The Citizen Kane Crew Invented Shot Angles To Hide Their Poverty
Even if you haven't seen the movie, you probably know the main beats of Citizen Kane. Orson Welles plays Charles Foster Kane, a rich, mustachioed dying man whose grip on reality is as tenuous as his grip on his beloved snow globe. After Kane's death, we're treated to a newsreel explaining that he was once was a newspaper publisher who lived alone in a mansion the narrator mockingly calls "the costliest monument a man has built to himself." That fictional house was modeled after the equally elaborate, real-world 60,000 square foot home of William Randolph Hearst, aka Hearst Castle.
hearstcastle.org "He imported only the finest clouds from Scotland."
Hearst, the real Kane, collected exotic animals, European marble, art, furniture, fountains, 16th-century beds, Roman temples (that's right, temples that he bought from Europe) -- the usual. He was global-sized hoarder, in other words. So when Citizen Kane had to put together the look of their movie, they had to convey that they were representing a man who couldn't keep his hands off of every luxury the world had to offer. But they were making their movie with a tiny budget, because Orson Welles had never made a movie before and didn't know what the hell he was doing.
The Original Plan
There was no plan.
With a $800,000 budget and zero experience with cameras, Orson Welles made everything up as he went along, and as fast as he could. To learn camera work, he ordered a copy of the 1920 silent film The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari and watched John Ford's Stagecoach over 40 times, basically memorizing every trick more accomplished directors had already figured out. And then he invented a few tricks of his own.
In order to convey the over-the-top opulence and insanity of Kane's mansion without having access to a mansion or all the stuff that should have filled it, Welles and his art director strategically used creative camera work and insane angles to give the illusion of wealth. Soundstages were transformed into mansions by angling the camera on the ground so viewers could see an exaggerated space. Here's Welles working the camera from a HOLE IN THE FLOOR, because his cameraman couldn't squat down low enough.
RKO Pictures "Damn child labor laws."