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An Analysis on the Film Citizen Kane and a Research Paper on the Art of Analyzing Films

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    An Analysis on the Film Citizen Kane and a Research Paper on the Art of Analyzing Films

                With the proliferation of the Internet today that provides video blogs and web blogs, almost everyone has had the chance to be critics on almost everything. Even social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter becomes a venue for Internet users to recommend a book or criticize a film or the spread the word of a new great restaurant that everyone should try. Thus, criticizing, reviewing and analyzing can be done not just by professional people, now, everyone can do it. However, even if almost everyone has the power to do that nowadays, it is not everyone who can do a proper analysis and criticism—“proper” in a sense that the analysis meets certain criteria and standards to be considered an analysis.

    This is because there are many people who seek to say only what they feel and not explain the detailed and technical aspects of why they feel that way. This is most especially true to film reviews which just bash and ridicule the film without really explaining why the film was not good. In fact, of all forms of analysis, it is the movie reviews or criticisms which are in abundance nowadays and they are almost always, done in a rather haphazard or shallow manner without giving due credit to proper analysis. Thus, this creates the questions of what is proper analysis and how does a person actually do it? Contrary to common belief that reviews, analyses and criticisms are merely the act of expressing of one’s opinions about the film, there are actually complicated ways to do a film analysis or film criticism and this involves the person’s ability to interpret the entire movie and all the elements that are within the movie—from camera angles to actor placement to even the location of a mere object in a scene. Each and every thing, word, act and person featured in a scene are all imperative in making a great film and if the viewer who wishes to do an analysis is able to see all these elements then he or she is in fact, doing genuine analysis.

    Movies or films are in abundance and it would seem that Hollywood and all its counterparts all over the world cannot stop releasing, creating and producing them. To analyze a film is to know what its purpose is and to know what is its purpose is to look at society. According to Bordwell and Thompson (2004), film is quite a “young medium” when it would be compared to other forms of art like literature or music. However, as what the world quite well know, film “has established itself as an energetic and powerful art form” wherein its influence and greatness has spread all over (Bordwell &Thompson, 2004). The fascination with film has most likely got to do with the fact that film as an art uses “complex technology” and “collaboration among many participants” (Bordwell & Thompson, 2004). Thus, film required more participation from different types of people with different careers and fortes making it more known to a great variety of people.

                The purpose of film on the other hand would depend on the filmmaker on what he or she wants the film to portray. There are documentary films which obviously aim to inform people about something—however, there are also features and fictional films which have the same purpose. There are also films which aimed to showcase the development in cinematography and artistic editing like the James Cameron’s Avatar wherein the special effects was what drove hordes of people to watch it in the movie houses. The purpose of film comes out on what the director and producer makes it out to be but there is another factor which overrides this assumption—the role of the critic or viewer.

    Film as an art is quite relative in a sense that people can interpret them to what they want without the need of finding out what is the purpose of the director in the scenes. Both Henderson (1988) and Carroll (1993) both have the same point in the aspect of “point-of-view” wherein the audience assimilates what the film’s depicts as the point-of-view which also allows the audience to know little, know a lot and interpret things on their own. An example would be a usual suspense thriller wherein the audience would take on the role of the detective or reporter who goes on solving the case; the audience becomes one with the solver of the crime and discovers things little by little as the detective also slowly discovers little bits of facts to the point that the crime is solved and the criminal is apprehended. However, the point-of-view is not something that the audience are fully independent participants of the film and act as independent critics or views. In truth, the director of the film is the one who chooses what the point-of-view of the audience is and the audience too become a part of the film’s elements and as what Bordwell and Thompson (2004) write, “filmmakers often say that their formal and stylistic choices aim to create specific effects”.

    Thus, an analysis is entirely based on an individual’s personal opinions because there is a possibility that the director wants the individual to have such perception. There is no way of finding out what the film aims to portray therefore unless a person has access to talking with the director himself thus, the only thing to rely on are the different technical and artistic aspects portrayed in the film which contributes to the over-all purpose and impact of the film.  An example of how a person can interpret a film is through two different analyses of what is touted as the greatest film of all time, Citizen Kane. In the article of Leff (1985), he applauds the film for having such magnificent storyline and effects as he describes a scene in the movie: “This last image…is multiplied again and again into infinity, a powerful envoi to Citizen Kane’s visualization of its main character”. Thus, what Leff has done is interpret that one scene into having a powerful message which would be conveyed to the audience. Whether Welles the director, producer, writer and actor aimed to have such messages in every scene is left for the audience to interpret. But is the film really that great to the point that decades later, people still consider it the greatest film?

