Charles Foster Kane, a billionaire newspaper tycoon, lived a life full of wealth and power only to die alone in his extravagant mansion, Xanadu. Told through a series of flashbacks, a reporter tries to unravel the mystery of Kane’s final word…“Rosebud!”
Citizen Kane is an overly stylized, formalistically driven film. Welles developed and expanded upon many conventional techniques used in the classic era of cinema; forced angles, heavy noir-style shadows, and non-linear storytelling.
Similar to Fritz Lang’s “M”, Citizen Kane relies heavily on angles and perspective to force our eyes a certain way. When the camera showed Kane or Jedediah Leland, they were always shot from a low angle, giving them a sense of power and strength. When filming the female characters, Welles chose to portray them as weaker and less threatening, thus shooting them from a higher angle, shrinking their size and “importance”.
Welles used a lot of interesting dissolves and overlays when transitioning between scenes. Although a lot of the edits were blatantly obvious, they were masterfully placed as to enhance the film and help move the story along.
A lot of the dramatic scenes were kept as quiet as possible, enhancing the mood and tension. Music was used extensively in Citizen Kane to elicit emotion and character sympathy. Other sounds and background noises were normal and fitting for the scenes in which they were presented.
Although I understand the historical significance of Citizen Kane, it fails to hold up to the test of time. Welles did some amazing things with this film in terms of editing, storytelling and plotlines; yet for all of his efforts, when viewed through modern eyes, the film comes off as a hackish attempt at making a highly stylized genre film. Because the same story has been rehashed so many times since 1941, Citizen Kane has lost nearly all its original luster. Other notable films of the same era, The Mark of Zorro (1940), and The Maltese Falcon (1941), are still as exciting and emotionally impacting today as they were 67 years ago. Instead of trying to become something more than they are, these films embraced their respective genres, and became some of the most memorable films in history. They don’t try to over impress us with “new age” thinking or innovative filmmaking techniques. They just have solid, well acted scripts, interesting characters, and a timeless style. Citizen Kane is definitely a “period piece” that needs to stay fondly remembered for its innovation and creative filmmaking instead of touted as the greatest film ever and then never given a second look from modern eyes.