exterior shots of a house and the grounds surrounding it. This is done to help the viewers understand the setting that the movie is happening in. Once the camera moves to the inside of the house, there are several disjointed shots that act as foreshadowing clues to help establish what will happen in the movie. We see a person looking at a snow globe which falls down a flight of stairs and shatters. From these scenes, you can tell that the movie will have a mystery involved. The movie revolves around the mysterious final words of the man who dies. Rosebud, which is a short and simple word, causes a lot of curiosity with it as well. Welles did a fantastic job with establishing the plot of the movie, and it shows through as soon as the film begins to roll.
Within the first four minutes, we are only introduced to two people that may or may not end up being important characters as the story progresses. There is the older man who drops the snow globe, and a nurse. From what we see, we can tell that the man is likely well to do as his house is large and ornate. We can also tell that something negative happens to him in the movie. In the introduction of the movie there is not much time available to provide the viewer with a clear idea of the qualities of the mysterious man. The information provided does a good job at setting the bar high for character development.
The third part of a theatrical work that is of a good quality is the thought that is being conveyed by the directors. In the opening scenes, everything is shown in a dark light. Some of the areas of the yard that are shown before entering the house are shown to be in disrepair. The inky shadows and the scenery that is introduced show that the director of the movie was trying to produce an ominous feeling in the minds of the people that watch his movie.
The next element is diction. Diction refers to the dialogue in a play or movie. This includes what words are said as well as how they are spoken. The opening scene of Citizen Kane is a unique in that it only has a single spoken word. The only speech in the first clip of the movie is a word that does not provide much (if any) help in determining the plot. The word that the Old Man is “rosebud”. There is not much substance in the word when taken at face value, but the way that the word is spoken draws attention to itself. The word rosebud is said softly and clearly as if the man were trying to tell someone a secret.
The second to last element that Aristotle taught is that the sounds and music of the presentation needs to add to the overall quality of the work. The music in the beginning of the film is very fitting. There is an ominous tone to the music. This tone comes from the instrumentation of the sound track and the key that the music was written in. There are also a few points where the music lines up exactly with the actions on the screen. One good example of this is the first time that the large window is show. The music changes tone and feel for a directly in line with the lights in the room behind the window. There are also peaks in the sound from the lights going on and off. Having the acting line up with the music adds emphasis to the windows. Because of the way that the music sounds at the same moment that the lights go out, a viewer is able to know that something important will happen or has happened with the item that the camera is focused on.
The scenery in Citizen Kane works well for the type of story. The dark and overgrown yard keeps the ominous feeling congruent with the music that is playing. The scenery fits the mood of the introduction. Having all of these aspects line up and work together help to make Citizen Kane as great as it is.
All of the concepts that Aristotle spoke of in regards to live action theater are still alive and well within our modern forms of entertainment. The best movies still have a well thought out and well written plot. The characters still need to be relatable and well-written. The dialogue (although short in the clip that was presented) still sparks curiosity within the viewer that helps them to become more invested in the movie. All of the aspects need to work together to convey the overarching theme of the work. When they are all present and well executed, the story is able to come alive for the viewer, and they go from being a passive observer to being a part of the show.
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