A Study of Celebrity Worship

A Great Film Tackling the Subject of Celebrity Worship, Robert De Niro as Rupert Pupkin in The King of Comedy

There are several types of obsessions, from war veterans obsessed with the act of battle to over religious terrorists obsessed with the act of violence, the list goes on and on; however, the most widely spread type of obsession is most commonly known as celebrity worship. As time passed celebrating celebrities has become more and more active. It started since the dawn of time when someone who was regarded as superior than the average human being was idolized by his fans. Sportsmen, actors, actresses, artists and singers are just some of the people that could be regarded or labeled as celebrities. Since the media nowadays is more than focused on celebrities, we live in the age where celebrity worship is most widely spread, for never before has the concept of celebrity worship reached the standard it lays at today. Since it has become of today’s main factors of life, many researches have been developed studying this form of obsession. Some researches study the aspect of why people tend to lean towards celebrity worship, while others study whether it’s a good habit or a bad habit. The truth is the only way to fully understand celebrity worship is to take all theories and opinions into consideration and drawing up conclusions.

Cartoon Sketch of Celebrity Worship

 A question that pops up in everyone’s mind is, why do we worship celebrities as if they were superiors? There are several theories and answers to that question. One of those so called theories is the American Dream Theory. To fully understand this theory one has to fully understand the meaning of the American Dream. The American dream is best known as having a happy hard working family, owning a modest home, and living the simple life.  However, the American dream has changed with time. Now the American dream seems to involve “mansions, plastic surgery, designer children, and teeth made of gold.”(Violent Acres). While the researcher was clearly being sarcastic, he/she has a point. Back in the fifties the needs of the average person was completely different than today, and now what everyone craves seems to be having the life of a celebrity. That same research facility by the name of Violent Acres digs deeper into the American dream theory by exploring the clear connection of the American Dream and celebrities, “The average American spends half of their time chasing this new unattainable version of the American dream and the other half of their time watching those who are living it.” (Celebrity Worship and the American Dream). Basically what he/she was trying to say is that since the new American dream is having the life of a celebrity, it is one of the major reasons why people are obsessing and “worshipping” them. Another theory would be the theory of Hero Worship, and it is basically the concept of idolizing a celebrity as if he or she were some kind of a hero. According to Stuart Fischoff who has academically studied the cult of celebrity, “What’s in our DNA, as a social animal, is the interest in looking at alpha males and females; the ones who are important in the pack. We are sociologically preprogrammed to ‘follow the leader’ and we are biochemical sitting ducks for the Hollywood star system; even the stars themselves get caught up in the mystique by worshipping other more celebrities in higher standards”(Fischoff). In other words, people tend to need a hero in their complicated lives and by looking at the perfect lives of celebrities and obsessing about them; they fall under the celebrity worshippers’ category. Both of those theories involve the aspect of addictiveness, for when a person idolizes someone or dreams of their lifestyle, he or she tends to get addicted to the idea and tries as best as he/she can to stay updated with a certain celebrity’s life or lifestyle. Now that we’ve found out about why people worship celebrities, and why it’s so widely spread, one has to wonder, is it healthy for the average person to obsess about the life of another individual?

     The answer to that question can go either direction, and while most researchers have proven that it is without doubt a bad and unhealthy habit, to every bad side there’s a good side. If the concept of celebrity worship was used correctly, it might as well act in a positive manner. For an example, if a young boy idolizes a soccer player and tries as hard as he can to live up to him and be like him, it clearly means that celebrity worship is a good thing, for it can be used as an inspiration. The fact that this young boy worked hard to become an actor, athlete, or any other successful human being proves that him idolizing a certain celebrity has in fact helped him achieve his goals, which clearly brings shows that celebrity worship as bad a reputation as it has can serve youth in a positive matter. A recent UK study done by psychologists from the Universities of Leicester and Coventry has backed up this statement with their research on teenagers and their often obsession towards celebrities. They claimed that, “Teens view celebrities as heroes, trend-setters and part of an extended social network of friends. Watching prestigious people is typical human nature. Celebrities are popular, successful people who model behavior on how a teen can become successful herself.” In addition to supporting the idea of having celebrities as an inspiration, they have also proved that celebrity worship plays an important role of growing up. The study looked at children between the ages of 11 and 16, and studied the survey before concluding that it is in fact healthy for teenagers to “worship” celebrities (Bayne).  Part of their conclusion was that, “Approximately one third of those surveyed revealed that gossiping about famous folk was a big part of socializing. That’s got to be less traumatizing than gossiping negatively about fellow classmates.”(Bayne). This has to do with sociology, and how people socialize with one another, and if one thinks about it, gossiping about a celebrity and judging his or her acts is better than doing the same about a classmate. Gossip magazines are very popular among teenagers, and this is a good thing because gossiping about celebrities serves as a substitution to gossiping about other fellow classmates. There is in fact some good that can come from the concept of celebrity worship and recent studies and researches have proven so; however, there’s one aspect that is common or can be found in all those researches trying to prove that celebrity worship is a good thing rather than a bad one. This common factor is the fact that they always prove that it is good and positive for the youth. They always seem to claim that celebrity worship is good for teenagers or preteens, which makes one wonder about the adults who worship celebrities. Since the only good celebrity worship includes turns out to be related to a certain age group, it is when people continue to worship celebrities after leaving a certain age group that it becomes an unhealthy and possibly dangerous habit.

