Part 1: Citizen Kane Philosophy and Cinematography Lessons

CITIZEN KANE: one of my favorite movies of all-time — super inspired by the work and philosophy of Orson Welles:

Philosophical lessons:

Practical philosophical lessons I learned:

1. On love

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The problem with Foster Kane was this:

“He wanted love, but wouldn’t give it.”

For example this is what his second wife says:

“You don’t love Meā€¦ you [just] want me to love you!”

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The entire film, Kane wanted to be loved. However, he tried to buy the love from others. And the entire time during the film, it seems that he is helping others– but ultimately, he was just helping himself (self-serving).

2. Xanadu

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Kane built his own ’empty coliseum’ — full of statues, and material pleasures. Yet, all of this wasn’t fulfilling to him.

Lesson: Building a mansion and filling it with toys, statues, and stuff won’t bring us true satisfaction in life.

3. The media controls how people think

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Charles Foster Kane (protagonist in the film) owns the media. There is a scene when he is arguing with his second wife, who says:

  • Wife: What will people think?
  • Kane: “I control what people think!”

The best way to control how people think is to control the media, and to publish what you want people to think. This makes me a bit afraid– because I think nowadays there is too much power consolidated into Google and Facebook for distributing the news/media.

Anyways, let us continue with the cinematography:

Extreme close-up

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Simple low-angle composition

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Nice clean background, shot with a wide-angle lens from a low angle. Note the visual tension of all these different elements being drawn in different directions:

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Showing you behind the scenes

The beginning of the film, you see the news-reel of Charles Foster Kane dying. Then you are given the ‘behind the scenes’ in the film (breaking the ‘third wall’):

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Note the great separation/’figure to ground’ between the two subjects– and how both of their faces are obscured.

This allows for great ‘edge detection’ for the subjects:

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When adding a ‘Gaussian Blur’ in Photoshop, you can better see the separation and the edge detection:

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The silhouette is because there is a strong light source behind them:

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Now blending both:

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Silhouette + Hand-gesture + Edge detection:

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Now adding Gaussian Blur, and filling the image with the shapes:

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Epic frame

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Take a look at these epic layers!

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Adding a Gaussian Blur to all the other background elements:

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Entering the vault

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Probably one of the most epic ‘long one shot’ scenes:

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Beautiful rays, which act as leading lines to the two subjects:

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Then the third person enters the scene:

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Now look at their gazes:

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Now the second the woman enters the light– you can see her face!

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Now look at her turn around, and make eye contact:

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Now the man enters the center frame:

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Edge detection in red:

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Now the closing of the vault:

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Then the last shot of the scene — the camera starts from behind, then starts to move closer, then moves at a higher angle:

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More abstracted:

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Keep learning:

Part 2: Citizen Kane Cinematography Composition >


Cinematography and lifeĀ lessons:


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