Citizen Kane Analysed
Introduction Citizen Kane is undoubtedly one of the world’s most popular films, creating a huge hype even before its release in 1941 (The Battle Over Citizen Kane, 1996). The film has twice topped the American Film Institute’s best American films list in 1998 and 2007. Orson Welles, the director, first came to prominence through his Mercury Theatre’s broadcast production of the radio drama War of the Worlds, intended as a Halloween prank. The drama caused near pandemonium as listeners believed Martians had really invaded New Jersey (Vivian; pg383). Orson Welles, apart from directing, also wrote the film, produced and starred in it.
The film was inspired by the William Hearst, a newspaper tycoon, a fact that critics attribute to the film’s commercial failure as he is thought to have had influences on the bad publicity served to the film and its studio RKO. Nearly everyone who previewed the film realised that Citizen Kane was a work of brilliance and Hearst had influenced the failure of the film, with many of his newspapers and other media outlets side-stepping the film. Hearst is reported to have attempted to buy the film rights so that he could burn the negatives, as he claimed it was malicious and defamatory towards him.
However, the film did indeed draw some similarities between Hearst and the film’s character Charles Foster Kane, which I will look into in detail later. The film’s popularity is not mainly its controversies but its style and complexity that have influenced many films that followed in later years. The editor, Robert Wise, did a splendid job in keeping a flawless, homogenous structure for the film. It took nearly two decades for Welles’ masterpiece to be recognized and gain the cult status it enjoys (The American Experience, p4). The film also boasts of eight Oscar nominations, winning one (Best Original Screenplay). . 1. The Marriage of Personalities- Hearst vs. Kane Citizen Kane is widely accepted as a fictitious portrayal of Hearst’s life, concentrating mainly on the last word he muttered before he died- ‘Rosebud’. Born on April 29, 1863 in San Francisco, California, Hearst was the only child of self-made millionaire George Hearst and Phoebe Apperson Hearst. Aged 23, Hearst became the owner of the San Francisco Examiner, while still student at Harvard. It is reported that the paper was given to Hearst Snr, as a debt from a gambler who owned him money (Wierichs, 2002; pg3).
According to Wierichs, the George Hearst was a US Senator and was not very much interested in a newspaper; hence he gave its control to William in 1887. Young William, like Welles’ young Charles Kane, was dexterous and vowed to oversee the popularity of his new publication. To achieve his goal, young Hearst acquired the best, both in technology and creative talent. (Wierichs, 2002; pg3). Hearst’s newspaper began to unravel cases of corruption and scandals drawing similarities in the stories carried in the film character’s newspapers.
The Examiner was converted to a mixture of investigative reporting and dramatic sensationalism, showing some traits Hearst inherited from his former mentor, journalist Joseph Pulitzer. In 1895, Hearst added the New York Journal to his portfolio, starting a circulation battle with New York World, the newspaper Pulitzer wrote for. (Vivian; pg264). In an attempt to increase circulation, Hearst started to print largely exaggerated articles on the Cuban Insurrection in both his papers (Wierichs, 2002, pg4). Hearst’s series of powerful articles blamed Spain for the bombing and sinking of USS Maine ship.
His articles were perceived to incite Americans to go to war with Spain, and are fingered as the causing factor in the Spanish-American War in 1898. Hearst’s famous claim, ” …You furnish the pictures, I’ll furnish the war” when a reporter from his newspaper visited Cuba and reported that there would be no war (Vivian; pg265) is recreated in the film, when Kane said something similar, in the scene where he was with Thatcher and received a telegram from Cuba. He asked Bernstein to send a message to the reporter, saying, “You provide the prose poems – I’ll provide the war. “
Hearst later got the nickname “Father of Yellow Journalism” for his role in sparking off this war. Such sensational stories took centre stage in the film Citizen Kane. Hearst, like Kane, bribed rival writers who tried to tramp him and his papers (Wierichs; pg6). The two characters, Hearst and Kane, had a lot other similarities, apart from being in the publishing business (Dirks, 2002). The two men were both into politics and dreamed of one day becoming America’s President. Hearst followed his father into and twice, got voted into the House of Representatives but was unsuccessful in his running for the post of governor for New York. Wierichs; p8). In the film, Kane had a dream to become president and he ran for the post of governor of New York and also married Emily Monroe Norton, who plays a president’s niece in the film. Similarly, both William Hearst and Charles Kane were involved in extra marital affairs but Hearst is believed to have been in true love with his mistress, Marion Davies. In the film, Kane had a rugged affair with Susan Alexander, a struggling aspiring opera singer. This shows a link in both men’s love of women in the arts, as Davies was a silent movie actress. (Dirks; 2002).
