Analysis — Inspiration of “Citizen Kane”

          In “Citizen Kane” (Orson Welles, Mercury Productions and RKO Studio, 1941), the scene where a banker named Walter Parks Thatcher recalled Kane’s life experience used deep focus, artful lighting, and historical flashbacks to display Kane’s rise and fall of his career. Comparing the loss of Kane’s childhood and the secret of Kane’s last word “rosebud”, Welles disclosed the complexity of Kane’s personality and inspired audiences about the meaning of life during War World II and the Great Depression. The innovative message and cinematography made this film became the number one on the AFI’s top 100 list, and it was also known as a turning point between modern and traditional films.

            “Citizen Kane” used flashbacks to show different stage of Kane’s life. The film started with Kane’s death and his last word “rosebud” to tell how the millionaire lost everything. Thatcher flashback showed the childhood of Kane, which was the most important part about how he built up his personality. In the scene, Thatcher and Kane’s parents were arranging Kane future. Welles used deep focus to shot to show every person’s face clearly in the rough house. At the same time, Kane was naively playing with his sled outside.

            This deep focus shot let audiences immediately realized Kane’s poor background because of the empty house and the dress of his parents. Also, the contrast between Mrs. Kane’s serious face and Mr. Kane’s angry face was showing their conflict of making the decision to Kane’s future. The lighting of Mr. Kane only reflected his half face while Mrs. Kane and Thatcher had full lighting. This moral enhanced the opposition and isolation of Mr. Kane. Additionally, Thatcher was sitting closer to Mrs. Kane with all the documents. The ignorance to Mr. Kane foreshadowed that Mrs. Kane was dominated the family, and she had decided to send her son away his broken father. Meanwhile, in the deep of the field, Kane was enjoying the snow outside without knowing his fate had entirely changed from that moment. After Kane realized that he needed to leave his family, Welles gave a close shot to show the inner feeling of every character. Especially for Kane, he had no idea what did the wealth mean to him, and he felt like abandoned by his family. The pain of Kane imported the change of his personality. The flashback storyline and deep focus cinematography were revolutionary compare any other films at that moment.

           Welles used tons of flashbacks to provide different views of Kane in different angles of interviews, however, only the scene of Kane’s childhood implied the answer to “rosebud”. It was a shock for audiences that Kane’s last word had nothing related to his two wives and the enterprise he had struck for the whole life. By the surprise ending, Welles unveiled that the most important thing to Kane was his childhood. The experience of incomplete childhood made Kane want to control everything by himself and other people admire him afterward. Welles seems to dig a deeper meaning of happiness in humanity by telling the precious thing is the love of family. As people kept chasing wealth and social status for their entire lives, they lost all the joys in the past. The flashback scene brought the audience back to think about what they actually need—maybe it is just a little stuff as Kane’s sled.

             Furthermore, “Citizen Kane” was released during World War II, with the attack on Pearl Harbor, and followed the Great Depression. The narrative structure and historical flashback struck a responsive chord in the hearts of its audiences. This cinematography was so different and shock compared to the ones in history. In the early of 1900s, the majority of Hollywood movies were comedies, science fictions, or horror films. Welles absorbed the essence of classis previous films and put a significant innovation in “Citizen Kane”, which pushed the success of Hollywood movies to a new high. Welles entertained his audience by Kane’s legendary life experience, but more importantly, his inspired people by the growth and the ironic ending of Kane. Welles work also enlightened the subsequent film development, which made “Citizen Kane” become a milestone of the history of Hollywood movies.

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