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A comparison of the story telling of Citizen Kane and The Shining

Stanely Kubrick's The shining   Orson Welles' Citizen Kane
That Citizen Kane and The Shining are great films is probably undeniable (see article What makes a Great movie?) In both the main character is very different to how he was near the beginning of the film to the end of the film; his "spirit" or his being a part of everyone else is destroyed by the journey he goes through during the course of the film.

   Both Citizen Kane and The Shining almost begin with an interview. The interview lets us see how they want to be perceived by the outside world, and in The Shining tells us the main core of the story. In Citizen Kane, Kane is very confident being interviewed as a celebrity by a TV reporter, and he plays to the crowd around him and to the TV audience saying he always likes to return to America, and telling the "young reporter" that he needs to ask questions quicker as a reporter as he used to. His whole baring is one who is hugely successful. In The Shining, Jack is polite to the receptionist and says "sir" to the interviewer and tells the interviewer sincerely that they can rely on him. Jack is told that a previous caretaker of the hotel suffering from the isolation and "cabin sickness" killed his two young daughters and his wife. Jack smiles and says well this won't happen to him. And we wonder the exact opposite; will he turn out to be the same? This is partly due because of his over confidence of not even considering the possibility of any problems of himself and his family being away from everyone for five months; it sets the seed of doubt in our minds. We know from the past and from experience that if we are told the opposite, like the Titanic is "unsinkable", that sometimes the opposite is true.
In The Shining simple white title letters against a totally black background punctuate different episodes in the film such as "The Interview" and "Closing day". Notably most of the titles are a day of the week such as "Tuesday" or "Saturday" and are like a record in a diary moving us onwards to significant parts in the story. It allows the story to be moved on without showing what has happened in between; "a month later" allows us to see Jack and his family after they have settled in the hotel.
The use of simple white title letters against a totally black background is also used in Citizen Kane in the newsreel sequence near the beginning of the film. It allows us to quickly find out that Kane started humbly and has been loved and hated by millions of people and with over twenty quick "clips" of Kane from "old footage" shows us his mother's boarding house, his wealth, and the large number of people he has met or influenced. What really makes it "real" is we are told his whole life story in newsreel terms; that the huge empire he built is no more, he had two failed marriages, and ended with him losing the trust of most people and in politics was "always the bridesmaid never the bride". One might expect important details to be left out in a pretend newsreel so that missing parts of the story can be told later and would then be fresh to the audience.
The use of the titles also plays with out expectations. The title "The end" appears and possibly for a moment we think that this actually the end of the Citizen Kane film itself, rather than the newsreel. This sudden end makes us feel that there is more to a man than just headlines. (We then see the white light projected after the film has ended, just as can happen in a real film, and this plays with what is "real" as we realise we are watching the end of a film being watched within this film.) This is just the road map of Kane's life, not the man.
Near the beginning of Citizen Kane, we see Kane as a young boy happily on a sleigh and then throwing a snowball at his mother's lodgings. The boy is introduced to Mr Thatcher and is told from now on he will live with him. Even though we know his mother has come into a great fortune, we are just as confused as the boy as to why his mother should give totally up her son to brought up by someone else who lives far away. The boy kicks Mr Thatcher not wanting to go away with him, and we feel sorry for the boy, partly because we are as confused as the boy is. It is only when the husband wants to hit the boy and the mother tells her husband that she wants him "where you can't get at him", that we understand why she thinks that this is best for him.
The coldness of Mr Thatcher is emphasised by his lack of a smile even at Christmas. Kane's change of life is marked by the Christmas present of a new sleigh, the old one left outside in the cold.
Near the beginning of The Shining we see a lot from the point of view of Jack's son, Danny. Danny asks his "imaginary" friend Tony why he doesn't want to go to the hotel. Danny's eyes then become wide open as we see what he sees, startled by what he sees. We then see inside the hotel "a sea of blood" coming from the walls like several burst water pipes. It is a powerful image that is repeated through the film as Danny feels a presence later at the hotel. Danny doesn't want to go to the hotel, but as his parent's want to, he doesn't have much choice.
A lot of time when we see Danny we see a close up of Danny's face showing his large wide-open eyes suggesting an innocence in a hostile world of noises of strange and frightening images. When he sees the image of the two butchered dead bodes of two sisters, he is out of his depth and we hope he will be OK.
