Henderson, Brian. “Notes on Set Design and Cinema.” Film Quarterly, Vol. 42, No. 1 (Autumn, 1988), pp. 17-28
In this article Brian Henderson discusses trends in set design and art direction in both classic and modern filmmaking, using films like Bringing Up Baby (1938), The Rules of the Game (1938), Johnny Gituar (1954), and Citizen Kane (1941) to provide examples. Henderson begins by noting that distinctive creators among set designers and production directors have been recognized as auters in their own right, just as directors, writers, and cameramen before them. He discusses Donald Albrecht’s book Designing Dreams: Modern Architecture in the Movies with respect to his decision to include production still photographs rather then frame enlargements. Henderson asserts that production stills only provide us with a photograph of a set as it were designed and fail to depict a set as it were captured on film. Moreover, he goes on to say that a film set is extremely complex and cannot be captured by a still camera as no single vantage point can contain it in its entirety. Henderson says that such complex sets are often used in conjunction with special effects that create spatial illusions. Often miniature sets are constructed to replace sets, in part or whole, and built to scale or by devices that create composite images such as rear projection, glass shots, traveling mattes, the Shufftan process, or an optical printer. Henderson goes on to talk about the special effects used in Citizen Kane. An interview with Linwood Dunn, who did the optical printing for the film, speaks to the extensive alterations and photographic effect techniques that were utilized during post-production. Henderson also goes on to mention techniques used by Renior, and Hitchcock and concludes by questioning the state of modern set designs with respect to innovative cinematic techniques.
This article pertains to my thesis as it discusses the special effects and post production alterations that were made to Citizen Kane which contribute to the films stylistic innovation. As previously touched upon in Carringer’s article, Welles’s use of deep focus shots is an integral part of the film’s cinematic achievement, and this article details the techniques behind such shots. The interview with Linwood Dunn reveals that special techniques other than advanced hardware were used to achieve the deep-focus shots that Welles desired. For example, the deep focus shot of Susan Alexander’s suicide attempt is actually an in-camera matte shot, and the shot of Kane at the end of Xanadu’s long corridor is actually a composite of three individual photographed elements. By examining the formal cinematic techniques that underlay the films stylistic composition, Kane’s cinematic feat is evermore illuminated.
Carringer, Robert L. "Citizen Kane." Journal of Aesthetic Education, Vol. 9, No. 2, Special Issue: Film IV: Eight Study Guides (Apr., 1975), pp. 32-49
In his essay on Citizen Kane Robert Carringer describes the history behind Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane, both of which have been labeled by prominent film critics as the greatest of their kind. While he made about a dozen films, Citizen Kane is regarded as Welles’s one undisputed masterpiece. According to Carringer, Welles’s approach to film was innovative and resembled that of experimental filmmakers as his primary objective was always to find new ways to work within the cinematic medium. Welles often starred in his own films and his narratives typically portray the downfall of a powerful figure. Moreover, Carringer writes of how Welles eschewed the traditional Hollywood style of editing and cinematography in favor of more obtrusive camera and editing devices that draw attention to the medium. Welles’s background in theater earned him a reputation that granted him entry into Hollywood and allowed him to sign an unprecedented contract with RKO that granted him full control over Citizen Kane. Carringer notes that Kane was an extremely collaborative project and that its cinematic achievements are in large part due to the screenwriter, musical score composer, and cinematographer who were some of Hollywood’s best talents. Moreover, Carringer asserts that while Citizen Kane is revolutionary, this is largely due to its fusion of previously established techniques and materials that when combined, produce a film that is completely unique. After Kane, Welles worked on a number of films that achieved little to modest success and thus Citizen Kane remains Welles’s greatest cinematic achievement.
This article pertains to my thesis as it addresses the innovative cinematic techniques used in Citizen Kane, and specifically Welles’s extensive use of deep focus shots. Such shots were rare at the time due to limited technology and their effects proved to be extremely dramatic. These shots require a small camera opening and thus necessitate an enormous amount of light. In order to achieve this Welles had to use special lights, lenses, and superfast film stock. The results however, constituted an innovation in filmmaking as deep focus shots eliminated the reliance upon editing to break down a dramatic space, as was standard practice before Kane. With extreme depth of field, all objects appear in sharp focus and thus allowing the dramatic center to shift within a continuous shot. The deep focus shots used throughout Kane are not only innovative, but also serve many different functions. Consider for example the flashback sequence when Walter Thatcher officially becomes Kane’s financial and personal guardian. The sequence begins with a young Kane playing in the snow. Mrs. Kane is placed in the foreground signing Charles away, while Mr. Thatcher and Charles’s father occupy the middle ground, and Kane remains in the background playing in the snow. Not only is the shot beautifully composed, but the depth of focus allows the viewer to attend to all aspects of the shot, which foreshadows Kane’s loss of innocence. The deep focus shots used throughout Citizen Kane are an aspect of the film that is highly regarded one of the reasons this film often labeled as the greatest of all time.
Monahan, Mark. "Music that makes a man a killer" The Daily Telegraph 1 July 2006. 1 December 2008.
In this article Mark Monahan pays homage to Bernard Herrmann, without whose contributions Monahan feels cinema would be unimaginable. Born in New York to Russian Jewish Immigrants, Herrmann studied at NYU and made his conducting debut on Broadway at only 20 years old. In 1934 he began composing and conducting for CBS radio where he met Orson Welles who helped launch his career as a musical score artist in 1941 with Citizen Kane. Hermann has a wide range of film credits including The Magnificent Ambersons, Cape Fear, Jason and the Argonauts. After working on Kane, Herrmann worked on Hangover Square (1941), The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), and On Dangerous Ground (1952), before teaming up with Alfred Hitchcock, creating what Monahan calls “one of the most fruitful collaborations in the history of cinema”. One of Herrmann’s most famous musical scores is the one he created for Psycho, where employed a strings-only orchestra and solidified his legacy with the powerful and unforgettable musical shrieks of the shower scene. In 1966 Herrmann and Hitchcock parted ways after a disagreeing over the musical score for Hitchock’s next project, and their collaboration ended. After that Herrmann worked in both the French and American new waves, and ended his career in 1976 with Martin Scorsase’s Taxi Driver (1976).
The musical score is an integral part of any film. Just as editing guides the viewer’s attention, the musical score sets the tone of a scene or sequence and gives the audience privileged access to the narrative based on the musical foreshadowing. In this article Monahan recognizes the power and brilliance behind Herrmann’s scores, as they not only complement the action but also are the action, and allow the viewer entry and insight into the inner lives of the characters. Herrmann’s scores permeate characters psyches and surroundings, and as Monahan points out, when combined with Kane’s images, the effect is nothing short of brilliant. The opening scene, which Monahan discusses, is perhaps where Herrmann’s score is most powerful, as it works in conjunction with Welles’s visuals and sets up the film’s themes of Rosebud (and loss of innocence) and ambition (Kane’s ultimate downfall). Herrmann uses these concepts and creates leitmotifs, which are heard throughout the film. In the opening sequence for example, as the camera ascends upon Xanadu, Kane’s estate, Herrmann uses low brass and woodwind to create an effect that is both eerie and ominous, giving insight into the private life behind Kane’s sacred fortress and setting up the film’s musical theme. Herrmann’s powerful score is one of the most psychologically defining aspects of the film and constitutes a powerful and lends support to its claim as one of the greatest films of all time.