Robert De Niro and Jodie Foster as Travis Bickle and Iris

      The main reason why this syndrome has been studied, analyzed, and researched numerous times over the past couple of years is because in several occasions those “worshippers” fall into an unhealthy habitat. In order to fully understand this concept one has to identify the connection between the addiction to worshipping celebrities and the behaviors of those same people or “worshippers”. According to Eric Hollander, MD, professor of psychiatry and director of the Compulsive, Impulsive and Anxiety Disorders program at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine in New York City, “for those who have the fascination with celebrities as a substitution for real life, with the focus on a celebrity replacing the focus that should be on our own lives, those are the ones who should start to calm down, for they are officially in trouble.” (Hollander) The reason for that being is because those individuals often encounter depression, anxiety, and a handful of other mental problems, which leads to them taking the focus off their own lives and instead focus on the lives of celebrities. In one of the largest studies of celebrity worship in the UK, researchers questioned 372 men and women about their views towards celebrities; what they found out was that just over 22 per cent of these could be classed as ”celebrity worshippers”.(Brown). This group could then be divided into three distinctive forms of worshipper: entertainment-social celebrity worshipper, intense-personal worshipper and borderline-pathological worshipper. These are the three most commonly used categorize when it comes to studying the extension of a celebrity worship. Psychologists Lynn McCutcheon of DeVry University in Florida explained those three categories in an extremely detailed article, and in summary this is what she had to say. The entertainment-social group is the largest of the three, and they often tend to be social, lively, active and adventurous. However, intense-personal attitude towards an idol is when trouble starts to appear for they tend to develop a belief he or she had a special bond with the star. This stage often involves people stalking their idols or favored celebrities. Those in this category are often neurotic, tense, emotional and moody. (McCutcheon) However, things start to get too dangerous with the third category, borderline-pathological. The reason for that being is because “At its most intense, celebrity worship is a condition found in one per cent of celebrity worshippers. These include celebrity stalkers and people who are willing to hurt themselves or others in the name of their idol. They correlate with symptoms of psychosis, such as impulsive, antisocial and egocentric behavior.” (McCutcheon). Looking at the three categories, one can clearly see the transitions from one step to the other. The first category and least harmful is entertainment-social, and it is basically the idea of celebrity worship used to entertain and socialize about. The second, however, is intense-personal, and now it gets too intense for it involves stalking celebrities and invading their privacy. The third and most dangerous category is borderline-pathological, and this involves acts of violence committed by those “worshippers” that are somehow related to their favorite celebrities. An example of such an act would be that of the infamous John Hinckley, a typical borderline-pathological worshipper who took it a step too far. John Hinckley started to have mental problems the minute he watched ‘Taxi Driver’, a movie starring Robert De Niro as Travis Bickle. Travis is a lonely character who wanders the streets of New York alone until he crosses paths with a twelve year old prostitute played by Jodie Foster. Travis tries to save her by killing her employees and those who force her to work as a prostitute. John Hinckley connected and identified with De Niro’s character in an abnormal way to the point that he became psychotic. Samuel Rodriguez, a law student who studied the case of John Hinckley clearly states that “Hinckley saw the movie at least fifteen times, read and re-read the book it was based upon, and bought the soundtrack to the film, listening to it for hours on end. Hinckley even began to model certain aspects of his life on the actions of the main characters. Most importantly, Hinckley developed an intense obsession with an actress in the film, Jodie Foster.” (Rodriguez). However what placed him in the borderline-pathological category was his act of violence which he claims was dedicated to Jodie Foster, the assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan. According to Rodriguez, “‘Taxi Driver’ was shown by the defense during John Hinckley’s trial. Hinckley’s reaction to the showing of the movie demonstrated the depth of the impression it had made on him. Twisting in his chair to get a better look at the main character as Robert De Niro’s mug appeared on the screen, he was so engrossed in the movie that he watched it mouth open, eyes fastened to the screen.’ Instead of facing death sentence or prison by life sentence, Hinckley was sent to a mental institution where he is still being studied by experts.

Sketch of John Hinckley's Assassination Attempt

     After days of research, one can see that studying celebrity worship isn’t as simple as one may think, for it can serve as a positive influence on a teenager, yet serve as an extremely harmful and mental issue for an adult. There are several stages and categories of celebrity worship and anyone can categorize himself in one of the three main ones. What people should defiantly take into consideration is that whenever he/she sees himself/herself, or any other beloved one in that matter pass the first category also known as entertainment-social, and start entering the later two more intense, physically, and mentally harmful ones, the first thing one should do is calm down, and see a psychiatrist before things get too personal. Almost anyone nowadays can be placed in one of the three categories, and although by now we know the stages and reasons for celebrity worship’s existence in our every day life, one has to wonder who is to blame? There’s no doubt that the answer to that question is the media. The media focuses and invades the lives of celebrities like never before. It may have started around the fifties when Marilyn Monroe started appearing on headlines worldwide, but today it’s not just one star but almost every celebrity gets his share. They are often followed by the paparazzi, and photographed without permission, which is a very serious form of lack of privacy. Now that there are a variety of headlines on all kinds of celebrities, every celebrity worshipper has at least a clue of the celebrities’ personal life and current location. This may trigger various acts of violence committed by celebrity worshippers to increase in number. The only solution for that matter is for the media to stop documenting every single detail of a celebrity’s life and start focusing on more realistic and serious subjects. At the end one can conclude that while celebrity worship is healthy for teenagers, as people grow in age, their probability to fall into the second and third type of the worship syndrome increases.

