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Mise-en-scene in Citizen Kane is a critical part of the film’s success and the deep characters that the film creates. In critical scenes, props were placed in the foreground of the scene and the action took place behind them. This created a sense that the audience was part of the action. The scene where Leland tells Kane that he would like to move to Chicago is an excellent example. The scene is shot in deep focus. Important props are located between the camera and the action. In this case, Leland’s bottles of alcohol are in the foreground whereas the dialogue between Leland and Kane is shot in the background. This occurs in other important scenes, and not just with props, but also with people. The scene where Kane is singing to a musical number, Leland and Bernstein are in the foreground talking business. Also, the scene where Kane is writing the bad review for his opera house Kane is featured prominently in the foreground creating tension with the other actors in deep focus in the background. The arrangement of actors this way creates a distance between Kane and everyone else in the film.
Increasing the sense of isolation that is obvious in Kane’s life is Orson’s use of grand sets. It is expecially obvious later on in the film at Xanadu. The rooms that scenes occur in are larger than life, increasing the sense of isolation that is an essential element of Citizen Kane. Xanadu itself is shown to have high ceilings, a huge fireplace, and even an echo. This is contrasted with Susan’s room, which is shown to be more intimate with almost cramped ceilings and a collection of knickknacks that add to a feminine atmosphere. Her door is even set to a smaller size than the rest of the doors inside Xanadu. It is set in the doorframe of the other doors of Xanadu, but the opening is smaller. When Susan leaves Kane, he is shown going from her cozy room, back to the cold hallways of his castle. The distinction between the two different areas is shown quite vividly in that scene.
The placement of actors in Citizen Kane is hugely important in the portrayal of the roles. In the scenes where Kane is interacting with Susan, Kane is nearly always portrayed higher than Susan. Kane is watching Susan sing at the opera house not from the front row, he is seated in the balcony of the theater. When Susan is distraught over the bad singing reviews from the Inquirer she is located on the floor among the reviews while Kane is standing over her. Also, most shots in the manor Kane is sitting on a chair, while Susan is sitting on the fireplace doing a jigsaw puzzle. The placement of actors shows that Susan and Kane’s relationship wasn’t a romantic one; Kane is shown in a position of dominance and power.
The mise-en-scene in Citizen Kane is critical in showing a man that was alone with his power. Orson directed the film to create distance between Kane and people who were supposed to be closest to him. The placement of actors, the use of deep focus, and the placement of props all added to the sense that Kane was seeking to be larger than life and in the end he lost everything.
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