2011 hsc paper 2 Section II module b series of shots from final scenes In the context of your critical study, to what extent does your response to the closing scenes of Citizen Kane inform your judgement of the film as a whole? Prescribed

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2011 HSC Paper 2 Section II Module B

Series of shots from final scenes
In the context of your critical study, to what extent does your response to the closing scenes of Citizen Kane inform your judgement of the film as a whole?

Prescribed text: Citizen Kane directed by Orson Welles (1941)

Contextualising the extract of the closing scenes as part of the themes of the film which will lead the argument to follow: tragedy, American dream, identity, truth

The film Citizen Kane is a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions played on the stage of early twentieth century America. In the search for the American Dream of wealth and power, an individual driven by ambition loses a sense of what it is that is truly important. This is at the core of the film and it is in the closing scenes that the tragedy of loss of identity is poignantly revealed. After reading biographies, interviewing countless people and searching archives the journalists admit defeat as the hundreds of tonnes of objects from all corners of the world pile up to face their fate in the fire while we, the audience, are privy to the inner story.

Close reading of the extract, showing the relationship of camera techniques to story and to the themes of the film

In the closing scenes of Citizen Kane cameramen jostle each other to take shots of the paraphernalia that fills Xanadu. When they leave, a dolly shot pans over the piles of objects awaiting destruction, slowly zooming in on one pile from which men grab a child’s sleigh. In a slow dissolve, we see it thrown into a furnace where flames rise over the label, Rosebud, sending smoke up from the chimney into the heavens above a gloomy Gothic façade in a disorienting angled shot. The film then returns to the scenes of the opening of the film, the barbed wire, the No Trespassers sign and the distant castle looming high in a distant landscape beyond an iron gate. In so doing, the director reminds us of the cycle of life but he is also conveying that, despite all the efforts of the journalists, they could not trespass on the private life of the man, Kane. The public face hides a private life that cannot be found.

Historical context of the film: its importance, contemporary reception, critical acclaim and sources of inspiration

Citizen Kane was a film that broke boundaries in its cinematic and narrative techniques. The dramatic use of dissolves, montage, deep focus, long takes, distorted images and acute angled frames influenced by early Russian film and German Expressionism conveyed “a revolution in the language of the screen”, according to film theorist Andre Bazin. The film opened to positive critical acclaim being praised by The New York Times as being “far and away the most surprising and cinematically exciting motion picture to be seen in many a moon.” Inspired by the reclusive millionaire Hearst, the film tries to capture the inner life of a public man but even from the early scenes and in the shadows that are a feature of the film there is a suggestion that there are, in any life, secrets that cannot be found. A journalist, Thompson, is driven by Rawlston, to find out more about Charles Foster Kane, believing that, “It isn't enough to tell us what the man did. You've got to tell us who he was.” Rawlston’s silhouette is seen in front of a projection light, a metaphor for the elusive nature of truth.

Setting is connected to different characters to suggest the fragmentation of truth that can be seen thought each character’s revelation
The audience is privileged with the truth and this affects our perception of the story

The search for truth takes the journalist to many people in many places. After a stormy night unsuccessfully interviewing Kane’s past wife, Susan Alexander, the journalist goes to the Thatcher Memorial Library, guarded by an imposing statue, in a vast space of echoing marble walls where access to information is controlled by rules and regulations, strict instructions and a security guard. The sharp light that falls on the table from a light source above implies that this is a moment of revelation; in fact, it becomes so for the audience but in an act of dramatic irony that continues up to the final scenes, the journalist and the characters are left unaware. We, the film audience, see a reenactment of the moment in this narrative-within-narrative as an innocent boy plays in the snow on a sleighboard with the label Rosebud. Like a Shakespearean tragedy, the author leaves us with knowledge that influences our perception and creates a dramatic irony that permeates the film.

Dramatic irony in the previous paragraph provides a link to the next idea about the film as a Greek tragedy
Kane is described in Classical terms: as a tragic hero and a Midas figure
Close reading of one scene

Charles Foster Kane is very much the typical Aristotelean tragic hero. He starts off as an innocent boy whose early adult years are heroic in championing the cause of the working man, alluded to in the title Citizen Kane with its Communist connotations. As a journalist he fights against conventional views and attacks the status quo, but ambition becomes a driving force. He promises his readers to be “a fighting and tireless champion of their rights as citizens and as human beings”. But he also desires to be the best and driving ambition leads him to locate and buy the best journalists. His friend Leland realises the consequence of this act of power and predicts: “There's always a chance that, of course, they'll change Mr Kane without his knowing it.” The accompanying chorus from the singers who have come to the celebrations reinforces that this is a climactic moment in his life and in the film when the social justice agenda that was part of Kane’s intent is being replaced by a new Kane who wants power. His rising hubris makes him lose touch with the reality around him and, after a series of bad judgements and the disastrous death of his son and first wife, his world starts to crumble. He fights for political office and falls into scandal, left only with wealth to comfort him as he becomes a Midas figure in his belief that he can buy and create anything, even talent.

Limitations of power are explained through camera angles and settings

The boundaries that control Kane are in evidence from the early scenes of the film in the inclusion of the ceiling in many shots. The offices of the The New York Inquirer are always viewed with the ceiling looming above as if controlled and restricted. The same applies to Kane’s aspirations which never meet fruition. In contrast, Thatcher, his banker and guardian, who works according to the rules of commerce, has a vast echoing space for his memorial.

Time passing as characters change is another feature of this monumental film. Using a repeated sequence of scenes set in the same place with the same characters, Kane shows the changing characterisation over time. Kane and his first wife sit at the breakfast table and, as the years progress, move from happy to indifferent and, finally, openly hostile.

The development of the concept of control in the film

The control of Kane is also evident in the use of deep focus and long takes where both foreground and background remain in focus but physical size is used to represent each person’s standing. When the contract is signed handing over the child Charles Kane, and when Thatcher takes control of the papers during the Great Depression, we see Charles in the background as a small figure with those who control his life in the foreground as bigger figures. This is an ominous foreboding of what is to come when Kane and his wife Susan Alexander become isolated in the enormous spaces of Xanadu, as she plays with her jigsaws and he stands beside a giant fireplace, each having to shout to hear each other, reflecting the disconnecting space between them.

Return to the extract to tie up the argument

In the end the jigsaw of Kane’s life, revealed by six narrators, remains incomplete, lost in the smoke above Xanadu. Despite the knowledge that has been gained about the events of Kane’s life there is very little insight into what made the man who he was. It is to the audience, however, that Welles offers the secret of the tragic hero’s inner desire by using cleverly contrived techniques and images that only we are privy to.

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