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Orson Welles

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Autor: 24  •  October 30, 2010  •  1,666 Words (7 Pages)  •  645 Views

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Lauren Martin

November 28, 2005

Introduction to Film


And His Manipulation of Our Minds

I would like to turn our attention to Mr. Orson Welles and specifically his use of lighting and camera angles in two black and white films, Citizen Kane and Touch of Evil. Citizen Kane was released nearly 20 years before Touch of Evil, but the only true indication of this time lapse is Welles' personal weight gain. Other than that, there is truly little visible difference in the two. Both are laden with brilliant shots, great acting and an intense musical score. So what I would like to do is use these two films as a comparative vehicle for analysis, but as I stated above, the main focus will be on the dramatic use of dark and light as well as the creative use of camera angles.

Orson Welles, as it has been said many times and by people of much greater authority than myself, was a genius and an American tragedy all wrapped into one, who unfortunately has had more celebration posthumously than otherwise. I don't believe that Welles was necessarily the greatest actor of all times, though he was great. And for that matter I don't have an opinion as to whether or not he was a brilliant screen writer. However the fact is that Orson Welles knew precisely how to manipulate viewers' subconscious with the cunning use of camera angles and intense light and dark.

As you asked us to, I will dive straight into analysis of specific scenes, and I will begin with the use of light and dark. Black and white films have an amazing quality that can never be achieved in color. It is no secret that photographs and film have something in common. When they are developed in black and white they rise to a level of drama and evoke emotion and reaction with an intensity that cannot be matched. Color film was quite available during the production of both films, evidenced by the production of previous films such as MGM's 1939 production of The Wizard of Oz, but had Welles done either of these two films in color, we probably wouldn't be talking about him today.

If we break down the issue of light and dark, we see that Welles use of light, while brilliant, is actually quite simple. The emotions and reactions that different shades of light produce within us are somewhat universal, and just as everyone knows that you can create fear within your little brother by throwing him into a dark closet, and then relieve his anxiety by turning on the light, a good director can manipulate his viewers in much the same way.

Light is good while dark is bad. Light is safe and dark is dangerous. Light can be happy and joyful while dark can be sad or dreary. Things in the light which are visible are predictable, open, obvious and assuring, while things shadowed in or hidden by the dark are mysterious, unpredictable and nerve-racking. Mixing levels of light with dark, much like mixing two paint colors, depending upon the proportions and the specific use, can produce many different results, such as confusion, anxiety, etc.

Take for instance the scene very near the beginning of Touch of Evil where Mr. Grande's nephew "Pancho" leads Suzie off to the hotel where Mr. Grande first introduces himself. Welles does an amazing job of setting up this scene before we even get there. We have a somewhat innocent looking white girl with Hollywood-blonde hair prancing around all alone on the dark streets which border the USA and Mexico. A young foreign man approaches her and insists that she follow him. Suzie has no idea what is going on, who is who or the like but she so ironically says "what have I got to lose?" I thought to myself when I saw this "HOLY HOLLYWOOD LEADING LADY!" Just like every other Hollywood gal in the horror movies that run up the stairs when they should be running out the front door, I knew that she was digging her own grave from the start.

Finally she finds herself in this room with Grande and his nephew, (multiple strange foreign men now in a dark hotel room in a foreign country at night-time) so the viewers are already on edge wishing that she would have walked away or waited for her husband, but the last nail in the coffin is the flickering light in the background. The flickering light dark light dark light dark light dark was an amazing strategy presumably thought of by Welles, to manufacture his audience's anxiety. It's truly wonderful because the effect is much different than the signature Hitchcock suspense scene where the viewer knows that someone is getting ready to meet the knife, and it takes everything you have to keep from diving through the television screen to warn or save them. This anxiety is much different.

It's a very sophisticated use of light, in that you are utterly stressed out thinking, "when can we leave this uncomfortable scene" much like the character would be saying "when can I no longer be in this room?" The danger is not immediately present, but it is certainly a sign of danger to come, or sort of an unwelcome glimpse into this particular character's future.

Furthermore while on this specific scene, I should address the use of camera angles and then transition over to similar uses in Citizen Kane. While in this "room of anxiety" with Grande and Pancho we notice that the classic upward angle shot is used on the men while a straight shot is used on Suzie. This angle is one of Welles' classic aces in the


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