Film Studies.

Citizen Kane

Citizen Kane

Citizen Kane and The Maltese Falcon.

  1. 1.        Jump Cut: A jump cut in film editing is when two sequential shots of the same subject are taken from camera positions that vary only slightly. For example, In the Maltese Falcon we see two characters walking down the street, water walking in the same direction and the use of the jump cut allows plot continuity. This type of edit causes the subject of the shots to appear to jump position in a discontinuous way. The camera is following or tracking characters and why it music stitches the images together the jump cut allows the passing of time to appear seamless.
  2. 2.        Dissolve: A dissolve is a gradual transition from one image to another. The terms fade out and fade in are often used to describe a transition to and from a blank image this is in contrast to a cause worker is no transition. A dissolve overlaps two shots for the duration of the effect, usually at the end of one scene and the beginning of the next, but may be used in montage sequences as well.
  3. 3.        Fade to black; if it is a gradual increase or decrease of the intensity of life and term refers to gradually changing the lighting level from complete darkness to a predetermined lighting level.
  4. 4.        A straight cut is a basic one when one shot abruptly ends and another begins.
  5. 5.        Continuity editing is a style of film editing what the purpose of smoothing over the inherent discontinuity of the editing process and to establish a logical coherence between shots.

Maltese Falcon

  1. 6.        In the Maltese Falcon in certain sequences we hear wavering music which creates uncertainty and implies sinister consequences to what we are watching on screen.
  2. 7.        A number of different so-called wipes are also used and these include; the straight cut, the wipe, dissolve and fade to black.
  3. 8.        In The Maltese Falcon which is primarily a mystery movie each sequence delivers enough information so as the viewer knows exactly where they are in the story and we mostly see things to Sam’s eyes. From the opening sequence when we see the bridge of San Francisco and on to Sam’s office the viewer is clear as to where the action is taking place. However, in Citizen Kane we are not quite sure from the opening sequence as to where we are. The first words we read off the screen are No Trespassing which implies that the viewer is allowed access to a place or time where they should not be. This suggests that the viewer is being left in on a secret. When we get a tight close-up on Orson Welles slips as he mumbles his last words Rosebud the secret is revealed. The viewer is drawn into the significance of the word and the entire movie is based on its meaning as the viewer searches for its significance. In the opening sequence the viewer is presented with a series of questions; who lives in this house, what type of person, what is the significance of the final words, and why this lack of concrete information. The clever use of mirrors as a visual device in the movie implies depth of character. This is a common device and one in which audiences are previously trained to interpret as suggesting depth of character. In Citizen Kane there is no clear protagonist as is the case in Maltese Falcon with Sam Spade. From the outset of Citizen Kane the main character is dead and so we can only learn about him from the words of others who perceive him in many different ways. By the end of the film we have many different impressions of the hero of the piece but these impressions are entirely based on hearsay.
  4. 9.        Both films are shot in Black & White and the use of shadows, depth and angles are necessary (in the absence of colour) to make numerous suggestions or observations about the characters or the scenes. Techniques include mirrors, deep focus and shadow casting to suggest eeriness, strange behaviour or eccentricity.
  5. 10.     Deep focus is a photographic and cinematographic technique using a large depth of field. Depth of field is the front-to-back range of focus in an image — that is, how much of it appears sharp and clear. Consequently, in deep focus the foreground, middle-ground and background are all in focus. This can be achieved through use of the hyper focal distance of the camera lens. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Welles gained international prominence on the basis of only one film, Citizen Kane (1941). The film is full of technical innovations, including crane shots, overlapping dialogue, multiple audio tracks, purposely grainy film stock, and low-angle photography. It explores themes that Welles would revisit throughout his career: the corruption of power and wealth, the fine line between desire and obsession, the precariousness of knowledge, and the limits of ego and ambition. Welles’s use of deep focus, long takes, and chiaroscuro lighting, which located meaning in Mise-en-scène rather than editing, influenced a generation of filmmakers working in the post-war film noir and realist styles.

The Searchers

The Searchers And The Western Genre.

