Citizen Kane: The Authenticity and Auteur Theory in the Film

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Griggs (2016) describes the canon as ‘works of individual creative genius: they are an individual expression from a specific writer’s imagination’. This means that works which enter the canon must be seen as being created by a single author and be valued for the creativity and ingenuity of the creator or the product itself. In terms of film the canon is primarily made up of projects created by directors who are credited as being auteurs. The term auteur was coined in 1954 and focuses on the use of mise-en-scene and the directors as the overseers of all parts of a film. Wood (1977) describes this movement by saying ‘ Auteur theory, in its heyday, concentrated attention exclusively on the fingerprints, thematic or stylistic, of the individual artist’. This definition coincides closely with the perceived requirements for being entered in the canon as it portrays great films as the work of a particularly gifted director as opposed to a team of people working on the films.

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Between the years of 1962 and 2012, Citizen Kane topped the list of Sight and Sound’s greatest films of all time. This poll is a collection of opinions from over eight hundred of the top film critics, and has become one of the most respected lists of film in history. Therefore Citizen Kane’s placement at the top of this list shows the great success and acclaim this film has won with critics. Even upon its debut in 1941, the New York Times stated that it ‘comes close to being the most sensational film ever made in Hollywood. Many films take a long time to build up that sort of success or review however, Citizen Kane achieved it almost immediately further confirming its placement in the canon.

By analysing the style, mise-en-scene and themes of the film we can see why it was so successful and deserving of such acclaim. The film portrays the essence of loneliness from the very beginning as one of the first images we see are of Xanadu. An enormous fortress of which we can only see one light, showing Kane as solitary and alone to his dying breath. That's what makes the mystery of Rosebud all the more appealing. This parallels the ending where we discover that Rosebud was actually the name of Kane’s sled showing that he has always been alone and making his solidarity at the end of the film all the more upsetting.

Welles makes good use of tracking shots throughout the film. The most famous of these shots being where Kane is seen playing outside in the snow before the camera recedes to portray his mother looking forlornly out the window. It then moves to show the mother signing away Kane’s life. The fact that we can still see Kane in the window while being shown the tragic scene of his parents agreeing to send his away, juxtaposes the innocence of youth with the harsh reality of adulthood as Kane’s mother is forced to sign her son away in an attempt to give him a better life.

Montague is used to depict Kane’s first marriage. This is very successful in creating empathy with the audience through subtle and overt cinematography showing them falling out of love. The two characters slowly grow distant from each other as time goes by very quickly. We can see them falling out of love but also throughout the scene they also literally move further apart from each other to further show this distancing. This is a theme throughout the movie as everyone that Kane gets close to eventually leaves him behind which leads to him dying alone in a large empty house. Towards the end of the film there is a shot where Kane can be seen reflected in a series of mirrors, creating the image that there are many of him walking alongside himself. This shot shows the many different parts of the character that we have seen throughout the film.

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