Marion Davies had a successful relationship with Hearst, unlike Susan Alexander, who had got fed up with Kane and left him. Both men are used their influences to help propel their girlfriends’ careers, with Marion Davies receiving a gift of a film studio from Hearst, and Susan Alexander got an opera studio from Kane (Dirks, 2002). The other evident similarity between the two characters is their ownership of luxurious mansions filled expensive art collections. Hearst named his home ‘Hearst’s castle’ whilst Kane’s is called ‘Xanadu’ (Dirks, 2002). 2. 2 THE GENIUS BEHIND THE FILM
Orson Welles, boy genius who gave us Citizen Kane Orson Welles, was born on 6th of May 1915 in Kenosha, Wisconsin. He was born in a family of two- him and his brother who was sent away to school, making Welles the only child at home. Welles parents were estranged when he was four years old (A Welles Biography). In his early years, Welles father became addicted to alcohol and spend time out of employment, at a time Welles mother, a pianist, was ill. She eventually succumbed to her illness when he was only nine. Welles Snr died when his son was only 15. Welles early education was difficult but that changed when he moved to Todd School in 1926.
At eleven, Welles was introduced to Roger Hill, the school’s headmaster. Hill later became a father figure in Welles life, something that was lacking in his life. Welles, now the school’s public entertainment organizer, was given free access to the school theatres and printing press. He wrote, directed and starred in a number of school performances. He is reported to have based his career on controversial productions, as he believed that the more they got talked about the better his career progressed. Examples of his works include Macbeth (1936) which was set in Haiti and boasted an entire black cast.
In 1937, Welles worked on Julius Cea ser was re-created as a modern drama on fascism. His major break was his role in the radio drama ‘War of the Worlds’ where he convinced listeners to believe that Martians had invaded the earth. This drama caused concern and uproar that threatened to kill his career. However, his talent and hyper-energy seemed to elevate him above the fray, delivering him unscathed to his next challenge and when he graced the cover of Time magazine, he was only twenty-three years old” (About the Program, The American Experience; p14).
The success of War of Worlds handed Welles a route into Hollywood, with RKO rewarding him with a brilliant contact to write, produce and directs his own films (Lodge et al; 1996; pg136). It is reported that Welles openly declared his love for authority not money (BBC Education; pg14). This declaration can be linked to the character of Kane where similarities between these two men can be drawn. Welles wielded a lot of power in his productions, clearly supported by the numerous roles he played in all his productions, for example he wrote, directed and starred in Citizen Kane and Julius Ceaser.
This love of authority is evident in Charles Kane’s personality, as he despised being under someone’s leadership, and loved doing things his own way even if it means hurting others along the way. It is believed that Welles modeled Kane of his own personality and love for authority. William Hearst found Citizen Kane to be too close to his life, especially with portrait of him in the narrative. He was infuriated and attempted to halt the film’s release. This action indirectly went in the films favour as it garnered more publicity to the Welles’ Hollywood debut (Orson Welles Biography, BBC Education; pg150).
RKO finally got the green light to release the film in 1941, just a week before Welles’ 26th birthday, but he had already left Hollywood for Europe. He had criticized the studio system and expressed disappointment with his films dismal performance at the box office. Welles arrived in England in 1947 and carried on working in theatre and film. His most remarkable performance was in the play Chimes in Midnight (Orson Welles Biography; pg17). Welles’ strongest effect was immediate and lasting, credited to years of experience drawn from radio plays and experiments with lenses to create dramatic effects within the frame.
His directorial career was as a director unpredictable and scattered with incomplete works. Welles was regarded as maestro within the film industry. He sadly passed away in 1985. 3. An Analysis of the film’s Main Characters 3. 1 Charles Foster Kane The film starts with an introduction of the old main character Charles Foster Kane on his deathbed in his castle ‘Xanadu’. Kane, moments before he died, inaudibly whispers the cryptic word ‘rosebud’ which becomes a key factor in the film as it explores his life up to his death.
A March of the Time parody in the film shows a glimpse of Kane’s life, a distant away from the real lifestyle that the character led. This note observation is shown in the scene where an old Kane walks past some mirrors, which subsequently procreates his reflection continuously, metaphorically depicting his multiple personalities and a lost identity. People viewed Kane differently when he was alive and when he died. He was seen as a giant, a titan, a freak who man who saw himself as a demi-God, a superior force up and above everyone else. This is also shown in the promotional poster of the film.
