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.
Rosenbaum, Jonathan, ed. "Orson Welles and Peter Bogdanovich." This Is Orson Welles. By Orson Welles, Peter Bogdanovich and Jonathan Rosenbaum. New York: Da Capo P, Incorporated, 1998. Guaymas Chapter.
This Guaymas Chapter of This is Orson Welles is composed of material from a three-hundred and twenty-two page interview that Peter Bogdanovich conducted with Orson Welles. The interview was then edited and supplemented with primary sources by editor Jonathan Rosenbaum. The interview touches on almost all of Welle’s works, however, I will focus on it’s implications about Citizen Kane. Interestingly, the interview begins by exploring the topic of Hearst’s intervention. Welles states that he felt more pressure from those intervening on behalf of Hearst than from Hearst himself. By this point, Welles is no longer denying that Kane is based on Hearst, but is instead defending that Susan was not at all a reflection of Marion Davies. Discussion then moves to the topic of Herman Mankiewicz. In this interview, Welles gives Mankiewicz complete credit (or responsibility) for the idea of ‘Rosebud.’ He also goes on to say that he is not at all fond of the idea, and that he in fact did all he could to provide disclaimers for the symbolism implied by Kane’s dying word. The rest of the interview addresses issues and ideas from films other than Citizen Kane.
This interview represents another major change in Orson Welles’ attitude towards ‘Rosebud.’ With the ideas he asserts in this interview, he not continues to show that he is dissatisfied with what the symbol 'Rosebud' represents, but also removes the blame of ‘Rosebud’s’ failure from himself and places it on Mankiewicz, even stating that he took efforts to reduce the effect that the symbol had. This concept of ‘Rosebud’ as a weakness to the film is in stark contrast to the views Welles expressed in sources such as his 1941 statement about the purpose of Citizen Kane (4). It is, however, very much in line with the criticisms that reviewers began to voice after the films release, such as in Joy Davidman's Citizen Kane (5). This source supports the idea put forth in my thesis that Welles explanation of ‘Rosebud’ is dependent on media pressures because it carries almost no significance of it’s own. Welles had also previously rejected the idea of 'Rosebud' while still taking responsibility for the idea, as in his 1960 interview for the CBC (6), but now he refuses to take responsibility for the idea he sees as a failure.
Chris Morris writes this article in August 2001, just as the popularity of the relatively new home video format DVD was starting to gain popularity. Movie titles were released incrementally in this new all-digital format.
Morris writes that the popularity of Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane has created a high demand for the film to be released to the new DVD video format. Warner Home had been working on a 60th anniversary release and it was planned for the 25 of September in that same year. This new release was widely expected to be visually and sonically ungraded from the previous releases to home video. Morris writes that Warner, in their attempts to rerelease Citizen Kane, had originally not been able to find a suitable quality source film. RKO’s original camera negatives had been burned in a 1980 vault fire and as a result had also hampered past efforts a restoration. The 1991 VHS release had featured the copy owned by New York’s Museum of Modern Art, however this print had dirt and scratches on it, among other defects. Morris reports, however, that after patient and careful searching, Warner had found a new nitrate fine-grain print in a European archive and that this copy has offered better picture quality and served as an improved audio source. The improved audio quality is very important because the original score had a very high dynamic range. He also reports that the new DVD release would include an interview with Roger Ebert, a 1941 newsreel about the film’s premiere, and the documentary film of the Hearst-Welles conflict, The Battle Over Citizen Kane.
One might think that just like a personal computer user, large Hollywood movie studios would have countless backup copies of their master reels. This seems not to be the case. A fire at a single film vault destroyed RKO’s only master copy. Orson Welles was the recipient of the actual production negatives and his copy was also lost in a fiery accident in the 1970s. By re-mastering and fully digitizing the remaining high quality prints, the data can be stored in numerous locations very inexpensively and very safely. As we learned in class, nitrate has a propensity to catch on fire and is very dangerous in that respect. We also learned in class that Hollywood is usually very slow to adopt new media formats. DVD hit store shelves in mid-1997 yet this movie was released in late 2001, almost 4 years later. The studios might have an excuse in this case – the long and lucky search for a suitable master copy.
Monahan, Mark. "Music that makes a man a killer Bernard Herrmann's film scores spoke as loudly as any dialogue, says Mark Monahan." The Daily Telegraph 1 July 2006. 8 April 2008.
