...What is mise-en-scene? Mise-en-scene is the arrangement of scenery and properties to represent the place where a movie is enacted. It is most commonly used to show the setting of the movie. But if used correctly can be used to portray the feelings of the characters and to help tell the story. Orson Welles made sure to use the props, actors, and even the camera to use mise-en-scene to tell the story of Charles Foster Kane to its fullest. Character positions, camera angles and music, and framing used to tell the story in Citizen Kane. It’s use of mise-en-scene made it not only ahead of its time, but it made it a masterpiece. Citizen Kane uses mise-en-scene is multiple scenes to help tell the narrative. A perfect example is when the parents of the Charles Kane are speaking with Walter Thatcher in the house. As Kane’s parents are discussing giving Kane over to Thatcher, we see Kane as a boy playing in the snow through the window. This scene represents the innocence that is stolen from him in this exact moment. When he was a child he was pure and innocent and naïve, but we never see him like this again after he is taken and brought up by Thatcher. The boy stays in the middle of the frame the whole scene making this part one of the most import scenes in the movie. As the live changing scene goes on we just watch as Kane plays in innocence, completely oblivious to what is going on in his home. The entire movie is affected by this one scene and links to his dying word, rosebud.......
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Mise En Scene: What It Is & How It's Used in "Cabin in the Woods"
...Mise en scene is a French term that is defined as the overall point of view of a movie or the "placing on stage". In other words, it refers to the combined experience of what the viewers hear, see and think of when they watch a movie. The mise en scene of a movie catches the attention of the viewers’ moods as much as lighting, props sounds, and smells do. It alerts their emotional response system to a real-life setting, which is conveyed in the movie. Mise en scene has two significant visual components: design and composition. Design creates the look and overall feeling of the lighting, setting(s), decor, and actors. Composition refers to the structure, distribution, equilibrium, and the relationship between the actors and the matter around them and within their environment. The use of these elements within the movie frame provide the audience with the general meaning of the movie scene. Mise en scene also plays an important role in the viewers’ response to a movie. It affects the viewers’ experience of views, sounds, contrast and color. Some aspects of mise en scene can happen on a rare occasion; whether through an act of mother nature or by accident. For example: rain, snow, an actor improvising and ignoring the script, or an actor getting injured. Mise en scene happens in movies because the movie directors planned it before the shooting of the scenes of the movie. Mise en scene can and is sometimes used to distinguish a director’s......
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...Among many movie critics, filmmakers, and fans, Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane has come to be known as the greatest film ever made. Since its release in 1941 the film has received praise for its innovative mix of cinematography and music, among other theatrical elements. The movie centers on the mysterious legacy of newspaper tycoon Charles Foster Kane, and the meaning of his last words, “rosebud.” Welles’ groundbreaking cinematography and mix of lighting (or lack thereof), low-angle shots, and deep focus, contribute to the audience’s awareness of the important events occurring throughout the movie while simultaneously evoking feelings of curiosity towards the seemingly mysterious and solitary life of Charles Foster Kane. In certain scenes throughout the movie, the lack of lighting, ironically, catches the audience’s eye. The first scene where the lack of lighting really stands out takes place when the few journalists assigned to write about Kane’s death are discussing the possible meanings of his last word, “rosebud.” The first thing the audience is presented with is a room encompassed in darkness, with the exception of two streams of light pouring in from the windows, barely seeming to effectively light up the room. When the men pass by the light, all that is visible are their profiles, and a few puffs of smoke. Although Welles uses a long shot and deep focus for the majority of this scene, the audience really doesn’t get a look into where the characters are spatially located...