    There have been countless American films which have all claimed that they are the best, the greatest and the most excellent in terms of cinematic elements, aesthetics and composition. However, an overwhelming number of Americans (and even non-Americans) consider a very early film by the name of Citizen Kane as the best, the greatest and the most excellent of all films. Considering the era that the movie was written and created wherein none of the advanced technological effects and innovations that were not present, Citizen Kane which was produced in 1941, manages to amaze the audience since it uses such technological innovations to create an excellent cinematic narrative. The film, unlike many other films, was not only critically acclaimed for its effects but it was also applauded for its aesthetic and artistic value.

                The film starts off with the death of the once powerful and popular media magnate, Charles Foster Kane whose rise to riches was sudden; rise to power was rapid and his inevitable downfall as fast as his rise. The first scene which was also used towards the end of the film shows a lonely and foreboding sprawling mansion that could put the White House to shame in its size and magnificence. A man’s mouth appears and the audience hears him utter the word “rosebud” while he lets go of a snow globe that eventually smatters to pieces. His name crops up everywhere as the world gets the news that he is dead and the viewers get to know the protagonist, Charles Foster Kane. This prompts a flashback of his childhood and the hardship he has experienced, the sudden accumulation of wealth of his family, his rise to power in the media and society until slowly, his ambitions and inability to be happy and content consumes him to the point that he shuns society and society shuns him. His friends and family leave him one by one as they cannot take anymore of his arrogant and ruthless attitude in handling things and people. This leaves him alone in the mansion and sadly, he also dies alone.

                When compared to other films, most especially to the more modern ones, they usually give up or sacrifice on one aspect (or two) of the film to bring out what they want. For example, other films would feature great effects or cinematography but it would contain none of the artistic value that would depict the humanness of humanity or even that of the society. Other films on the other hand would focus too much on issues and getting a message across to the audience while having the inability to provide aesthetic value. Thus, Citizen Kane being touted as the greatest film of all times is not surprising since it manages to be great in all aspects of filmmaking, film editing, screen writing, acting, cinematography and even the props, costumes, settings and music used in the film. Everything were cleverly made, used and integrated among the plot to really bring out the best in each scene.

                But after more than an hour and an half of Kane’s ruthless attitude and power hungry personality, what is the movie trying to point out? This is where the one single word “rosebud” comes in. “Rosebud” becomes the film catalyst into finding out what is meaning behind the word and in fact, the movie revolves around this even if the entire time, it was all about the powerful figure of Kane. Towards the end of the film, “rosebud” is revealed to be nothing but a sleigh that Kane enjoyed in his childhood and the reminder that it was the one time that he was happy. The burning of the sleigh at his death by his servants comes across as a moving and powerful scene that proves the great man is nothing but a mere man and that it all boils down to finding one’s happiness and contentment in life. This message as what Carringer (1976) calls it, is “an emotional wound inflicted in childhood [which] left a permanent scar; ever after, Charles Foster Kane as to be incapable of loving, or even of dispensing simple humanity”.  Thus the message is simple, even the greatest of men can also fall and the greatest of men also have that one simple object which makes them comparable to common men. But was this able to be translated to the audience and were they able to pick up the message? Again, it boils down on how the viewers were able to analyze the different elements in the film from the littlest of things to the greatest of scenes. People, therefore, interpret films on how it affects and moves them and how relevant the movie is with them.

                In conclusion, film analysis can be done by almost everyone but not everyone can do a proper analysis. People also interpret films and the messages contained therein based on their observances, experiences, and emotions. There is also the possibility that the filmmaker is able to manipulate the film in a sense that the viewer would be able to have such observances, relate to such experiences and evoke such emotions from the film. However, more than analyzing the technical aspects of the film and whether it contained artistic value, there is one thing which should not be forgotten in viewing films and that is to enjoy them. Films are art forms meant to entertain and more than scrutinizing them, people should be able to appreciate and enjoy them.


    Bordwell, D. & Thompson, K. (2004). Film as art: creativity, technology and business. Film art: An introduction. New York: McGraw-Hill.

    Carringer, R.L. (1976). Rosebud, dead or alive: Narrative and symbolic structure in Citizen Kane. PMLA, 91(2), 185-193.

    Carroll, N. (1993). Toward a theory of point-of-view editing: communication, emotion, and the movies. Poetics Today, 14(1), 123-141.

    Henderson, B. (1988). Notes on set design and cinema. Film Quarterly, 42(1), 17-28.

    Leff, L.J. (1985). Reading “Kane”. Film Quarterly, 39(1), 10-21.

    Welles, O. (Producer & Director). (1941). Citizen Kane [Motion picture]. United States:  Mercury Productions.

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