Unique Structure: Citizen Kane

 

The classic film, Citizen Kane, is famously complex and influential in structure, the complexity helps make sense of the themes of the film, while propelling it coherently forward despite its convoluted chronology of flashbacks within flashbacks and then returning to overlapping past events.

The film begins with the death of the central character, Charles Foster Kane (Orson Welles) and then follows as a reporter interviews various people who were once a part of the great man’s life: his former best friend, Jedediah Leland (Joseph Cotton) his mistress turned second wife, Susan Alexander Kane (Dorothy Comingore) a business partner, Mr. Bernstein (Everett Sloane) even the butler, Raymond (Paul Stewart). The reporter’s mission is to figure out what Kane meant with his dying breath, the word “Rosebud.”

Orson Welles the screenwriter, director, and lead actor delivers an ingenious story by structuring the plot in a unique by beginning the film at the death of the main character, creating unfamiliarity with the life of Charles Foster Kane. The flashbacks occur when the reporter interviews the people who knew Kane about what “rosebud” means. In the meantime the audience is able to see the events in Kane’s life and discover for themselves who he was.

Seeing Kane’s life in segments, with the added commentary by the people gives the audience a unique perspective; privileged to see the whole picture, what the reporter does and does not see, as well as the events that made Kane into who he was.

Citizen Kane is revered by some as the greatest film of all time, and one of the reasons is because of its unique structure, possibly one of the first films to use a device to transport the audience to and fro through time in a coherent way.

 

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