The following is a look at the five depictions that other characters gave for Charles Kane. 3. 1. 1 WALTER THATCHER A flashback though Walter Thatcher’s memoirs opens us to the early childhood days of Kane. The memoirs gives us a glimpse of the effects of Kane’s separation from his parents and the decision for him to be taken into Thatcher’s care to prepare him as an heir to his father’s wealth. The director focused on the young Kane as his parents talked with Thatcher about their son’s future, clearly showing us that he was the central to the discussion. His anger and resentment towards Thatcher is also showing when he assaults the banker.
The confrontation between Thatcher and Kane also depicts the animosity between them. The memoirs also shows that Thatcher dislike Kane, describing him with phrases like ‘a common adventurer’, ‘spoiled’ and ‘unscrupulous’. 3. 1. 2 MR BERNSTEIN A different depiction of Kane is showed through the eyes of Mr Bernstein. He introduces us to a high-spirited and optimistic evaluation of Kane. It is through him, that we are told how Kane became a newspaper mogul, his coup on New York Enquirer, where he got rid of the editor and recruited the best, renowned staff including his critic friend from college, Jedediah Leland.
Kane was earlier on perceived to be a fighter for the oppressed Kane after writing a ‘declaration of principles’ in his first editor’s note. He was a revelation to the poor masses boosting his circulation with stories about scandals and corruption, just like Hearst prodding the American government into a war in Spain. Bernstein’s recounts gives a depiction of problem-free Kane full of essence and good health and having high aims in life that could have made him President, if he had not messed up by having affairs. 3. 1. 3 JEDEDIAH LELAND
A third point of view of Charles Kane’s life comes from his best friend Leland. Through him, we are introduced to a rather darker portrayal of the character Kane, with a provided the third flashback of Kane’s jigsaw-puzzled life. Leland provided a much darker aspect of Kane’s complex life. Contrary to Bernstein’s assertions, Leland believes Kane was an unethical publisher who strayed from the truth by focusing on entertaining the readers. Leland also shows us the disintegrating marriage between Kane and Emily, blaming Kane for spending more time at work than with his wife.
Through Leland, we deduce that Kane may have only been attracted to Emily’s good looks and used her as a stepping-stone to his presidential aspiration. He also showed us his disapproval and anger towards Kane’s affair with Susan Alexander though his facial expression. Leland depicts Kane as a nice person who helped other to reach their goals, for example by letting him go to Chicago and when he tried to help Susan with her opera career. Kane’s contradictory personality is depicted when he tried to bribe Leland and also tearing up the declaration of principles he had showed pride in earlier.
In conclusion, Leland shows what became of Kane after meeting Susan, his fall from grace and the opposite of the man Bernstein depicts in his flashback. 3. 1. 4 SUSAN ALEXANDER Susan Alexander had imagined Kane to be an ordinary man in the street and at one point he thought he was a magician when Kane played shadow card games. Kane, to Susan, was a funny person with a great sense of humour as showed by her high-pitched laughs. Susan also gave us an insight into Kane’s feeling about the relationship showed by him staying with her despite his rival ousting the secret affair.
Kane’s arrogance is also evident as he declares that he is ‘no cheap, crooked Politian trying to save himself from the consequences of his crimes’. This tells us how he was not dependent on someone else to fight his wars. Having lost everything, Kane felt Susan was his last hope and only person who understood him, hence he puts his efforts into making her an opera star by hiring a vocal coach and getting her, her own opera studio. This again is depicted when he is shown as the only person enthusiastically applauding her shows, other than his associates.
However, Kane’s enthusiasm changes in a scene when Susan’s character is towered over by Kane’s shadow and almost pushes her over the edge when he demands her to sing again. Kane’s love for Susan is also show by his positive reports and exaggerated popularity of her acts. This again, is evident when Kane gives everything she wants, even building the ‘Xanadu’ for her. Susan’s flashback also shows Kane’s sinister silhouette siting on a throne surrounded by darkness, which in this instance depicts his lavish lifestyle full of controversies. 3. 1. 5 RAYMOND
Raymond, Kane’s butler, depicts his master as a weird, old man. He gave us an insight into how Kane was lonely and pitiable in a huge and empty palace, a huge contrast to the young Kane before Thatcher took him into his care. Raymond also shows us how Kane, in his last days, searched for his soul for the happy times he had as a boy in the Colorado Mountains. Raymond’s view help us understand that Kane was just a bitter person who resented the way his childhood was taken away from him by this parents’ decision to have him mentored by Thatcher.
