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You make a really good point. How is it possible to judge a film as the best ever when there have been so many damned films made? Seeing every film in existence to judge anything as such is a next to impossible task.

Your thoughts sum up a lot of opinions regarding this film, including my own. Welles thoughtfully combined a lot of existing technologies and innovations to create a very distinctive film. I would say that Kane did influence a lot of films to follow, despite the low ticket sales and negative press. The influence to noir is perhaps the most obvious.


Excellent post, as always. Your observation about deep focus distorting reality, something I'd never seen put quite that way before, has been reverberating in my thoughts ever since reading this Monday. It particularly was on my mind while watching a stunningly beautiful video piece called the Roe's Room by Lech Majewski. He uses a lot of shots that are simultaneously close-up on a human face, and showing another person or object clearly in focus in the distance, with a difference in scale greater than I've ever seen using film cameras before (with the possible exception of split-diopter shots.) The effect is wholly unreal, and added to the poetic nature of the work.


AR, Brian, thank you for sharing your comments.

AR - Speaking of film noir I just finished watching The Maltese Falcon (1941) because both it and Citizen Kane are regularly cited as strong influences on noir style in the 1940s. I need to brush up on that subject (film noir) and it looks like your blog is the perfect place to do it.

Brian - I'd love to see Kane in a theater to really experience the full effect of the deep focus shots in it. I'm glad you brought up the term "poetic" with deep focus because I tried hard to describe deep focus in poetic terms while writing the post--how deep focus produces an image that's impossible to perceive all at once so we experience it a section at a time. Meaning a whole image exists on the screen but it's never really seen as a whole image even though everything is in focus--but couldn't quite figure out how to express it. Where's Jmac when I need her? :)

If Majewski is working in video for Roe's Room I wonder if he layers two different shots to get the extreme deep focus shots you describe?


Some more thoughts about deep focus...Since everything on the screen is in focus a director has to relinquish quite a bit of control. He/she can't easily control where members of the audience focus their attention (if only part of the screen is in focus we pay attention to that part). I notice that Welles and his audio team creatively use sound to direct our attention to particular parts of the screen to overcome this phenomenon.


Enjoyed this. Makes me want to dig the Kane dvd out of the pile again. Feel like joining in on a couple of points though.

"Therefore, Welles and Toland's deep focus techniques don't increase the representation of reality but actually distort reality as we see it."

Not sure that deep focus distorts reality any more than using a tight focus on an actor in a scene. They're just different approaches to representation. Instead of mimicking the phenomenon of focusing on a particular object, using deep focus reproduces the freedom of the observer. I can choose to look at anything in my field of vision, as in daily life, because it's all in focus.

I wonder about the effect this has on the viewer. It frees us from the iron grip of the director and allows us to chose what we want to look at in a scene. But, as you point out, the director is still pulling our eye around the frame just in different ways. But maybe that sense of freedom of choice is enough to change our relationship with the film and increase the illusion of reality. Reminds me of the move away from the omniscient narrator in literature. The narration stops telling you what it thinks and instead arranges the scene so you can piece the meaning together yourself from the characters thoughts and actions.

Interested in your take on the overhead dolly or crane shot at the end too. I think there's a larger point being made here. The vast hoard of treasures that Kane has acquired haven't made him happy, or given him any self-knowledge. The scene shows not so much that you can't understand a man's life by uncovering one object; it's that you can't understand him even if you find and catalogue every object.

Love your screengrab of the scene. Doesn't it look just like a cityscape?


Thanks for adding your thoughts on Citizen Kane.

Hey, that screengrab from the overhead dolly shot is reminiscent of a cityscape; never looked at it that way before but I do now, thanks :) I don't think our points of view on that scene are mutually exclusive. If Kane's life cannot be understood by cataloging everything he collected and built into Xanadu the inquiring reporter character comes to realize that neither can it be defined by uncovering the identity of a single object--the narrative device that pulls us through the movie. More significantly, perhaps, Welles and his team create a resolution to the film with an unexpected series of shots and (thankfully) no expository VO.

I like your literary analogy for the way deep focus shots affect our viewing experience too--a unique method to explain how having everything in sharp focus at the same time opens up the frame for our roving eyes to explore and gather meaning without necessarily being directed (coincidentally, I arrived at a similar conclusion in a comment above). However, visually speaking, deep focus is a distortion of reality in my estimation because though we certainly can move our eyes about, look at objects that vary in distance from us, and change focus to make each object clear, deep focus shots put everything in sharp focus at the same time regardless of distance--something the eyes just can't do. Try the experiment I wrote about in the post above and you'll see that the eye can't put something as close as Jedediah and Bernstein and as far away as Kane in sharp focus at the same time but has to change focus from one to the other. Therefore, a shot in which everything is in sharp focus at the same time, regardless of how close or far away the various objects lie from our position, is a distortion of reality as our eyes perceive it.

Most of all, thanks for writing that reading the post might inspire a re-viewing of Kane. If anything I write gets someone looking and thinking about movies then I'm satisified.


Thanks for the response. Okay, I'll have another shot at explaining my take on deep focus and the represention of reality. Not because we disagree but because I think we're making parallel points.

I agree with you that deep focus is less true to how the eye works. If I'm sat in a park with a friend, I can't keep his face and the dog scampering behind him and the girl jogging along the path all in focus at the same time. But I believe that by abandoning this fidelity to the visual experience, instead of making you the eye, deep focus makes you the viewer. Sat in the park I can certainly choose whether to look at my friend or keep the jogging girl in focus instead while my blurry buddy rumbles on about how his boss doesn't value his imput. That's the reality of the viewer.

And that's a reality that perhaps tight focus in a scene denies us. What's happening in that train carriage behind the tearful heroine? I'll never know because the director has focused my eye on the girl. I don't have the freedom to view an alternative; to create my own 'focus' for the scene. Tolland, however, let us choose what to watch and Welles trusts himself to draw our attention to what is important. Or he has the freedom to put several points of focus in, like the scene with Kane's mother in the house and the young Kane playing in the snow outside the window. (My favourite scene, I think.) It's that twitchy worry about what to watch that represents a reality of the viewer rather than the eye.

Also bear in mind the difference between watching the film on a large tv and seeing it on a 40ft cinema screen. In the cinema, the size of the screen means that actually you can't pay attention to the whole frame anyway. You have to pick what you watch, although the deep focus means everything in shot is made available to you.

This isn't to knock using tight focus. They're both just different methods of representing reality. I'm saying neither of them 'distorts reality' just chooses different ways to represent the experience of it. I was about to attribute a quote to Jeff 'The Dude' Lebowski, but now I think about it I'm sure it's that other great stoner philosopher Zaphod Beeblebox: "You heard the man, Ford. What is reality anyway?"


Your point is well stated, ticketeditems. I agree that we're talking about two related but different things: deep focus images themselves, and the experience of watching them put together and projected on the screen over time. They operate together to produce an effect on the screen. Welles and Toland's manipulation of the image and the viewing experience still provides much fodder for discussion.

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