Eric Blodgett, Film 220, Professor Keating
UC Santa Barbara, 2006
Historical Analysis, Citizen Kane:
Citizen Kane, directed by Orson Welles, was an exemplary and ground-breaking work. In narrative structure and film style, Welles challenged classical Hollywood conventions and opened a path for experimentation in the later 1940s. Gregg Toland's deep-focus cinematography and Welles' use of low-key lighting are often discussed aspects of the movie. True, these were areas of innovation, but when watching the movie in class I was particularly struck by the use of camera movement, or "mobile framing" as described in Film Art. In this historical analysis, I will take a detailed look at how Welles and Toland use camera movement to develop and challenge the Hollywood style. By referring to other movies viewed in Professor Keating's class, including The Cheat, Wings, Applause, Double Indemnity, The Last Laugh and Bicycle Thief, this paper traces one aspect of innovation and diffusion in the movie many call the greatest film ever, Citizen Kane.
The idea of moving the camera as a spectacular embellishment probably began in the Lumiere Films like Leaving A Station by Rail in which the cameraman set up his equipment on the train rather than by the side of the tracks. Audiences were amazed by the feeling of motion that this provided (a technique that returned in early CinemaScope films like Viva Las Vegas). But with the rise of the feature, camera movement took on storytelling functions. In a film like DeMille's The Cheat, the camera remains static until it needs to reveal something important to the plot, like when it tracks past the jurors in the courtroom scene. This is not spectacular but informational. By the end of the 1920s, under the influence of German Expressionism, ornate camera movement had returned, but mainly to show off settings as part of establishing shots (Lecture, April 2). Murnau, in The Last Laugh uses camera movement subjectively when the doorman is drunk and hears the sound of the trumpet. This is unique, and shows how some filmmakers used the technique for more experimental ends (just as Lang would use sound in his film M). But in America, in a film like Wings, the spectacular camera movement in the French nightclub happens only once, and it just establishes a space before the action begins. With the coming of sound, in movies like Applause, camera movement became clumsy and difficult. Mamoulian still tried it to make his film look more fluid, but it often was distracting.
In Citizen Kane, Welles and Toland blend camera movement with the drama of the scenes, and use it more spectacularly. They extend the device in two directions, and in doing so they challenge Classical Hollyood's convention of Invisible Style. A good example is the introduction to El Rancho, where Susan Alexander works as a singer. The camera begins on a sign outside the restaurant and...