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Rear Window Opening Mise En Scene and Cinematography
...Analysis of the opening to Rear Window The opening scene starts by the camera looking out of a window whilst the credits are shown. Slowly, each blind is raised revealing a section of the courtyard at a time already linking to its title ‘Rear window’ indicating that this particular window will play a big part throughout the duration of the film. Much like the curtains in a theatre, the viewer feels as if they are watching a show or play when the blinds are lifted slowly creating an exciting opening and the sense that drama is to come. The symmetrical close up shot of the window provides the audience with ‘front row seats’ as the scene unfolds further. Outside, the neighbourhood seems peaceful and like any other normal community with people carrying out their everyday lives in their everyday houses. Despite its normality, the courtyard seems enclosed and claustrophobic representing restriction and tension which could possibly be mounting. Everything seems too peaceful to be true. After the opening credits, the camera zooms towards the bottom of the window until it is completely outside. It then cuts to show a cat in the courtyard walking up the stairs which could link to the normality and ‘city life’ feel which is being portrayed. The camera follows the cat’s steps from the bottom of the stairs to the top until it reaches a ladder and follows the ladder upwards as if we (the viewer) were voyeur and spying or following someone. As the camera approaches the top of the ladder...
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...When I first saw this clip of Citizen Kane (Orson Welles, 1941) my first instinct was that it was comic relief. The extremely frustrated director, Jedediah trying so hard not to fall asleep and of course Bernstein reclining back in his seat more interested in playing with the playbill then watching Susan on stage. While this scene may be rather humorous a lot about both Susan and Kane is revealed through emotions and actions of the two. As the clip progresses it begins to become less and less humorous and then more and more painful. The singing soon becomes irritating and us the viewer becomes as sick of it as the patrons do. Then when it’s all over and we see the expression on Kane’s face, and hear Susan’s heavy breathing that we finally realize exactly what this scene represents. We enter this part of the movie not really knowing what to expect. We know that Kane’s life is beginning to fall apart, having left his first wife for Susan and loosing some of his political pull in the process. The scene begins with a close up of Susan; she is singing but is quickly interrupted by the director who is trying to correct her mistakes. The camera then tracks to him, slowly zooming out to show the hectic movements of actors and stage hands frantically running around setting up, just before the camera tilts up to focus on a stage light just overhead to further. We are then treated to a nice backstage shot right as the curtains go up, then the lights flicker on and all eyes are on......
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Citizen Kane Sequence Analysis
...Philip Lee Joor Baruah Monday- 11:15-12:30 Film 20A 30 October 2014 Citizen Kane Sequence Analysis Essay Mise-en-scene, cinematography and editing are visual elements in film that create meaning in the shots/sequences of the film. Ultimately it is these factors that can establish narrative agents and their relations, drive the narrative and place the view in a certain point of view of the narrative. Orson Welle’s 1941 film, Citizen Kane, is considered significant for its technical innovations with its use of deep focus lenses, low angles, high contrast lighting, long takes and dissolves. In my essay I will be analyzing the sequence depicting Kane’s “Declaration of Principles.” I will show how the elements of mise-en-scene, the cinematography and editing choices help to visually depict Kane as a powerful subject, establish narrative conflict and create perspective within the sequence. Through sequence of Kane’s “Declaration of Principles” Kane is depicted as a powerful narrative agent through social blocking in the sequence’s mise-en- scene. Throughout the long third shot, Kane is placed centrally and stands the tallest compared to Leland and Bernstein. Through the cinematic use of deep focus lenses that manages to capture Leland, Kane and Bernstein positioned in the background, mid ground and foreground all in focus at the same time. This allows for Kane to dominate the mise-en-scene in spatial relations to his friends. His physical relations to his friends and the......
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An American Beauty Mise En Scene Analysis
...use of mise-en-scene in one of the early scenes in the film American Beauty, directed by Sam Mendes. Mise-en-scene, a French term translated as "putting into the scene", refers to properties of a cinematic image that exists independently of camera position, camera movement, and editing. The story centres on Lester, played by Kevin Spacey, a father who is experiencing a mid-life crisis. Despite employing a traditional Hollywood plot structure that focuses on a problem and a protagonist’s quest in resolving the issue, the film is special. The problem in the film is special as it is Lester’s entire state of life – his unhappiness and dissatisfaction of the way things are in his life. The film’s theme centres on the definition of happiness, more specifically in the context of the American Dream. The characters of the American Beauty seem to have confused material well-being with happiness. The plot is pushed by the main protagonist, Lester, in trying to find meaning and happiness in his life that was before dictated by the American expectation. We will be looking at the second scene of the film, which begins when Lester enters Brad’s office to discuss his performance at work. Brad is the company efficiency expert who was recently hired. The scene will be discussed separately based on two different locations. The essay will examine the use of settings, costume and make up, staging, lighting and lastly the use of space and time for each location. Analysis of mise-en-scene......
