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The film receives its acclaim for a number of reasons. Orson Welles approached it with the intention of doing what had never been done before. An honest critical analysis of the film, if you know what you're looking at, reveals that Welles had a genius level intuitive understanding of cinema. Filmmakers, to this day, are stunned by innovations in this film.
For one, the approach to lighting and deep focus in 'Citizen Kane' is considered one of the most remarkable ever achieved. Any Director of Photography worth his or her salt has a critical understanding and reverence for how both were employed. Deep focus is achieved when everything from the foreground extending back into the background is in focus. Employed through much of the film, this required an extensive use of and experimentation with in-camera effects, telephoto lenses, and optical printers. The use of stark contrast in lighting achieved a visual look that is emulated to this day.
There is also a striking ingenuity to shot composition and execution in 'Citizen Kane'. The film is famous for a number of shots that employ camera movements and composition unheard of for their time and much the inspiration for the remarkable use of camera movement we see today.
Here are a few examples:
-- There's a shot flashing back to Kane's childhood that shows him playing in the snow with his sled that pulls back through a window and, apparently through a table (which appears impossible to the viewer), meanwhile the entire frame is in focus from foreground to background throughout the length of the shot. The table was actually split in two for the camera to pass through as it pulls back to reveal and follow the action in the room as it moves away from the table. As the shot, which hasn't ended at this point, pans back across the frame, it reveals a solid table that shouldn't be there if the camera were to have passed through that space with its initial movement. An astute eye can pick up movement in the hat on the table as it's revealed which occurred as a result of the two pieces being moved to put the table in its place in the frame.
--There's a shot that opens a scene where Kane's second wife is interviewed by reporter Jerry Thompson. The shot opens on an exterior, though it was shot on a stage, in which the camera moves toward a neon sign and then, apparently, through it before it tilts down and moves through a skylight to settle on his wife sitting at a table. The execution of this shot is nothing short of breathtaking and it's no wonder that so many lover's of film appreciate it for what it is.
What I'm getting at here is that this film is admired and respected for what it gave to the history of cinema. The innovations and experimentations of 'Citizen Kane' have influenced and inspired countless filmmakers. What should always be understood when analyzing or criticizing any work of art, and I am especially adamant about this in regards to film, is that a work should be appreciated for what it is, what it set out to do and not what we think it should be. What Ralph C. doesn't seem to be aware of is that much of what he obviously sees as being better in that last thirty years or so, would not be what it is without 'Citizen Kane' and movies like it. Most if not all of the more talented filmmakers who made what he deems to be so worthy in the last few decades respect 'Citizen Kane' and Orson Welles for the innovations it generated in the making of motion pictures. That singular work is credited with having more influence on the course of film history that any other film. That is why AFI ranked it # 1 among the greatest films of all time.
I have a problem with people arbitrarily dumping on what they don't understand and, thus, can't possibly appreciate. I'm the first to admit 'Citizen Kane' is not the easiest film to sit through. It can be slow at times and so I have trouble watching it more than once in a great while. But still, I marvel at it every time I see it...I study it's shots and the flow between shadow and light that's striking even to a modern eye. I Love it for what it is and what it means to all the other films I adore that I am certain would not be what they are without 'Citizen Kane' having come before them.
If we cannot appreciate what preceded the art we love, be it film, literature, poetry, music and so on, then I've always felt, at least a little bit, the things we love ought to be taken back, because we obviously don't appreciate them enough to know what they're all about, the depth of what they're meant to be or the passion required of the wellspring from whence they came.
I like think that you don't have to like what came before what you love, but at least give it the chance that you might appreciate it for what it made possible to come after.