Film Analysis #1 – Citizen Kane

In Citizen Kane (Welles, RKO, 1941), the scene following Kane’s defeat in the election for governor takes great care using mise-en-scene techniques to add to the themes of the film.  Orson Welles uses lighting, deep and low angle shots to show Kane’s isolation from the world.  Kane is depicted as a successful and dominant figure through usage of low angle shots as well yet his emotional state is depicted through the torn, falling posters and decorations from his campaign.  In a time when politicians were held in high esteem and the American dream was at the forefront of everyone’s mind, Kane is an example of how accomplishing that dream will not necessarily produce happiness.

The scene begins with everyone walking out of the office and leaving Kane alone.  The lights are dim making the tone a bit more serious and dismal.  There is a slight low angle shot, showing that Kane is still a dominant figure despite his loss, it also makes him seem further away.  the low angle isolates him from us and expresses his view compared to the rest of society; he looks down on others as though he is a king.  Kane is surrounded by posters with his face or name on them, this further expresses his fame and power.  it also shows how after all of his efforts and “success”  he is left alone with no one but himself for company.

The camera pans over as Jedediah walks in drunk.  Jed begins to criticize Kane and Kane walks away and separates himself.  in this shot he is again completely isolated.  Kane is in a frame within a frame created by the poles in the room and the supports on the ceiling, also the book case.  It almost looks as if Kane is at the end of a tunnel. Jed is outside of the tunnel and slightly in shadow.  He is in shadow because he is speaking truth to Kane, usually truth would be in the light but Kane does not want to listen to reality, he wants to be isolated and in his own world.  Welles uses a deep shot to keep everything in focus.  This allows the viewer to see Kane and the rest of the world clearly.  This scene is being told by Jedediah, who has an outside perspective and can see the world clearly.  had Kane been telling any part of the story, he may be the only one in focus.  Around Kane here are streamers and decorations that are torn and falling down.  There are less posters bearing his face or name in this shot.  There is less of him because he is no longer the only one there, not only physically but Jedediah is talking about the public and the world outside of Kane.  When reality strikes Kane that he is truly alone his world crumbles, hence the decorations in shambles.  The cloths they are wearing tell of each character’s state as well.  Jedediah is fully dressed, over coat and hat on, he is armored and on the offensive.  Kane is vulnerable.  His jacket is in his hand and his vest is unbuttoned.  He is defeated and still taking blows.

Kane comes closer to Jedediah as he tries to dispute the truth.  turning his back to him each time Jed delivers a hard blow and facing him each time he justifies himself.  when Jedediah tells Kane “You don’t care about anyone but yourself” Kane turns and walks away.  In this shot Kane walks, or runs from the reality of what he has become.  it is a much steeper low angle shot than before, further isolating him.  the Kane poster hangs behind him symbolizing the Kane that he thinks he is and wants to be.  The Kane that is loved by the people and should have been elected governor.

In the next shot Jedediah steps into full shadow as he finishes his rant about Kane’s selfishness.  The shadow depicts the darkness within Kane that he refuses to examine, that Kane chooses to keep in the dark.

In the last shot here, Jedediah is back in light but half of his face is in shadow.  He is two different people to Kane.  the half in shadow is the Leland that is requesting to work in Chicago and escape Kane, the other half in light is the Leland that is Kane’s best friend and he longs to hold onto.  This low angle shot does not isolate Kane but the both of them.  It takes the mess of the room out of view and places them against the ceiling.  It is an intimate and telling moment between the two of them.  The scene then fades to black bringing closure and putting into the dark anything that Kane did not care to hear.

In this scene Orson Welles tells the story of Kane not only in dialogue but through staging and filmic devices.  Though he lost the election it is established that Kane is the American dream, a true rags to riches story.  It is made clear that Kane views himself as the picture of greatness, through his posters surrounding him and from the low angle shots depicting how he looks down on the world, as if her were God.  Though Kane’s image of himself is of greatness, his surroundings say different.  He is left with just pictures of himself and a deteriorating image as shown by his falling posters and decorations.  Truly Welles has shown us through his skills in mise-en-scene that Kane and the American dream are not all they are cracked up to be.

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