Realism in Citizen Kane: Film Review

The aesthetic experience of film viewing does require the possession of a unique form of tension that aids the viewer in relating to what they are seeing. A film narrative simply presents the viewer with the sights and sounds since it is there before them allowing them to perceive the people, objects, and places depicted in the same way they would perceive things in the real world. Film viewers, therefore, are required to cognize what is being represented by a film’s perceptual prompts to pick on what is bring implied. Realism in film entails the presentation of both contractedness and immediacy with focus placed on the perceptual content and how a film communicates to the audience and in turn how the audience cognizes the fiction presented in the film. The keynote element in the production of Orson Welles’ 1941 film Citizen Kane is realism as the premise of the production of the film was to ensure that the audience would feel as though they were staring at reality rather than just a film. Realism in the film refers to the style of filmmaking where the emphasis is placed on the content as the main delivery system of a story. The creation of the film along the lines of realism entails the ideas of epistemic directness in which the fictional truth is presented immediately to allow the viewer to make sense of the narrative. The various elements of realism in Citizen Kane allow the viewer to have an integrated experience in cognizing the film as immediate thereby providing a realistic perceptual experience.

Interpretation of Realism

In cinema, the various cinematic techniques used are aimed at the expiration of the various ways humans can interact with what they define as real. In the article, Realism in Film, Robert Hopkins (2016) presents the concept of collapse as one which is close to realism. The author notes that a film is realistic when the audience sees it as a photographic record, not of the events that are filled but of the events that make up the entire story that is being told. The realism of a film has everything to do with the story being told not in the broader sense of the story being told providing the viewer with an accurate depiction of the world. A fictional film such as Citizen Kane can tell a story successfully, though the story can be inaccurate in the description of real-world events, it can present the narrative with immediacy thereby creating a perceptive experience that makes the viewer see the narrative as real. The film, Citizen Kane presents a simple outline of a story but the element of realism in the film is noted in where its presence is managed in a complex manner and that the conclusion of the narrative becomes vague. Realism in cinema does refer to the appearance of the reality of a film to the believability of the events and characters, Orson Welles in his film manages to free the film from the contradictions of time and space thereby giving it immediacy.

Realism and the Language of Cinema

In the article The Evolution of the Language of Cinema, Andre Bazin (2004) notes that despite montage presenting the film as an art form, the creation of meaning or sense is not carried out by the images presented but from their juxtaposition. In Bazin’s definition, realism entails a situation where the object itself is free from the conditions that govern it allowing the viewer to make the distinction themselves. Realism becomes a comment on the element of authenticity of the image rather than the considerations of the narrative (Kappelhoff, 2015). Orson Welles’ film in this instance does embody the realistic ideas that Bazin underlines with focus placed the cinematic elements that contribute to make the film realistic. Elements such as deep focus, the long take as well as the moving camera work together to create realism in that they are capable of bring the viewer back towards the real conditions of perception. According to Bazin, realism is centered on the recreation of reality from within the film itself. The camera as used in cinematography represent that which is real. The audience in this instance desire to feel as though they are looking at reality hence Bazin’s ideas of realism involve the representation of reality within film form. In cinema, realism is presented from the evaluation of an image in that it is not what it can add to reality but rather what it exposes of this reality.

The element of realism in cinema according to Bazin does depend on the plot and atmosphere of the film as noted in Citizen Kane. The plot and the atmosphere are revealed through visual means along with the help of dramatically exaggerated makeup and abstract sets. Citizen Kane as a film does develop in a fascinating and unnatural environment where the movements of the actors do affect the shapes of their settings. The narrative of the film, therefore, is conveyed through the interactions between lighting, images, movement, and composition. The argument is that the audience’s perception should not be manipulated as the hallmark of a good film entails the narrative remaining ambiguous and also open to interpretation. Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane offers an example of how the element of the montage is replaced with the depth of frame. Welles uses the element of the depth of focus that allows him to cover the entire scene in one take. This enables the viewers to see the entire picture and create an independent interpretation of the scene without any form of intrusive editing. Through the film, Welles can indulge in the metaphoric and symbolic language of cinema in presenting the story (Carringer, 1975). Through the use of deep focus, there is a symbolic effect that is created which allows the director to place the characters in a different situation that makes them appear insignificant. At the same time, this technique allows the creation of an ambiguous narrative which the viewer has to interpret thereby creating a realistic picture. 

