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Citizen Kane Opening Scene Analysis Essays

Citizen Kane

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Orson Welles is a legend in itself. He is a dedicated director, actor, and artist. An artist in the sense he directed, produced, and was the star in the film ‘Citizen Kane.' The film won an award for best screenplay that was co-written by Welles. ‘Citizen Kane' brings into light many social problems between countries, relationships, and also between competing newspaper companies. The film was a big controversy when it was first released on a delay (because of personal conditions with W.R. Hearst). It brings into light how a newspaper should react and also brings the corruption of politics. War was breaking out in Europe and throughout the entire film Kane states there will be no war. He ignores the fact people are being killed, tortured, and rounded up like livestock because of Adolf Hitler. The film was released on May 1, 1941 a few days before Joseph Stalin becomes premier of Russia, a day before Nazis took over Netherlands, and eight days before the English army breaks the German codes.
The film introduces to us in the beginning a single word, ‘Rosebud.' The audience having just tuned into the movie has no clue what the word means. In the opening music score there are many parallels that can be seen. This includes images on top of images, images digressing with other images, and images that clash with other images. Throughout the film you have these parallels not only with shots, but with people and real life figures. Private lives are not private at all. If you are a substantial figure in the world then people have clear access to you and your life. This goes along with the life of Kane. From his childhood he did great things and his life was publicized by his guardian. It is very important in the scheme of things because after Kane's second wife divorced him he became a recluse and people had that curiosity about what he was doing in Xanadu.

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Citizen Kane         Private Lives         Orson Welles         Social Problems         Real Life         Screenplay         Shots        





The audience seems to go with this theme of privacy and can relate. This theme can be carried over to today and be related to the day to day life of current celebrities. There were a lot of paradoxes in the movie that turned back to that critical moment of Kane's life when his guardian took him away from his home and Rosebud. The audience does not find out till the last scene what Rosebud is, but if you were smart and critical you would have found out as soon as you saw the sled being thrown down and the expression on young Kane's face when he received another sled for Christmas. There no apparent stereotypes in the movie as far as I could tell. You had the mad driven young man who had anything he wanted, but he was very generous and hard at the same time. You did not know whether to sympathize with him or loathe him throughout the entire film.
Following many of Hitchcock's traditions, Welles gives the film a one of a kind aspect when it comes to the actual filming. He adds deep shadows on shots to where the audience can not take a look at the faces; they hear voices and can not put a face to the sounds. He builds the actors up by placing the camera on the floor making the actors look ‘bigger than life' when viewing them. The characters are the same people, yet they are all sorts of ages as the film continues. The movie is a deadline and the audience does not go through the plot step by step. Welles gives the film a setup with three stages. You have Kane's death, 5 flashbacks, and then it's back to modern times once again.
This is a classic film that critics place on top of their list. It wasn't looked greatly upon when it was released, but it has remained in the minds and lists since it first debuted. It is shown everyday in many film classes, homes, and by reviewers to see a better insight into it. Even today after all the viewings and critiques the same questions are still being asked. Who is the protagonist? Who is the antagonist? Does Kane change from the beginning to the end? There are many theories and there are many conclusions from those theories. Are any right? No one knows.
It shows an insight into the mind of a brilliant man that is being taken for granted. Kane is a successful man who has loves of everything. He buys things in quantity and yet at the same time seems to not love them as he should. He has two wives who love him, but it does not appear he loves them. He buys them anything they want, but does that count? The film reaches down deep inside of a person and shows what the human condition of love and repression can do to a person. Kane was taken as a child to become a great person and it is successful. Or is it? Kane achieves great success, but in the long run dies an empty and lonely man.
The film goes into social aspects of the time. It mentions a great deal of the wars across the ocean in Europe. The film was being made at the start of World War Two. Hitler was started to gather Jews and discriminate against them rallying people to fire them and not let them do their jobs in the world. All this is parallel with the opening shots of Kane's newspaper that read about his death and his funeral at Xanadu.
The film does not encounter many popular beliefs about living other than the high class end of the deal. It does not show any poverty stricken people or any condition foreign. It revolves around the high class of newspaper and the small family of Kane. Values were pushed upon by the wives of Kane about adultery, marriage, and friendship. Kane's friends pushed the values of business and conduct wherein. Throughout the ordeal of Kane's life, from his taking over the newspaper, run for office, and his divorce from his second wife, he was publicly on the minds and papers of the cities. He had no private matter except the memory of Rosebud, which ironically enough did not make it out to the public and was burned at the end only to set in stone the mystery of Kane.



Scene description: Opening scene of the film. This scene leads us through Kane’s estate until we reach Charles Foster Kane on his deathbed. Clutching a snowglobe, he whispers “Rosebud,” then dies. A nurse finds his body and covers it with a sheet.

