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Citizen Kane is about how an assignment given to a reporter’s to investigate and explain the last word of an affluent, newspaper magnate, Charles Kane, turned into a revelation of his life and how he reached his astonishing heights. Plenty of themes lie within this movie; however, one of the most prevalent themes depicted was the misconception of living the “American Dream”. Typically, films released during that time period showed living in luxury as something desirable with little to no disadvantages. Welles, however, was one of the first filmmakers that displayed living the “good life” as something not as desirable as majority would think. Within Citizen Kane, the cinematographic techniques enhance the narrative by strategically utilizing formal features (i.e. deep focus, positioning, and lighting) to expose the myth of the living the “American Dream” and represent the characters.
Deep focus, a stylistic technique that uses wide-angle and small lens apertures to focus simultaneously on near and far planes, was used in many scenes within this film. This technique added the greatest contribution to the cinematography of Citizen Kane by enhancing its plot development and the audience’s perspective. For instance, the deep focus technique was used during the scene where little Charles Kane was about to be stripped away from his parents and adopted by Mr. Thatcher. Kane was displayed alone throwing snowballs at a sign. In my opinion, this technique helps depict Kane’s innocence and true happiness before it was tampered with by his acquired riches. In addition, his isolation within this scene could represent how he started alone and by the end of the film will end up alone. Subsequently, during the conversation of Kane’s parents and Mr. Thatcher, Kane, despite playing outside, also was focused on. This added to the plot development because it simultaneously showed who the conversation was about while also allowing the audience to engage in the conversation of who was talking about him.
Using deep focus within this film made the mise-en-scène more evaluative. A perfect scene in which the mise-en-scène became more evaluative was when Susan left Kane. The mise-en-scène was strategically selected to depict how Kane treated Susan and controlled her life. Throughout the film, he gave Susan the equivalent treatment of a child. This was mirrored by the youthful decorations put around the room that he constructed for her. Kane dictated Susan’s life, almost as if he had her confined within “cage.” Essentially, majority of the rooms in his mansion were catered to his liking while he confined Susan to one room filled with materialistic items and decorations that she could care less about In addition, the ceilings and room sizes chosen for Kane’s mansion throughout this film perfectly resembled the limitation of the lives of these two characters. Kane was used to living the exact, luxurious life that he desired with no limitations, which was resembled by his mansion size and high ceilings. On the contrary, Susan became used to living her life with limitations set by Kane, which explains why the room that he decided to designate to her was so “cage-like” and a had a fairly low ceiling.
In addition to deep focus, positioning also enhances the plot and narrative. Positioning, too, plays a major role in the scene where Kane’s parents and Mr. Thatcher are having an intense discussion. Each character’s position within this scene was intentionally selected. For instance, the camera zooms out from Kane playing in the snow so that all of the characters included in this scene could be visible. Mr. Thatcher and Kane’s mother are placed side-by-side to display how they share common views about what they should do with little Charles Kane. Kane’s father, however, is shown far from them to display how he possesses opposing views. Symbolically, little Kane is placed directly in the center, which depicted how he was the focal point of the discussion. The distance of each character from the camera also shows the level of how much control they possess. For instance, the mother and Mr. Thatcher possess the most control over what was going to happen, which is shown by how close they appear. The father, which has less control than Mr. Thatcher and Kane’s mother, is depicted further away from the camera between them and little Kane. Little Charles Kane, which was farthest from the camera, ironically, had the least control of the situation.
Lastly, the cinematographic technique of lighting also enhances the plot and narrative of this film. The combination of light and shadows tends to play a major role within many scenes. For example, lighting techniques were used within the scene where Susan was leaving Kane. Throughout the scene, high-key lighting was given to Susan to represent her true value in Kane’s life and control. Whereas, Kane was given low-key lighting with a shadow casted on him the entire time. The shadow given to him represented how “in the dark” he had become over the course of his life. Susan’s departure symbolizes the departure of Kane’s control. Being that, through this lighting technique, Susan appears as a representation of control, it goes to show that Kane was not nearly as powerful when his control over things were no more.
Overall, Citizen Kane helps display the myth of the “American Dream” by showing us that all that glitters is not gold. Many people are probably convinced by films that being rich and famous only has advantages. However, the techniques used within this film contribute to the understanding of the theme. The cinematographic techniques used allow the audience to look beyond the film’s face value. Just as the deep focus technique, the amalgamation of these innovative elements does not limit the audience to only gain an understanding of what is directly in front of the screen. It permits the audience to gain an understanding of the film from a plethora of perspectives.
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