Mark Monahan writes about Mr. Bernard Herrmann’s musical career spanning from Citizen Kane in 1941 through Taxi Driver in 1976. Monahan asserts that creating music for motion pictures is an incredibly arduous task and that the people responsible for it are extraordinarily talented. He feels that cinema would be unimaginable if not for the fantastic and wild feelings created by film scores. Monahan writes that he considers Bernard Herrmann to be one of the leading film composers of the last 100 years. Herrmann, a Russian born immigrant attended NYU to study music and made his Broadway debut at the young age of 20. He began composing for CBS radio shows and this put him into contact with Orson Welles. Welles took Herrmann on for the film Citizen Kane, and thereby launched the composer’s long and successful scoring career. After Kane, Herrmann teamed with Hitchcock and was responsible for the musical scores of all the great Hitchcock films through the end of the 1960s. Monahan has much respect for Herrmann’s talent. He writes that, “Rather than merely setting the scene or complementing the action (though they do both magnificently), [Herrmann’s scores] virtually are the action, brilliantly elucidating the characters' gnarled inner lives.” He says that the opening scene of Citizen Kane (the ascending of Xanadu’s fence) is given “a sense of dread, regret and death of the soul…” Herrmann’s most famous musical passage is the shrieking violins of the Psycho’s shower scene. In his later career he works for French and American New Wave filmmakers.
The musical score to any film is one of the most psychologically defining aspects of the experience. The music, much like lighting, sets a mood. Before the audience even knows what will happen on screen, they can get a sense of what might happen just based on the musical foreshadowing. Herrmann brilliantly uses his musical score to set the mood and tone in Citizen Kane. In happy scenes such as those with the young Kane attending parties in his honor, the music is light and we think nothing of it. In more dramatic scenes such as the initial scene of Xanadu, the newsreel scenes, and the final scene of the film with the revelation of Rosebud, the music obviously takes a more dramatic and serious tone.
Davies, Marion. "The Times We Had : Life with William Randolph Hearst." Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merril, 1975.
In 1951 after W.R. Hearst’s death, his mistress, Marion Davies began to record her memoirs on magnetic tapes in the privacy of her Beverly Hills home. She was Hearst’s close companion for 32 years and some say she was the inspiration for the character Suzan Alexander Kane in Orson Welles’s 1941 classic, Citizen Kane. This article is the forward written by Orson Welles to a book of her recorded thoughts, published posthumously in 1975.
Orson Welles tries to clearly and efficiently explain all of his reasons why his character Charles Foster Kane and Susan Alexander Kane are not actual personas of William Randolph Hearst and Marion Davies. He does this by describing differences of Kane vs. Hearst and Davies vs. Susan Alexander. Welles writes that there are many parallels between his characters and the Hearst couple and that these parallels could have been confusing to the audience; however upon closer inspection, one sees that they are quite different. He begins by claiming that San Simeon – even if it hadn’t existed in real life – would have had to be invented for the purposes of the script. “Everything was invented.” He then writes that W.R. Hearst was born wealthy to pampering parents while Kane was born into poverty and raised by a bank. Marion Davies, a well known beautiful actress could have had anyone she wanted, whereas Susan Alexander felt that she belonged on the streets – and this is indeed where Kane found her. Also, Susan was a lonely wife trapped in an empty castle whereas Marion was a mistress and busy hostess of all the social events in Hearst’s estates. Lastly, he claims that Marion and Hearst is a love story while Citizen Kane is not. Welles concludes his passage by making one last reference to his film. Susan Alexander was a terrible singer and forced to perform by Kane. On the contrary, he claims that Marion was a very talented actress and would have been a star even without Hearst’s interference.
Central to general discourse of Citizen Kane, is the similarity of the movie characters to that of Hearst and his mistress. It might seem amusing that Welles, writing this forward 34 years after the movie’s release, claims that the characters in the film are absolutely not based on Mr. Hearst. So many allusions are made in the film to the Hearst Empire – the fact that Kane runs a newspaper, Xanadu, financially sponsoring and forcing Susan Alexander to perform – that it seems preposterous to claim otherwise. Welles ends the forward by writing, “As one who shares much of the blame for casting another shadow – the shadow of Susan Alexander Kane – I rejoice in the opportunity to record something which today is all but forgotten expect for those lucky enough to have seen some of her pictures… She would have been a star if Hearst had never happened.” It seems that in his older age, Welles regrets his cheeky comparison of this woman and wants her to be remembered for her own contributions to cinematic history.
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
This article explores the technical cinematic innovations that affect the composition of Welles's scenes.
In his essay on Citizen Kane, Robert Carringer describes this history of what many critics consider Orson Welles’s (and perhaps all of history’s) greatest film. Mr. Carringer begins by revealing some biographical information of Welles and the technical innovations that he pioneered in the film (all serving to draw closer attention to the acting). Most notably he comments on Welles’s use of unexpected ultra-low angles, his preference of using single long takes without intercutting, and the extreme depth of field that is used to bring every part of the scenes into focus. Carringer moves on to write about the validity of comparisons that critics have made of the similarity of the character of Kane to notorious personalities of the day, including most notably newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst. Mr. Carringer also covers Orson Welles’s career transformation from radio to cinema, and he ends the essay describing the plot and character of the film.
