Camera Angling in Nosferatu and Citizen Kane

         There were many things done in Nosferatu, directed in 1922 by F. W. Murnau, that can be marked as historical aspects of film. One category that can be counted as a historical aspect is the unique use of camera angles[, later to be employed so effectively in Orson Welles' 1941 Citizen Kane.

         The main camera feature that Nosferatu became known for was the use of extremely low camera angles. This use of camera angles has never been used to this extent. Even though it was done experimentally by the cinematographers, Fritz Arno Wagner and the uncredited Günther Krampf, it was highly successful. By the use of the low camera angles, the vampire, Count Orlock (Max Schreck), looked immensely taller than anyone else in the film and effectively added to his "monstrous" look on the screen. Despite how effective this use of angles was, they were not employed again in a film until the cinematographer, Gregg Toland, did so in Citizen Kane. The low camera angles worked well in Citizen Kane to make Kane, played by Welles himself, look as though he were larger than everyone else, show his power.

         Other camera angles used throughout the film Nosferatu were foreground shots, middle ground shots and background shots. All of these were employed at various times separately, but at many points they were combined to add depth to a shot. By using these shots and creating a great look of depth, along with utilizing low camera angles, the film makers were able to effectively make the vampire look extremely tall in wide-open areas as well as in confined areas. In some scenes the vampire was shot at a normal angle, making him look approximately the same size as everyone around him, for example, the ballroom scene. In other scenes, he looks absolutely gigantic, like when he was walking through a stone archway in the town.

         These various camera angles being used together were completely experimental, but highly effective. The film makers were among the first to create the illusion of great depth in a film by mixing up their shots, as well as to make someone appear much larger than he really was by using such low camera angles.

         As I mentioned previously, this use of low camera angles was very successful, but was not repeated until Orson Welles decided to incorporate it while filming himself as the powerful millionaire, Kane, in Citizen Kane. Although the camera angles were very successful in making Kane look larger and more intimidating, the film was not overly successful until years after it was released, when it, like Nosferatu, became hailed as a cinematic masterpiece.

Amanda Saunders

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