The Merging of Mise-en-Scene and Narrative Style (Run Lola Run and Hero)

Cartoon of Lola Running


When it comes to movies, one would find that there are numerous ways for the director to tell his story and just as much ways for him display it on screen. The narrative style of a movie depends mostly on the screenplay of the movie and unlike most people think, movies don’t necessarily have to start at the beginning of the story and end up at the end of it. A plot of a movie can start at any point within the story, and usually the choices the directors or screenwriters make are for the best. However, the plot isn’t the only thing that the director takes under consideration, for movies can be displayed through picture and sound or mise-en-scene in various ways as well. Here one can see the relation between the narrative style and mise-en-scene of a movie. After deciding how to tell a story, the filmmakers usually decide how to display it, and this is where mise-en-scene and the narrative story merge to form a motion picture. The degree of how well these two elements merge often is crucial to how the movie will be received by the audience 


     Narrative styles in fiction movies have two basic categories, the plot and the story of the movie. The story is everything we as the audience know about the characters and the “tale” of the film, while plot is a segment of the story displayed to the audience through the combination of picture and sound. Everything we see and hear on screen from the symbols to music to credits falls under the plot category. The story is basically made up of everything we as the audience can presume or assume from the characters and story of the film. A great example of the clear difference between story and plot can be seen in the 1998 Tom Tykwer movie, Run Lola Run. The story of the movie is very broad for it’s basically the story of a woman who isn’t very well connected with her family and tries to help out her boyfriend with the trouble he’s in. We as the audience know these facts even though they are not displayed to us on screen. We know that Lola isn’t close with her family through several scenes. One is the scene where Lola’s father tells her that he’s leaving them for he is fed up with Lola and her mother; another is a scene that is displayed three times to the audience, it’s the scene where Lola rushes in a hurry downstairs past her mother who is on the phone. The mother doesn’t even bother to panic or react to the situation. During the entire movie, we witness three different ways where Lola tries to help out her boyfriend who lost valuable money, and in on of those alternatives, Lola’s boyfriend tells her that “this time it’s different”, and that it would be impossible for her to help him. The fact that he said “this time”, and the simple fact that he called her during the time of crises makes us assume that Manni (Lola’s boyfriend) has no one else to turn to, and that she has in fact helped him various times before with success. The plot of the movie consists of this one segment of the story displayed to the audience three times, each time with an entirely different outcome. This tells us that the director or screenwriter (in this case both are Tykwer) tried to focus on was Lola’s desperate attempt to help Manni and how the choices she made during that particular time of crises affected the overall outcome of the situation. Through the plot, not the story, Tykwer managed to produce a very simple yet scary theory in life, that the simplest choice, decision, or  interactions you choose to make can change you’re entire life, sometimes it’s for the best, while at other times it’s for the worst


     Just like the narrative style, the mise-en-scene of the movie can greatly affect the outcome of the movie. In film, mise-en-scene has a very broad meaning, for it refers to almost everything that goes into the composition of a movie, this includes sound, costume design, set decoration, editing, and cinematography. An example of mise-en-scene used almost perfectly in film would be Zhang Yimou’s 2002 epic, Hero. The movie basically tells the story of a nameless warrior who manages to kill three deadly assassins that posed a threat to the Dynasty’s emperor. The king or emperor notices some flaws in the warriors’ story as he tells it, and so the story of the nameless warrior is retold differently. The same thing happens again, and we as the audience end up with three versions of how the nameless warrior managed to be where he is at this moment having killed three of China’s most threatening assassins. The movie is a combination of great visuals, cinematography, costume designs, set decoration, and fight sequences making the movie a feast to the eye. This merge of filmmaking factors ends up working so well together producing sequences that feel more visual dreams rather than reality. The movie was intended to be displayed as visual poetry, and the fact that the movie remained beautifully shot after shot with strong vibrant colors standing out in almost every scene makes it feel almost unrealistic. However, the fact that Zhang Yimou managed to maintain those beautiful visuals for the entire duration of the movie where colors serve as symbols, made those impossible visuals very believable, creating a perfect example of mise-en-scene used magnificently in film. Another aspect that served the mise-en-scene during the entire movie are the very well executed fight scenes, for they were choreographed in a way to make the fights seem as if they were dances instead of acts of violence. Somehow the viewer accepts the beauty of the locations and visuals of the movie as realistic. To be more specific, there’s one scene that describes the beauty of the mise-en-scene and that is the scene in which two females face each other wearing red wardrobes and surrounded by yellow and brown leaves. Everything seems to be perfect in that scene, from the visuals, to the choreography to the epic score to the editing and cinematography, they all worked together to display a visual work of art which is what the filmmakers intended the movie to look and feel like


     Comparing these two movies with one another, one can see the very obvious connection between the narrative style and mise-en-scene of a movie. The plot of both movies concern with three different versions of an event, and as the plot of a movie includes the on screen music, and non-diegetic symbolic inputs, one can see where plot and mise-en-scene overlap. The plot is the way the story is going to be told, which in both of those movies’ cases was in three different versions, while the mise-en-scene is the way it is displayed to the viewer through picture and sound. Picture includes the editing, cinematography, symbolic insert, and so forth; the symbolic inserts in the case of Hero were the strong and vibrant colors. Hero and Run Lola Run have almost identical narrative styles in that they have the same basic aspect of three versions of a story, yet they feel so different. The reason for that being is because of the entirely different mise-en-scene in both movies. In the case of Hero, the mise-en-scene was used to display a visual masterpiece and a work of art that was very fitting with the themes of the plot. In Run Lola Run, however, the mise-en-scene was used to produce a different effect on its viewers, the feeling of a rush and adrenalin. This was done through the combinations of clearly over a thousand edits and transitions in its very short runtime, and the combination with techno like music used as the score made the movie feel like a rollercoaster, which was the basic idea and purpose of the entire movie. Through the mise-en-scene we as the audience felt the rush Lola felt after she hung up the phone with her boyfriend. So while the narrative style and mise-en-scene have entirely different meanings, they are both very important in terms of filmmaking, for they determine the way a story is to be told, and the intended effect it should have on the viewer. However, in order for them to work well, as the director is working on one (narrative style or mise-en-scene), the other has to be taken into consideration    

