Citizen Kane
The classic masterpiece, Citizen Kane (1941), is probably the world's most
famous and highly rated film, with its many remarkable scenes, cinematic and
narrative techniques and innovations. The director, star, and producer were all
the same individual - Orson Welles (in his film debut at age 25), who
collaborated with Herman J. Mankiewicz on the script and with Gregg Toland as
cinematographer. Within the maze of its own aesthetic, Citizen Kane develops two
interesting themes. The first concerns the debasement of the private personality
of the public figure, and the second deals with the crushing weight of
materialism. Taken together, these two themes comprise the bitter irony of an

American success story that ends in futile nostalgia, loneliness, and death. The
fact that the personal theme is developed verbally through the characters while
the materialistic theme is developed visually, creating a distinctive stylistic
counterpoint. It is against the counterpoint that the themes unfold within the
structure of a mystery story. Its theme is told from several perspectives by
several different characters and is thought provoking. The tragic story is how a
millionaire newspaperman, who idealistically made his reputation as the champion
of the underprivileged, becomes corrupted by a lust for wealth, power and
immortality. Kane's tragedy lies in his inability to experience any real emotion
in his human relationships. The apparent intellectual superficiality of Citizen

Kane can be traced to the shallow quality of Kane himself. Even when Kane is
seen as a crusading journalist battling for the lower classes, overtones of
self-idolatry mar his actions. His clever ironies are more those of the
exhibitionist than the crusader. His second wife complains that Kane never gave
her anything that was part of him, only material possessions that he might give
a dog. His best friend, Jedediah Leland, was a detached observer functioning as
a sublimated conscience remarks to the reporter that Kane never gave anything
away: "he left you a tip". In each case, Kane's character is described
in materialistic terms. What Kane wanted - love, emotional loyalty, the
unspoiled world of his boyhood, symbolized by "rosebud", he was unable
to provide for those around him, or buy for himself. The intriguing opening is
filled with hypnotic dissolves from one sinister, mysterious image to the next,
moving forward closer and closer. The film's first sight is a "No

Trespassing" sign hanging on a giant gate in the night's foggy mist,
illuminated by the moonlight. The camera pans up the chain-link mesh gate, which
dissolves and changes into images of great iron flowers or oak leaves on the
heavy gate. On the crest of the gate is a single, silhouetted, wrought iron
"K" initial. The gate surrounds a distant, forbidding-looking castle
with towers. The fairy-tale castle is situated on a man-made mountain, obviously
the estate of a wealthy man. The same shots are repeated in reverse at the very
end of the film. The initial and concluding clash of realism and expressionism
suggests in a subtle way, the theme of Citizen Kane. The intense material
reality of the fence dissolves into the fantastic unreality of the castle, and
in the end, the mystic pretension of the castle dissolves into the mundane
substance of the fence. Matter has come full circle from its original quality to
the grotesque baroque of its excess. As each flashback unfolds, the visual
scenario of Citizen Kane orchestrates the dialogue. A universe of ceilings
dwarfs Kane's personal stature. He becomes the prisoner of his possessions, the
ornament of his furnishings, and the fiscal instrument of his collections. His
booming voice is muffled by walls, carpets, furniture, hallways, stairs the vast
recesses of useless space. Gregg Toland's camera set-ups are designed to frame
characters in the oblique angles of light and shadow created by their artificial
environment. There are no luminous close-ups in which faces are detached from
their backgrounds. When characters move across rooms, the floors and ceilings
move with them. This technique which is highly unusual, tends to dehumanize
characters by reducing them to fixed ornaments in a shifting architecture. The
choice of camera position was an important factor in getting across artistic and
psychological effects. To the photograph a person or object from below, distorts
that object. It tends to elongate a person, making him seem more important. It
also intimidates the audience, since it is in the inferior position of looking
up. The scene gives an added power to the person on the screen. Kane is indeed
bloated and enlarged by his material possessions, and in comparison, the
audience feels very small. Yet it is precisely his excessiveness, which has
distorted him and made him grotesque