Architecture in the Movies | Citizen Kane

Citizen Kane was released in 1941. The film was produced and directed by Orson Welles and written by both Welles and Herman Mankiewicz. The film is widely acknowledged as one of the best movies ever made even though it’s Welles first feature film. The movie chronicles the life of Charles Foster Kane a wealthy newspaperman, ripped from his childhood home, he dedicates his early life to the noble cause of the common workingman. However, Kane is quickly consumed by ambition. Images of Kane’s palatial estate, called Xanadu, creatively embody his successful but dark future. The architectural sets and film techniques alter perceived scale. At times characters seem too large for interior spaces and at others they are dwarfed by their surroundings.

The film Citizen Kane is sequenced through the eyes of a reporter whose job is to discover the meaning of Charles Kane’s dying last word, “Rosebud.” Although one might argue that architecture doesn’t play a pivotal role every stage set is integral to the story’s dark mood. The incongruous architectural styles of Kane’s Xanadu illustrates the notion that Kane, while larger than life, is surrounded by chaos of his own making. His palatial estate widely varies in aesthetic from Medieval and Baroque to Gothic and Romanesque. And furthermore, the interiors do even more to advance the films chaotic ethos shifting in style between Vernacular, Gothic, and even Mediterranean.

Orson Welles is a master of the shadow. Contrasting shades of dark and light in Citizen Kane develop the atmosphere and enhance the architectural quality of the film. Welles is even comfortable with main characters delivering the script while enveloped darkness. The director also uses a multitude of props and fanciful sets. These amplify the device of scale and suggest virtual buildings and cities made from the fabric of Kane’s life, which include his vast collections of objects. In the end, Citizen Kane is a movie that uses architecture as a vehicle to create an atmosphere and convey a message about the power, character, and the ultimate lonely demise Charles Foster Kane. And that’s Architecture in the Movies – Citizen Kane.


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