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Opening sequence in Citizen Kane

by Brian Davis

The opening sequence of Citizen Kane is one of the most famous openings in film history, not least because of its mastery of dissolve editing. Notice how once the Xanadu palace finally appears after several initial dissolves of the fence, the window that radiates a strong light from Kane's bedroom stays approximately in the same location on the screen (even when it is being reflected in the lake). We can call these graphic match dissolves. Once we are just outside the window, the light turns off (or so it appears), as if suggesting we will not know what is beyond this window, we are "in the dark," so to speak. However, there is a dissolve that takes us inside Kane's bedroom where we watch him take his last breath, but not before hearing him utter his last and most famous line of the film: "Rosebud."

One can also note that the NO TRESPASSING sign at the beginning of the sequence also appears at the very end of the film, creating an echo, a moment of parallelism, which is a convention of classical Hollywood cinema; however, the meaning of the parallelism in this case is not as obvious as it is in more conventional Hollywood films. Indeed, as Andre Bazin pointed out many years ago, the film is intentionally ambiguous on many fronts (which aligns the film with literary modernism's epistemological poetics); it foregrounds epistemological questions, and arguably, in the end, the lead characters as well as the viewer are left in a state of epistemological uncertainty.

Opening sequence in Citizen Kane

The opening sequence of Citizen Kane is one of the most famous openings in film history, not least because of its mastery of dissolve editing.

from Citizen Kane (1941)
Creator: Orson Welles
Posted by Brian Davis
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