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Movie Detail Monday: ‘Citizen Kane’ and the Illusion of Motion

Orson Welles and cinematographer Gregg Toland were masters of movie magic.

Citizen Kane Crowd Motion Effect
Citizen Kane Crowd Motion Effect

Orson Welles’ 1941 masterpiece “Citizen Kane” is considered by many—including myself—to be the greatest film of all time. It’s not just the acting, or the editing, or the plot, or the dramatic stories behind the initial creation and eventual fallout of the film that make it so. “Citizen Kane” also broke so many of the standard filmmaking molds of the time that it forever revolutionized how films were to be made going forward.

As always, for anyone who hasn’t yet experienced the pleasure of listening to Roger Ebert’s commentary on the film and the countless reasons why he also considers Kane to be the greatest movie of all time, you can buy the DVD set with bonus materials on Amazon. I personally consider the experience itself to be comparable to completing a Film 101 course in college.

For today’s Movie Detail Monday post, I wanted to highlight just one small detail in “Citizen Kane” that exemplifies a mountain of brilliance found within. Check out this shot of Kane’s political rally in Madison Square Garden. To do so practically, it would entail hundreds of extras sitting in an actual arena, all at a considerable production cost.

Instead, Welles and crew used matte drawings of the arena with small holes cut into the paper, allowing light to flicker through. Take a moment to intently study the above featured image, observing its hypnotic effect. The purpose of this incredible bit of movie magic is to give viewers the sense of movement in the shot, tricking us into believing it was done live and at full scale.

Not bad for a 25-year old first time filmmaker, eh?

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