Scene Analysis – Citizen Kane, opening scene

great shot composition

Scene description: Opening scene of the film. This scene leads us through Kane’s estate until we reach Charles Foster Kane on his deathbed. Clutching a snowglobe, he whispers “Rosebud,” then dies. A nurse finds his body and covers it with a sheet.

Shots:

  1. Camera distance: close-up
    Angle: straight on
    Camera movement: crane up
    Length: 20 seconds
    Description: Fade in to a close-up of a “No Trespassing” sign attached to a fence. Camera lingers on sign for a few seconds before craning up to dissolve to shot 2.
  2. Camera distance: close-up
    Angle: straight on
    Camera movement: crane up
    Length: 6 seconds
    Description: Dissolve to a shot of higher portion of fence as the camera cranes up before dissolving to shot 3.
  3. Camera distance: close-up
    Angle: straight on
    Camera movement: crane up
    Length: 5 seconds
    Description: Dissolve to a shot of a different portion of fence as the camera cranes up before dissolving to shot 4.
  4. Camera distance: long shot
    Angle: low
    Camera movement: static
    Length: 4 seconds
    Description: Dissolve to a static long shot of the Xanadu estate seen from behind an ornate gate. Dissolve to shot 5.
  5. Camera distance: long shot
    Angle: low
    Camera movement: static
    Length: 12 seconds
    Description: Dissolve to a static long shot of Xanadu estate beyond the initial gate. Monkeys are seen in the foreground.  Xanadu mansion is off in the distance with a single light on. Dissolve to shot 6.
  6. Camera distance: long shot
    Angle: high
    Camera movement: static
    Length: 9 seconds
    Description: Dissolve to a static long shot to two boats in  a body of water with the Xanadu mansion with a single light on reflected on the water. Dissolve to shot 7.
  7. Camera distance: long shot
    Angle: low
    Camera movement: static
    Length: 9 seconds
    Description: Dissolve to a static long shot of the Xanadu mansion seen from ground level. In the frame are various miscellany. Xanadu mansion is off in the distance with a single light on. Dissolve to shot 8.
  8. Camera distance: long shot
    Angle:  low
    Camera movement: static
    Length: 9 seconds
    Description: Dissolve to a static long shot of a golf course on Xanadu. Xanadu mansion is off in the distance with a single light on. Dissolve to shot 9.
  9. Camera distance: long shot
    Angle: straight on
    Camera movement: static
    Length: 4 seconds
    Description: Dissolve to a static long shot of the outside of the Xanadu mansion. A veranda of sorts constructed from stone is outside. A single light is lit in the mansion. Dissolve to shot 10.
  10. Camera distance: long shot
    Angle: low
    Camera movement: static
    Length: 8 seconds
    Description: Dissolve to a static low-angle long shot of the tower window from which the single light is coming from. Dissolve to shot 11.
  11. Camera distance: long shot
    Angle: straight on
    Camera movement: static
    Length: 5 seconds
    Description: Dissolve to a straight-angle long shot of the window that emanates the light. The light suddenly dies. Dissolve to shot 12.
  12. Camera distance: long shot
    Angle: straight on
    Camera movement: static
    Length: 7 seconds
    Description: Dissolve to a straight-angle long shot from inside the mansion. Kane is lying in a bed by a large window as a diffuse light comes in. Dissolve to shot 13.
  13. Camera distance: extreme close-up
    Angle: straight on
    Camera movement: track back
    Length: 8 seconds
    Description: Dissolve to close-up straight-angle shot of a snowglobe with images of falling snow superimposed in the shot. Quick track back to reveal the snowglobe is in Kane’s hand. Cut to shot 14.
  14. Camera distance: extreme close-up
    Angle: high
    Camera movement: static
    Length: 2-3 seconds
    Description: Cut to a high-angle extreme close-up shot of Kane’s mouth as he whispers the word “Rosebud.” Cut to shot 15.
  15. Camera distance: close-up
    Angle: high
    Camera movement: static
    Length: 4 seconds
    Description: Cut to a high-angle close-up shot of the globe falling from Kane’s hands as he dies. The globe rolls for a bit on small platform before falling. Cut to shot 16.
  16. Camera distance: close-up
    Angle: low
    Camera movement: static
    Length: 2 seconds
    Description: Cut to low-angle close-up shot of the globe falling on the tiled floor and shattering. Cut to shot 17.
  17. Camera distance: long shot
    Angle: low
    Camera movement: static
    Length: ~1 second
    Description: Cut to low-angle long shot from globe’s POV as a nurse walks in. The image is distorted as if seeing through the globe’s curved glass.  Cut to shot 18.
  18. Camera distance: extreme close-up
    Angle: low
    Camera movement: static
    Length: 5 seconds
    Description: Cut to low-angle extreme close-up of the shattered globe. The image of the nurse is reflected on the globe’s glass as she walks into the room to the now-dead Kane. Cut to shot 19.
  19. Camera distance: medium shot
    Angle: low
    Camera movement: pan right
    Length: 13 seconds
    Description: Cut to low-angle medium shot of the nurse position Kane’s arms and covering his body with a sheet. Dissolve to shot 20.
  20. Camera distance: long shot
    Angle: straight on
    Camera movement: static
    Length: 10 seconds
    Description: Dissolve to a straight-angle long shot of Kane’s covered body lying in bed silhouetted against the window.  Fade out.

The scene begins with a close-up of a “No Trespassing” sign. The camera, along with the viewer who keeps watching, ignores this sign and crosses the fence, each shot inching closer and closer to the light in the window until we reach Kane on his deathbed. On our journey there, we see an empty lifeless estate (aside from the caged monkeys), huge in space but empty save for Kane and the nurse.

When we reach Kane’s deathbed, images of falling snow is superimposed on top of images of Kane and the snowglobe. We do not know if this snow is the snow inside the globe or if the snow is the last image running through Kane’s mind before he dies. This ambiguity between literality and psychology empowers the viewer in determining what it means, but it also adds a sense of finality  (winter symbolizing death or loss of life) and serenity (falling snow is peaceful). However, the distorted images from the snowglobe’s POV adds a sense of disorientation, maybe as a warning to the viewer of the distorted view and memories from the different character interviews.

Every shot of this opening scene is carefully constructed and composed. The light in the window is consistent in its position in every shot outside of the mansion. The constant use of dissolves as the camera comes closer and closer to the titular Kane on his deathbed is not only a way for the director and cinematographer to show their precision in composition, but it also adds a slow-moving fluidity to the scene. This adds effect in allowing the viewer to absorb the information in every shot and not simply spoonfeeding Kane’s entire lifestory to them. They do this in the next scene.

Opening Sequence (without sound, unfortunately)

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