A Comparison Of Framing, Light Essay

1816 words - 7 pages

The folowing essay is a comparison of the films Citizen Kane (1941) dircted by Orson Welles and Josef Von Sternberg's The Scarlet Empress. (1934) Specifically it will concentrate on how the two directors use set design, framing and lighting to comment upon the psychology of their principle characters. Welles' Citizen Kane tells the story of an aging press tycoon and would-be politician Charles Foster Kane. A man whose arrogance alienates him from everyone who loves him, leaving him to die alone inside the vast Gothic castle of a home that he builds for himself in Florida. The film is highly regarded for its filming techniques, including aspects of set design, framing and lighting. Von Sternberg's The Scarlet Empress tells thestory of the rise to power of Catherine the Great of Russia who overthrows her imbecile husband Peter to lead the nation. This film is also renowned for its cinemetography, lighting and set design (rather than its historical accuracy). What follows shall be a comparison of two specific sequences, one from each film. I shall describe each then explain how the elements mentioned earlier are similar in each and how they relate to their characters symbollically and their respective films as a whole. The story of Charles Foster Kane unravels in a series of flashbacks told to a reporter by the people who knew him. In the film's fourth flashback, Kane's second wife, Susan, recounts her life with Kane to the reporter, Thompson. The viewer has learned earlier in the film that Kane has failed as a publisher, politician and as a husband to his first wife Emily. Kane puts all his hopes and aspirations into promoting Susan's opera carreer. The untalented Susan fails miserably and attempts suicide. The following sequence occurs after Kane tells Susan she can quit singing: A dark and gloomy night-shot of Kane's estate, Xanadu, fades in with a mansion high on a hill. The shot dissolves to a closer, but equally dreary, exterior of the mansion. Both shots are accompanied by eerie brass music building to a slow haunting crescendo. The mansion dissolves into a close-up of Susan's face and hand over a jigsaw puzzle. "What are you doing?" Kanes voice echo's as if in a deep cavern. The camera pulls back to the right, still on Susan as she reacts by looking left off screen. The scene cuts to a deep focus shot of Kane walking through a fifteen-foot archway, half-lit/half in shadows. Kane tiny in the background under the archway, is dwarfed by the giant statues in the foreground, middle-ground and background as well. "Jigsaw puzzles?" Kane answers his own question with the same deep echoing voice. The sequence cuts back to Susan sitting at the tabled jigsaw puzzle, still looking offscreen. She drops a piece of the puzzle, sighs then props her head in hand seemingly in despair. "Charlie? What time is it?" The shot reverses to Kane approaching. He is almost entirely shadowed in darkness. "Eleven thirty." Kane...

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