Citizen Kane, directed by Orson Welles, is considered to still be one of the world’s greatest movies ever produced. Citizen Kane is a powerful dramatic tale about the uses and abuses of wealth and power. It’s a classic American tragedy about a man of great passion, vision, and greed, who pushes himself until he brings ruins to himself and all around him. From the scene depicting Kane’s meeting Jim Gettys, the audience observes that Kane has aborted his youthful ambitions and has become self-absorbed, which leads to his downfall. Welles conveys this to viewers in this scene by mise-en-scene, camera angles, movement, and lighting.
From an Interview with Kane’s oldest friend, Jebediah Leland, provides the necessary exposition on Kane’s personal life and becoming a victim to his professional life. It begins with series of dinners Kane has with his wife Emily Norton, in which utilize a temporal editing rhythm by showing an obvious time difference. Over a short period of time the passion Kane once had for his marriage had simply been transferred back into his newspaper. His dissolving marriage had placed him in the situation to come in contact with the young Susan Alexander.
As the two invested the time into one another, Kane convinces Susan to perform on the piano for him, in which occurs more than once. Kane’s quiet applause for her private piano recital for him dissolves into a similarly rhythmic applause during Leland’s campaign speech for Kane before a small crowd. Leland introduces Kane ideology on a workingman’s ticket to a small outdoor audience, describing him with mythic proportions: “the fighting liberal, the friend of the working man, the next governor of this state, who entered upon this campaign… The scene jump cuts to the echoing and booming of Kane voice finishes Leland’s words in a dramatic dovetailing of scenes to illustrate Kane’s quick rise to power. This memorable political speech Kane had presented in the vast Madison Square Garden, was a harsh attack against Boss Jim Gettys and a seemingly pre-emptive governor celebration. Upon leaving Madison Square Garden, Kane briefly encountered his son before Emily had sent him away in a car.
She too decides to leave in a taxi to an address that was included in a note about certain activities Kane was involved in as well as possibly involving the whole family into the mess. Kane believes that he has lost and agrees to accompany Emily to what turns out to be Susan’s place. The sequence I choose opens with a shot 1 of Kane and Emily arriving at Susan’s building where the camera quickly tracks inward from a wide two-shot on Kane and Norton standing at the door finally composing them in a symmetrical medium shot that’s framed by the doorway.
This shots shows the importance of the Kane and Norton’s predicament and the emotional intensity that awaits upstairs, in addition to establishing Susan’s apartment building in which they are about to enter. The only major source of light provided is a diffused light that permeates from the double doors, which separate the two tonalities. There is a very subtle illumination that slightly backlights each character that originated from the exterior ornamental building lights, one on each side of the doors archway.
A sense of honest emotionality is clearly conveyed through the use of elegant costume designs and tonal properties. The tonality of Kane’s suit and hat are both of the deepest black representing his decaying integrity in contrast to his earlier Declaration of Principles. And to contrast Kane’s appearance and as a result of her sincerity and understanding, Norton is wearing a beautiful and glossy white dress with a brighter white fur collar. They enter the building and Kane receives a stiff look from his wife because of the landlord’s familiarity with Kane.
The blocking that Welles had been arranged, allowed Mrs. Norton to enter the building first, giving Kane an extra moment to contemplate his behavioral actions. As they pass through the doorway, the once diffused light now has become a hard light that created a sharp facial rim light. An expanding momentary silhouette of Kane and Norton appear as through the frosted glass on the doors as the landlord closes them. The second shot, a low angle camera follows Kane and Emily as they ascend the stairs, also framing up Susan as she quickly emerges to witness Kane’s arrival.
This shot makes Kane look extremely powerful and massive. Kane and Emily first encounter Susan at the top of the stairwell in the doorway which is light up. This blocking in relation to the camera framing creates a most effective diagonal symmetry, from the highest point in the right foreground a stair post, then moving back in depth to Emily, Kane, and Susan. But before Susan can finish her sentence, Gettys emerges at the center of the doorway, which places all importance on him and finalizes the diagonal line in the framing.
The lighting comes from the room behind Gettys, so he is nothing more than a dark shadow that has been backlit, symbolizing his unethical and corrupt mentality. . The third, a medium shot of all four characters, which where taken at eye-level. All four of them will be affected by the forthcoming events and are almost trapped in the quant apartment. The lighting in this scene shines on everyone facing the doorway providing them ample key or key and fill light, but leaves Gettys as the dark figure that is solely backlit with heavy contrast against the illuminated interior of the apartment.
As soon as Emily makes her entrance into the apartment and passes Gettys, emotions between Kane and Gettys come to a head and confrontation is inevitable. This is made quite evident as the camera quickly tracks forward, framing a two-shot in the foreground of Kane and Gettys with Emily occupying the spatial difference in the middle ground, which was her calm to the emotional tensions. This subtle change in blocking had altered the lighting scheme slightly, Gettys know had some rim and fill light since he had moved to the right, where as Kane occupied Gettys position and was now backlit.
This choice in blocking finally reveals the true nature of both corrupt individuals. In the fourth shot, Gettys exists camera right, leaving Kane and Emily to be portrayed with a medium shot while discussion continues about the love affair and its role in affecting the election. Her is an interesting contrast or lack there of, in regards to their attire and the tonality of the background. Kane is black on black and Emily is white on white. Since both had a standard fill light on them, the only lighting difference was the key light that was acting as a rim light.
Susan then interrupts the dialogue between Kane and Emily as she enters the scene camera left, since she too will be affected by Gettys scheme. Kane and Susan are placed side by side in the frame because it is their affair that has led to the situation. Once again, Kane is nothing more than a shadow. The angle then pans slightly to the left, which switches the composition to a medium shot of Kane and Gettys in the middle ground and with Emily to the left side of the foreground in an almost over the should framing.