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Analyse de Scène Citizen Kane
...00:37:10 to 00:39:30 Charles Foster Kane just start his new job : he is now controlling a newspaper in New York, the Inquirer. He’s with Jedediah Leland and Mr.Bernstein, they are just discussing about the future of the Inquirer but then Mr.Kane has an idea : he’s going to write a declaration of principles. This is the beginning of the desillusion for the spectator who believes in a good Charles. However, the scene is quite intersting in the way it has been filmed, especially in the second part of the extract. When he’s writing his declaration, Mr.Kane is in the shadow when the others are under the light to show that his ideas will never appear in reality. This is also like a funeral for his principles since he’ll never apply them. They are stillborn but the most impressive play with the camera is the one of Leland who is purposely looking at the lens to expliain his feeling to the spectator. In fact, he wants to keep the paper with the declaration on it since he thinks that it could become a treasure. The character is announcing the defeat of kindness at the beginning of the movie so the spectator can enjoy the fall of Charles Foster Kane. There is a sort of intimity between Leland and the ones in front of the screen. Thus, this is one of the most important scenes of the movie because it summarize well the all concept of Mr.Kane : a kind man who wants to help people but who is too obsessed by his own succes and power. ...
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Night Monther Mise En Scene
...12 ‘night, Mother, Interpretation of mise en scene Joseph Liardi HUMN428 - De Vry University April 14, 2012 Joe, your analysis is very thorough with good attention to detail, and your focus on the psychology at play adds depth and insight. Clearly, you put a lot of time and attention into your study of this play. Terrific job! 200 points 12 ‘night, Mother, Interpretation of mise en scene Joseph Liardi HUMN428 - De Vry University April 14, 2012 Joe, your analysis is very thorough with good attention to detail, and your focus on the psychology at play adds depth and insight. Clearly, you put a lot of time and attention into your study of this play. Terrific job! 200 points ‘night, Mother, Interpretation of mise en scene Marsha Norman was born in Kentucky in 1947. A child who was isolated from the world by her family’s religious norms found comfort in playing the piano, reading books and playing with her imaginary friend called Bettering. Isolation and loneliness of life is something that is familiar to this play wright and is found in her many works such as “The Secret Garden” and “Getting Out”. Marsha Norman’s imaginary friend Bettering can be seen as a metaphor that compares her own relationships with her family, particularly her mother, and the feelings of alienation she felt as a child and her desire to be in control and better her life. (Yes, fascinating name she chose for her imaginary friend! Children can be so wise) Her own......
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...Welles Citizen Kane continues to engage and persuade audiences through its cinematic treatment of ambition and corruption Welles film explores the fragility that frames human experience. To what extent does this statement encapsulate your views of the text The complexity of the human experience is shaped by individual’s attitudes, morals and perceptions. Orson Welles Citizen Kane explores this complexity through its portrayal of media tycoon Charles Kane, highlighting the centrality of ambition and corruption in an individual’s pursuit of power and relationships. Wells employs avant grande cinematography to engage and persuade the audience of the instability of the human experience. Citizen Kane demonstrates how despite the individuals desire for relationships; their ability to forge connections can be undermined by their personal perceptions and ideals. Kane’s moral vacuity and ambitious nature is central to his inability to sustain meaningful relationships. Leland apathy notes, “All he (Kane) ever wanted out of life was love”, with this desire for love resonating in the motif of ‘Rosebud’, emblematic of his mothers love. Nonetheless, Kane’s superficial pursuit of transient pleasures and ambition results in the corruption of his relationships. This is accentuated in the breakfast montage, which depicts Kane and his wife Emily at progressive breakfasts throughout the course of their marriage. To begin with Kane seems to be the ideal husband – he compliments her,......