  1. 11.     Westerns primarily tell stories set in the latter half of the 19th century in the American old West, hence the name Western. This genre of film often portrays how desolate and horrid life was for American families. These characters are faced with change, conflict, aggression and, in many cases, the forthcoming Industrial Revolution.
  2. 12.     There are many ways of reading the Western genre and these include; American Indians as savages, Cowboys, for the most part, hard working and progressive, and subservient [with few exceptions] domesticated women doing all in their power to keep household and family together in the face of all adversity.
  3. 13.     The Searchers (1956) relates the story of a middle-aged Civil War veteran searching for his abducted niece. John Wayne (Actor ) and John Ford (Director) worked together in numerous Westerns before and after The Searchers and both men, along with a familiar Western genre cast, gave the film many iconic images and motifs.
  4. 14.     The visual composition of the opening sequence deals with many Western themes; expanse of the American West, the domestic female, the stark contrast of colors, the frame in frame shot at the doorway creating the illusion of depth and the approach of the main character entering a domain to which he does not belong.
  5. 15.     There is a circular structure to the film which is a common characteristic of Westerns and the film has the classic beginning, middle and end storyline with relevant plot points to carry the viewer through the sequence of events. The arrival to the homestead, the attack on the homestead, the search, the finding of the lost girl and the conclusion all combine to complete the story.
  6. 16.     The film is ‘racist’ in that Indians are the bad guys (shot in the head to stop their spirits from roaming free), Hero’s nephew is half-cast and treated with contempt, Indians are depicted as terrorists and murderers and ultimately defeated by the ‘good guy’ and all ends very happily for everybody as the hero departs to re-enter his own domain.
  7. 17.     The themes of western include the conquest of wilderness, the subordination of nature, the elimination of savagery and the preservation of social order in the absence of structured law.
  8. 18.     In the Western the main characters are usually cowboys, gunslingers, bounty hunters who uses revolvers to achieve their objectives by force as they ride their horses from one part of the old west to another and conquering adversity along the way.
  9. 19.     Western films often depict conflicts with Native Americans. While early Westerns frequently portray the Injuns as dishonourable villains, the later and more culturally neutral Westerns (notably those directed by John Ford) gave Native Americans a more sympathetic treatment.
  10. 20.     Other recurring themes of Westerns include Western treks or perilous journeys (e.g. Stagecoach) or groups of bandits terrorising small towns such as in The Magnificent Seven. In the 1930s and 1940s, John Ford became the genre’s leading practitioner. His films reveal the gradual transformation of the western toward ever more benign (if still inaccurate) portrayals of Native Americans, such as in Cheyenne Autumn (1964). In Ford’s The Searchers (1956), the protagonist is as morally flawed and complex as his film noir contemporaries.

Double Indemnity

 Film Noir & Double Indemnity.

Film Noir is a series of films of the 1940s and 1950s exploring the darker aspects of modernity and usually set in the criminal world or exploring the fallouts of a criminal act.

  1. 22.     It is unlikely that the film makers of this era were intentionally making Film Noir movies but merely appealing to a growing demand for subversive dramas depicting the fragility of the human experience.
  2. 23.     Love, lust and greed destroying lives are the main component of the Film Noir plot but such films were already in abundance in the 1930s.
  3. 24.     World War II had a deep influence on the creation of new more modern style gangster films and the emergence of European Directors such as Fritz Lang and Alfred Hitchcock brought with them a new darker style and sense of ominousness to American filmmaking.
  4. 25.     Film Noir flourished to more than just gangster films and in the 1940s some psychological dramas were also classed as legitimate adherents to the rules of the Genre.
  5. 26.     In Film Noir the dialogue is often colourful because they were adapted from novels by established writers. The protagonist is often hard nosed and sexist while the femme fatale is evil, cunning and manipulating to achieve their own ends using sex, love and physical attraction to get their way.
  6. 27.     The meanings of the subtext are rarely obvious as the female suggests (as in Double Indemnity) that if you want me then you must first of all do something for me. The hero (led by animal instincts) falls for the ploy and usually ends up in trouble or dead.
  7. 28.     In the 1940s and 1950s, gangster films became much darker, adopting a film noir style that was defined by low-key lighting, a claustrophobic urban setting, a morally compromised protagonist, and seductive, deceptive female characters known as femme fatales. In these psychologically complex films, such as Fritz Lang’s The Big Heat (1953), the line between criminality and law and order is blurred beyond distinction.
  8. 29.     Hollywood played host to an influx of German expatriates in the Twenties and Thirties, and these filmmakers and technicians had, for the most part, integrated themselves into the American film establishment. Hollywood never experienced the Germanization some civic-minded natives feared, and there is a danger of over-emphasizing the German influence in Hollywood.
  9. 30.     The actors and setting are often given equal lighting emphasis. An actor is often hidden in the realistic tableau of the city at night, and, more obviously, his face is often blacked out by shadow as he speaks. These shadow effects are unlike the famous Warner Brothers lighting of the Thirties in which the central character was accentuated by a heavy shadow; in film noir, the central character is likely to be standing in the shadow. When the environment is given an equal or greater weight than the actor, it, of course, creates a fatalistic, hopeless mood. There is nothing the protagonist can do; the city will outlast and negate even his best efforts.

