Lesson 6 Research Activity
The Language of Film

At the Movies: Citizen Kane

No filmmaker is more brilliant than Orson Welles. He came along at just the right time, with just the right set of experiences, so that his first film, Citizen Kane, fused everything we had all learned about this new art into one magnificent emblem. It also helps that the subject of the film, media moguldom, is one of the central social issues of the last 75 years—something that is just as important today as it was in 1941.

Although he made a number of good movies after this, Welles never again achieved such a perfect union of style, artistic bravado, and substance. When a panel of critics voted it the American Film Instituteís top film of the 20th century, it was an easy choice.

Student Materials

Time Estimate

1 1/2 - 3 hours


Watch Citizen Kane while thinking about the following questions. If youíve never seen it before, and if you can find the time, please watch it twice.


Please post your responses to the following questions on the class message board.

  1. The first time you saw this film, what shocked you most? What scene or shot did you find most breathtaking?
  2. Pauline Kael once wrote a famous essay that tried to shift credit for the success of Citizen Kane to the screenwriter, the cinematographer, and other crewmembers. What do you think about that?
  3. Whatís the weakest scene in Citizen Kane?
  4. Welles and cinematographer Gregg Toland used a lot of deep focus in the film. Semiologically, how does this affect viewers?
  5. The film also depends on the codes of newsreels of the time. You may not be familiar with The March of Time (or TIME Magazineís unusual 1940s style), but television news today isnít that different. What TV news codes caught your attention?