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Citizen Kane, a classic American dramatic film, is considered to be the ultimate classic masterpiece and the world’s most famous and highest rated film, as it is ranked the number one best film of all time. It was the first movie Orson Welles, a theatrical genius, co-wrote, directed, and produced at only an age of twenty-five years. The subject of this movie is the life of Charles Foster Kane, known as Citizen Kane, which is played by Welles himself. Dating back to 1941, Citizen Kane set a high standard for the art of cinematography as it made cinematic advances and technical innovations on many fronts.
A new style of film making was created with innovations varying from the use of deep focus technique, camera positions and angles shots, story telling and aural techniques.
The most innovative technical aspect of Citizen Kane is the extended use of deep focus technique which is considered to be the most significant contribution to cinematography. This technique allowed him to photograph backgrounds with as mush clarity as foregrounds, as opposed to having only the people and things in the foreground in focus.
Such a technique is noticed in the scene where Kane’s parents are filmed discussing his future while he’s seen through the window in the foreground playing outside in the snow.
Deep focus makes possible for the film maker to showcase overlapping simultaneous actions, where the mise-en-scène becomes more significant since the physical environment in which the film takes place should be then taken into account.
Besides, is it important to note that the cast members that Welles’s had chosen for his film had never made a movie before and were all classically trained theatrical actors. Their theatrical background played an important role and had an impact on the success of techniques like deep focus, since actors were placing themselves firmly in each scene.
Moreover, another unorthodox method used in the film was the low-angle shot. This technique tends to elongate a person or object, making him or it seem more important. They were used to display a position facing upward, thus showing ceilings in the background of the scene. Such camera positions and angles were important in Citizen Kane, since they had artistic and psychological effects. That technique gives an added power to the person on the screen, which turned out to be Kane for most of the scenes.
It intimidates the viewers since they found themselves in the inferior position of looking up. In fact, it is that excessive use of those shots that bent Kane and made him grotesque to our responsiveness. In addition to that technique, we have witnessed in the film several scenes which depict characters moving across rooms, and having the floors and ceilings moving with them. This unusual technique tends to dehumanize the characters by plunging and reducing them to some ornaments in a shifting or moving architecture.
Welles also carried over creative storytelling techniques, from flashbacks to techniques that relate successive episodic sequences. What is meant by the latter is the making of adjacent scenes on a same set, but having the characters changing their costumes and make-up during the cut in between the two scenes. In this way, the following scene would be taking place in the same location of the previous one but at a time long after the previous cut. On the other hand, flashbacks were greatly used in the film: telling Kane’s life story entirely in flashbacks was another innovative approach to storytelling.
Other types of cinematic advances are the aural techniques, which were definitely related to Welles’s experience with sound from radio. Sound effects were intensively but skilfully used in the film to create moods and emotions, such as the cold echo heard at the monumental library, in the scene which put on view the reporter and the daunting librarian. In addition to mounting the potential of sound as a producer of moods and emotions, we witness in Citizen Kane a remarkable aural innovation, known technically as the lightning-mix, which is used to link between different scenes via related continuous series of sounds or phrase. Here, the continuity of the soundtrack, not the image, gives a smooth seamless narrative jump between two different scenes. To illustrate that technique, we can recall, in the beginning of the film, the scene where the guardian of Kane, who was still a child, wishes him a “Merry Christmas”, after which we suddenly jump to a shot of Kane, fifteen years later, hearing “and a Happy New Year”.
In addition, Welles had many others innovative techniques such as the use of glasses and mirrors which can be seen through out the movie, to enhance the effect of the movie. We can recall the last scenes of the film where Kane is left alone, where in one of the scenes; he passes in front of a set of mirrors in the background of the set. Besides, Welles’s use of lighting and shadow was impressive, having camera set-ups designed to frame characters in the oblique angle of light and shadow created by their environment.
Finally, we cannot but admit that Citizen Kane introduced Hollywood to the inventive, creative and productive potential of cinematic techniques. All the department of visuals, special effects, sounds and screenplay shows innovative techniques. The art of filmmaking was immensely affected by the technical brilliance of Orson Welles.
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