BFI Classics: Citizen Kane

Author: Laura Mulvey

We kick off our BFI Classics look with a film that has be respectfully listed high up as one of the best films of all time, and for many is the best made film.

Laura Mulvey doesn’t pander too much to the reputation of the film, and wisely dissects the work instead. Following some of the sequences of the film – each set up and scene is looked at in detail – praising the mechanics of the shots, lighting and general mis-en-scene created by Orson Welles and cinematographer Greg Toland. This is complemented by all the right stills taken from the film as well as some behind the scenes set shots. There are also excerpts from the spoken dialogue to highlight dramatic points within the film.

It obviously helps if you have seen the film, but if you haven’t it is perhaps a good way to persuade you to watch it as there is so much detail in this film and Mulvey expertly shows and tells how it works. Some may think that telling you everything is a bad form of teaching as spoon feeding you the information can be a bad way to learn. But whether you are an academic or not – just being interested in how films are constructed on set and in editing is enough to warrant reading this book. Not everyone is aware of film-making techniques, or even spots the little subtleties of film-making – this book is a great way to discover what those are and will perhaps make you a more observant cinemagoer.

Yes of course there are references to Hearst who the film is partially based on, as well as the likes of Louella Parsons and other notable names surrounding the times.

I read this book back in 2000 when I was preparing a dissertation on Orson Welles and found it an engrossing read and did indeed alert me to many of the skills a film-maker can employ when putting pictures together. And the fact that this film was released back in 1941 is still just astonishing!

So naturally I would recommend this as a high priority for Welles and Kane fans as well as Film students and enthusiasts!

Steven Hurst

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