Imitation Of Life


1.In Film Theory ‘Melodrama’ can be loosely defined as a film that embellishes plot and characters in order to appeal to the emotions. Douglas Sirk directed comedy, western, and war films, he was most distinguished for his convoluted melodramas that exposed unpleasant emotional turmoil lurking beneath the smokescreen of American upper-middle-class life.

  1. 32.     Imitation of Life’s true theme is captured in its final scene when Sara Jane cries over her mother’s coffin. The image is the characteristic melodramatic depiction of Sirk’s women constricted and alienated in terms of gender and race.
  2. 33.     Plot: In the quintessential melodrama ‘Imitation of Life’, we witness the lives of four women and their attempts to make their existence more than mere imitations of life. Two unmarried mothers of young girls, one Negro, one White, befriend each other and together they struggle to live in 1950’s New York City; a realm over which they have no control.
  3. 34.     This melodramatic woman’s film was aimed mostly at female audiences; it presents a significant formula for female happiness to its viewers. It suggests that happiness for women is only found in more natural domestic roles as mother and wife; To women who rebel against the limitations placed on them because of sex or race, it recommends the path of least resistance, acceptance of society’s view of women (and women of colour) as different and inferior.
  4. 35.     The film’s colour design submits an attempt to create a complete iconography with which the emotional patterns of the characters are imitated. The use of wide-angle lenses create space between characters who are emotionally separated; The depth of space created by Sirk’s use of wide angle lenses also establishes a sense of receding boundaries in the world the characters inhabit
  5. 36.     All of Sirk’s melodramas involve the destruction of cosmopolitan women living in ultra-modern, upper-class, and wealthy but tortured lives. This setting in a multi-coloured pastiche of life suggests to the female viewer that money does not solve all problems; it is a vivid example of Sirk’s turning towards a heraldic mode of signification.
  6. 37.     Imitation of Life is unquestionably a pronounced example of melodramatic mise-en-scene as every detail of the film is extreme. The colours brashly indicate the emotional state of the characters, the music is appropriately majestic to clearly direct the emotional response required from the audience and; the themes of love, death, social status, loose morals and despair are all principles of the genre.
  7. 38.     Throughout the film, as with all of Sirk’s melodramatic work, the characters actions and identity can be established from the mise-en-scene. Sirk’s films are disturbing because the characters are real people besieged in life’s perplexities and the characters in ‘Imitation of Life’ are no exception.
  8. 39.     Most interestingly in Sirk’s work is how forces of repression are signalled through his imagery. His mise en scène is as crucial to his films as narrative form, his often baroque visual style points to the ways in which human ambition is largely determined by the mood of its environment. Homes are havens that turn to prisons, loved ones become emotional enemies, and Objects that are meant to be comforts become onerous. Character’s traumas become the rational consequences of the uncontrollable world around them.
  9. 40.     Key Characteristics of melodrama are: Legibility: everyone can read it; Expressiveness: given to exaggeration: everything brought into the open; Simplification of roles: good and evil clearly delineated; Strong identification: emotions alive w/high suffering; Devaluation of language: language less important than mise-en-scene.


Expressionism And Cinema In 1920s Germany: Metropolis.

German Expressionism refers to a number of design and performance cultures in 1920’s Germany, such as art, architecture and dance. German Expressionist Cinema was part of this movement in the 1920’s in Germany through to the 1930’s, although only a short period of cinematic history, it has left its mark on history and inspired many filmmakers that followed.

