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Week 13 - citizen kane lecture.docx

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Film Studies
Film Studies 1020E
Barbara Bruce

Week 13: Fall-Term Summary Narrative Form and Style The enemy of art is the absence of limitations. - Orson Welles - we will review some of what we’ve learned in the first term by analyzing Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane: its narrative form and its style o but, this is by no means a comprehensive review  make sure you read Bordwell & Thompson’s (B&T’s) analysis of Citizen Kane, which is the required reading for this week Introduction to Citizen Kane - Citizen Kane (CK) is considered to be one of the greatest films ever made, if not the greatest American film ever made o it has been hailed as a masterpiece and continues to be included on the top 10 list of almost every critic, reviewer, and movie buff  numerous books and countless essays have been written on CK  it’s taught in almost every introductory film course • in fact, it used to be shown twice in Film 1020 o certainly, one viewing is not enough - some of you, after watching the film, will be thinking, “What’s the big deal?”, others will think, “Wow”: o regardless of which category you fall into, CK is a very, very important film - so, what is it that makes CK so important? Why all the attention, all the critical and theoretical work on this film?  on the one hand, what you'll see is that CK is a fairly straightforward story of an American tycoon  the film is based in part on William Randolph Hearst, who tried to block the release of the film and then, when that failed, to discredit direction Orson Welles (1915-1985) by labelling him a Communist  the film centres on the character Charles Foster Kane, played by Welles himself:  his climb to the top—to power, wealth, and fame—and his subsequent fall (the loss of power and the loss of love and friendship) • the film is engaging, entertaining, melodramatic—a typical Hollywood film o but it is also unique in the way in which Welles tells the story  his attempt to incorporate or to adopt cinematic devices and techniques that had been used for 40 yrs and then extend them beyond what audiences had ever seen - CK is a great example of a film that was ahead of its time  RKO Studio was indecisive about what to do with the film when Hearst put pressure on the studio to have the film destroyed  they missed the original release date (set for February) but finally decided to open the film in May of 1941, in LA and New York  the film wasn't a blockbuster, but it didn't lose money  and although it was nominated for 9 Academy Awards, it only won one: for Herman Mankiewicz's script  every time Citizen Kane was referred to during the Oscars ceremony that year, the audience booed • Hollywood did not want the film to ever see the light of day considering the threats that William Hearst had made if it did  the film was little seen and virtually forgotten until its revival in the 1950s  then, critics worldwide began crediting it as among the best films ever made  but by then, Hearst had been successful in blacklisting Welles in Hollywood so that no studio were reluctant to work with him • when he did direct studio films, the executives took control away and the films were often reedited • in 1948, he left Hollywood for Europe so that he could make independent films o for the remainder of his life, he struggled to get his film projects made and maintained a fraught relationship with Hollywood - in the first 15 minutes of CK, we find the seeds for Welles’s stylistic and narrative approach  the film begins by setting two sequences back to back, two sequences which recall the two enduring cinematic traditions that were first established in the early silent cinema  film as a subjective medium • stylized, artificial, biased • expressive of the processes of the imagination (George Méliès: fantasy, magic) • able to penetrate into the private world  and film as an objective medium • the mechanical recorder of events • faithful to the integrity of the external (phenomenal) world • Louis and Auguste Lumière – reportage / actualities o the Lumière bros turned their cameras on to the world around them  we saw the short films of the workers leaving a factory, parents feeding a baby, etc. o long shot, fixed camera, movement in frame o shot as the basic unit of cinematic expression - so, the first 15 minutes of CK calls up these two enduring cinematic traditions  the film begins with a fantastic, magical sequence  dreamlike images, meant to captivate and confuse  also meant to show the power and pleasure of film • specifically, voyeuristic power and pleasure penetration into the private lives of people o in this we can compare CK to the Hitchcock films we have and will see on the course • CK’s opening sequence consists of slow dissolves and reflections o it is spatially disorienting o it is difficult to figure out what is happening and where you are  and then, we shift abruptly into the interior space (Private Space)  the second sequence begins suddenly and abruptly • a graphically discontinuous cut to the “News on the March” newsreel o it’s a short documentary on the public life of Charles Foster Kane  8½ minutes of facts, offering an enormous amount of information and comprised of 121 shots (that’s a lot!) • we see the chronological events of Kane's life o his history, his work, and most importantly, his friends, colleagues, and family Narrative Form - we’ll start by considering how the opening sequence relates to narrative form o all of the films we have seen so far have been narrative films o and most of them have adhered to Narrative Conventions of the Classical Paradigm  meaning, that, among other things, the protagonist functions as the causal agent  s/he has particular goals or desires  e.g. Lola wants to