Deviations From Stylistic Realism

Welles does not confine himself to a realist style in Citizen Kane. In one notable instance, he adds dramatic power to a scene by using a standard Hollywood shot/reverse shot technique. In the scene in which Susan Alexander and Charles Kane first meet, Welles alternates between long takes of Kane and Susan talking together in a medium two shot

Medium Angle Shot
Figure 24. Close-up of Susan Alexander, the night she meets Kane. (Citizen Kane, 1941, Turner Entertainment.)

and a series of alternating, soft-focus, reverse-angle close-ups. (See figures 24 and 25.) Because Welles avoids such shots throughout most of the film, when he does use them, they are all the more effective. While the couple clearly seems to be falling in love, their being so emphatically framed in separate shots as they speak to each other (not sharing the screen space as they would if they were photographed together in the frame in a long take), suggests that each is off in a separate fantasy world, cut off from the other person mentally. Here Welles, by using a standard Hollywood technique sparingly, revitalizes its psychological expressiveness.

Not only did Welles occasionally employ conventional Hollywoodstyle editing, he also borrowed from the Soviet montage style of Sergei Eisenstein. Eisenstein, as discussed in chapter 2, tried to keep his viewers alert, their attention cemented to the screen, by the frequent use of shock cuts created by sudden graphic or associative contrasts. Welles uses these effects sparingly, but effectively. At the beginning of the film, after Kane dies, Welles cut from the somber darkness of Kane's deathbed scene

Orson Welles Wikipedia
Figure 25. Reverse shot of Kane. (Citizen Kane, 1941, Turner Entertainment.)

to the bright image of the flags that begins the "News on the March" newsreel. The loud voice of the announcer and high volume of the music that accompanies it compound the shock effect produced by the contrasting tones. Moreover, the juxtaposition of a dead man with jaunty images of flags and upbeat music creates the impression that no one much cares that Kane has died. Welles uses another shock cut at the beginning of the sequence in which Raymond recollects Kane's tantrum in response to Susan Alexander's leaving him. A somberly lit medium shot of Raymond is followed by a close-up of a shrieking white cockatoo flying away. The image associatively recalls Susan, whose voice has become shrill and harsh, before she too flies the coop, abandoning Kane.

The editing of Citizen Kane is innovative in another respect as well— the imaginative way in which Welles constructs transitions to signal temporal and spatial gaps in the narrative. Because of its complicated narrative structure, the plot of Citizen Kane continually leaps forward and backward in time. Welles used standard, traditional transitional devices to signal these leaps, but embellished them to add psychological and thematic implications. A good example of the subtle psychological sugges-

Figure 26. The lengthy lap dissolve of the young Kane's face on the snow-covered sled suggests that although he is on his way to a new life, something of himself will forever remain behind. (Citizen Kane, 1941, Turner Entertainment.)

tiveness of Welles's transition shots occurs at the end of the sequence in which Kane's mother sends her son away with Thatcher. As he is playing outside his home with his sled, the boy is abruptly given the news that he is to leave home with Mr. Thatcher that very day. He does not take the news well. In the final image of this sequence we see a big close-up of young Kane's face framed by the body of his mother. He is glaring offscreen in the direction of Thatcher, whom he has just attacked with his sled. Through a long-held lap dissolve,12 the image of Kane's face is superimposed onto the image of the sled, which is now covered with snow. (See figure 26.)

Dissolves are a conventional way for a director to signal the passage of time. In this case, the amount of snow that has accumulated on the sled and the sound of a distant train whistle suggest that a good deal of time has elapsed and that Thatcher and Kane are on the train to New York. But the lengthy lap dissolve superimposing the young Kane's face onto the snow-covered sled has symbolic significance as well. It suggests that although the boy is on a train on the way to a new life, something of himself is being left behind. Another dissolve reveals the sled more deeply blanketed in snow, as if part of the boy will remain forever frozen and undeveloped as well. The abandoned sled stands in symbolically for the abandoned child.

At this point, dissolved onto the image of the sled is an image of white wrapping paper. Because the whiteness of the paper matches the whiteness of the snow, the transition is very smooth. We don't realize we have been transported to a new time and place until the wrapping paper is whisked away (accompanied by a tearing noise on the sound track), to reveal the sullen face of Charles Kane glumly contemplating a shiny new sled, a Christmas present from Thatcher. The camera tilts up the body of Thatcher who is standing by a huge Christmas tree. He wishes Kane a "Merry Christmas." There is a cut back to Kane, whom we see from the high angle of Thatcher's perspective. Kane sarcastically replies "Merry Christmas." The new, shiny sled is clearly no compensation for all that he has lost.

The next shot is a medium close-up reverse-angle shot of Thatcher saying "And a Happy New Year." In this shot Thatcher is now an old man with gray hair. In a split second of screen time more than fifteen years of story time have elapsed. Charles, we learn, has reached his twenty-fifth birthday. So innovative was Welles in executing rapid time transitions that a new term was coined for his technique—the "lightning mix." In a lightning mix, images separated from one another by vast gaps in time and space are seamlessly melded together by continuity on the sound track, usually by using the dialogue. (In this instance, Thatcher's phrase "Merry Christmas ..." is not completed until the next shot fifteen years later, when he adds "... and a Happy New Year.") Welles's use of a lightning mix to catapult young Kane into adulthood perfectly conveys the idea of a child who had to grow up too fast. Welles also uses a series of lightning mixes in the famous "breakfast montage" to present in a few minutes the ten-year deterioration of Kane's first marriage. Here the lightning mixes dramatize how rapidly young love can turn into mutual hatred and contempt.

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