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...Understanding Movies Citizen Kane By the time Citizen Kane came out in 1941, many technological advances had been made in terms of filmmaking. Different photographic techniques became important as they were chosen and implemented for specific reasons and at specific times of the film. Citizen Kane is considered by many critics to be one of the best films of all time mainly because it was so innovative at the time. The film is often praised for its cinematography, sound, and narrative structure. I personally did not love the film because I found it to be a bit boring at times. It felt more like a biography of Kane’s life and not much more. I kept waiting for “it” to happen but no monumental or memorable event really ever occurred. The film begins with Charles Foster Kane on his deathbed as he whispers his last word “rosebud”, before dropping his globe and it shattering everywhere. The rest of the film is essentially a chase by a reporter named Jerry Thompson as he tries to find out what Kane meant by “rosebud”. Through a series of interviews that Thompson conducts, we get an in-depth look at Thompson’s life through flashbacks in the perspective of many people who knew him and were close to him. The setup of the movie was something I did enjoy. The film began at the end of Kane’s life and then progresses through flashbacks. I always find it interesting when movies are set up that way because traditionally a film has a conclusion at the end of a film while Citizen Kane......
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: Mise-En-Scene and Cinematography in “the Untouchables
...Ryan Fosgreen Prof. Simon Cine 105 Film 2: Mise-en-Scene and Cinematography in “The Untouchables. When Al Capone was introduced the mise-en-scene was shown by him receiving a wet shave which was a popular service to receive back in the twenties. He was having his shoes polished and reporters were asking questions. Al Capone’s opening shot was a high angle shot from directly above. We know Capone is wealthy and holds a lot of power when the reporter says ‘some say you are the mayor of Chicago’. We also learn that Capone has a criminal background when he openly admits that he is a business man who took advantage of prohibition. Ness was introduced in his home with his wife the mise-en-scene again reflects the twenties when you see his furniture and clothing. He was wearing a suit with a vest and eventually a brim hat as well which accurately captures the apparel worn in the twenties. Elliott Ness is introduced as a caring individual disgusted by the rising crime in Chicago. It is easily seen that he is not corrupt and wants to clean up the streets of Chicago. Malone was introduced on a bridge passing by and confronting Elliott for littering. The police uniform worn by Malone was old fashioned especially the hat he wore, he also carried a wooden baton like the police used to carry in the early nineteen-hundreds. A low angle shot is used when you see Ness on the bridge at first but then it merges into an equal level shot once Ness and Malone begin conversing. ......
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Mise En Scene in the General
...Mise en scene in The General According to Carrigan and White mise en scene means a “placement in a scene” or “onstage” (Carrigan and White, pg. 64). To put it into simpler terms it’s everything that you can visually see in the film. In the movie The General it is set in Marietta, Georgia during the American civil war. The film opens up with a happy and diddly tune as it stars an engineer named Johnnie Gray who’s only two loves in his life are his train which is named the General and his love interest named Annabelle. The General and Annabelle are stolen away by the North and he must go and claim what is rightfully his. The scenery, clothing, and music in this movie plays a very heavy role on the mood and content of the movie. These all fall under the mise en scene of the movie, which makes up most of the film. Music plays a very big role in this film compared to others as it is a silent film. And the only way we can be informed of about the plot is the few words given on the screen and the casts facial expressions. Yet music is just as big as those two as it takes us into the mood, feelings and thoughts of Johnnie Gray. In the beginning of the film Johnnie is a satisfied man as the film open up with happy sounds. His facial expression match this, as he is doing what he loves which is being an engineer running the general. But later on in the film, Annabelle scorned Johnnie for not being enlisted into to the army to fight the war, even though the Confederates needed him......
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Mise En ScèNe in the Avengers
...captivating story full of thrilling events. However, what makes these thrilling events come across to the audience so effectively is the excellent use of mise en scène. Throughout this movie, several aspects of mise en scène are used very effectively and are a big part of why this was one of the most succesful movies ever made. One scene that contains an extraordinary use of mise en scène is in the forest when Iron Man and Captain America first meet Thor. The first thing that stood out was the setting. These three extremely powerful forces are meeting for the first time in this very large forest. Right off the bat the setting gives off a sense that almost anything can happen. They are in the wide open wilderness with nothing stopping them from doing what they want to do. If they want to fight, they can do so without harming any nearby people. Another aspect of mise en scène that comes into play in this scene is the lighting. The entire scene is very dark. It is night time in the forest and it gives off a sense that a fight in the near future is inevitable. This in fact does happen. The Taveras 2 fight is mainly between Iron Man and Thor but Captain America does get involved towards the end. It is impossible to say who won the fight because they are all standing at the end of it. This is when a third aspect of mise en scène comes into play. We see at the end of the fight that all of their costumes are in equal conditions. The condition of the costumes show the viewer that......
