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Mise-en-scene & Auteur Theory: Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window (1952) vs. Orson
Welles’ Citizen Kane (1941)

Nicholas Olsen
MEDA14099G
Claire Meldrum
4/1/2010
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Nicholas Olsen

MEDA 14099G

Claire Meldrum

1 April 2010

Mise-en-scene & Auteur Theory: Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window vs. Orson Welles’
Citizen Kane

Citizen Kane (Welles, 1941) and Rear Window (Hitchcock, 1952) are both very

iconic and influential films. Both films are considered among the best ever made and

include very creative use of mise-en-scene. In this paper I will argue that Rear Window

uses a more effective approach to mise-en-scene and succeeds in generating a more

emotional impact from the viewer when compared to Citizen Kane. First, Rear Window

employs a script that creates a very isolated and obsessive feel. Second, Rear Window’s

use of creative camera angles and superb cinematography help give the film depict its

message of obsession and isolation. My final point will be how Hitchcock’s use of

restricted narration helps create a more isolated and obsessive diegesis, compared to

Welles’ omniscient narration used in Citizen Kane. To conclude, Rear Window’s script,

cinematography and creative vision help make it trump one of the best films to ever grace

the big screen, and leave viewers with a disturbing sense of fiendish obsession, loneliness

and white-knuckle tension.

My first point will be that Rear Window employs a script that creates a very

isolated and obsessive feel; one that outmatches Citizen Kane’s. Although both films are

very similar, they also differ in various ways. Rear window’s script for example is much

more restricted and raw. While Kane’s script is omniscient and more sophisticated. I find
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that Hitchcock’s approach to Rear Window to greatly surpass Citizen Kane when

comparing how well these two films employ a script that creates an actual emotional

response from the viewer. Hitchcock’s script is that of a genius classical thriller, which

eventually leads to horror. The build-up scenes with Jefferies spying on his neighbors and

his cunning attempts to build a case against his supposed criminal neighbor, Hitchcock

connects everything well and by the end of the film, the tension can be cut with a knife.

Kane’s script is also very well written and executed, but I found it to be slightly boring

and not as expressive as Rear Window’s. With Rear Window, Hitchcock makes the

viewer pay attention to what is going on, the viewer cannot help but pay attention

because it is a film designed to capture fearful and thrilling responses from the audience.

Citizen Kane fails to capture the same sense of urgency and exciting filmmaking.

My second point will be how Rear Window’s use of creative camera angles and

superb cinematography help the film depict its message of obsession and isolation.

Before I continue to praise Rear Window and its stylistic use of mise-en-scene and shot, I

will give a few examples of how Welles’ used mise-en-shot to convey interesting plot

scenarios in Citizen Kane. Welles’ is famous for his clever use of deep focus and long

take shots in his films. Many scenes in Citizen Kane are shot in deep focus and include

long shots. One of the reasons Welles’ uses long shots is to avoid interrupting the events

as they unfold and develop on screen, the translation of mise-en-scene and mise-en-shot

is kept to a minimum. (Buckland, Warren, 2008) Welles’ uses deep focus in an early

scene in Citizen Kane. The scene revolves around Mr. Thatcher and the Kane family. Mr.

and Mrs. Kane have come by a large fortune and decide to have their son brought up by

Mr. Thatcher. As his fate is being decided, the shot pans out from Charley Kane’s point
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of view into the house. Using deep focus, the viewer can still see little Charley Kane

playing with his sled outside the window, even though the main focus is on the

conversation between Mr. Thatcher and the Kane’s. Welles’ uses clever filmmaking like

this to set a mood and sense of creativity to Citizen Kane. Other examples of deep focus

and creative uses of mise-en-scene can be seen in Citizen Kane, another being when the

detective and his team are sorting through Kane’s belongings. The shot is so detailed that

it almost looks as if the camera is panning out of a city, although it is just junk collected

by Kane. (Buckland, 2008)

Now although Welles’ vision is a stylish and creative one, it does not build

towards heightening the emotional impact of the audience. This is where Hitchcock

succeeds with Rear Window. Using stylish CU shots, lighting, and point of view

character building, Rear Window creates a tense diegesis that sticks with the viewer and

never lets go, i.e. Jeff in Rear Window and his connection to the viewer. Jeff is a

photographer who is confined to a wheelchair after breaking a leg. He spends his days

spying on his neighbors across the courtyard. Hitchcock uses Jeff to replicate the film

viewer – the viewer is confined to a chair observing a spectacle at a distance. In Rear

window the windows of the apartments across the courtyard replicate the cinema screen.

(Buckland, 2008) Hitchcock also uses a high emphasis on editing to a point where a

scene will look like a montage of mini-sequences I.e. During the climax of Rear Window,

Jeff and the murderer finally meet and Jeff uses camera flash to blind the man. The

camera jumps back and forth between a CU shot of Jeff and the murderer after every

flash. These stylish techniques, combined with a high number of point-of-view shots,

help Rear Window play with the audience’s emotions. While Welles’ is more focused on
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beautiful imagery, Hitchcock relies on cutthroat white-knuckle tension.

My final point will how Hitchcock’s use of restricted narration helps create a

more isolated and obsessive diegesis, compared to Welles’ omniscient narration used in

Citizen Kane. Although one can say that Citizen Kane uses both restricted and omniscient

narration, Welles’ obviously favored the omniscient side. The audience follows many

characters through out the film and rarely are we limited to one character’s point of view.

This type of narration can be used to convey the plot easier and quicker, and the audience

may be able to see developments before the protagonist/main character does. Again, this

works well for a film like Citizen Kane, but for a film to really impact an audience with

surprises and scares; restricted narration is much preferred. Rear Window succeeds by

only letting the viewer see what Jeff sees. The viewer only starts to learn facts about

Jeff’s investigation when Jeff himself spies on his neighbors. This lends a very isolated

and obsessive feel to the film. Hitchcock’s restricted technique help the audience relate to

Jeff and feel the same fear and mystery that he does. Taking all of these points into

account, it is important to remember that Rear Window is not necessarily the better film.

Both films are brilliant in their own respective way. With that said, this paper is

comparing mise-en-scene and how the two films heighten emotional impact, and Rear

Window succeeds at this.

In conclusion, Rear window’s script, cinematography and creative vision help

make it trump one of the best films to ever grace the big screen. Hitchcock leaves viewers

with a disturbing sense of fiendish obsession, loneliness and white-knuckle tension.

I would like to end this paper with a quote from Alfred Hitchcock himself “…if I

have to shoot a long scene continuously I always feel I am losing grip on it, from a
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cinematic point of view. The camera, I feel, is simply standing there, hoping to catch

something with a visual point to it… The screen ought to speak its own language, freshly

coined, and it can’t do that unless it treats an acted scene as a piece of raw material which

must be broken up, taken to bits, before it can be woven into an expressive visual

pattern.” (Hitchcock on Hitchcock, pp. 255-6)

Works Cited

Buckland, Warren. “Teach yourself film studies” Book (2008)


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SIMMONS, GARY. "Smoke and Mirrors in Citizen Kane." Screen Education.51 (2008): 138-44.

<http://search.ebscohost.com.library.sheridanc.on.ca/login.aspx?

direct=true&db=aph&AN=34685126&loginpage=Login.asp&site=ehost-live&scope=site>.

Thompson, Jay Daniel. "The Complexities of Spectatorship: Reviewing Rear Window." Screen

Education.55 (2009): 101-5. <http://search.ebscohost.com.library.sheridanc.on.ca/login.aspx?

direct=true&db=aph&AN=44328143&loginpage=Login.asp&site=ehost-live&scope=site>.

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