The Power of Sound and Editing (The Conversation and Psycho)

Gene Hackman in The Conversation

When most people think about movies, they usually judge them in terms of acting and directing, rarely does a person judge its editing or sound mixing. The reason for that being is because most editors and sound editors do all they can to make their editing as smooth as possible for the audience. When editing and sound mixing is used correctly there’s a certain flow that’s required in a good movie, the movie seems to fit better, and the truth is without editing and sound mixing most great movies wouldn’t be nearly as good as they are regarded. The 1974 Francis Ford Coppola thriller The Conversation and the 1960 Alfred Hitchcock horror movie Psycho are perfect examples of movies largely depending on the process and technique of editing and sound mixing. Each of those movies can be seen as perfect examples where the editing and sound mixing were used to perfection.

Storyboard Image of the Shower Scene

 In terms of editing a movie, there’s mostly the basic idea of joining shots to give the sense of continuity in terms of time, space, graphics, and rhythm. In terms of sound mixing, there’s the basic idea of fidelity, the extraction of sound such as off screen sound, and of course the addition of sound to a particular scene. However, there’s also the connection between those two aspects or techniques. With precise editing, there’s always a fascinating interplay of sound and image. Editing is so much more than just the joining of shots; it requires instinct, accuracy, and precise use of shots in terms of their relation to one another. After Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 classic Psycho, the editing was probably revolutionized because of the use of various forms of editing in that particular movie. In terms of rhythm, the movie uses the movement in time very efficiently. For example, it is clear that the movie starts one afternoon, as we are transformed from outside the window of an apartment into the apartment using smart editing. However, when Leigh leaves the room, we realize that it’s still that same day. She goes to work, collects some money that she’s supposed to put into the bank and goes back home. All that happens in one particular afternoon, and when she decides to run away with the money, the editing in terms of rhythm becomes more and more interesting. Hitchcock uses a close up of the main character, Marion Crane, as she drives away from her hometown. The shot shows her face, part of the steering wheel, and the background, which includes the sky. The shots of course changes from that particular close up shot to what might be regarded as an eye-line matching shot, in which we as the audience see the highway in front of the character. The audience begins to notice that the bright sky turn darker and darker, and eventually it starts to rain and Marion pulls over to sleep it off. The first quarter of the movie takes place in one day, which gives the movie a very interesting flow, and movement of time. The following shot involves Marion waking up the next morning after spending the night sleeping in her car. Again, the viewer knows that it’s the next day, and for the next twenty minutes or so, we stay within that time frame (she goes changes her car, and by night pulls over to the Bates Motel). George Tomasini, the editor of the movie also uses editing in terms of time very precisely. For example, the scene in which the private detective, Arbigast starts checking different hotels for any information on a missing Marion. The scene shows Arbigast in different hotels in various shots, which gives us the sense that time has passed, and that he checked those hotels in a period of time.

Tomasini also uses the relation between shots quite creepily in terms of graphics. By showing shots of stuffed birds, he puts the viewer in an uncomfortable mood. The last type of relation between shots can be seen as Tomasini uses space. When Marion’s sister, looks outside of the Bates house and sees Norman running towards her from the Bates Motel. Space is all that was needed to keep us on the edge of our seats. Psycho is a landmark in terms of editing for the very reason that it uses a large variety of editing in less than 120 minutes.

The Shower Scene

Another element that most viewers aren’t aware of is the process of sound mixing. Most people think there’s nothing to sound that requires talent, accuracy, and time, yet the truth is without proper sound editing and mixing, movies wouldn’t be at the place they are today. Elements such as overlapping dialogue, manipulating volume, using silence, extracting and adding sounds, and off screen sounds are just a few of the procedures and aspects that the sound editor has to have in mind. In Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation, the subject of sound is the main focus of the plot. The idea of having the ability to record any conversation between two individuals without them notice it is terrifying, yet very interesting. There’s one particular scene in the movie that was and still is very fascinating to watch. It’s when Harry Caul played by Gene Hackman tries to record a conversation between two characters in the middle of a crowd. In order to find out what they are saying, he extracts overlapping conversations, on-location sound, and abstract noise; at the end Harry Caul ends up with the line “He’d kill us if he got the chance.” That particular scene has got to be one of the most revolutionary scenes in film history in terms of sound mixing. The way the main character plays with all kinds of overlapping sounds, makes the viewer wonder if this is the same case when it comes to filming a movie. The sound editor probably uses very similar equipment and methods as those of Harry Caul, which is why the main characters voices are often heard more clearly than that of a train, equipment, or any extras acting on set. There’s also a very interesting connection between editing and sound.

 In order to edit certain scenes properly one has to have the element of sound in mind. In probably one of the most famous, and well edited scenes in all of cinema, also known as the shower scene in Psycho, the use of both editing and sound to create a realistic and horrific scene is very detailed, carefully thought out, and perfect. In less than one minute, we witness a combination of at least 50 shots, in relation to the sound of a knife slashing against skin. However, what’s even more interesting is the fact that we never actually see the knife enter the woman’s flesh, yet we’re convince we do through the sight of stabbing (hand motion), sound effects, the musical score, and of course the careful editing. While most people think that the director and the actors do most of the work, one has to know that the editor, sound mixer, and composer have a lot to do with why the movie turned out the way it did. Therefore they deserve a lot more acknowledgment and credit for their work. The job of the editor is to take scenes and fit them together, and just like a puzzle, they have to fit together perfectly. In addition to that the sound effects, off screen sounds, overlapping dialogue, and every other aspect relating to sound is taken care of by the sound editor to assure a realistic and smooth feel to the movie. On top of all that we have the musical score of the movie which most probably serves as the flow of the movie. In order to turn out with a great movie, one has to make all three of those techniques work well together without the audience noticing. Both The Conversation and Psycho have done so, which is probably why both of those films are studied worldwide by film students and professors.