  1. 42.     Key Characteristics of German Expressionist Cinema: German Expressionist movies were created during the silent movie period, meaning the movies feature music and sound effect instead of dialogue; traditionally films were played alongside live music, such as piano.
  2. 43.     German Expressionist cinema created a theatrical look to its films. Using dramatic, painted scenery and exaggerated make-up, as used in theatre, this was an inexpensive way of making films, but created very iconic results. Examples of this can be seen in many of the German Expressionist movies, most famously The Cabinet of Dr.Caligari (1920) and Nosferatu (1922).
  3. 44.     The design of German Expressionist sets, or the mise en scene, mirrored the changes in German art of the time, therefore created using geometric shapes, painted on objects and high contrast between black and white, creating the effect of exaggerated shadow and light.
  4. 45.     The movement used symbolism and icons to create meaning, often focusing on gothic themes such as the supernatural, insanity and betrayal. This was a refreshing change to the usual linear story telling of action movies and romance movies.
  5. 46.     Although early German Expressionist films were working on a very low budget due to the economic climate of the time, some of the movies later in the period worked on a higher budget, although still fitting in with the look of German Expressionism.
  6. 47.     Fritz Lang’s Metropolis is a key example of a German Expressionist movie on a high budget, and is one of the most iconic films of the decade, as well as one of the first ever science fiction movies. It was the most expensive silent movie ever made!
  7. 48.     Although the German Expressionist movement was short lived, it had a massive impact on film makers and movements that followed.
  8. 49.     The film noir movement took inspiration from the German Expressionist films, using real lighting to create contrast between shadow and light, as opposed to the expressionist’s use of lighting through painted sets.
  9. 50.      Inspiration from German Expressionism can be seen in the work of modern day film maker Tim Burton, in many of his films. Most recognisably, Edward Scissorhands is inspired by the character of Cesare in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, his make-up and characteristics are taken directly from the German Expressionist movement. The German Expressionist movement also influenced the whole development of the horror genre and iconic film makers such as Alfred Hitchcock, Orson Welles and Billy Wilder.

French New Wave Cinema

French New Wave Cinema And Auteur Theory


  1. 51.  The origins of the Auteur Theory lie in the critical output of the Cahiers du Cinema, an influential French film magazine co-founded by Andre Bazin. In particular, Francois Truffaut’s seminal article “A Certain Tendency of the French Cinema” established a wary and denunciatory distance from the French film establishment (the “Tradition of Quality”, as he addresses it).
  2. 52.  This movement, initially championed by postwar critics working for the French film journal Cahiers du Cinéma, was introduced to America by Andrew Sarris.
  3. 53.  Auteurism considers the film director not merely a mechanical recorder of reality but rather a legitimate artist whose personal vision battles the institutional limitations imposed by industrial modes of film production.
  4. 54.  Influenced by romantic notions of the artist and by canonization studies in the other arts, auteurist critics hailed previously neglected Hollywood directors, such as Nicholas Ray and Samuel Fuller, as exemplary artists whose personal experiences, convictions, and obsessions imbue each of their films with an idiosyncratic style.
  5. 55.  In film criticism, auteur theory holds that a director’s film reflects the director’s personal creative vision, as if they were the primary “auteur” (the French word for “author”). In spite of—and sometimes even because of—the production of the film as part of an industrial process, the auteur’s creative voice is distinct enough to shine through all kinds of studio interference and through the collective process.
  6. 56.  In law, the film is treated as a work of art, and the auteur, as the creator of the film, is the original copyright holder. Under European Union law, the film director is considered the author or one of the authors of a film, largely as a result of the influence of auteur theory.
  7. 57.  Auteur theory has influenced film criticism since 1954, when it was advocated by film director and critic François Truffaut. This method of film analysis was originally associated with the French New Wave and the film critics who wrote for the French film review periodical Cahiers du Cinéma. Auteur theory was developed a few years later in America through the writings of The Village Voice critic Andrew Sarris. Sarris used auteur theory as a way to further the analysis of what defines serious work through the study of respected directors and their films.
  8. 58.  The auteur theory was used by the directors of the nouvelle vague (New Wave) movement of French cinema in the 1960s (many of whom were also critics at the Cahiers du Cinéma) as justification for their intensely personal and idiosyncratic films. One of the ironies of the Auteur theory is that, at the very moment Truffaut was writing, the break-up of the Hollywood studio system during the 1950s was ushering in a period of uncertainty and conservatism in American cinema, with the result that fewer of the sort of films Truffaut admired were actually being made.
  9. 59.  The “auteur” approach was adopted in English-language film criticism in the 1960s. In the UK, Movie adopted Auteurism, while in the U.S., Andrew Sarris introduced it in the essay, “Notes on the Auteur Theory in 1962”. This essay is where the term, “Auteur theory”, originated. To be classified as an “auteur”, according to Sarris, a director must accomplish technical competence in their technique, personal style in terms of how the movie looks and feels, and interior meaning (although many of Sarris’s auterist criteria were left vague. Later in the decade, Sarris published The American Cinema: Directors and Directions, 1929–1968, which quickly became the unofficial bible of auteurism.
  10. 60.  The auteurist critics—Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard, Claude Chabrol, Éric Rohmer—wrote mostly about directors, although they also produced some shrewd appreciations of actors.