Shots:

  1. Camera distance: close-up
    Angle: straight on
    Camera movement: crane up
    Length: 20 seconds
    Description: Fade in to a close-up of a “No Trespassing” sign attached to a fence. Camera lingers on sign for a few seconds before craning up to dissolve to shot 2.
  2. Camera distance: close-up
    Angle: straight on
    Camera movement: crane up
    Length: 6 seconds
    Description: Dissolve to a shot of higher portion of fence as the camera cranes up before dissolving to shot 3.
  3. Camera distance: close-up
    Angle: straight on
    Camera movement: crane up
    Length: 5 seconds
    Description: Dissolve to a shot of a different portion of fence as the camera cranes up before dissolving to shot 4.
  4. Camera distance: long shot
    Angle: low
    Camera movement: static
    Length: 4 seconds
    Description: Dissolve to a static long shot of the Xanadu estate seen from behind an ornate gate. Dissolve to shot 5.
  5. Camera distance: long shot
    Angle: low
    Camera movement: static
    Length: 12 seconds
    Description: Dissolve to a static long shot of Xanadu estate beyond the initial gate. Monkeys are seen in the foreground.  Xanadu mansion is off in the distance with a single light on. Dissolve to shot 6.
  6. Camera distance: long shot
    Angle: high
    Camera movement: static
    Length: 9 seconds
    Description: Dissolve to a static long shot to two boats in  a body of water with the Xanadu mansion with a single light on reflected on the water. Dissolve to shot 7.
  7. Camera distance: long shot
    Angle: low
    Camera movement: static
    Length: 9 seconds
    Description: Dissolve to a static long shot of the Xanadu mansion seen from ground level. In the frame are various miscellany. Xanadu mansion is off in the distance with a single light on. Dissolve to shot 8.
  8. Camera distance: long shot
    Angle:  low
    Camera movement: static
    Length: 9 seconds
    Description: Dissolve to a static long shot of a golf course on Xanadu. Xanadu mansion is off in the distance with a single light on. Dissolve to shot 9.
  9. Camera distance: long shot
    Angle: straight on
    Camera movement: static
    Length: 4 seconds
    Description: Dissolve to a static long shot of the outside of the Xanadu mansion. A veranda of sorts constructed from stone is outside. A single light is lit in the mansion. Dissolve to shot 10.
  10. Camera distance: long shot
    Angle: low
    Camera movement: static
    Length: 8 seconds
    Description: Dissolve to a static low-angle long shot of the tower window from which the single light is coming from. Dissolve to shot 11.
  11. Camera distance: long shot
    Angle: straight on
    Camera movement: static
    Length: 5 seconds
    Description: Dissolve to a straight-angle long shot of the window that emanates the light. The light suddenly dies. Dissolve to shot 12.
  12. Camera distance: long shot
    Angle: straight on
    Camera movement: static
    Length: 7 seconds
    Description: Dissolve to a straight-angle long shot from inside the mansion. Kane is lying in a bed by a large window as a diffuse light comes in. Dissolve to shot 13.
  13. Camera distance: extreme close-up
    Angle: straight on
    Camera movement: track back
    Length: 8 seconds
    Description: Dissolve to close-up straight-angle shot of a snowglobe with images of falling snow superimposed in the shot. Quick track back to reveal the snowglobe is in Kane’s hand. Cut to shot 14.
  14. Camera distance: extreme close-up
    Angle: high
    Camera movement: static
    Length: 2-3 seconds
    Description: Cut to a high-angle extreme close-up shot of Kane’s mouth as he whispers the word “Rosebud.” Cut to shot 15.
  15. Camera distance: close-up
    Angle: high
    Camera movement: static
    Length: 4 seconds
    Description: Cut to a high-angle close-up shot of the globe falling from Kane’s hands as he dies. The globe rolls for a bit on small platform before falling. Cut to shot 16.
  16. Camera distance: close-up
    Angle: low
    Camera movement: static
    Length: 2 seconds
    Description: Cut to low-angle close-up shot of the globe falling on the tiled floor and shattering. Cut to shot 17.
  17. Camera distance: long shot
    Angle: low
    Camera movement: static
    Length: ~1 second
    Description: Cut to low-angle long shot from globe’s POV as a nurse walks in. The image is distorted as if seeing through the globe’s curved glass.  Cut to shot 18.
  18. Camera distance: extreme close-up
    Angle: low
    Camera movement: static
    Length: 5 seconds
    Description: Cut to low-angle extreme close-up of the shattered globe. The image of the nurse is reflected on the globe’s glass as she walks into the room to the now-dead Kane. Cut to shot 19.
  19. Camera distance: medium shot
    Angle: low
    Camera movement: pan right
    Length: 13 seconds
    Description: Cut to low-angle medium shot of the nurse position Kane’s arms and covering his body with a sheet. Dissolve to shot 20.
  20. Camera distance: long shot
    Angle: straight on
    Camera movement: static
    Length: 10 seconds
    Description: Dissolve to a straight-angle long shot of Kane’s covered body lying in bed silhouetted against the window.  Fade out.

The scene begins with a close-up of a “No Trespassing” sign. The camera, along with the viewer who keeps watching, ignores this sign and crosses the fence, each shot inching closer and closer to the light in the window until we reach Kane on his deathbed. On our journey there, we see an empty lifeless estate (aside from the caged monkeys), huge in space but empty save for Kane and the nurse.

When we reach Kane’s deathbed, images of falling snow is superimposed on top of images of Kane and the snowglobe. We do not know if this snow is the snow inside the globe or if the snow is the last image running through Kane’s mind before he dies. This ambiguity between literality and psychology empowers the viewer in determining what it means, but it also adds a sense of finality  (winter symbolizing death or loss of life) and serenity (falling snow is peaceful). However, the distorted images from the snowglobe’s POV adds a sense of disorientation, maybe as a warning to the viewer of the distorted view and memories from the different character interviews.

Every shot of this opening scene is carefully constructed and composed. The light in the window is consistent in its position in every shot outside of the mansion. The constant use of dissolves as the camera comes closer and closer to the titular Kane on his deathbed is not only a way for the director and cinematographer to show their precision in composition, but it also adds a slow-moving fluidity to the scene. This adds effect in allowing the viewer to absorb the information in every shot and not simply spoonfeeding Kane’s entire lifestory to them. They do this in the next scene.

Opening Sequence (without sound, unfortunately)

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