SOUND AS A SOURCE OF TENSION
The objective of this scene is to reveal how Charles Foster Kane came into his fortune and into the hands of Mr. Thatcher and why. While the “how” is revealed through the dialogue, the “why” is mostly dramatised (apart from the last lines in the scene, not included here, where Mrs. Kane reveals that the father is into beating the boy).
Sound plays a very important role in this dramatisation:
1. Mr. and Mrs. Kane are obviously divided over the child and a great deal of tension exists between the two as a result. This is how Welles goes about dramatising this tension:
In the foreground, Mr. Kane is on one side of the frame and Mrs. Kane and Mr. Thatcher on the other. They are arguing about Mrs. Kane’s decision to send the boy away. In the background, the boy is between Mr. and Mrs. Kane. He’s outside, waging a noisy snow war against an invisible enemy. Tension is created as a result of both foreground and background being competing for our attention. But note that this tension is greatly enhanced by the high-pitched yelling of the boy, which makes it more difficult for us to concentrate on the conversation, or rather argument, taking place in the foreground. We can’t help, from time to time, diverting our eyes and ears to the boy.
Also, apart from the tracking at the beginning and the end and a few mild camera movements, this is mostly a static shot. It is also a very long take and it has a lot of exposition (explanatory dialogue) in it. This could potentially have been a very slow-paced scene, but through the ingenious use of sound, Welles manages to go around it successfully. This is how: as well as overlapping the dialogue and the yelling, Welles, against the conventions of the time, overlaps dialogue between characters to add even more tension. Watch the scene with and without sound and you’ll see how these two sound elements add great dynamism to the pace.
2. We the audience are wondering why Mrs. Kane has taken the decision to send the boy away against her husband’s wishes, and here comes the first clue:
As Mrs. Kane signs the papers, the father makes his way to the background while muttering something on the lines of “Why I can’t raise my own boy is more than I can understand”, and then he closes the window to kill the the boy’s wild and cheerful cries, which are obviously getting on his nerves.
This prompts Mrs. Kane to also walk to the window and reopen it so that she can hear his voice. We begin to get a hint at what’s going on between mother, father and child, and the reason why she has decided to send the boy away.
Narrative aside, this interaction between characters and diegetic sound also gives Welles the opportunity to make the characters move within the extra space provided by the use of deep focus, thus maximising its effect.
Finally, as Mrs. Kane and Mr. Thatcher discuss the final details of the transfer by the window, the boy’s shouts can still be heard, competing for attention with the main dialogue and holding the tension. But it is at this point that Welles decides that this sound device has served its purpose. Mrs. Kane commands the boy to be quiet by simply shouting, “Charles!”, her voice clearly breaking with strain. The yelling stops to give way to a brief moment of chilling silence and then to dramatic music. This is exactly what Welles needs to accentuate Mrs. Kane’s inner conflict and emotions, which reach tipping point when she says, “I’ve got his track all packed. I’ve had it packed for a week now”. The sudden interruption of the boy’s shouts draws the audience deeper into the drama of the moment much in the way a close-up does.
Citizen Kane: Sound As a Source of Tension
Citizen Kane: Sound To Emphasise Significance
Citizen Kane: Sound As a Montage Transition