The rooster of Mr. Welles

Citizen Kane
written by Joseph Mankiewicz and Orson Welles,
directed by Orson Welles

Some say that "Citizen Kane" with all its visual brilliance is one dimensional in psychological characterization. I would attempt to counter such an accusation with the analysis of the script (which is quite innovative even today), but for now will only point to a single directorial moment which impressed me during a recent big screen re-watching of the film.

The set up:
We are in Xanadu. Susan Alexander, the untalented singer and the abused wife, announces that she is leaving Kane. His plea for her to stay is rejected. He won’t have his way this time.

The take:
The camera shoots toward the floor to the ceiling terrace opening with the ocean behind. A darkly dressed Eastern European butler, who recalls this moment, is positioned on the left. On the right, a huge white rooster, almost obstructing the frame, sits disquietingly close to the lens. With a laud creek the bird flies away a second before Susan Alexander furiously enters the frame and follows the rooster.

The charge:
With the distant ocean, unexpected frame organization, the surprising bird, sudden movements, perspective changes and intense tonality contrast, this is the most surreal take in the entire film. Yet, it also oozes strange truth about a huge emotional turmoil of the moment. It feels as if suddenly some mysterious and very disquieting window into the psyche of the characters has been opened. The window rarely encountered. The playful rooster-shadow on the wall from their first meeting has gone mad and aggressive. The marriage is dead. The pain is unprocessed and blinding for the both of them.

The follow up:
In the next moment, Kane, who in a few takes will explode furiously demolishing a room, steps back. He is positioned against the wall that is decorated with .... barely visible roosters.

If the white rooster take isn’t the great directorial moment in the history of screen psychology than what is?

1 comment:

  1. very interesting! never thought of it that way! Always knew it had something to do with his relationship with Susan but never knew what it exactly was!
    Although, roosters don't fly! You may want to correct the last couple of lines of the third paragraph!