He was an old man looking for the pure love that his mother has showered him before she gave him away, but that love was hard to find regardless where he searched for it. Kane was a man trying to love and be loved back despite him not knowing how to love. His complex life was well define when the reporter in the sequence, Thomson, summed up that ‘I don’t think any word can explain a man’s life’ 4. THE BREAKFAST TABLE SEQUENCE A soon as the newly married Charles Foster Kane brought his bride Emily Norton back from Europe, the crack began to develop in their marriage.
This scene, recreated in Leland’s flashback is fondly remembered and is one of the famous scenes in the film. Welles intelligently fused techniques to create a time lapse of many years of Kane’s’ life. A mixture of dissolves and clever make up and props showed sheer brilliance in the way the editing was done. Starting with an eye-level two shot of the new couple, sitting closer together, Welles used bright lighting to aid the playful and intimate dialogue. Reserve shot of the couple, depicted them as a loved-up, youthful and enthusiastic pair that is full of life and love.
Their young ‘innocent’ love is shown when Kane tells his wife how beautiful she was and subsequently rescheduling his meetings after she complained that he was leaving her alone at home. Five brief shots pairs follow the sequence, each depicting, their eyes growing the increasing doubt and suspicions about each other. The intimacy showed earlier had clearly fizzled out as revealed by the couple’s conversations. The Enquirer later became the link and symbol to their growing animosity. This is shown when Emily started to question Kane’s late night appointments and his heightening vitriol against her uncle, the President.
Further, Kane’s lack of patience with his wife is evident as he interrupts her conversations with no sign of care or bother. This is shown when he blurted out ‘What care do I give them’ when Emily was trying what explain how people expected the truth from the media. Welles cleverly uses mise-en-scene to show the time lapse by constantly changing the props and make up. The change in music also depicted the changing emotion within the two characters, from intimacy to near hatred. Kane changes from his beautiful dinner jacket to a formal suit, whilst his wife costume and hairstyle changes with the time lapse.
The once clear table, showing their intimacy, changes to a dump with plants and newspapers. This is used to show the problems that has come into the once clear and delightful relationship, now cluttered with suspicions and doubt The sequence is powerfully ended with shot/reverse shot and another two-shot. The reverse shot, shows Kane and Emily, no longer seeing eye-to-eye, as they did before, but now spending silent moments reading separate newspapers, with Kane reading The Inquirer and Emily reading the rival, Chronicle.
This shows that the rivalry of the two publications have been transferred into the couple’s home. The camera tracking away from the table, reveals that’s its length have increased and the couple were now occupying opposite position thereby showing us the rift growing in their marriage. The scene is cold and darkly lit in comparison to the earlier scene which undoubtedly brighter and cheerful. Creative editing ensured that this sequence seamlessly packed in several years of Kane’s ill-fated marriage in just a few minutes.
The sequence clearly gives the audience a rundown of both happy and sad events in Charles Foster Kane’s marriage to Emily Norton by cleverly joining a variety spaces and a series of conversation from different days into a linear story of the couple’s marriage. The sequence also shows us how Charles Foster Kane’s dreams and desire are turned to nothing as soon as the achieves them, eventually trapping him in vast empty spaces as shown by his lonely last days in the ‘Xanadu’ 5. THE PICNIC SEQUENCE This film’s success is credited to Welles’ articulate use of film as a medium o communicate and explore Charles Foster Kane’s life by using creative and imaginative camera work and locations, aided by equally outstanding use of sound, editing and lighting to captivate the audience and invite them to be part of the protagonist’s journey. All these exceptional traits are evident in the picnic scene recounted late in Susan’s sequence when she was talking to Thompson, the reporter. The three minute, ten seconds sequence consists of just fewer than 25 shots, indicates the end of Charles Foster Kane and Emily Norton’s married life, just like the breakfast table scene I talked about earlier.
The scene opens with a mid-shot of Susan, looking sad and dressed casually, sitting next to Kane in the back of the chauffeur-driven car. He was wearing glasses and a hat to show us the sunny weather conditions of on that day. Her disapproval of where they were going is depicted by their silence and the chilled blues music playing on the car radio. The music proved to be explaining Susan’s emotions at that precise time in the car with Kane, in addition to the physical distance between them in the back of the car.
The couple continuously argues in this sequence, with Susan claiming that Kane never gives her what she yearns for. Kane’s response is hidden behind the glasses and his silence shows the patience he takes with Susan. The scene that followed, joined by a dissolve, showed the afternoon bright sunlight, in deep focus, shedding a thick, dark shadows, falling right before a line of cars. The different sombre, monotonous, softer cast made the passing cars seems like a funeral convoy. The long blues music provided a long continuous flow, depicting the recurring problems in Charles and Emily’s marriage.