My Personal 100 Greatest Movies of All Time

This list is my personal preference of movies. While the list in order, it is subject to change. In fact it will change frequently, for this isn’t as easy as it seems. However, I tried as best as I can to place an order to these landmarks of cinema. Again, the list isn’t as accurate as many other lists for I do not measure by the greatness of the picture but by personal preference. For example, while I really like The Shawshank Redemption, I wouldn’t dare call it a greater movie than Citizen Kane or 2001: A Space Odyssey.

The Monolith

1. Taxi Driver
2.  It’s a Wonderful Life
3. The Shawshank Redemption
4. Das Boot
5. Citizen Kane
6. Eyes Wide Shut
7. The Exterminating Angel 
8. Apocalypse Now
9. Synecdoche, New York
10. 2001: A Space Odyssey
11.  Raging Bull
12.  8 1/2
13. On the Waterfront
14. The Deer Hunter
15. The Godfather Part II
16. The Godfather
17.  Psycho
18. Lost in Translation
19. Dark City
20.  Jaws
21.  Cool Hand Luke
22. Mean Streets
23. Grave of the Fireflies
24.  Hud
25. Exterminating Angel
26. Vertigo
27.  One Flew Over the Cukoo’s Nest
28. Casablanca
29. Schindler’s List
30. Unforgiven
31.  The Searchers
32.  Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
33. Revolutionary Road
34. The Seventh Seal
35. Gone With the Wind
36. Saving Private Ryan
37.  Goodfellas
38.  The Lives of Others
39.  Seven Samurai
40.  Bonnie and Clyde
41.  Battleship Potemkin
42. Cries and Whispers
43.  Tokyo Story
44.  The Shining
45.  Hoop Dreams
46.  Che Guevara The Bolivian Diaries
47.  The Kid (1921)
48.  Persona
49.  Titanic
50. The Rules of the Game
51. The Third Man
52.  Singin in the Rain
53.  The Motorcycle Diaries
54.  Do the Right Thing
55.  Old Yeller
56.  The Right Stuff
57. City of God
59.  M
60. Floating Weeds
61.  Once Upon a Time in America
62.  The Bicycle Thief
63.  The Grapes of Wrath
64.  Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
65.  Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
66.  Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
67.  The Birds
68.  A Clockwork Orange
69.  The 400 Blows
70.  The Conversation
71. A Beautiful Mind
72.  Lilja 4-ever
73.  The Great Dictator
74.  Nanook of the North
75.  Man with a Moving Camera
76.  The Pianist
77.  Pan’s Labyrinth
78.  Brokeback Mountain
79.  Into the Wild
80.  Life is Beautiful
81. The Others
82.  The Sixth Sense
83.  E.T.: Extra Terrestrial
84.  Cinema Paradiso
85.  The Silence of the Lambs
86.  Jurassic Park
87. Adaptation
88. I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang
89. Bang the Drum Slowly
90. Touch of Evil
91.  Reservoir Dogs
92.  North by Northwest
93.  Shadow of a Doubt
94.  Strangers on a Train
95. Pulp Fiction
96.  Rear Window
97.  Notorious
98.  The Wizard of Oz
99.  Modern Times
100. Dog Day Afternoon

Strokes of Light and Shadow: The Impact of Citizen Kane


Broad Daylight. The Key Scene. No Shadows Needed. Viewer's Full Attention Required.

When one thinks back to the turning points of film history, the first few events that come to mind are the first edited fiction film, ‘Jazz Singer’ and the transition to sound or the first feature film in color. Some even mention the extensive use of deep focus in ‘Citizen Kane’ and while all these events are clearly revolutionary in terms of the development of film as a medium, the use of lighting creatively is often overlooked. Exploiting light and shadow inventively to express meaning and establish a desired atmosphere made Orson Welles’ ‘Citizen Kane’ a significant historical event that impacted both audiences and film genre in many ways. In order to clearly understand this statement and acknowledge Orson Welles with changing the face of film history once and for all, one has to go back in time to the first use of light in the medium. It all started with the inventor Thomas Edison and his invention of the electric light. Edison understood the importance of light but failed to see the potential of how light can be used to affect the quality of films. In 1893, Edison’s first step towards focusing on film as his future can be seen with the creation of the first film studio, ‘The Black Maria’; the studio was built to rotate with an open roof in order to emit natural light when shooting films. (Wanamaker, 12) The key word here is “natural” light for this proves that Edison used light as a requirement rather than a tool to express. As films grew in numbers, they had one aspect in common; they were very well lit in order to show the audience what was filmed rather than what they want them to see. It wasn’t till ‘Citizen Kane’ was released that audiences began to see how light and shadow can impact the meaning of certain scenes.