When Danny and his mother are shown around the hotel by one of the mangers of the hotel, Mr Hollogrann, as Danny listens to him the sound of Hollogrann's voice is faded down and Danny hears over Hollagrann's actual voice Hollogrann offering him an ice cream. Danny is concerned or confused and so are we. Later Danny is siting at a table with Hollogrann who tells him he knows he can see things in the past and future like he can and explains this is called "shining". He explains in a child-like way that it is like toast with traces left behind. We now have some idea of what the hotel might be like and Danny's special abilities are not just special to him, but others too. Hollogrann also tells Danny that he should never enter room 237 arousing our curiosity as well as Danny's. In the hotel when Danny walks around the corridors sometimes we literally see things from Danny's point of view as the door handle is at the top of the screen, Danny being small in height. The hotel from Danny's point of view looks even larger and more frightening.
A particular type of "title" is when Mr Thompson, the reporter in Citizen Kane is reading the memoirs of Mr Thatcher. A couple of words of the diary fill the entire screen saying when he first met Kane. After briefly seeing Kane as a child we then see Kane in his twenties confident, full of life and very busy running his newspaper and telling Mr Thatcher that he doesn't care if he is losing a lot of money on the paper, each and every year. We then return to the dairy words saying that there was the depression of 1929. We now see a contrast to the Kane we have just seen, now older, slower and weary and due to cash problems agreeing to sign "control" of all his publishing over to Mr Thatcher in return for an allowance.
In Citizen Kane we very quickly see what the effect time and the toll of life has on Kane's first marriage to the president's niece. Each time in succession we see them at the breakfast table several years later. At first they hold eye contact smile and Kane says he adores her and will miss work to be with her. Then there is a very quick pan or "wipe" to them older and her complaining that he has kept her waiting (because of his work), a pan, her complaining that his newspaper attacks the president, a pan, his saying no to a change she wants to the nursery, a pan, and his reply to her question, "what will people think?", is both cold and arrogant: "What I want them to think". The next time we see them they are not even talking at all, and she looks at him with no feeling in her eyes but disdain.
The disintegration in The Shining of Jack's marriage and his obsession with his typing is shown by his no longer calling her "babe", they talk very little, and don't hold eye contact. We see Jack typing and his wife enters from being a dark distant figure. The moment she says anything he immediately stops typing. Jack tells his wife that she is distracting him from his work and tells her coldly never to enter the room whether he is typing or not. She is very submissive and just says OK. He tell her abruptly "to get the fuck out of here". She leaves going back to being the dark distant figure. Like her we are not allowed to see what he has typed, and soon after she leaves we leave too. We feel rather than being on Jack's side, we are in the same boat as the wife. As we see him later just siting staring ahead we feel alienated from him.
Isolation is a major theme in The Shining, nobody is staying at the hotel except Jack and his family and the hotel is miles away from anywhere. Kane is almost just as isolated in his large palace of Xanadu with huge grounds surrounding it. He does not want to leave it for anything. Susie, his second wife, says that "you could go crazy in this dump, with no one to talk to, nobody to have any fun with". In the end Kane is just as cut off from people as Jack and his wife are, and it is just as unnatural.
In The Shining the use of a scene which on the face on it saying one thing, but is actually saying the opposite moves the story on tremendously. We see the boy enter his father's room, and Jack is sitting at the bed looking exhausted. Danny asks him why he doesn't sleep. Jack replies he can't because he is too busy (but we know from earlier at his job interview that there is not much actual work to do at the hotel). Danny asks him if he feels "bad" and asks plaintively for reassurance that he wont hurt him or his mother. Jack says all the right sincere gentle words that he loves them both, but as he speaks we hear dream-like music that cuts across what he says. Although his father holds him close they don't have any eye contact as if avoiding showing their true feelings or uneasiness. And we realise what he says is not true, and that something bad is going to happen.
Citizen Kane often uses sound in a straight forward way (sound then being a recent development to film making) such as when Kane badly falls out with his best friend Leland we hear quietly in the background the music that we heard at the office party of happier times (this music is also played at the end of the film). A landmark use of sound is the haunting and strange music that we hear when we first see the ghost-like house at the beginning of the film, making us wonder what we are about to see. Sound is also used to change the mood quickly, such as at a small political rally there are only a handful of people clapping Kane, but this dissolves to a huge rally and we hear the small sound of clapping being overlapped with a huge number of people clapping. The reverse is also done when Kane is applauding his wife's operatic performance with everyone else, and when everyone else stops clapping, he is left alone standing and the only one clapping. This suggests only he really enjoyed the performance. Another use of sound to change the mood, is when Kane is shouting mad man like at the top of his voice to his political enemy that he wont win, but as his enemy leaves the house to the street outside Kane's voice is totally drowned out by the general traffic noise outside. It also says that Kane has lost.
