The folowing essay is a comparison of the films Citizen Kane
(1941) dircted by Orson Welles and Josef Von Sternberg's The Scarlet
Empress. (1934) Specifically it will concentrate on how the two directors
use set design, framing and lighting to comment upon the psychology of their principle characters.
Welles' Citizen Kane tells the story of an aging press tycoon and
would-be politician Charles Foster Kane. A man whose arrogance alienates
him from everyone who loves him, leaving him to die alone inside the vast Gothic castle of a home that he builds for himself in Florida. The film is highly regarded for its filming techniques, including aspects of set design, framing and lighting. Von Sternberg's The Scarlet Empress tells thestory of the rise to power of Catherine the Great of Russia who overthrows her imbecile husband Peter to lead the nation. This film is also renowned for its cinemetography, lighting and set design (rather than its historical accuracy). What follows shall be a comparison of two specific sequences, one from each film. I shall describe each then explain how the elements mentioned earlier are similar in each and how they relate to their characters symbollically and their respective films as a whole. The story of Charles Foster Kane unravels in a series of flashbacks told to a reporter by the people who knew him. In the film's fourth flashback, Kane's second wife, Susan, recounts her life with Kane to the reporter, Thompson. The viewer has learned earlier in the film that Kane has failed as a publisher, politician and as a husband to his first wife Emily. Kane puts all his hopes and aspirations into promoting Susan's opera carreer. The untalented Susan fails miserably and attempts suicide. The following sequence occurs after Kane tells Susan she can quit singing:
A dark and gloomy night-shot of Kane's estate, Xanadu, fades in with a mansion high on a hill. The shot dissolves to a closer, bu...