            Orson Welles used light and shadow not as a necessity but to give scenes a certain meaning and atmosphere. He used lighting expressively to inject viewers with desired emotions. Prior to that moment movies and their messages were transmitted from the screen to the audience through the content of the film rather than the way it was shot. (Alton, 87) In other words, ‘Citizen Kane’ can be seen as the first time ever for a filmmaker to use the technicality of filmmaking in conjunction with the content to deliver to the audience what the filmmaker what trying to communicate. A perfect example of a scene where the use of lighting to convey meaning can be seen is at the beginning of ‘Citizen Kane’. After witnessing a news reel about the death of the fictional character Charles Foster Kane, the camera suddenly moves to the people behind that newsreel. They discuss how the newsreel has no originality and has nothing new to offer to the curious public. A scene like this can be shot in numerous ways and still have the same meaning but Welles chose to use light and shadow to specifically tell the audience what to focus on. (Mulvey, 52) By using a very strong backlight, Welles put these characters in shadow. All we could see was their silhouettes and the outline of the hands moving. Painting with light helped Welles tell the audience not  to focus on these reporters and who they are. The focus here did not change from Charles Foster Kane to the reporters with the end of the newsreel but stayed on Kane. (Anton, 112) It was as if Orson Welles was keeping the audience interested in the main character by putting the rest in shadow, it was like saying that who these characters are is not important, it’s what they seek that matters.

            Another similar key scene in ‘Citizen Kane’ that is visually striking the same way is after his wife performs terribly in the opera. Kane then stands up and claps his hands. Again the use of shadow is very significant. At first he claps his hands like everyone else out of respect to the performer but when he stands up and continues clapping, he’s alone and lurking in a shadow and all we see is his silhouette. The use of shadow here is very expressive in that it shows that Kane’s standing ovation does not matter for he is alone when it comes to his opinion. Welles saw the potential of what could be achieved with light and how light can affect the viewers take on what he or she just witnessed. (Mulvey, 101) exploiting light and shadow this way was revolutionary at that time and people were confused rather than impressed. It wasn’t till years later that people looked back, appreciated, and used lighting to affect viewers the same way ‘Citizen Kane’ did. Robin Wood, a well known journalist and film critic, recognized this influence and wrote about the influence of the movie on filmmakers to come from Capra to Hitchcock. In one of his essays he explains a similar use of light and shadow to have a different impact on viewers in Frank Capra’s ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’. Capra displayed all the scenes in Bedford Falls are displayed in broad daylight and all the scenes in Pottersville are displayed at night to have an atmospheric effect on the viewer as in good vs. evil. (Wood, 292) The influence and impact of lighting in ‘Citizen Kane’ is not limited to expressive use of shadows and light, one can even argue that ‘Citizen Kane’ is the movie that set the conventions of every film noir movie that followed.

Film noir is one of the most discussed genres within the medium for it combines many elements from various genres yet has a very precise style and mise-en-scene (Hirsch, 7). Careful lighting to establish a certain mood and atmosphere can be traced back to early German expressionistic movies of the 20’s and 30’s. Most of these movies were horror movies like ‘Nosferatu’, ‘M’, and ‘The Cabinet of Dr. Caligary’ (Worland, 16). While these movies predated ‘Citizen Kane’ in terms of using shadows to have a certain atmospheric effect on the viewers, Citizen Kane was the first to use mise-en-scene in the same expressionistic way in a movie that has nothing to do with creatures, murderers or movie monsters (Naremore, 32). The fact that Orson Welles adapted this style and enhanced into a genre movie helped in it becoming one of the most original and influential movies ever made. It had a particular effective influence on film noir and can be credited with setting the basic conventions of future film noirs. Most film historians consider ‘Strangers on the Third Floor’ to be the first film noir; however, it wasn’t till a year later that RKO released ‘Citizen Kane’ which created conventions that are now present in almost every film noir movie in the classic period (Altman, 103). In order to see the similarities between ‘Citizen Kane’ and every film noir movie that followed one has to rediscover the basic conventions found within the genre.

James Stewart as George Bailey

By applying these conventions on ‘Citizen Kane’ viewers will clearly see that Orson Welles created a genre movie that triggered a decade of film noir pictures. Most film noir plots revolve around an investigation of sorts, in this case the investigators are reporters and instead of investigating a murder or missing treasure, they investigate Kane’s last word, “Rosebud”. Another convention in terms of plot is that of narration. Again, the opening news reel featured in ‘Citizen Kane’ serves as that narration to the story that is about to be exposed. Film noir movies also tend to have specific characters like a flawed hero, a housewife of sorts, and the dangerous female that will break the main character’s heart (Hirsch, 32). All these are present in ‘Citizen Kane’ from Charles Foster Kane as the flawed hero, to Emily Kane as the typical American housewife, and of course Suzan Alexander as the woman who breaks his heart. In terms of visual style ‘Citizen Kane’ features probably every element seen in film noirs of the 40’s and 50’s (Altman, 71). The constant use of mirrors, low-key lighting, reflections and strange camera angles are all intentionally present in Welles’ movie to establish his desired atmosphere, an atmosphere that would be dominant within the genre. Other conventions such as urban setting and corruption within a city can be found in ‘Citizen Kane’ as well. It wasn’t till 1946 that the term “film noir” was coined by French movie critic, Nino Frank, yet Orson Welles’ influence on filmmakers and detective movies from the 40’s and 50’s particularly Humphrey Bogart movies came five years before the genre became an official one (Cohen, 13). So while ‘Citizen Kane’ and both its meaningful and atmospheric lighting is often overlooked, one can see how the movies’ status grew due to Welles’ recognition of what light or rather the absence of light can do to affect the overall appearance of a movie, key scenes and their meaning and an entire genre now known as film noir.

