It is quite amazing that in 1939, at the young age of twenty-four, an American genius was about to leave his mark on the film industry. He already had a varied background in radio and theater and became more familiar to the public when he caused panic nationwide with his War of the Worlds radio broadcast. The man was named Orson Welles, and he was incredibly far ahead of his time period.
Chapter 10 of the Cook textbook discussed the movie we were going to watch in class titled, Citizen Kane. While reading closely the portions regarding this movie, I found that it is very hard to visualize what one was going to see in the film. Looking at the illustrations, I thought that it was hard to try to get a grasp of this brilliant man's techniques that were so advanced for the day. Welles said that the only preparation he had for directing Citizen Kane (1941) was to watch John Ford's 1939 film, Stagecoach, forty times. Well, even thought I have not seen this movie, I still realize that it must have definitely had a major impact on Welles and what was going on in his mind. The many approaches he used in Citizen Kane demonstrate that it is an outstanding film full of many new, unique techniques.
This film was Welles' first feature film and he not only directed it, he also produced, co-wrote and played the title role. This was his most important and influential work, and we can be thankful to RKO Pictures for giving him complete creative freedom when they signed him in on with them in 1939.
Gregg Toland, the cinematographer in this film, was outstanding; and he lived up to his reputation in Hollywood. The textbook by Cook discussed his "pan focus" photography and how he combined an ultra-fast film with a wide-angle lens to create the effect. He used special techniques on the scenes to light them with high-intensity arch lamps, and he coated the lenses with a clear plastic substance to reduce the glare. When these techniques were combined with the dramatic action that Welles was able to create, it created a new effect that had never been used in a sound picture.
The soundtrack in this movie was also very well done with the deep-focus set-ups that were used in several scenes. Leland's (Joseph Cotten) footsteps approaching Welles as he finished typing the singer Susan Alexander Kane's (Dorothy Comingore) bad review were very effective as they moved from the distance and kept coming closer as he walked to the camera.
Of particular interest is the use of shadows and lighting in Citizen Kane. Additionally, the use of a crane to get the camera angles shooting down on various scenes, as well as the technique used of lying on the floor and shooting up, and the wide-angle lenses that he used were very effective. The breakfast scene with Charles and the first Mrs. Emily Norton Kane (Ruth Warrick) when the fast-forwarding technique was used between scene changes to show the passage of time and the disintegration of their marriage was an interesting way of making a point to the viewer.
It was discussed in the textbook and evident when the film was previewed, that there were several scenes where the actors talked over one another rather than like the previous films screened where one person talks at a time. Another interesting technique was the comparison in the size of Charles and Susan in the castle, the use of echoes as they talked to one another, and the distance between the two of them in their massive home.
This was a very enjoyable film, and it helped to understand before watching it that it was the loosely based story of William Randolph Hearst's life. His name is associated with newspapers, but his background about how he came into his wealth is not known by many. Barry Levinson, columnist in the Wall Street Journal, said in a recent article on the eve of this year's Academy Awards, that he thought Citizen Kane "is considered one of the greatest cinematic achievements of all time" (2). It was nominated for nine Oscars, four of them were for Welles himself. Citizen Kane an Oscar in 1941 for best original screenplay, and Welles shared the credit for this award with Herman Mankiewicz, a veteran screenwriter.
Levinson, Barry. Wall Street Journal, Feb. 24-25, 2007: 2.