This article fantastically reveals some of Welles’s technical cinematic techniques, specifically the use of large depth of field. The director chose to break normal filmmaking conventions in order to achieve certain new dramatic effects. The use of extraordinary depth of field shots was quite unorthodox considering the technology available at the time. The camera aperture has to be very small to achieve this effect and therefore Welles had to use extremely fast film stock as well as special lights and lenses in order to let in as much light as possible. A larger depth of field eliminates the need for editing to break the dramatic space into multiple centers and it also allows for long, drawn out single-take shots. As items from infinity to within a few inches of the lens were all in focus, this enticed Welles to compose his scenes such that the audience’s attention would be drawn to characters entering from far away and off screen. An example is the flashback scene taken from the diary of Kane’s childhood. The shot frames 4 characters: Mary Kane signing away her son, Thatcher busily pushing the papers to her, Jim Kane pacing in the middle ground, and Charles, obliviously playing outdoors in the snow, seen through the window. This unusual effect helped to revolutionize film cinema and is taken for granted by future generations.
This article by a LA Times correspondent, written on May 9, 1941, documents the west coast premiere of Orson Welles’s famous film Citizen Kane. Kendall reports that the premiere of Citizen Kane is held at the famous El Capitan Theater, a Hollywood landmark stage theater. The author describes a nostalgic feeling of “the old days” of Hollywood amid spot lights which pierced the sky in front of thousands of fans gathered – much in today’s fashion – to see their favorite stars. The glitz and glamour seems to add to Welles’s ego as he walks down the red carpet, his entrance timed. The crowds make even more noise for Barrymore as he walks into the theater. When stopped for questioning on the red carpet, Welles makes only one remark – about his gratefulness to George Schaefer, the president of RIO-Radio Pictures. “If it had not been for George J. Schaefer there would not be a Citizen Kane.” Outside the theater, the star-struck crowd for the premiere is so large that RKO had to erect temporary bleachers. The article then extensively lists the famous attendees, including Mickey Rooney, Ronald Reagan and Bob Hope. Kendall also includes a photograph of the “stellar foursome” including John Barrymore, Dolores Del Rio, Orson Welles, and Dorothy Comingore.
This article is a fantastic first hand account of the media and popular frenzy surrounding the grand release of RKO’s Citizen Kane. The movie premiered at the famous El Capitan Theater and was the first movie to be shown at that location. The theater remains a landmark to this day on the Hollywood strip. This article clearly shows that despite Hearst’s best efforts to suppress the film’s release, these attempts only furthered to publicize the movie and create even more attention for the premiere. Hearst did succeed in limiting the films success and it wasn’t for many years that interest in the film was revived. This article also, interestingly enough, reveals that as early as 1941, Hollywood felt a sense of nostalgia for the good-old-days of past. It is interesting to see these feelings manifest at such an early date, especially because today we consider Hollywood’s Golden Age to encompass the 1920s through the late 1950s.
In his letter to the editor of the PMLA, Walter Shear argues that Robert L. Carringer’s analysis of Kane’s character in “Rosebud, Dead or Alive: Narrative and Symbolic Structure in Citizen Kane” is overly complex and fails to see the obvious simplicity of the film. Carringer argues that Kane’s personality is a pastiche of the multiple viewpoints of all his closest acquaintances, and that this distorts any seemingly objective display or definitive account of the actual character. Carringer argues his case citing that the only way Kane’s character is revealed in the film is through interviews with close friends, associates and family members. As a result, the character, he argues, is subjected to the various biases of those describing him to the inquiring reporter, Jerry Thompson. Mr. Shear argues on the contrary that Kane’s character is revealed through his desire for people to love him. As Shear cites, “’Love… that’s why he did everything. That’s why he went into politics.’” He states that this relatively simple view can closely describe Kane’s actions and ambitions. Not only does it support Kane’s decision to run into politics; it also justifies Kane’s desire for his paper to have a personal relationship with each one of his readers. He also has multiple relationships in his young adulthood. Shear states that this quest for love could be a search to replace his mother as a source of love in his life. (This being a result of being snatched from his family at too young an age.)
Shear convincingly describes the motives of Charles Foster Kane’s impulses in life – politics, running a newspaper because it would be fun and enthusiastically underwriting his second wife’s singing career – all in an effort to gain acceptance and be adored by the public. With this knowledge in hand, one can very easily watch the film and understand some of the seemingly rash decisions that the character of Kane makes. Who in their right mind, with so many alternatives, choose to run a faltering newspaper “because it looks fun?” With a secure personal fortune and no need to earn money, it would make sense that a person in such a situation would seek to find personal gratification of a love that was never present in childhood.