The historical significance of the use of light and shadow creatively in Citizen Kane opened the eyes of filmmakers to the potential of lighting, and various ways to use cinematography to help the content of the picture. Prior to that transition from using light as a necessity to using it expressively to convey meaning and establish atmosphere should be given as much recognition in terms of the process of developing film both as an industry and an art form. ‘Citizen Kane’ clearly helped in doing so and the reason for that being is because Orson Welles was given complete creative control over the movie by RKO studios (Altman, 7). This helped him take motion pictures to the next level by opening the doors to possibilities. In the late nineteenth century Thomas Edison invented the light bulb, and in 1941, Orson Welles used this artificial light combined with natural light to explore what light could do to enhance the medium that took much advancement to reach its current status. These advancements include editing shots to form a narrative, using synchronized sound, transferring to color are just a few major steps that helped develop film as medium. However, there are other elements that are overlooked, yet deserve as much recognition since the sudden progress in lighting that was achieved in ‘Citizen Kane’ helped make film an original medium distinct from theater and many other arts.

Work Cited:

Altman, Rick. Film/Genre. 3rd. United Kingdom: British Film Institute, (87,12). 1999. Print.

Alton, John (1995). Painting with Light. Los Angeles, California: University of California Press; (112) 4th Edition.

Cohen , Marshall. Film Theory and Criticism. Seventh. Los Angeles, California: Oxford

University Press, USA, 2009. Print.

Hirsch, Foster (2008). The Dark Side of the Screen: Film Noir. Los Angeles, California: Da Capo Press; 2nd Edition.

Josephson , Matthew (1992). Edison: A Biography. New Jersey: Wiley; 1 Edition.

Mulvey, Laura (2008). Citizen Kane. (52-53) London: BFI Classics.

Naremore, James. Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane: A Casebook. 2nd. New York: Oxford

University Press, 2004. Print.

Wanamaker, Mark. “The Film Studios.” Silent Majority: On-Line Journal of Silent Film 1, (12-13). Web.20 Jul 2009. <http://web.archive.org/web/20030223012726/http://www.silentsmajority.com/Bison/article1.htm>

Wood, Robin. Hitchcock Films Revisited. 4th. New York: Columbia University Press, 1989. Print.

Worland, Rick. The Horror Film: An Introduction. 1st. New York: Wiley-Blackwell , 2006. Print.

The Auteur Theory: Intentional and Unintentional (Hitchcock, Eisenstein, and Scorsese)

The auteur theory is possibly the most interesting theory of film for the simple reason that there is no true definition to fully explain the theory. It is a theory that concentrates or focuses on the styles and themes that are consistent in the films of an individual artist. Yet it is also a theory that explains that all the films of that individual artist or auteur is a basically a vision or view the auteur has on the world. It his vision and so the auteur usually uses the same themes to establish a point or message to the world.  However, some auteurs are great artists without them knowing it, while others know of their themes and are not afraid to inject the audience with their message. Auteurs have a theme consistent in their work and that auteur doesn’t necessarily have to be the director, in fact it may be a director and an actor working together, each displaying his own vision.

Hitchcock Sympathetic Look next to one of "The Birds"

Auteurs or authors in film are great artists, and while anyone can be an auteur, the work of the auteur varies, and therefore only the great ones are remembered for their work and clear vision. The auteur is clearly an individual who has something to say to the world, and through his work, the viewer discovers his statement. However, an auteur doesn’t necessarily have to be the director; an actor can be just as great of an auteur as the greatest of directors. Therefore in some cases we might end up watching a movie that has more than one auteur. A great example of such a case would be that of Robert De Niro and Martin Scorsese in the70’s. Back then, De Niro seemed to be very selective of his roles, and even though he experimented with genres, the characters he chose to portray had this constant similarity or feature. All his characters were those who seemed isolated, lonely, or tried to fit in whether among friends as Johnny Boy in Mean Streets, or an immigrant trying to fit in American as Vito Corleone in Francis Ford Copolla’s The Godfather Part II, perhaps a better example would be trying to fit in with society as Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver, or maybe a veteran trying to fit in with life after the Vietnam war in Michael Cimino’s The Deer Hunter. His work as an auteur was still very strong and present well into the eighties with his portrayal of Jake La Motta in Raging Bull or Rupert Pupkin in The King of Comedy. Martin Scorsese worked with him several times, but his vision seemed a bit different. His movies seemed like he was trying to embody New York and its gritty environment unlike Woody Allen who kind of tried to portray the beauty of New York in movies such as Annie Hall and Manhattan. Scorsese’s collaborations with De Niro include Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, New York, New York, Raging Bull, The King of Comedy, and Goodfellas. All of which were portrayals of a city and the corrupted souls living within that city, in his case New York. Again, Scorsese continued to portray this city even without his collaborator in movies such as Gangs of New York, New York Stories, The Concert for New York, and Bringing Out the Dead. This is probably one of the few examples in which two great auteurs clashed with one another, and while one was contributing to his statement to the world, the other was doing the same as well. Now that one has established the point that there may be more than one auteur working within a picture, some may argue that some auteurs or great artists with a specific vision present their authorship intentionally while at other times it is unintentional and the auteur is unaware of his effect on the picture.