Susan is purposefully cut out of this shot because she has been silenced due to her level of involvement. Kane and Gettys do not care about her or anyone else, just their own personal agendas, which is shown by their lack of key or fill light and again being solely backlit and having a high contrast with the background. The main focus in this shot is on Kane as he approaches Gettys in search of confrontation. They are both battling for their lives and their emotions intensify.
Gettys takes a couple steps forward and address Emily, by doing so he enters a high-key area, which alters the blocking symmetry to represent a triangle. In return Emily offers to give Kane a chance to accept Getty’s deal. This is extremely symbolic of the predicament that they all find themselves apart of. Susan attempts to re-enter the conversation by clinging tightly to Kane, who in return shows absolutely no recognition of her presence. Realizing this she then interrupts the symmetrical triangle formed by the Kane, Gettys, and Emily but as a result Gettys shadow covers most of her body.
Pleading for benefit to anyone who would listen, Kane stands motionless and dark in the background for he will not admit that he is licked In the fifth shot, the audience is almost given a subjective point of view from Kane’s perspective. The camera has changed 180 degrees to a medium shot of Susan, Emily, and Gettys all facing Kane and lit quite evenly. A small portion of Kane’s silhouetted head is in the frame showing that the camera is positioned at Kane’s eye-level giving us his point of view.
Gettys, Emily, and Susan all voice their views to Kane, and all three are light up with an even spread of light. This contrasts Kane’s shadow and helps viewers to realize that Kane is independent from the others and he is only concerned with himself. This blocking makes it rather obvious that Emily is distanced from Kane by Susan’s presence, for she has separated the couple and is the cause of Kane’s current problem. As Emily makes her exit, she stops, turns and asked Kane if he will be joining her. Both Susan and Gettys seem to impatiently stare at Kane, as he responded with an emotionless no.
It’s good to recognize the camera angle had not been reversed and or tightened on Kane that Welles sought after this exact moment, in order for the audience to receive a truthful facial response from Gettys, Emily, and Susan. In the sixth shot the camera then cuts to a low angle shot of Kane between Susan and Gettys, in which creates another descending diagonal line of symmetry in regards to the character blocking, in order of situational power. The low angle shot shows that Kane is still strong in his autonomous beliefs. This is also a reverse angle shot because Kane is shown from Emily’s point of view.
The lighting is rather high key here when Kane steps forward toward Emily and into the light. The camera reverses a couple of times during the argument, showing the different perspectives and giving the audience as close a look as possible into each character and their dialog. The seventh shot involves a reverse of the camera to frame up a medium close up of Emily in the middle ground and with Gettys beside her lingering in the foreground. She is advising Kane of what he ought to do. Gettys is in the frame with Emily because they both feel that Kane should give up the election.
The high key light on Emily shows that she has figured out the best course of action, though she is alone in her view. The high key lighting is contrasted by low-key lighting when the camera cuts to of a medium, low angle shot of Kane. Kane has his own agenda and certainly will adhere to it, since he has been disconnected from Emily during the entire scene after the entrance. Kane is shown with Susan and Gettys on each side of him with the light coming from behind Kane. The low camera angle centered on Kane displays the high level of self-pride that he has.
He proclaims that there is only one person in the world that matters to him and it is visually apparent whom he is talking about. The film then shifts to the eighth shot, a medium, eye-level shot of Emily between Gettys and Kane. The lighting is low key, but Emily remains well light as she concludes her conversation with Kane, who is still a darkened figure but for this set up was able to catch enough of the key to rim light the front of his face. Though the two are next to each other in the frame, the difference in lighting helps one to understand their division.
Their division is finally depicted as Emily leaves the room and Kane is left with Gettys. Gettys then steps into the light and departs, leaving Kane in the darkness with his decision. The scene concludes with Kane yelling towards the stairs and his shadow is projected on the door with hard lighting. Kane refuses to lower his ego and save himself and his family from public embarrassment. The scene cuts to the ninth shot, a high angle shot looking down a flight of stairs of Kane running after Gettys toward the stairway, as Kane’s heated emotions had finally let loose and he begins to realize what is to come.
Gettys disappears down the stairwell and Kane’s loud furor echoes within the frame. The camera now looks down on Kane thus making him seem powerless to Getty’s blackmail. In the tenth shot, the camera shifts from high to low angle as it looks up the stairwell at Getty’s descent. A close-up of Gettys is visible with Kane seen over his shoulder yelling threats from the top of the staircase. Forgotten Susan moves next to Kane and a quick close-up of Kane is presented to show his facial expressions of rage. The clip cuts back to the stairwell, where Kane is shown alone in dark light as the front door is closed.
He is yelling to empty space, so it is understood that his insults and threats are useless. The final shot takes the viewer back to where the scene opened, in front of Susan’s apartment. Though this time Emily is in the company of Gettys at the entrance as they both begin to depart. Kane arrived with his wife, but she leaves without him further reiterating how his selfish decision has broken them apart even more. The camera tracks away from the building as they each go their separate ways, being a complete reverse shot of this scenes opening tracking shot.
Kane’s outlook on life changes throughout the film leaving him a corrupted and self-destructive man. The scene where Kane meets with Jim Gettys shows viewers Kane’s self absorption and the extent to which he will go to maintain his power. This is the moment in the film in which for the first time. Charles Foster Kane is descending from his highest peak of success. Orson Welles conveys this through cinematography and mise-en-scene. The life that follows this scene is one of lust and fame, ultimately resulting in emptiness and obsession.