Great Scene: “Citizen Kane”

December 29th, 2012 by


Enticing the reader into the story — it’s one of the most critical goals when writing the first few pages of a script. The opening of Citizen Kane achieves that goal by using mystery. Each shot takes us deeper and deeper into the deep, dark shadows of Xanadu, raising one question after another — whose place is this, what the hell happened here — leading eventually to… well, read the set of scenes and find out.

          
        
          FADE IN:

          EXT. XANADU - FAINT DAWN - 1940 (MINIATURE)

          Window, very small in the distance, illuminated.

          All around this is an almost totally black screen.  Now, as 
          the camera moves slowly towards the window which is almost a 
          postage stamp in the frame, other forms appear; barbed wire, 
          cyclone fencing, and now, looming up against an early morning 
          sky, enormous iron grille work.  Camera travels up what is now 
          shown to be a gateway of gigantic proportions and holds on the 
          top of it - a huge initial "K" showing darker and darker against 
          the dawn sky.  Through this and beyond we see the fairy-tale 
          mountaintop of Xanadu, the great castle a sillhouette as its 
          summit, the little window a distant accent in the darkness.

                                     

                                                                  DISSOLVE:

          A SERIES OF SET -UPS, EACH CLOSER TO THE GREAT WINDOW, ALL 
          TELLING SOMETHING OF: 

          The literally incredible domain of CHARLES FOSTER KANE.

          Its right flank resting for nearly forty miles on the Gulf 
          Coast, it truly extends in all directions farther than the eye 
          can see.  Designed by nature to be almost completely bare and 
          flat - it was, as will develop, practically all marshland when 
          Kane acquired and changed its face - it is now pleasantly 
          uneven, with its fair share of rolling hills and one very good-
          sized mountain, all man-made.  Almost all the land is improved, 
          either through cultivation for farming purposes of through 
          careful landscaping, in the shape of parks and lakes.  The 
          castle dominates itself, an enormous pile, compounded of several 
          genuine castles, of European origin, of varying architecture - 
          dominates the scene, from the very peak of the mountain.

                                                                  DISSOLVE:

          GOLF LINKS (MINIATURE)

          Past which we move.  The greens are straggly and overgrown, 
          the fairways wild with tropical weeds, the links unused and 
          not seriously tended for a long time.

                                                              DISSOLVE OUT:

                                                               DISSOLVE IN:

          WHAT WAS ONCE A GOOD-SIZED ZOO (MINIATURE)

          Of the Hagenbeck type.  All that now remains, with one 
          exception, are the individual plots, surrounded by moats, on 
          which the animals are kept, free and yet safe from each other 
          and the landscape at large.  (Signs on several of the plots 
          indicate that here there were once tigers, lions, girrafes.)

                                                                  DISSOLVE:

          THE MONKEY TERRACE (MINIATURE)

          In the foreground, a great obscene ape is outlined against the 
          dawn murk.  He is scratching himself slowly, thoughtfully, 
          looking out across the estates of Charles Foster Kane, to the 
          distant light glowing in the castle on the hill.

                                                                  DISSOLVE:

          THE ALLIGATOR PIT (MINIATURE)

          The idiot pile of sleepy dragons.  Reflected in the muddy water - 
          the lighted window.

          THE LAGOON (MINIATURE)

          The boat landing sags.  An old newspaper floats on the surface 
          of the water - a copy of the New York Enquirer."  As it moves 
          across the frame, it discloses again the reflection of the 
          window in the castle, closer than before.

          THE GREAT SWIMMING POOL (MINIATURE)

          It is empty.  A newspaper blows across the cracked floor of 
          the tank.

                                                                  DISSOLVE:

          THE COTTAGES (MINIATURE)

          In the shadows, literally the shadows, of the castle.  As we 
          move by, we see that their doors and windows are boarded up 
          and locked, with heavy bars as further protection and sealing.

                                                              DISSOLVE OUT:

                                                               DISSOLVE IN:

          A DRAWBRIDGE (MINIATURE)

          Over a wide moat, now stagnant and choked with weeds.  We move 
          across it and through a huge solid gateway into a formal garden, 
          perhaps thirty yards wide and one hundred yards deep, which 
          extends right up to the very wall of the castle.  The 
          landscaping surrounding it has been sloppy and causal for a 
          long time, but this particular garden has been kept up in 
          perfect shape.  As the camera makes its way through it, towards 
          the lighted window of the castle, there are revealed rare and 
          exotic blooms of all kinds.  The dominating note is one of 
          almost exaggerated tropical lushness, hanging limp and 
          despairing.  Moss, moss, moss.  Ankor Wat, the night the last 
          King died.

                                                                  DISSOLVE:

          THE WINDOW (MINIATURE)

          Camera moves in until the frame of the window fills the frame 
          of the screen.  Suddenly, the light within goes out.  This 
          stops the action of the camera and cuts the music which has 
          been accompanying the sequence.  In the glass panes of the 
          window, we see reflected the ripe, dreary landscape of Mr. 
          Kane's estate behind and the dawn sky.

                                                                  DISSOLVE:

          INT. KANE'S BEDROOM - FAINT DAWN -

          A very long shot of Kane's enormous bed, silhouetted against 
          the enormous window.

                                                                  DISSOLVE:

          INT. KANE'S BEDROOM - FAINT DAWN - SNOW SCENE.  

          An incredible one.  Big, impossible flakes of snow, a too 
          picturesque farmhouse and a snow man.  The jingling of sleigh 
          bells in the musical score now makes an ironic reference to 
          Indian Temple bells - the music freezes -

           

                                    KANE'S OLD OLD VOICE
                        Rosebud...

          The camera pulls back, showing the whole scene to be contained 
          in one of those glass balls which are sold in novelty stores 
          all over the world.  A hand - Kane's hand, which has been 
          holding the ball, relaxes.  The ball falls out of his hand and 
          bounds down two carpeted steps leading to the bed, the camera 
          following.  The ball falls off the last step onto the marble 
          floor where it breaks, the fragments glittering in the first 
          rays of the morning sun.  This ray cuts an angular pattern 
          across the floor, suddenly crossed with a thousand bars of 
          light as the blinds are pulled across the window.

          The foot of Kane's bed.  The camera very close.  Outlined 
          against the shuttered window, we can see a form - the form of 
          a nurse, as she pulls the sheet up over his head.  The camera 
          follows this action up the length of the bed and arrives at 
          the face after the sheet has covered it.

                                                                  FADE OUT:

Of course, Orson Welles is on record as saying that Rosebud was a “rather tawdry device,” but I beg to differ. Tracking the beginning of the script, one eerie shot after the other, ending with that single word of dialogue — “Rosebud” — and its speaker’s death, sucks the viewer into the story’s mystery.

Here’s the opening — the first three minutes and ten seconds of the video.

[Originally posted October 24, 2008]

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