Who or what is Rosebud? - TopTenMM Opening Sequences

Updated: Nov 12, 2019

Nominee #10 - Citizen Kane (1941)

Citizen Kane

Rated by many to be their number one movie of all time, Citizen Kane traces the life of newspaper magnate through the story to discover the meaning behind his dying word - "Rosebud"

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Citizen Kane (1941) is about newspaper magnate, Charles Foster Kane (played by Orson Welles). With his memorable opening sequence, Orson Welles draws us into the life of the troubled tycoon with a virtuosity of technique that is astonishing for this first-time director.

The first shots are from outside looking in. Into Kane’s imposing estate, Xanadu palace. And as each shot dissolves into the next we see the signboard hanging from the high wire fence, the gate with the formidable metal insignia (capital ‘K’) towering on top of the thick metal gate. The camera does just what it’s told not to. It trespasses.

The camera does just what it’s told not to. It trespasses.

Up over the wire fence, past the metal gate. It takes in monkeys sitting idly on compound. A water body that reflects the giant castle even before you actually see castle itself. The estate in ruins, deserted. The castle in the distance, brooding, high, away and the lone light in the bedroom.

The camera gets closer but everything else, except that light coming from the bedroom is covered in darkness, as if by a veil of death. Until the camera comes voyeur-like just outside the window sill, looking in but capturing nothing more than a body prone on the bed with no curtains to shield the room from the voyeur. The ominous background music already suggests that it is a deathbed and the room a death chamber. Suddenly, violently it seems, the light goes out.

Then with no apparent movement in the frame the light comes back, less brilliant but still there. Only this time the camera is inside looking out. It’s already inside the bedroom staring out of the window, past the body on the bed, the curtains fully drawn almost as if the body is deliberately on display.

The next frame is covered with falling snow and a zoom out shows it’s all happening inside a little glass globe and the globe itself is held by the near-limp upturned left hand of the man on the bed. We briefly see his moustached lips as he utters the single word ‘Rosebud’ before his fingers let go of the globe and it rolls on to the floor and shatters.

The camera’s transfixed on the globe. In one remaining shard it glimpses the room door open. A nurse walks in, crosses the dead man’s hands over his chest and lifts the cover up over his chin, face and head.

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