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...Foster Kane (Orson Welles) and what where the defining moments of his life? These are the questions that lead Thompson (William Alland) and the viewer on a captivating goose chase through the memories of Kane’s closest associates. Like the many possible meanings contained within the word kane, such as the Irish interpretation “little battler”, the Japanese translation of “money” and “gold”, the Welsh’s interpretation of “beautiful”, and the Hawaiian’s definition as “man”, friends and family each had there own interpretations of Charles Foster Kane. Collectively, these views show Kane as a character that was thrown into a position of power and money, and that underneath the façade of glamour and monetary possessions, he was a lonely and complex individual deprived of a normal childhood experience. The down hill relationship between Kane and his best friend Jedediah (Joseph Cotton) parallels the deterioration in the principles and growing self-delusion of Kane. Both men enter the newspaper business as friends and equals and both have the grand idea that they are going to infuse their idealistic principles of equality to become the voice for the American working class. Kane writes down these ideas on a sheet of paper and calls it the “Declaration of Principles”, and he hands the paper to Jedediah for safe keeping. This act symbolizes the climax of their relationship, and also a period where each character’s ideals are both aligned. As the movie progresses, Kane......
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Spitting Image once made a joke about Orson Welles – that he lived his life in reverse. The idea, effectively, is that Welles started life as a fat actor who got his first break doing TV commercials for wine, moved on to bigger character roles as fat men, but used his fees to help finance indie films which he directed himself; their modest, growing success gave him the energy and self-esteem to lose weight. Then the major Hollywood studios gave him the chance to direct big-budget pictures, over which he gained more and more artistic control until he made his culminating mature masterpiece: Citizen Kane, the story of the doomed press baron Charlie Kane – played by Welles himself, partly based on WR Hearst – and told in a dazzling series of fragments, shards, jigsaw pieces and reflected images.
Poor, poor Orson Welles: repeatedly talked about as a tragic disappointment, his achievements somehow held against him, as if he had culpably outlived his own genius. After all, he only created arguably the greatest Hollywood movie in history, only directed a string of brilliant films, only won the top prize at Cannes, only produced some of the most groundbreaking theatre on Broadway, only reinvented the mass medium of radio, and in his political speeches, only energised the progressive and anti-racist movement in postwar America. As the room service waiter in the five-star hotel said to George Best: “Where did it all go wrong?”
Perhaps it is the fault of Citizen Kane itself, that mysterious, almost Elizabethan fable of kingship, which so seductively posits the coexistence of greatness and failure. Martin Scorsese, in his brilliant commentary on the film, said that cinema normally generates empathy for its heroes, but the enigma of Kane frustrates this process. The audience wants to know and love Kane, but can’t – so this need to love was displaced on to Welles himself, and accounted for his immense popularity and celebrity in the 1940s. It is the same with cinema: however immersive, however sensual, however stunningly effective at igniting almost childlike sympathy and love, cinema withholds the inner life of its human characters, while exposing the externals: the faces, the bodies, the buildings, the streetscapes, the sunsets.
The story of Charles Foster Kane is a troubled one: the headstrong newspaper proprietor who makes a brilliant marriage to the niece of the US president and takes a principled democratic stand for the little guy against monopoly capitalism, but only to reinforce his own prerogatives, and only in an attempt to pre-empt the growth of trade unionism. And Kane’s own political ambitions, like those of Charles Stewart Parnell in Ireland, are destroyed by sexual transgression: an affair with a singer who is to become his second wife. Kane’s indiscretion generates precisely the kind of salacious, destructive news story that he had pioneered in his own newspapers.
Diminished by the Wall Street crash and personal catastrophe, Kane becomes a pro-appeasement isolationist, complacently unconcerned about European fascism, though in his youth cheerfully willing to indulge the idea of a short circulation-boosting war with Spain. He dies in the present day, in 1941 – Citizen Kane was released seven months before Pearl Harbor. Kane himself becomes a remote figure, enervated and paralysed by his mythic wealth, somewhere between Scott Fitzgerald’s Jay Gatsby and Adam Verver, the unimaginably rich art collector in Henry James’s The Golden Bowl.
