What Was Unusual About the Sound Production of Citizen Kane?

August 19, 2023
David Sunnyside

What was unusual about the sound production of citizen kane?

When Orson Welles signed his contract with RKO he was granted complete creative freedom to make a film of his own design and hire his theatrical friends and the best technicians in Hollywood. This gave him unprecedented control over the final film but also made it crucial to keep within a strict budget.

One of the defining characteristics of the film was the use of 'Leitmotifs'; recurring musical or sonic elements that appear throughout a scene to add depth and resonance. This technique was a key element in the production of Citizen Kane and was utilised by Welles to great effect.

It was also important for Welles to utilise the talents of his Mercury Theatre cast who were all classically trained theatrical actors. These actors were able to perform their roles with much greater conviction and presence on screen. This helped to create an enveloping sense of drama and to complement techniques like deep focus.

In addition to this he used a variety of innovative sound effects such as lightning mixes which allowed for the creation of different effects and transitions between scenes. Welles and composer Bernard Herrmann often used music to highlight changes in a scene. Sometimes the transition was sudden and shocking but other times it was a gradual and continuous change.

It is also worth noting that Citizen Kane was made at a time when Hearst was being widely criticised for his New Deal liberalism, desire to intervene in the Second World War and for his use of his newspaper empire as a platform for his political views. The film can therefore be seen as a direct criticism of Hearst's beliefs and business activities.

David Sunnyside
Co-founder of Urban Splatter • Digital Marketer • Engineer • Meditator
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