In The Shining sound is very powerfully used in the film to also change the mood. As well as the use of strange voices that we think we hear within the title music and the use of unsettling music to show all is not normal in the hotel, Danny hears the voices of the two sisters who appear briefly every so often, and ask him if he will play with them "forever". He is terrified. The weird unsettling music gives us the feeling that there are "traces" everywhere in the hotel of previous lives.
The most subtle use of sound is used when Danny is in his toy car peddling it around the hotel. As the car goes over the carpet the noise of the car is quite low and when it goes over bare wooden floor the noise of the car is very loud. We constantly hear a quite sound followed by a loud sound as he travels over each carpet and floor. Later, the next time we see Danny in his toy car going over the floor we no longer hear the difference in sound in his going over carpet and bare floor as if we have become accustomed to it. Subtly it suggests that we have been desensitised. This idea of desensitising is also achieved by us seeing the "sea of blood" several times and each time it has less impact as we are getting used to this strange hotel. (It may be argued that when we see the "sea of blood" at least eight times that this is too many times, as we are possibly get tired of the same image especially as it is lasts roughly the same time each time, but the repetition is trying to achieve a numbing effect.)
The use of repetition is used in the beginning sequence of the film when we follow Jack's car travelling and travelling to we know not where; it seems endless and all very much alike and the monotonous music further emphasises this lack of variety. Until we reach the hotel then there is nothing size-wise on the human scale.
In the hotel Jack seems almost lost, insignificant, typing in a huge room of the hotel just as Susie in Citizen Kane is almost lost doing a jigsaw puzzle in the huge palace.
In Citizen Kane size is also used differently. In the newsreel sequence we see the preparation of the huge palace of Xanadu, cargo being lifted, the huge crowd that listen to his political speeches, and the huge poster of Kane that suggest that he is a giant of a man larger than life.
In The Shining suspense is achieved by protracting or lengthening time. We see Hollogrann, trying to unsuccessfully contact the hotel by phone, then by radio, then travelling in a plane, then by car and each time this is intercut with Jack and his wife at the hotel. Hollogrann, knows something is wrong (having received a sort of message from the boy), but will he be able to rescue them in time? Jack's wife tries to escape through a window as Jack is after her but can't open the window wide enough. And she calls out to her son to run, shouting to him that she can't get through the window, and this is intercut with Jack so that the anticipation of him catching up with her is made longer, and is expected more and more.
The use of seeing images in a different or unusual perspective is very powerfully used. Sometimes it reveals something of what the characters are feeling, and adds a feeling of "strangeness or oddness". In The Shining we see Jack's wife and Danny playing chase and run into the maze. Then we cut to Jack, and he looks down at a model maze in the room in the hotel. We see the model maze from Jack's point of view, and in the model itself we can see tiny Danny and his mother as if we are a giant or god looking down on them, Danny and his mother not looking much bigger than ants. This is the first major indication that Jack doesn't see the world "normally" and that he is mad.
In Citizen Kane the very close shot of the "snow" on the roof of the house inside the glass snow ball looks like the real roof of a real house until the camera pulls way and we then realise that it is a small toy. It suggests that Kane at this moment has a different view of the world, particularly as we see he is about to die.
Both Citizen Kane and The Shining have as one of the main turning points as a typed page. This discovery changes how the main characters feel about each other. In The Shining Jack's wife, while he is out of the room, looks at what he has typed. The page has on it only one sentence typed over and over again "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy". His wife checks other pages and boxes and they all just contain pages with this one sentence over and over again. She now knows he is mad. He catches her looking at this and asks her madman like what she thinks of his "work".
In Citizen Kane, Leland, Kane's best friend since childhood, has been working away for several years at the Chicago newspaper after the they fell out. But when Jack plays a visit to the office and Leland is drunk asleep, Kane sees the page Leland has typed about his wife Susie's operatic performance calling her "amateur". Leland wakes up to find Kane finishing his article. He speaks to Kane and Kane replies without even looking at him, saying coldly "you're fired".
