Stylistically, CITIZEN KANE and THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS are similar, but not the same. The majority of the scenes in each film utilize group shots, showing every character in the scene in the frame at the same time emphasizing community. Both films also utilize depth of field, where characters are filmed in large rooms or at great distances apart. In Citizen Kane, the depth of field is more widely used, especially in the group shots. The kicker scene for that is when Charles and Susan are arguing in Xanadu from the two separate ends of the room. Charles seems to be a hundred yards away. This is very spooky because it’s supposed to be their home. Later when they have a picnic, Charles tells Susan to stop shouting at him because they are in a tent and not at home, so he can hear her just fine. That scene, like all the other scene,s are a microcosm of the whole film. CITIZEN KANE is about not really knowing who a person really is. Once you figure that out, it’s enjoyable to watch the film over and over again, because each scene, each line of dialog, and each frame constantly rings true of this.
In THE AMBERSONS, the only scenes that last in my memory in terms of depth of field are when George is walking through the mansion at his coming home party with Lucy and when George and his aunt are shouting at each other from different floors on the stairwell while his mother is just getting the news that George would not let Eugene call upon her.
Both films utilizes shadows, but often the shadows in THE AMBERSONS are so dark and last for so long, it seems more like a mistake rather than an artistic choice. There was a scene where I believe George was talking to Jack. When they arrived to the illuminating moment in their dialog, there faces where illuminated by light. However, the complete darkness lasted so long, it lost it’s effect. In several scenes in CITIZEN KANE the lighting is masterfully executed from an obvious plan that took a lot of thought and time. When Charles watches Susan sing at the opera for the first time, she’s horrible, and his face is illuminated in sort of a reverse mask. This is very provocative because on the surface where he tries to wear a white hat and help Susan become a star, underneath is a villain because he’s just trying to make her love him.
The music is very similar in the two films, but the music of CITIZEN KANE seems to resound more in my memory. This is probably because of the very dramatic opening with a picture of Xanadu as a haunted house through a fence. This same music is used at the end. Although I can’t recall from memory if it was ever used again, it’s ominous theme still rings out from those two scenes alone because of how well it was married to the visuals. I remember the music sounding similar to CITIZEN KANE in THE AMBERSONS, but I rarely remember music being used or which scene(s) reminded me of CITIZEN KANE.
CITIZEN KANE greatly utilized angles, especially low ones. That was big back then because fake sets didn’t have ceilings. Even today low angles are rarely utilized and the camera is usually place at eye-level. One of the more popular scenes is when Charles and Leland meet after Charles loses the election for governor. The camera is so low to the ground, they appear like giants. Most of the shots in THE AMBERSONS were at eye level.
THE AMBERSONS seemed to be about getting your “come upins.” The most memorable scene in the movie for me is when George tells Eugene in front of his daughter and all of George’s family that automobiles are a nuisance. This in the antithesis of George’s idiocy by insulting the father of the girl he wants to marry. But the true brilliance of the scene is when Eugene gives a speech about automobiles and how they will change the world but who knows if it’s for the better or better for George. Later, when George is hit by a car, it rings true. I imagine that in Welles’ version of THE AMBERSONS, George died when he was hit by that car. That would ring true for the story. George, a character without redeeming value would not have changed, and Eugene would have been granted revenge by the universe when the invention he created destroyed the man who insulted it.
THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS has fared so poorly to CITIZEN KANE, because is layman’s terms, in regards to CITIZEN KANE, Orson Welles “worked it.” Once you finally grasp what’s going on it CITIZEN KANE, it’s like going to a musical, there’s something new to see every time you watch. It’s obvious the a lot of time and thought went into the story and the composition of CITZENE KANE. Every scene rings true. However, THE AMBERSON’S, although it’s an interesting film, does not appear to have as much thought placed into it. It’s not a thoughtless film, it’s just not as much put into it as CITIZEN KANE. The ambiguity in CITZEN KANE makes Charles likable. He’s not all bad or good—he’s human. In THE AMBERSON’S the audience is never really able to like, identify, or care about George. He seems to have no redeeming qualities. It is very interesting in the end how he loses all his many, but your glad it happens and don’t feel sorry for him. From that point on about taking care of his aunt and Eugene speech at the end, I imagine that is what the new director reshot. It did not ring true to the story. THE AMBERSON’ is also cut in standard linear format and is not as interesting. CITIZEN KANE is actually very linear, but with a twist. The story is linear from the reporter’s perspective, and each story that someone tells the reporter takes off where the last story left off.