raise money and to save her boyfriend  e.g. Jeff wants to solve the murder mystery and to avoid, then to engage in a serious relationship with, Lisa • the goals established occupy two lines of action in classical narrative films: o heterosexual romantic desire o and the public goals involves business, an investigation, political intrigue, etc.  we move along the narrative lines of action, the chain of cause and effect, towards a resolution, which is delayed by a series of obstacles  the resolution in the classical narrative film is achieved when the desires or goals of the protagonist are fulfilled, giving closure • Lola gets the money and Manny • Jeff gets the killer and Lisa - CK is marked by conventional but also deviant formal and stylistic strategies o consider how Welles maintains a balance between a conventional and deviant narrative system and the consequences of those deviations  if we look at the first two scenes of the film, we see that Welles plants the seeds for two lines of narrative action • opening scene: o the camera penetrates through the "No Trespassing" sign of Xanadu, across the estate, and into his room, where we first see Charles Foster Kane  review the opening and look for the graphic match of the single light coming from Kane’s room in all the shots leading up to the interior of Kane’s room o the image of Kane is exceedingly distorted:  an extreme close-up of his lips—we see and hear his dying word: "Rosebud" o this shot is followed by a shot that is grossly distorted in terms of perspective relations  it is a shot that anticipates the fish eye lens, which has an extremely short focal length • fish-eye lenses didn’t exist yet, but Welles achieved the effect by holding a distorted lens in front of the camera and of the lens that was already on it o then, we have an abrupt cut to the second image of Kane  the documentary images of his funeral, announcements of his death in the press, and the history of his public life • because the plot begins with Kane's death (two versions of his death), our curiosity is not how the story will end, since we know he dies • rather we are drawn into the chain of events that lead to this end o so, the film is an investigation sparked by Kane's death, an investigation of past events - Welles and co-writer Mankiewicz organize the investigation on two narrative lines of action which become intertwined:  first is the straightforward investigation that evolves from the "News on the March" newsreel  this is in the public sphere • in the projection scene, the news editors discuss the film with the Rawlston, agreeing that the film needs "an angle" • the angle that they want to pursue is Kane's dying word: "Rosebud" • this becomes Thompson's goal: “Rosebud, Dead or Alive,” he says. |It'll probably turn out to be a very simple thing.”  the second line of action, which is woven into the first, traces Kane's life over 75 years and, in particular, the group of people who have affected his life  from his mother and her decision to send Charles to live with Thatcher to his two marriages through his two careers (as a newspaper man and as a politician) and his decline - the structure of these two narrative lines is mapped out by the "News on the March" newsreel  as B&T point out, the newsreel is like a miniature version of the plot structure of CK  it establishes the chronology of events and introduces us to the five characters Thompson will interview as part of his investigation • Thatcher: K's guardian; Bernstein: colleague; Leland: friend and colleague; Susan: his second wife; and Raymond: his butler o each character provides an account of Kane—that is, his or her version of who Kane was  each story is told in a flashback - the stories are introduced as mental subjectivity o we are seeing a character’s memories  the flashbacks are initiated, concluded, and (occasionally) interrupted by the individual narrator's (diegetic, offscreen) voiceover commentary  and they are mostly restricted to what the narrators know • however, there are a lot of unrestricted moments in the film, significant moments when we know more than Thompson and more than the narrators themselves o for example . . .  in Leland’s story, we see Kane and Emily's breakfast scenes even though Leland would not have been present at their breakfast table  and, of course, we find out what Rosebud was • so although they are introduced as subjective, the flashbacks themselves are depicted objectively o objective narration, you should remember, is narration that limits our understanding of characters to external factors  for e.g. what they say, their gestures, actions, facial expressions o by rendering each story objective, the film invites us to believe each of the stories, to believe that the image of Kane described by one narrator is as “truthful” and valid as any of the others Thompson, the reporter - Thompson’s function in the narrative is basically as a plot device  we hardly see him  his physical presence is minimized by several techniques: over-the- shoulder shots, shadows, placement in the corner of a frame, etc.  and we never get scenes of him that we might expect in an investigation narrative: being pensive (wondering what Rosebud means) or getting frustrated  his search for “Rosebud” functions, primarily, as a way to enter the lives of the people who knew Kane and, through them, Kane’s life  once the interview begins, we quickly forget that he's there  what is important are the stories, the different perspectives on Kane that build on one another - the stories Thompson collects are, in the end, like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, which is a central motif of the film  Thompson doesn't find all the pieces  most notably, he never finds out what “Rosebud” means  his goal is resolved only in the conclusion he draws
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