But how about that tiny detail that Kane’s would-be biographers believe is the key to everything? The murmured word on his deathbed: “Rosebud”. It is a mystery which they fail to solve, but we do not – it relates to Kane’s last moments of childhood innocence and happiness, playing in the snow before his bank-trustee appointed guardian, the Dickensian Mr Thatcher, comes to take him away to prepare for him his lonely new life as a 20th-century American oligarch. Kane’s business manager, Mr Bernstein, played by Everett Sloane, tells us never to underestimate the importance of tiny moments, and famously remarks that never a month goes by without him thinking of a fleeting glimpse he had once of a beautiful girl in a white dress and parasol. Never a week goes by without me thinking of that scene, without me trying to imagine that woman’s beauty, and who might play her in a flashback scene (I suggest Mary Astor) and of the awful fact that Everett Sloane was to become obsessed with his own ugliness and addicted to cosmetic surgery.
For any journalist, Citizen Kane is a glorious, subversive, pessimistic film. We all know what newspaper journalists are supposed to be like in the movies: funny, smart, wisecracking, likable heroes. Not in Citizen Kane, they’re not. Journalists are nobodies. The person who counts is the owner. And Welles’s Charlie Kane is not even a self-made man. He had his wealth handed to him. He was never the underdog. Haughty, impulsive, charming and charismatic: the 25-year‑old Welles is so handsome, leonine, with an intelligent, perennially amused face, like a young Bob Hope.
I’ve lost count of the times I’ve watched the scene in which he first shows up with what we would now call his entourage at the offices of the New York Inquirer, the little underperforming paper he seizes on as the cornerstone of his future career – rather in the way Rupert Murdoch started with the Adelaide News. He blows through that dusty office like a whirlwind. Kane derides the idea of his paper remaining closed 12 hours a day: later, he will buy an opera house for his wife to sing in and for his newspapers to promote. And so Kane, in fiction, invented the idea of rolling 24‑hour news, and a vertically integrated infotainment empire. Welles himself had a newspaper column for many years after Kane, and I suspect he thought of himself as in some ways a newspaper proprietor with other people’s money. He told Peter Bogdanovich in their celebrated interview series in 1969 that he never saw Citizen Kane again after watching a finished print in an empty Los Angeles cinema six months before it opened in 1941 – and never stayed to watch the film at the premiere. Perhaps the image of Kane’s failure became increasingly painful.
One of the main characters is Jedediah Leland, played by Joseph Cotten with his handsome, sensitive face. Kane’s college buddy, he has been kept around as a corporate courtier and is, in Leland’s own words, a “stooge”. He has given Kane an intense loyalty which never quite becomes friendship, and gets the job as the drama critic who must review the woeful professional debut of Kane’s second wife, Susan, played by Dorothy Comingore. Leland is pathetic, with neither the cunning to suppress his opinion, nor the courage to express it plainly. He slumps drunk over his typewriter and in an ecstasy of self-hate and masochistic defiance and despair, Kane completes the review himself. Critics are always implicated in the system, says Kane, and the system’s owners are exposed by their attempts to show themselves independent.
Kane has his parallels with British newspaper bosses – in fact, I’m always surprised that the comparison isn’t made more often. He is very like Lord Copper, owner of The Beast in Evelyn Waugh’s novel Scoop, who appreciated the excitement of short, sharp foreign wars. “The Beast stands for strong mutually antagonistic governments everywhere,” said Copper, and to a reporter who has just cabled that there is no war in Cuba, Kane replies: “You provide the prose-poems, I’ll provide the war.” Waugh also said that Lord Copper loved to give banquets, and “it would be an understatement to say that no one enjoyed them more than the host, for no one else enjoyed them at all.” I think of that line every time I watch the magnificent scene in Kane showing the banquet given to celebrate the Inquirer’s success – with dancing girls brought in, shouldering sparkly cardboard-cutout rifles, in honour of America’s forthcoming war with Spain. Cotten’s tense, tired face and sad smile hints at an awful truth: despite Kane’s boyish glee and the apparent general raucous excitement, it might be a terrible strain and unspoken humiliation for these salaried employees to pretend to be enjoying themselves worshipping their boss. I wonder how many newspaper bosses have watched that scene and taken it as a how-to guide for triumphalism at work.
