Tag Archives: Citizen Kane

My thoughts on: Citizen Kane (1941)

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If you look at a list of the greatest films ever made, you will consistently find one title at or very near the top: Citizen Kane (1941), the first feature film from the legendary Orson Welles. The film presents itself as a biography of the unbelievably rich (fictional) tycoon Charles Foster Kane (Welles) who has just died in Xanadu, his lavish estate. His last word was “Rosebud” and the rest of the film follows a reporter piecing together Kane’s life in an attempt to find out what the word means.

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You know the saying “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely” ? Well, in the case of this film, I think it is also true that “money corrupts and a lot of money corrupts absolutely.” The bulk of Kane’s life is dominated by a massive inheritance that comes after a gold mine is discovered on his mother’s property. The young Kane starts with all the good intentions in the world; for example, when he purchases a newspaper, he’s determined to report the truth and when he later marries the President’s niece and enters politics, he sets himself up as a man above corruption. But one mistake after another gradually pulls Kane down and ultimately costs him everything that really matters: he loses his first wife and child, his second wife ultimately leaves him too; he loses any chance of a political career and by the end of his life doesn’t have any real friends.

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As Kane slips into old age, he is clearly operating under the belief that money and/or material possessions can fix any problem. He literally buys an opera career for his second wife and is angry when she doesn’t become an instant success (ignoring the fact that her voice isn’t suited for opera). In fact, Kane tries to give his second wife everything a woman could want, but instead of making her happy, it ultimately drives her away, leaving Kane all alone in a palatial mansion.

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It’s such a tragedy to watch Kane slip farther away from everyone around him and wrap himself in a cocoon of money and things. I think the discovery of that gold mine was the worst possible thing that could’ve happened to him. As for the meaning of “Rosebud” well…I can’t bear to spoil that. All I will say is, watch the final sequence very closely, the answer comes right at the end.

Now for some interesting trivia about Citizen Kane:

-The film was one of the first (if not the very first) to shoot scenes angled up at the ceiling, which required ceilings to be created for the sets (because up until then you didn’t need ceilings for sets because the cameras didn’t look up that way).

-For the sequence in which Susan (Kane’s second wife) sings an operatic aria, the music was deliberately written just out of the singer’s range, to better create the impression that she is singing music beyond her skills. It’s not that Susan can’t sing, she just wasn’t meant to perform opera.

-While Kane is an based on several real-life figures, one of the biggest influences came from William Randolph Hearst, a big newspaper tycoon. Hearst was so enraged by his perception of the film mocking him and his life that he banned any and all mention of the film from any of his papers, no advertisements, no reviews, nothing!

If you haven’t watched Citizen Kane before, I highly recommend viewing it at least once. Bernard Herrmann provided a magnificent score for this film: two moments in particular that stick out to me are the opening as the camera slowly travels up to Xanadu and the ending scene as unwanted items are thrown into the furnace to be burned and the camera pans over all the many items Kane acquired throughout his life.

If you’ve seen Citizen Kane, what did you think about it? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below and have a great day!

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Film 101: The MacGuffin

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If you’ve ever read in-depth about films, you’ve probably come across some variation of the following statements:

“The hero chased a series of MacGuffins for the entire story.”

“The plot twist revealed yet another MacGuffin…”

But what is a MacGuffin? Well, MacGuffin’s are plot devices that originated in literary fiction and have long since moved over to film as well. They appear as some goal, desired object, or other motivator that the protagonist (and sometimes the antagonist) pursues, very often with little to know narrative explanation as to why they desire this thing. It should also be noted that a MacGuffin’s importance comes not because of the object itself, but rather how it affects the characters and their motivations.

In most films where a MacGuffin appears, they’re usually the main focus of the film in the first act, but thereafter decline in importance, often being forgotten by the end of the story (though sometimes it will magically reappear to aid in the climax of the plot).

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There are many examples of MacGuffins in film but one of the most popular would be the search for the Death Star Plans (held by R2-D2 and C-3PO) in the original Star Wars film. From the beginning of the film (when Darth Vader chases down Princess Leia’s ship), almost to the end (when the Falcon escapes the Death Star to head to the Rebel base on Yavin 4), the plot is driven around obtaining those plans for either the Empire or the Rebellion. This is an almost identical scenario to the one in The Force Awakens where both the First Order and the Resistance are seeking the last map piece to locate Luke Skywalker.

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The Infinity Stones could be described as the ultimate MacGuffin of the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe, as possession of these objects (the Tesseract, the Aether, the Mind Stone, the Power Stone, the Eye of Agamotto) has driven a large number of the films, with the threat of Thanos coming to collect them himself growing ever larger. Just for a refresher:

-The Tesseract: Captain America: The First Avenger; Thor; The Avengers; Avengers: Infinity War

– The Aether: Thor: The Dark World; Avengers: Infinity War

-The Mind Stone: The Avengers; Avengers: Age of Ultron; Avengers: Infinity War

-The Power Stone: Guardians of the Galaxy; Avengers: Infinity War

-The Eye of Agamotto: Dr. Strange; Avengers: Infinity War

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Another MacGuffin example that appears both in literature and film is the One Ring from The Lord of the Rings. If you think about it, for the most of the story the Ring doesn’t really do anything except lie on a chain around Frodo’s neck. The entire plot revolves around destroying this Ring of pure evil before the Dark Lord Sauron can get his hands on it or before anyone else can claim it for their own, but we never really get to see it used to its full potential (though admittedly hints are given as to what it can do).

Possibly the most famous MacGuffin of all cinematic history comes in the classic Citizen Kane, when the reporter attempts to track down the meaning of Kane’s last whispered word “Rosebud.” To this end, he interviews countless former friends, lovers and associates, all in an attempt to find where this one word came from (I’m not going to tell you because the reveal is something everyone should experience for themselves).

And that’s my explanation for what a MacGuffin is. Having read through the examples, do any MacGuffins come to mind that I didn’t list? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below 🙂

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See also:

Film 101: Archetypes

Film 101: Deus ex machina

Film Music 101: Montage

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In film music, a montage is when several small audio clips are strung together to imply an abbreviated passage of time or history. One of the first prominent uses of montage in American cinema came in 1941 with Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane.

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© 1941 RKO/Turner Entertainment

Early on, a flashback describes the early years of Kane’s marriage to his first wife. The progression of time (and the deterioration of their marriage) is shown through a montage of different conversations taking place at the breakfast table. The loving couple evolves into a pair who live separate lives and never speak to one another.

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The score was created by Bernard Herrmann, and in this montage, the music beautifully encapsulates the changing feelings between the couple. The music begins warm and idyllic, then changes into a faster paced, almost irritating melody.

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With each segment, the music becomes faster and more frenetic, reflecting how the relationship between man and wife is slowly breaking down. Until the final segment comes, and then, the music eases back as you see that the couple is (apparently) no longer on speaking terms.

You can become a patron of the blog at patreon.com/musicgamer460

Don’t forget to like Film Music Central on Facebook 🙂

See also:

Film Music 101: Borrowing

Film Music 101: Arranger

Film Music 101: Anempathetic sound

Film Music 101: Empathetic Sound

Film Music 101: Foley

Film Music 101: Mickey Mousing

Film Music 101: “Stinger” Chords

Film Music 101: Dubbing

Film Music 101: Diegetic vs. Non-Diegetic Music

Film Music 101: Underscore

Film Music 101: Sidelining

Film Music 101: “Test” Lyrics

Film Music 101: The First Film Score