The introduction of the song ‘This Cant be Love, added a sad feel to the sequence, and with the somber, soft shadows of passing car, created a funeral-like moment as if this indicated the state of the marriage at that moment. The next shot depicted a singer performing the line ‘this can’t be love, because there is no true love’ from the song ‘This can’t be Love’ by Robert Farnon. The use of a black singer to perform this piece could be metaphorically depicting the darkness hovering above the couple’s marriage. This lyric could also be a reference to Kane’s search for that real love he enjoyed from his mother, which he is finding hard to find.
Mise-en-scene becomes useful in challenging audience attention to the deep-focus on the other areas of this frame. The presence of Raymond in the scene suggests that whatever is going on, right or wrong, is something to do with their life, the future of their home- the Xanadu and their marriage. It shows that despite where the goes, the Xanadu travels with them in various forms. In one shot, we are shown a Susan and Kane’s tent brightly lit with group of dull lit tents in the background. Their tent is miles away from the rest in appearance and proximity to the camera.
Welles tracks towards the tent and dissolves the following shot to reveal the interior of the couple’s dwelling. Here, Welles applies the traditional filming style of shot reserve shot to capture the couple’s conversation inside the tent. This style frames one person at a time within the shot to create a sense of one individual speaking and another listening. This is shown when Kane is in the shot when he is speaking to Susan and same applies when she speaks to her. This style is crucial in showing characters’ facial expressions and emotions as they are usually framed in a mid shot or close up.
In this sequence, we are shown an older, overweight and dejected Charles Kane, sitting slouched in a chair, an example of excellent use of make up and props to portray a twenty-something-old young man as an old pensioner. Susan is shown on her knees in front of Kane; a position is captured she assumes a number of times in front of the fire in their palace- Xanadu and on her operatic debut. The director, Orson Welles, employs a low-key lighting technique to shed a dark shadow on Kane’s face, a depiction of the man’s dark personality.
Susan rips into Kane, pointing out how he believes buying is the same as love. This is an important point that Leland, Kane’s college friend, as reiterated that Kane had not idea of how to love, often thinking possession and giving out money was a definition of love. When this accusation was leveled against him, Kane was sitting above Susan, assuming a dominant position in the conversation (and her life as well). Leland and Susan’s comments were very important as they were not disputed by throughout the film and were poignant in describing Charles Foster Kane’s complex life.
Kane appears to be losing his patience with Susan recurring attacks when he remarks about the pitch of her voice and his wish to have her stop flaunting their life and avoid disagreements and come to same levels with their guests. Kane had remarked: “You’re in a tent, darling. You’re not at home. And I can hear you very well if you just talk in a normal tone of voice” (Mankiewicz & Welles; pg133), implying that he was not keen on their guests listening in on their argument. Susan, however, did was not worried about what others thought, as she carelessly continued with her rhetoric.
Kane’s love for Susan is clear when he stands over her, captured from a low angle to give him dominance over her, as the love is evident his eyes, and his face brightens up on seeing his beloved wife in a submissive position. The love in his eyes is further confirmed when he explains that he does everything he do because of the love he has for her. Susan, however, refutes Kane’s show of affection as a front, as he is only interested in her love for him and not vice-versa. Susan goes ahead and mimic the arrogance Kane expresses when compares money to being loved.
The vile and bitterness in her voice engulfs the whole situation into an inferno as it hit Kane hard, resulting in his slapping her. Susan shows her defiance by not flinching and telling Kane not to apologise to her, something Kane was not intending to do after all. This picnic scene’s ending shows Susan tightly framed and looking straight up at Kane. Welles dissolves this scene into the next one, with Raymond taking us to inform his boss of the missus’ departure. s with a close up shot of Susan glaring up at Kane and dissolving into the next sequence to a shot of Raymond who leads us to Kane to inform him of Susan’s leaving.
This scene is the final chapter in Kane’s search for love, as his wrong definitions of love are proved wrong, as finally realizes that money is not love. This sequence explains why Kane did not have a happy life despite all the wealth he got from his parents. They, like Kane, used the ‘bank’ to define their love of their son, alienating him from the parental love that he yearned for. 7. CONCLUSION As a flute of smoke rose from Charles Kane’s mansion’s furnace, it effortlessly defines the wasted life of a hardworking man, as the results of his sweat and blood goes up in flame.
This demise for Kane’s empire is unexplainable to both him and those around him. Charles Foster Kane died a lonely, miserable man, with no family or friends and soon, his existence would be soon forgotten. This film serves as a moral teaching about the worthlessness on material possession in times of need. Welles showed us that love is very vital and should be cherished whilst it still exists. Charles Kane’s journey is a reminder that money and power become worthless as love and friends can never be bought.