Importance of the Long Take in Creating Realism in Citizen Kane

The element of realism in Citizen Kane is brought forward to the viewer through the director’s expert controls of the atmosphere of the film as well as the use of the long take shots. Orson Welles was able to carefully use the framing within the shots to ensure the audience’s attention is placed on particular parts of the frame without having to force the audience to see a small portion of the environment. The element of the long take adds realism as it enables the audience to explore the entire setting of the film as their own. The use of the shot-reverse-shot comes into action in this instance as it signifies dramatic turning points in the film, for example, the reverse shot is used in presenting the troubled life of Foster Kane (Bazin, 1991). The shot-reverse-shot does away with the deep space composition which allows the audience to place their attention on the emotions and dialogue of the characters.

A good example of how the element of realism is created through the long take and the shot-reverse-shot can be seen in the sequence where Susan is being interviewed by Thompson. Susan is noted to stand in the foreground but is completely covered in the attached shadows. With the fading away of the previous shot, the key light is switched on and the characters become fused with the background lighting. The nature of lighting used is important in the development of the character of Kane as a forceful person rather than an emotive person. The position of the camera in the sequence is placed high to put all the characters in a frame but ensures that Susan is in the focal point while Matisse remains in the middle. With Kane making his way into the scene, he is seen deep in the space. The continuous nature of the shot does create the element of realism as the audience gets a chance to witness Kane make his way into the room seconds before other characters can see him. If the scene was shot in a series of cuts, it would present Kane in numerous separate shots which would deny the viewer the ideal vision of Matisse’s expressions when the tension between him and Kane was rising. The element of realism is compounded by the use of the long take and the shot-reverse-shot as it allows the building of suspense between Kane and Matisse.

The major element in the development of this scene lies in the creation of increased disappointment. The use of the long take does create realism as it provides the viewer a granted access to see all the information present not only in the environment but also among the characters. Owing to the camera angle and the distance, the viewer can freely move from one character to the next creating an interpretation of what is going on through their mind while also trying to figure out what they are planning to do next.

The director does use the cinematographic device of deep focus and depth of field as a means to change the montage layout to bring in more realism to the film. Using the long take as a means of deep focus, a single shot is widened to reveal more than just a central figure or even one point of reference. The use of these techniques does underline Bazin’s idea of the creation of realism in a film where he places forwards the rejection of visible editing as a way of creating realism. Basin (2004) notes that the entire process of editing or arrangement of single shots is an intrusion into the visual reality. Welles’s technique as seen in the film Citizen Kane considers respect for the element of spatial unity for an event were splitting it up would ensure it would change from real to something that is fiction or imaginary. Forming a narrative component requires the creation of a montage, an element that Orson Welles avoids in the film as it would require the placing of unrelated shots into a system (Bazin, 1991). The problem in this is that it does not allow the viewer to take part in the realization of the narrative or the image on the screen since the order of the images presented has been determined by the filmmaker. By using the long take, a depth of field is created where the viewer can see the action before it happens thus becoming an active viewer. The spatial unity that is created in the film doesn’t come from reproduced images but the continuum of reality.

Since cinema is a system of reproduction, the real image does manifest itself in the deep focus shots that the director used in the presentation of the film (MacCabe, 1976). The use of the long take technique in the film does allow the action to unfold under the temporal and natural spatial dimensions. The movements of the actors are approximated to real life which offers the viewer the depiction of movement as similar as to what would appear off-screen. This can as well be seen in the sequence where Kane slaps Susan after she comes to the realization he is not in love with her. If the director would have used numerous cuts within the scene, the entire mood of the scene would have been altered locking out the viewer participation. The director in this instance uses the shot-reverse shot to create a confrontational feeling as the long take is used to avoid the confrontational attitude. The depth of field that is created by the cinematography work does create an artificial sense of emotional disagreement and urgency (Isaacs, 2008). Susan presented through the close-up shot from above which crease a false sense of intimacy with her tears ready to flow. The use of the techniques is aimed at controlling the environment along with the perspective of the audience. The long take adds to the element of suspense which through the composition of the depth of field. Realism is created through the audience’s view of the character’s emotive state.

Importance of Visual Flow in the Creation of Realism in Citizen Kane

The settings for the production of the film were designed to play an important role in the creation of realism in the film. The setting did aid in the creation of realism through the presentation of the visual flow of the picture as it did help in tracing the rise and fall of Kane as the central character. The film features the linear narrative approach by making clear use of the basics of storytelling structure that is the exposition, the conflict and the resolution, the settings did help furnishing the details thereby creating a realistic appeal to the structure. The beginning of Kane’s story is presented in the form of a newsreel to provide an overview and history of the life of the protagonist. Through the setting, the viewer can pick up crucial information about the character as the film moves along through the life of Kane as the story moves forward. The conflict is represented by the problem the reporter faced in trying to find meaning of Kane’s last words while also showing his internal conflict along with the relations he had with his friends, wives and rivals. The setting at the end does present to the viewer the idea that the issues will never be resolves but resolution is found when Rosebud makes sense of the entire issue. The visual flow that is created by the setting ensures the creation of realism along with the creation of viewer engagement with the progress of the characters.

