Cinematography in Citizen Kane

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Cinematography in Citizen Kane

Citizen Kane is a film that was produced in 1941 by Orson Welles who is also the director and protagonist. Welles plays the character of Charles Foster Kane a newspaper magnate who dies after uttering the word “Rosebud” that remain a mystery until the end of the film (Welles n.p.). The movie set the precedence for cinematography and it has been considered one of the greatest movies till date to use this filmic element. The cinematographer of the film is Gregg Toland who uses the element of depth of focus to display the actions of different actors simultaneously in a single frame and camera angles to demonstrate the different aspects of the setting and the characters. 

The lens optic concept of depth of focus is believed to have originated in Citizen Kane where Toland was able to recognize, through the camera focus, the difference between the background, middle ground and foreground. Deep focus is a film style that uses “fast-wide angle lenses and fast film to preserve as much depth of field as possible” (Hayward 99). In the film, one of the areas that deep focus is used is in the room where Kane’s parents and Thatcher discuss if the young Charlie Kane should go and live with Thatcher so that he can be educated. Kane’s mother and Thatcher are having a heated discussion on the foreground about Kane’s future which is an indication that they have much control or authority over the situation. Kane’s father is in the middle ground and he is against the idea of Kane going with Thatcher but he is not placed in the foreground as he does not exert much control on the topic compared to Thatcher and Kane’s mother. Charlie Kane is in the background as he is the center of the attention but has no control or authority or control over what is discussed in the room. He is playing outside in the snow and the camera is focusing on him through the window. Deep focus has also been used in other scenes in the film such as the Susan’s attempt to commit suicide where the bottle and the glass are in the foreground, Susan is out-of-focus and the men entering the room in the background. Toland was able to achieve deep focus through lens choice, composition and lighting. 

The film used camera angles to demonstrate certain aspects of either the character or the setting. Toland extensively used the low angle in various scenes in the film. One such scenes is when Jed Leland confronts Kane after he lost in the elections. The camera is placed at a low position which shows Leland as a dominating figure in the scene. Low-angle shots tend to display power, superiority and status as the audience view the scene from an ‘sympathetic’ view (St. Pierre 228). The use of low-angle shots in this scene by Leland meant to increase the level of conflict. The low-angle shot was also used in Kane’s death bed where the snow globe rolled to the floor which was meant to produce a dramatic effect. 

All in all, the two aspects of cinematography – deep focus and camera angles, are used to communicate with audience a particular message by focusing on different elements using the optical capabilities of the camera. The camera has the ability to communicate and inform the audience even without spoken word from the characters. These aspects evoke particular mental pictures and emotions to the audience in order to understand certain scenes. In the film Citizen Kane, these camera optical capabilities were used exceptionally well.

 

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