Alfred Hitchcock

Hitchcock & Vertigo.


  1. 61.  One of Vertigo’s main themes—the attempt to create the ideal woman—has roots in the Roman myth of Pygmalion and Galatea in which the sculptor Pygmalion uses his art to create an ivory statue of the perfect woman and then tragically falls in love with it. But the film has roots in reality as well. There are parallels between the Vertigo protagonist’s quest for the ideal woman and Hitchcock’s relationship with Grace Kelly, an actress who appeared in three of his films. Hitchcock felt that Kelly’s blond beauty and distinct acting style made her the standard by which all other actresses should be judged. Her departure from the film world in the mid-1950s to marry Prince Rainier of Monaco led Hitchcock to attempt to mold other actresses in her image. Kim Novak, the blonde co-star of Vertigo, was one of these Grace Kelly stand-ins.
  2. 62.  Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, or literary devices that can help to develop and inform the text’s major themes. In Vertigo these include Power and freedom which are held up as privileges men had in the past, but presumably do not have in the present. Tunnels and corridors repeatedly represent the passage to death. In one scene, Scottie follows Madeleine to a flower shop, where she purchases a small nosegay. Its fragile perfection is an ideal representation of Madeleine herself. Spirals evoke the literal and figurative feelings of vertigo that hound Scottie and Madeleine/Judy.
  3. 63.  Symbols are objects, characters, figures, or colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts: The color green appears frequently throughout the film, typically in association with eerie or uncanny images.
  4. 64.  Perhaps the most obvious mythological influence on the film is the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, in which the musician Orpheus loses his wife, Eurydice, to death and ventures into the underworld to rescue her, only to lose her again.
  5. 65.  Alfred Hitchcock was known for his deep involvement in the screenplay-writing process, a fact that accounts in part for the distinctly recognizable quality of all his films. Viewers are treated to a visual reminder of Hitchcock’s presence in each film when they spot the director in one of his famous cameo appearances.
  6. 66.   Major conflict: Scottie cannot accept the death of Madeleine and struggles to re-create her in another woman who, unbeknownst to him, was behind Madeleine’s death.
  7. 67.   Rising action: Scottie gradually descends into madness as he falls in love with Madeleine, loses her to an apparent suicide, and then attempts to recreate her in Judy.
  8. 68.   Climax: The world of illusion Scottie has created for himself is permanently shattered when he discovers that Judy had duped him by playing the role of Madeleine and faking a suicide as part of a plot to murder the real Madeleine Elster.
  9. 69.   Falling action: In an effort to free himself from the acrophobia and romantic delusions that led him to this point, Scottie drags Judy/Madeleine to the scene of the crime at the top of the bell tower; Judy confesses to the crime and falls to her death when she is startled by the shadowy figure of a nun.
  10. 70.   Themes: Death as both attractive and frightening; the impenetrable nature of appearances; the folly of romantic delusion. Motifs are Power and freedom; tunnels and corridors; bouquets of flowers, spirals. Symbols include Sequoia trees; the colour green. Foreshadowing: in the opening credits, the mysterious woman’s face drenched in red is a foreshadowing of the murderous role a mysterious woman will play in the film. When Scottie faints in Midge’s arms while attempting to conquer his acrophobia on a step stool, it prefigures his more significant incapacitation when his acrophobia prevents him from stopping Madeleine’s suicide. A close-up shot of Madeleine’s tightly wound hair—a spiral—hints at the chaos into which she will lead Scottie.

About Gerard Hannan

Media Student at MIC/UL in Limerick, Ireland. Worked as a Broadcaster/Journalist in Limerick for over 25 Years and has also published four local interest books.

Posted on April 6, 2012, in Media and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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