Citizen Kane (1941)

Hello everyone! Last night I got to watch the film that inspired The Legendary Cinematic Pictures List: Citizen Kane (1941). Honestly, I am having trouble finding the words to describe this film. I can say that it is unlike any film that I have ever seen before and will probably ever see again. I took rigorous notes throughout that whole movie and ended up with more bullet points than any other movie I had analyzed thus far, so we’ll see how quickly I can address all of them. Before I address the technical elements that I noticed, I recommend that you watch the Crash Course video below if you haven’t seen the movie before and read the Wikipedia page that talks about the history around it. Honestly, I just recommend that you watch the movie. It is so good that I will probably watch it again!

Crash Course: Citizen Kane (1941)

I’ll begin by discussing a few small elements that I noticed in this film before I discuss the big elements like camera technique and other visual effects. Something quite interesting about this movie is that it is in black and white, despite the growing popularity of color films at the time of production. That was a deliberate choice made by Orson Welles (director) and his team. I ended up loving this choice because of the effects that Welles created with the absence of color! There are some points in the movie where, for example, Kane is talking, and you cannot see his face. To some, this would look like a mistake, but in Welles’ film, you can tell that this deliberate choice has an underlying connotation. Here are a few examples of some great lighting sequences:

Citizen Kane (1941)
Citizen Kane (1941)
Citizen Kane (1941)

Another element that truly makes this movie is the sound. There are some great one-liners that I recognized from other movies as well as just life in general! Because there was sound in this mid-1900s film, that also means there was music. I was caught quite off guard when a musical number began in the film (which is not a musical), but in the end, I think it fits very well. Towards the beginning of the film, I noted that there was ominous music playing in the background to make the audience feel uneasy and off their guard. There may have been some of this in The Wizard of Oz (1939), but it was more noticeable in this picture (in a good way). The last note that I took about audio was another one from the very beginning of the picture. The movie opens up with a news report that has a narrator. This also caught me off guard because none of the other films that I have watched thus far, in my list, have had a narrator. So, that was pretty cool!

Similar to The Gay Divorcee (1934) and The Wizard of Oz (1939), I was still getting a little bit of unintentional shakiness and graininess on the TV that I was watching. This makes sense as it is a film from almost 70 years ago. Even though I believe that it was unintentional, I still love the style that it gives the movie.

Alright, now we are getting into the meaty stuff that I took a lot of notes on. First up: shot types. I know that this movie is analyzed in a lot of college classes for specifically this reason, so there’s a lot going on here. Some shot types that I noticed include: the dissolve (which we have seen before), the “helicopter” shot, the panning motion, the tilting motion, and the walking zoom (linked are examples of that specific shot). There are also a few new transitions that I saw like the fade to black transition and the slide transition. There are obviously more camera movements and transitions in this movie, so please go check them out! The big thing that I noticed about both the shot types and transitions is that they fit really well with the tempo of the film in that specific moment. I am going to carry that over with me to my own films to make sure the audience stays engaged and to keep the movie interesting and fun.

I have a lot more notes (that you can find below), but I’ll finish up todays post by talking about one of my favorite shots from this film (pictured below).

This is also one of the most famous scenes from the move!

In this shot, we see Kane’s parents signing the papers to send him away and give him what they think is ‘a better life.’ In the background, we see a little boy (young Kane) playing in the snow. There are so many different directions in which we can take the analysis of this shot above, but I’ll talk about the one that came to me first. Young Kane is the only one outside and we, the audience, can see him through the window. Kane’s parents and his new guardian are all inside and his mother is about to sign what I believe are the custody papers. I won’t spoil the ending for you, but this is one of the most important scenes in the movie. Young Kane is outside playing in the snow and has no idea that he doesn’t have any control over his life in this moment. When he eventually finds out that he is going to be shipped off to New York, this deeply hurts him. As you will find out in the film, he never forgets this moment; it stays with him forever. To me, this shot foreshadows that Kane will always be looking at his life from the outside and that he will never truly have control of what happens to his own life. Let me know in the comments if you agree with my interpretation or if you have one of your own!

Thank you so much for reading, I hope that you enjoyed it!

Here are some of my notes from the film. As you can see, they are all over the place because I was so excited. Let me know in the comments if you can identify any of the specific scenes that I was taking notes on for any of these bullet points!