The creation of the film along with the design of the setting underline the idea that the sequences and settings have to flow together smoothly. This is to ensure that the audience are not aware of the mechanics that are in place in the making of the picture and create the illusion of reality through the participation in the cognizing of the film. The setting in this instance does work towards the creation of visual flow through the power of the camera that is able to convey dramatic ideas. The planning of the settings in the film ensured that the camera was able to present eyes to the viewers for them to feel as though they were part of the narrative. For example, a majority of the sets in the film did have ceilings that were visible when the director used the extreme long shots. The premise of this is to take advantage of the realistic effects that the ceilings create along with the presence of the characters. Lindsey Fiorelli (2016) notes that a films perceptual content does aid in the construction of its fictional fact. Considering the fact that films do have an important tie to reality, the settings used in the film in this instant allows the viewer to connect with the past and present of the protagonist in his world. The visual flow of a film contributes to the creation of a films natural meaning which in turn shows the correlation between the information that the director presents through the characters and what the viewer knows about the character.

Within the visual flow, the director presents the element of pace in visual treatment as a means of creating realism in the narrative and the interactions among the characters. In Citizen Kane, Orson Welles ensures there is a variety of pace and setting of the scene where some move very slow and a juxtaposed with quick-moving montages. This element creates scenes that are visually subdued as others present visual dynamics that offer full elements and movement. According to Bruce Block (2020), the variety in pace as presented in the film creates a rhythmic pattern that contrasts which creates interesting features to the human brain. The use of good visual variety in the form of the unusual set designs and camera angles, the visual treatment that the director gives the film contributes to the overall consistent look of the film and also adds to the creation of realism. Visual flow is emphasized even further with the visual variety that creates an effective method of getting the attention of the viewer while also pushing forwards the director’s message and theme. The premise behind the play with the film’s visual flow is to establish cohesion among the various elements that aid in the narrative communicating with the audience (Isaacs, 2008). For example, in the film, there are numerous flashbacks that the director presents in numerous scenes. The dialogue between the two characters in the campaign headquarters is presented in a slow-paced scene with the camera taking an unusually low angle. This is in contrast to the scene featuring the party where there is a feeling of fast-paced music that moves along with the entire mood of the sequence. The idea is to maintain the attention of the audience through the presentation of a feeling that is relatable.

Importance of the Leading Eye in Creating Realism in Citizen Kane

Since a viewer can only focus on a small area of the film composition at the time, Orson Welles manages to influence where the viewer will place his gaze on the screen through the manipulation of the various contrasting elements. The creation of the movement on the screen does provide the viewer the feel of realism in addition to getting the attention of the viewer. In the film, the director ensures some of the scenes feature the element of the leading eye to create the feel of realism and also as a way of holding the viewer’s attention. For example, in the sequence where Kane was at the bank, the director ensures he remains small as the background element which makes the viewer keep an eye on him. This was a representation of the mood that Kane was in owing to these financial problems. Kane’s size is diminished by the size of the window frames that the director uses to influence the audience’s point of view. The leading eye is important in creating realism in the film since it underlines the overall cinematic images in the various scenes presented.

Orson Welles’s use of cinematographic elements in the creation of realism allows him to create the effect of reality without making any changes of manipulation of daily life (Isaacs, 2008). Through these elements, the director can demonstrate the surface of life with the use of Kane’s narrative as closely as possible to enable the viewer to accept the film as a reflection of something close to reality as possible. This does underline the fact that the content of the film is of great importance where continuity is of great value. The camera in this instance becomes the only form of separation from the real world as realism is seen from both a narrative and a thematic frame. Through the various processes, Welles can create natural meaning in the layout of the scenes of the film leaving them open to the interpretation of the audience in view of what they see.

In essence, the numerous elements of realism that are used in Citizen Kane do allow the viewer to have a cohesive experience in cognizing the film as a real and immediate experience. Welles does avoid the use of montages in creating a narrative segment since it would contribute to disinteresting the audience. The use of montages in the film is kept at a minimum to allow the free flow of spatial and temporal reproduction through the use of techniques such as deep focus, leading eye, and visual flow. The emphasis on reality as presented in the film revolves around the play with various shots and angles that create spatial dimensions that are similar to reality. Through the use of these cinematographic devices, the director can enhance reality artificially.