Robert De Niro as Travis Bickle

  Directors who are intentionally adjusting their picture to establish a certain effect are those who know their vision and are not afraid to express it to the world. One can recognize those so called intentionally artistic auteurs by identifying the input the director had on the picture. A very obvious example would be that of Sergie Eisenstein. Eisenstein clearly knew what he was doing, and through intellectual and dialectical montage he expressed the purpose of his movies. In his movies Battleship Potemkin and Strike, he used editing to an extreme to persuade the audience to act against authorities and those who take their power for granted. He knew what he was doing and he used the same methods in his movies to achieve an effect on his audience in all of his movies. A true film student can clearly identify an Eisenstein or Stanley Kubrick picture without even watching the opening or closing credits because they had a very specific style of filmmaking. While in their cases their contribution to their pictures is quite clear, others have intentionally tried to deliver a message but have done so without the awareness of the audience. A terrific example of such a case would be Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver. An average movie-goer may watch the film and think that it is simply the greatest character study ever duplicated on film, but the movie is so much more than that. Again, by identifying the input the director had on the picture one can see the vision or message he had to the world. As stated before, Scorsese pictures usually talked about corrupted individuals living in New York City, and it is arguable that Taxi Driver is his ultimate masterpiece in an auteur point of view. The movie is quite confusing and the director doesn’t give us any clues or reasons for the actions that Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) commits, but if one thinks about the movie, there are two major plotlines. The first being the story of Travis and how he meets Betsy (Cybil Shepherd) in her working place and takes her out to dinner, and later on tries to assassinate the man she’s working for Senator Candidate Palantine.  The second plotline is that of Travis meeting Iris (Jodie Foster) a 12 year old prostitute in her working place, takes out to dinner, and succeeds at killing the man she’s working for Sport played by (Harvey Keitel). Having read the screenplay, I happen to know that Paul Schrader intended for the Iris plotline to take place after the Palantine plotline; however, Scorsese did not do that, he made them intersect as if to compare or establish a statement. Both storylines take place scene after scene intersecting with one another even though that wasn’t supposed to be the order. He clearly filmed the movie in the correct order since Travis’s haircut is shorter in the Iris scenes than in the Betsy ones; however in the movie, we jump from one scene to the other from short hair to long hair, Iris to Betsy, politics to the underground, and it is quite clear that Scorsese’s input was to have the movie edited that way. The interesting aspect about this is the similarities between both storylines. Travis meets both at their working places (an open office and a cheap motel room), he takes them both out for lunch (in a cafeteria), and shaves to a Mohawk and attempt to kill both of their bosses (Sport, Iris’s pimp and Candidate Palantine). Having watched the movie dozens of times, many more similarities arise like the dinner conversations of Travis with both Iris and Betsy. In both Travis is badmouthing their working environment, or the first time Travis meets their bosses (Palantine in his cab and Sport in the street) in both conversations he’s gentle and friendly with them and the most important similarity is probably his attempt to kill them. Here’s where the interesting part comes, for he failed to kill Palantine yet succeeded to kill Sport. Scorsese may be trying to state something here like the reason that as Travis Bickle puts it the “scum and filth of the Earth” exist are the Senator’s and leaders; or maybe Scorsese was just trying to state that the Senators are just as corrupt as the “low lifes” living in the dark street alleys of New York. It is Scorsese’s vision that is displayed before our eyes, and he and he only should take credit for that for it was his input to shoot the movie that way and have both stories intersect to establish the connection between them. (What he meant by this connection and what the message he was trying to inject us viewers is just my personal speculation.) Other directors, however, have done so without them knowing it.

     An unintentional auteur isn’t aware of his input to the picture. He isn’t aware of what he was indirectly telling to the world. Robin Wood, a very much focused student of Hitchcock films, explains very clearly how Hitchcock was an auteur or great artist without being aware of that. The reason Robin Wood uses Hitchcock as an exemplar of the auteur theory in the chapter “Genre, Ideology, and Auteur” is because Hitchcock’s vision of the world is reflected in the themes that predominate in his films. There is this consistency within his movies that seem unintentional. A great example would be the characters of Norman Bates in Psycho and Bruno in Strangers on a Train, both of those characters have homosexual features. The way Norman Bates walks and the way Bruno talks may suggest that they are homosexuals and since Wood believes that the vision the director has of the world dominates the picture, one can argue that since Hitchcock displayed both Bruno and Bates as the villains of their movies probably suggests that Hitchcock was homophobic. Hitchcock probably didn’t do this intestinally because it would be too controversial to do so, but using subliminal messages within the dialogue and any other element in a scene, we as viewers can get something out of the director’s character and vision. A lighter example would be in The Birds, it is probably a movie environmentalists despise, but the truth is, Hitchcock may have created the most environmentalist picture of all time. At first we may just think of the birds as evil birds gone crazy, but when studying the movie carefully one can easily see that Hitchcock was an environmentalist himself. In the beginning of the movie, the main characters meet in a bird store where all the birds are trapped in tiny cages. By the end of the movie, the main characters or human beings are the ones who are trapped only not in a cage but in a house. This times the ones the humans are the birds’ captives not the other way around. However, it’s the ending of the movie that makes Hitchcock an environmentalist. At the end, the trapped humans are freed and leave the house without any of the hundreds of surrounding birds attacking. This is the beauty of the scene, they actually let them go, which may suggest a message Hitchcock was trying to send out to his viewers; they (the birds) let us (humans) go, so why shouldn’t we set them free as well. Again, this is just a personal speculation in which the director may have tried to communicate a message unintentionally. The reason all of these examples are given is to clarify that Hitchcock may be the perfect auteur with a clear vision, and as Wood believes being unaware of his genius contributions to his pictures.   

            So what defines an auteur, he is probably an individual artist who has something to say to the world, and he is saying it through his work whether as an actor director, or even screenwriter. Whether or not that auteur is aware of his authorship and displayed theme or message in his films does not matter as long as he succeeds at doing so and the viewer becomes aware of what the person is trying to communicate and so labels him as an individual artist or author of his message. Most actors and directors these days either do it for the money or excitement of working on a movie, and sadly only a few can be recognized as true auteurs who actually work in film because they have something important to say to the world or the audience.