Citizen Kane and the Deep Focus Shot



Citizen Kane (1941)

Obtained from

Citizen Kane is one of those films that you can’t really classify into a specific genre. This film could be a tycoon, newspaper, film noir and/or even a detective movie. That fact turned Citizen Kane into an exclusive film and quickly recaptured my attention for a second viewing. Upon viewing the film an additional time, I paid more attention to a particular camera technique employed by the cinematographer; this of course being the deep focus shot. The use of the deep focus shot was evident throughout most if not all of the film and films by Orson Welles. After some thinking, I culminated some of my favorite scenes from Citizen Kane and explained the use of the deep focus shot in each.

Now before I get into any details, the deep focus shot is a seldom used technique in which the foreground, the middle-ground and the background scenario’s are clearly visible. Often times we will notice directors use the soft focus shot to emphasize individualism, ethereal and/or grandeur qualities behind the character that is being focused. Orson Welles associated the soft focus shot as an artificial representation of a character and that it also offered little, as far as visuals were concerned, at helping the audience understand the conflicts behind the character in focus. To remedy this, films employing the use of soft focus often had strong narratives to back up the pretty but frequently shallow visual style.  The deep focus, on the other hand, visually detailed a character’s thoughts, conflicts and P.O.V. by juxtaposing them relative to the rest of the scene.

To start off, I chose the scene where Kane is still a boy and under the custody of Mrs. Kane. We see Kane through a window pane throwing snowballs while Mr. Thatcher talks over a deal with the parents of Charles Kane. Normally, the director would want the conversation to be the focal point of the image; however, by employing the deep focus shot, we can’t help but to sympathize with Charles because he has become the subject of the conversation both visually and literally. The deep focus shot also points out very clearly that Kane will become the subject or property of someone greater simply from the juxtaposition of the adults (closer to the camera) and Charles (farthest from the camera).

The next memorable use of the deep focus shot involves the scene when we see Susan Alexander lying in bed with a container of drugs beside the bed. As Charles Kane ran into the room, we clearly see him and the drugs deeply focused even though he is standing behind the drugs. Susan Alexander, on the other hand, is but a mere shadow in relation to the drugs and Kane. The use of the deep focus shot created a relationship between the container of drugs and Kane as if they were the same entity. Based on this interpretation, we could say that Susan Alexander did not attempt to commit suicide but was symbolically assisted by Kane in her attempted suicide.

One of the structural motifs in the film was the constant occurrence of statues in many of the scenes. This motif coupled with the use of the deep focus shot helped the audience to assume parallels between Kane and the statues. For Kane, the statues were replacements for real people. Kane was raised by Mr. Thatcher to think single-mindedly and that ultimately brought Kane to his downfall. Due to Kane’s lost childhood, he had trouble, throughout the entire movie, connecting with other people. Ideally he would be in control of all of them; however, in reality that wasn’t the case. This created his obsession with statues because he had full control over them. In a very short scene, Kane sits in a chair wearing a white robe with statues surrounding him. The statues become evident due to the use of the deep focus shot. The statues in the front and in the back trap Kane and eventually his own fantasy suffocates him and kills him.

This concludes my selection of deep focus shots in Citizen Kane. There were plenty more, but these shots in particular caught my fascination with the technique immediately. If you have any famous deep focus shots you want to discuss feel free to comment below or e-mail us.

– The Jew


3 thoughts on “Citizen Kane and the Deep Focus Shot

  1. I’ve still not seen Citizen Kane, but when I think deep focus shot I normally think of those wide-angle shots… more for skate videos and reality shows to get everything in focus – just in case.

    I like your analysis of Welles’ usage of it though! It’s made me think twice about the soft-focus effect… especially since everyone’s gunning for that effect with those new mirrorless cameras and Instagram.

  2. Can I just applaud you for your well-written and very descriptive analysis. I had to write an essay about the deep-focus shot used by Welles and you explained it so well that I basically referenced your analysis throughout my entire essay. Good job! Film students in South Africa are very pleased and proud to use your work.

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