Saturday, May 23, 2009

Movie Review: Citizen Kane

It could be easy for a modern viewer to take a film like Citizen Kane for granted and not understand why it was the milestone that it was.  The film is an epic not by budget but by talent. Orson Welles tells the story of the rise and fall of a newspaper tycoon with every technique not in the book. The first important thing to notice about the film is that it was mostly shot in deep focus photography. During the time of Citizen Kane (1941) films were not shot this way. They would traditionally be shot by having the background out of focus and the foreground in focus or vica versus in order for the viewer to know exactly what to look at. In Kane, cinematographer Gregg Toland had everything in motion and used the movement and eye lines of characters to direct the viewers eye to what they should look at. While this was innovative it was also unapprieciated at the time because it meant that the viewer had to be very active while watching the film and a viewer couldn't passivly watch the film.

The film is often remembered for epic moments and events in the film. From his rally to become governor to the opera house and even small moments such as the reporter in the library of Xanadu in the beginning of the film. The one thing that could be missed if someone is unaware is that the film is massive mainly due to special effects and smoke and mirrors. We are given the illusion of scale without ever seeing it. The use of light and composing of the frame greatly help to create this feeling. An example is the opera house in which the audience is always shown from very low or hight angles in order to use less extras then was available. Also when Susan Alexander Kane is show from behind looking out at the stage all see see is patches of light and what completes this illusion of a massive theater is the soundtrack. 

An interesting aspect of the film is how the deep focusing was used to great effect for some scale shots to show how we are supposed to feel about Kane without being told. There are several scenes where Kane is in the foreground and is a powerful man and then as something is taken away from him or changed for the worse he walks into the background and becomes a small figure. While the public's view of Kane may have been a bigger then life character it was obvious that as time wore on his life became quite lonesome. 

The set up for us to see this story unfold is quite interesting in how it doesn't really have anything to do with the story. We hear the word "Rosebud" uttered by Kane and then are send off at first to find out who Rosebud is and if that one word can sum up the life of Kane. Finally by the films end we realize that one word, one headline isn't what can define a man. Many of the films characters aren't even aware of what Rosebud is and have never heard of it. What they do give us is a portrait of a real man with ups and downs.

The selection of actors in the film are also delve into areas that most films at the time didn't. Unlike other big films of the time most of the actors were particuarly unknown and hadn't been in film before. Some of the roles were filled by actors that worked with Orson Welles at the Mercury theater. This had a lot to do with the unheard of deal the Orson Welles had with RKO to have complete control over the film and the final cut. A decision that helped to make Citizen Kane the classic it's been praised as since it's initial release. 

5 out of 5

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