Citizen Kane is hailed as one of the best films of all time, and with good reason. Citizen Kane is in the Film noire genre and is about Charles Foster Kane (Orson Welles), who is the owner of a huge media empire; He dies in his bedroom at his estate named Xanadu. Clutching onto a snow globe as he dies, Kane’s final word is “Rosebud. ”A news reporter named Jerry Thompson (William Alland) is interested in the life and death of Kane, so he tries to find some extra information on him, especially the meaning of his final word.
As Thompson interviews friends and lovers, the story of Kane is showed in a number of flashbacks from their point of view. The film also featured a number of cinematic innovations and techniques that are still influencing films and filmmakers to this day. One such technique used brilliantly in the movie is deep focus. Deep focus means that everything is in the frame, even the background, in focus at the same time, as opposed to having only the people and things in the foreground in focus. The deep focus technique requires the cinematographer to combine lighting, composition, and type of camera lens to produce the wanted effect.
With deep focus, a filmmaker can showcase overlapping actions. A good example of this comes early in the film, when Kane is only a small boy who is about to be taken away from essentially his childhood and family. He is outside in the snow, playing with his sleigh, while his mother is talking with Mr. Thatcher, the man who is going to take Charles in to live with him. There is a long continuous shot, in which you see the mother and Mr. Thatcher discussing the fate of Charles. The father tries to interfere with their discussion occasionally, but he is always silenced by Mrs.
Kane, especially when told he will receive fifty thousand dollars a year for as long as he lives. After the camera has followed Mrs. Kane and Thatcher who sit down next to a table, Mrs. Kane and Mr. Thatcher are sitting on the right hand side of the frame. The father is standing a bit further away, on the left. Charles is still playing outside, but at all times, he can be seen from the window at the back of the room, which is in the middle of the frame. Due to the use of deep focus this scene became even more relevant and meaningful.
Meaningful because as Charles fate is being discussed you can still see him in the background playing with his sleigh probably for the last time, this symbolism is only made possible through deep focus. The most defining element of Citizen Kane has to be the lighting. Citizen Kane is classified as a “Film Noire” meaning Welles meant for it to be a dark picture, He used simple lighting devices in order to give a scene a certain ambience, and in some instances to further develop the characters with the use of shadows.
A good example of this is later in the film when Welles’ displays Kane’s superiority over Susan using shadows. This takes place when she finally loses control and lashes out at Kane after being humiliated by Leland in the Enquirer. She tells Kane that she wants to quit singing, but he demands that she continues. He stands above her and momentarily she is covered by his shadow, showing or suggesting his dominance over her. He then intimidates her, and she must continue with her career even though it is clear she does not want to.
But perhaps the most memorable use of dark lighting is the first scene following the “News of the March”, where the reporters debate how they will add to the story of Kane’s death. The lighting is so miniscule that it covers most of the room in shadow. As a result, the characters are not in detail, they are a silhouette. This scene is effective because it says a great deal about the reporters, that they are not main characters.
Even Thompson who through his pursuit of “Rosebud” is the catalyst for the rest of the film, he is not important enough to light adequately. By casting all of the reporters in shadow, Welles diminishes their overall importance, Thompsons only purpose is to inform the viewer through the information he gets through flashbacks. Another creative storytelling technique used in Citizen Kane is the use of flashbacks. Citizen Kane takes place over a long period of time, and the use of flashbacks allows the characters to age as the story goes on.
Instead of being told in a completely chronological manner, Kane’s story unfolds in overlapping segments that add more information and clues into Kane’s life as each narrator adds his or her story to it. Telling Kane’s life story entirely in flashbacks was a different and interesting approach to storytelling. The flashbacks are given from the perspectives of characters who are getting old or forgetful, and biased. This casts uncertainty in the authenticity of the memories being discussed. In other words, these characters are unreliable narrators whose own opinions and interpretations affect their accuracy.
The storytelling techniques succeed in painting Charles Foster Kane as an enigma, complicated man who, in the end, all the fame and power couldn’t fill the emptiness he felt inside. It is because of this technique you never get Kane’s side of the story, and it is left up to the viewer to make their own judgment on Kane. In the end Mr. Thompson is at Xanadu still trying to figure out the meaning to “Rosebud”. He roams around the complex not finding any clues. He even talks to a butler that worked at the compound and even he had nothing of value to add.
At the end Thompson gives up on finding the meaning the “Rosebud” and never does figure it out, but the viewer does get informed on the meaning of Rosebud. At the end of the movie among a pile of statues and crates of other things Kane collected over the years, the camera tracks over the room with an overhead view and stops over a sledge. A man grabs it and you hear in the background “throw that junk out. ” When the sledge gets tossed in the furnace the frame dissolves and then you get a close up of the sleigh with the name Rosebud on the front of it.
It is very ironic that the sledge is referred to as junk because this sleigh was valued most to Kane, a man who had everything. Rosebud signifies Kane’s childhood. It was that very sleigh he was playing with while Mr. Thatcher and Mrs. Kane discussed the future of Charles before he went away with Thatcher. Kane was a man who was believed to have everything, a massive amount of money, and a unheard of amount of power, but in the end all he wanted was to go back to his childhood, a time of innocence and his true happiness.