It also reminds me of a strange moment in my life: 20 years ago, I was invited to a colossal party at the Earth Gallery in London’s Natural History Museum, hosted by Sir David English, legendary editor-in-chief of the Daily Mail. It was a lavish, but strangely tense occasion, a notionally generous send off for an editor whom English had forced into retirement. After a speech full of clenched and insincere bonhomie, the editor-in-chief brusquely asked us all to raise our champagne glasses – he did so himself, his arm extended. It was an uncomfortable moment, and quite a few people had on their faces Cotten’s strained smile from Citizen Kane.
Moments are what we are left with in Citizen Kane: a pointilliste constellation of gleaming moments from which we can never quite stand far enough back to see the bigger picture in its entirety. One of the most stomach-turning is the “picnic” that Kane offers to give Susan in a moment of drowsy ennui. Kane and Susan begin to argue in their private tent while music and dancing begin outside, becoming more abandoned and maybe even orgiastic. Welles orchestrates these sounds contrapuntally with the couple’s quarrel, they climax with a strange sound of screaming, as if Kane and Susan’s own malaise had been projected to the party outside.
The scenes of Kane and Susan together in Xanadu are eerie: an Expressionist bad dream, all darkness and weird perspectives, the couple marooned in the gigantic, sinister house, Kane prowling up to Susan while she morosely fits together a jigsaw. Kane wanders to a bizarrely huge fireplace and for a second he looks tiny, and Xanadu looks like the giant’s lair from Jack and the Beanstalk.
And yet Welles’s scenes with Ruth Warrick, playing his first wife, Emily, are no less vibrant, no less meaningful, especially on their arrival home for breakfast as young marrieds, having partied all night – and contemplating going to bed, but not to sleep. It is subtle but still a sexy scene.
It circles back to Rosebud: the anti-riddle of the anti-Sphinx. Welles himself playfully claimed that the word was Hearst’s own term for his wife’s genitalia, and so naturally the mogul was annoyed. Another false trail. The murmuring of “Rosebud” is in one way the film’s teasing offer of synecdoche: the part for the whole, the one jigsaw piece that is in fact the whole puzzle. But it isn’t.
Rosebud is more probably Welles’s intuition of the illusory flashback effect of memory that will affect all of us, particularly at the very end of our lives: the awful conviction that childhood memories are better, simpler, more real than adult memories – that childhood memories are the only things which are real. The remembered details of early existence – moments, sensations and images – have an arbitrary poetic authenticity which is a by-product of being detached from the prosaic context and perspective which encumbers adult minds, the rational understanding which would rob them of their mysterious force. We all have around two or three radioactive Rosebud fragments of childhood memory in our minds, which will return on our deathbeds to mock the insubstantial dream of our lives.
This brings me to my own “Rosebud” theory of the film, the moment that may or may not explain everything. It is in fact the moment that isn’t there, a shocking, ghostly absence that Welles allows you to grasp only after the movie is over: the death of his first wife and his son in an automobile accident. We only hear of it in the newsreel about Kane that begins the film – the brief roundup that we are invited to believe does not get to the heart of the man. But that is the last we hear of it. It happens two years into his second marriage. When does Kane hear this terrible news himself? How does he react to the death of his first wife and his adored little boy? We never know. Welles leaves it out – perhaps he is saying that Kane did not react, that he is too blank, too emotionally nullified, too spiritually deracinated to respond, having made his own complete and ruinous emotional investment in himself, the same egocentricity of self‑esteem culture and image management that has now been miniaturised and democratised in the age of social media. Kane has the plutocrat’s obsession with trying to control those around him in the way that he controls his media empire, whose purpose in turn is to control the way people think. And this is the final unspoken moral of Citizen Kane: a terrible tragedy of ownership and egotism – a narcissistic drowning.
• The Essay: Being Orson series begins on Radio 3 on Monday. Peter Bradshaw’s “Why Citizen Kane Matters” will be broadcast on Wednesday.