Citizen Kane, Narcissism, and Narrative Film Week 7 Narrative

In Citizen Kane, we get an interesting view into a fictional narcissist’s life. We get all of the pieces in the end, but we are thrust into a meandering jigsaw puzzle first. Charles Foster Kane surrounds himself with beautiful art, “a horde of mankind’s riches,” building a monument to himself in the form of the expressionistic nightmare of a castle Xanadu. He piles gifts, superficial generosity, money, empty promises on those around him, in the hopes he will buy their love, as Susan puts so well at the end of the movie before she leaves, revealing the folly of his actions and warped view of love and relationships. That scene in particular tears into his character wonderfully, finally spelling out the reason why Kane is so unrelatable. Kane can only ever mimic love, and only does so to get love back. He doesn’t have any humanity. His narcissism is so deep that even when his second wife leaves him, he can only relate through the lens of his pain, what she is doing to him. Even Xanadu sounds like something out of a sci-fi movie, the castle of some crazy alien overlord, except our alien overlord is a bitter old man who dies whispering a word symbolic of his childhood, a time when he was happy, living a simple, rural life with his parents, and even then “Rosebud” refers to a thing.

The camera plays an important role narratively. We have the satirical newsreel footage in the beginning of the film, “documenting” the news of Kane’s death. The film revolves around a journalist trying to decipher Kane’s last words, so there’s an investigative news air to it. Ironically, Kane made his name around yellow journalism, and it’s yellow journalism that brings his name back down. So while we have this ironic, investigative, “neutral” standpoint, we also get extremely subjective flashbacks.

I want to talk about a few scenes in particular: the scene during the picnic, the scene where Susan leaves, and the scene where Rosebud burns.

Kane’s empire is dying at this point. Susan doesn’t want to sing anymore, she’s really feeling the isolation and power Kane is trying to exert over her. Camera angles set up the power dynamic clearly, in stark contrast to objective, non-narrative film like the news, or like documentaries.

All of the camera angles in the shot/reverse shot sequence establish Kane as looking down on Susan, and Susan looking up at Kane. We see both through the eyes of the other: extreme high angle for Susan, and low angle for Kane. And then we have that awful, maybe diegetic woman’s screams overlaying their fight. The agony of their relationship grinds through.

Here we establish Susan’s powerlessness against Kane.
Susan is well below us, the viewer, in this shot. Kane looks down on her.

 

In the next scene I want to talk about, they camera establishes them on much more equal footing. Perhaps the actor for Kane is just taller, or maybe there is still some power dynamic happening here, but when Susan finally exerts some agency she is in a much more powerful position.

Susan has agency in this shot. She’s on much more equal footing.
Here we establish Susan’s powerlessness against Kane.

 

Further emphasizing the subjectivity of the narrative, this scene is implied to be a flashback of an older Susan. She’s talking about what happened.

Finally, we get the scene where the meaning of “Rosebud” is revealed. The journalist gives up—Kane’s final words are never understood. To establish that no one is seeing Rosebud, we have and objective viewpoint again. The camera is free and floats around, omniscient again.

And finally, a lingering shot on the burning answer to the burning question. We, the audience, know what Rosebud means, and what it references to. They toss the answer away, just another piece to the mountain of stuff and riches Kane amassed.
Unless there’s a 7 foot tall guy that I happened to miss the reverse shot of, this is pretty omniscient wide angle.
The camera floats high above the crowd.

So, what do you think the meaning of no one understanding Rosebud is? I didn’t really catch the larger idea there.
Also, how does the sort of mimicry of humanity and love reflect on Hollywood and cinema at large?
How else does narrative/non-narrative film come into play in the larger meaning of Citizen Kane?

Searcher Week 4 – American Isolationism

Casablanca takes place against the backdrop of World War II. Rick is characterized early into the film by his neutrality, sharing no drinks, giving no opinions on current political affairs, and only reluctantly helping his ‘friend’ hide letters of transit. He doesn’t “stick his neck out for nobody,” A line he repeats after this friend was arrested.

The Rick we see before Isla and Laszlo enter Cafe Americain is representative of American Isolationism, but we see this facade crack the moment his old flame enters the bar.

American Isolationism was a heavily criticized policy. The linked article, The Debate Behind U. S. Intervention in World War II by Susan Dunn outlines American Isolationism during World War II, but to me the most interesting aspect deals with Franklin Roosevelt’s fireside chats on the subject, as well as Lindbergh, spokesperson for the “America First Committee.” (Sound familiar? Emphasis is my own.) 

The earliest fireside chat I want to draw attention to occurred on May 26th, 1940, and discusses the refugee situation in Belgium and France, talking about how on the “once peaceful roads of Belgium and France, millions are now moving,” to escape the horror and violence brought on by the invading Nazi forces. This is shown in the beginning of the film, outlining how refugees have a hard road ahead of them to Casablanca, and ultimately to Lisbon, Portugal.

The second fireside chat I want to draw attention to further establishes FDR’s view on Isolationism, and occurred on December 29th, 1940. He describes how the Nazis in Germany will not stop until they enslave and dominate the rest of the world, how their philosophy of government and ours will never have peace, and how the Nazis in Germany are an undeniable threat, unlike any other since Plymouth Rock. 

Rick, neutral until confronted with helping someone he loves, immediately breaks from neutrality when he shares a drink with Ilsa and Laszlo when they enter the bar. I mean, early in the film the rival bar owner tells him that neutrality just isn’t a good policy anymore, not in the world they are in now. 

He also breaks neutrality when he helps the young Bulgarian couple win (by cheating, really, since he is the house) enough money to get their visas. He lets the band and Laszlo sing the anthem of France over the German anthem. In the end of the movie, he shoots a Nazi, ensuring the passage of Isla and Laszlo, freedom fighters and people who inspire rebellion. His character arc goes from rebel (intervention) to neutral (isolationist) to rebel again (intervention). When confronted with people he cares about, and staring Nazism and the threat it poses in the face, he finally acts and fights back. 

This film is a criticism of isolationism, and in many ways still relevant to issues our nation faces today. 

Anyways, those three links I’ve given are to help set the backdrop of American Isolationism, and the context for the movie and Rick’s character arc. Keep in mind The Atlantic (linked article) tends to have a slight liberal bias, if that concerns you.