In The Shining twists or surprises unsettle us even more. After Jacks' wife manages to stop him from attacking her by locking him in a storeroom Jack hears an "imaginary" voice offering to let him out if he finishes his wife off properly this time. And when Jack agrees we hear the door being unlocked. There is a crossover between what is "real" and not real.
In Citizen Kane Leland surprises Kane by not only returning the large cheque that Kane gave him, but by sending him the "Declaration of Principle" that Kane wrote years earlier to inform his newspaper readers that he promised to always be honest. Kane knows his life is now gone along way from these lines as we see him tear the declaration up.
In The Shining, even though Jack has hurt his leg, against a very young boy we know he should still catch him and we wonder how Danny can possibly escape. The boy is seen running and this is intercut with Jack running getting closer and closer. The boy has the presence of mind while running in the snow and ahead of his father to walk backwards in the snow then hide in the undergrowth so that when his father follows his son's footsteps in the snow they suddenly stop. It is not what we expected.
  Orson Welles as Kane   In Citizen Kane in Xanadu there are thousands of objects, some large, some small, that Kane has collected during his life time. The camera moves forward and as we get closer and closer to the objects we wonder what object will be singled out. Intuitively we know we are searching for Rosebud as this is the end of the reporter's journey. A sleigh is put in the fire and we are still not sure of its significance until we see writing melting on the sleigh the words "Rosebud".
  There are striking images in The Shining. As well as the "sea of blood" and the two butchered sisters, one of films most striking images is of Jack smashing down the door with an axe while all his wife has is a small knife to protect herself. (The sequence of Jack smashing through the door was voted the most horrifying moment of all film and TV by Channel 4 viewers in 2003.) Throughout the film we see Jack smiling and we associate the smiling together with his madness and "humour". When he breaks through the first door he tells his wife "I'm home", and in the 1920s scene in a huge room with only Jack in it he says to his "imaginary" barman that it is not very busy.
We first see Jack look up with his eyes into his head when he is talking to his wife as he is siting and she is standing. But later on we see him still sitting perfectly still, with his eyes up into his head. And the near final image of Jack is of someone that froze to death in the snow with snow up to his neck smiling with his eyes looking up to the top of his head.
The powerful use of images in Citizen Kane are many and varied such as the image of the house gate and the ghostly house, and the camera going through the letter lights on the roof of the night club, the light shining down from the window onto Thatcher's manuscript, the photo of the Chronicle reporters that comes "alive", etc. Probably the most striking is the snow inside the room as Kane holds the glass snow ball. It shows his state of mind as he is near to death; he is somewhere else, in the past. These images also say we are going to look at things differently, and from different view points. And we see Kane in episodes of his life as "flashbacks" by different people to fill in his life as it were a giant jigsaw (as the reporter himself says he has been doing), or a colouring book each person adding a different colour or slant to Kane. The first and almost last image is the sign on the house saying "No trespassing". We feel this almost sums up his life, that he was very much alone. Mr Thompson, the reporter says to Susie, his second wife, that he feels sorry for him, she replies she does too, and so do we.
Kane is very self-centred as Susie realises very much when she decides to leave him, and although he seems to be persuading her to stay, spoils it by saying "You can't do this to me". She realises its all about him; he doesn't think of the relationship as what it will do to them both, but just himself. He is concerned what people think; concerned that guests should not see her leave him, and had earlier insisted that she carried on singing although she didn't want to just because he would look "ridiculous" if she were now to stop. But one of the reasons that we like Kane is that even when the odds are against him he refuses to back down. When his political rival for governor blackmails him with the threat to expose his liaison with Susie to the papers (a scandal as he is married) unless he stands down for office, he refuses and says he will stay with Susie.
We have sympathy or empathy with Kane because he is reflective and knows his own failings; of things he should not have done or what could or might have been. We know at the end of the film it is not really about what "Rosebud" is, but what it represents, why it was important to him. It is when he was happy, and is what might have been had his mother not come into such great wealth and had Mr Thatcher not taken him away to bring him up. As when he tells Mr Thatcher, "if I had not been very rich I might have been a really great man".
www.moviecraft.ltd.uk   Quotes or references used from other work: None.
  © John Martin, Movie Craft Ltd, 2003
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