– Radio Cinema Essay, Research Paper
Orson Welles: Radio CinemaIn the first half of the twentieth century, a little boycould conceivably have heard Orson Welles longbefore he heard of him. The year was 1937, and over the ethercame the cavernous, menacingly righteous growl “Who knowswhat evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows. Heh-heh-heh.” A twenty-two-year-old prodigy, world wanderer, andeventually, man for all media, had assumed the radio role ofthe Shadow, alias Lamont Cranston, the man of mystery whocould “cloud men’s minds so that they cannot see him.” Thereis indeed in this description a foreshadowing of the magicaltricks and Germanic expressionism that were to go into themaking of the film Citizen Kane. Some would say that Welles became a personification ofhis Lamont Cranston character when he began making featurefilms in 1940. That is to say that his prior work with radiohad taught him much about the workings of the human psyche,and as such, he had become a master of clouding the mindsof his audience to such an extent that what they saw in hisfilms and what they experienced while seeing them were twodifferent things entirely. Penny Mintz has described OrsonWelles as an artist who, gains control our ability toorganize the barrage of stimuli that is constantly assaultingus (Weis and Belton, Film Sound 289). She goes on to saythat a careful study of Citizen Kane, reveals a progressiontoward manipulation of the viewer s powers of concentration,his visual and aural perception, and disorientation of hisspatial and temporal organization (289). In fact, some would say that without having invented andhoned his storytelling craft as part of the Mercury RadioTheater Group prior to his embarkation on the Kane project,the resulting film, and those that followed it, might wellhave found a rather bland destiny. The influences of Welles background in radio drama uponCitizen Cane and much of narrative film thereafter are quitepronounced, and with little more than a cursoryconsideration, one begins to realize the extent of thisinfluence. The first, and most superficially apparent ofthese influences can be found in many of Welles castingchoices. In Ken Dancyger s book, Robert Carringer tells usthat many roles were created with certain performers in mind,whose voices had certain expressive qualities which would bea tremendous asset to the director in the telling of hisstory. Joseph Cotton s character, Jed Leland, is sited asthe primary example of this repertory approach (The Techniqueof Film and Video Editing 77). It follows that, givenWelles background and facility in radio drama relative tohis known lack of confidence in his own screen acting abilityas described by (James Naremore The Magic of Orson Welles147); one must conclude that Welles desire to portrayCharles Kane, the film s main character, was motivated by hisdesire to shape the character personally, through vocalexpression rather than physical screen presence. Another dramatic device with which Orson Welles becameconversant in radio drama, and brought with him to CitizenKane is the use of narrator to convey ideas which couldneither be demonstrated visually or through dramaticdailogue. In fact, Welles used not one but five narrators inKane. The first, a narrator in the conventional sense,speaks in what is described by Dancyger as Movietonefashion (78). The newsreel voiceover he providesaccompanies a montage of iamges from Kane s life, in which,Dancyger speculates, language rather than images shape ideasabout [Kane s] life (78). However, one can conclude that itis the synthesis of the two which create the desiredconveyance in the mind of the viewer. That is, the imagesthemselves have no implicit meaning until they are marriedwith the narrator s words, which then catalyze, and togrtherprovoke certain abstract themes in the mind of the viewer. Just one example is the reference to images Xanadu in thecontext of Kublai Kahn and Noah. As Dancyger says, thesereferences make demonstrate the shear scale and quality ofKane s abode (78). At the same time, Welles has very subtlyplanted the notion of Kane s aspirations of power and excessby drawing comparisons to grandiose, universal figures ofliterature. Welles uses four more narrators throughout theKane, but their dramatic contributions are different; Thatcher, Leland, Bernstein, and Susan are lessforthcoming than the newsreel narrator. Theirreluctance helps to stimulate our curiosity by creatinga feeling that they know more than they are telling.(Dancyger 79)These characters, who s dramatic roles go beyond narration,are much less objective, as if there is information they mustkeep from the audience to protect themselves, and perhapseven the image of Kane himself. In addition to careful choice of cast and spokendialogue, Orson Wells adapted many of the narrative editingtechniques which he had perfected in radio drama, for use inhis films. The most readily conceivable of these adaptationswould later be dubbed the lightning mix . This techniqueinvolved the use of continuous sound to tie montage sequencestogether instead of narrative logic. The first manifestationof Welles lightning mix technique comes early in CitizenKane as a young Charlie Kane is presented with a sled andwished a Merry Christmas by his guardian, and then thepicture cuts to a shot of the same man completing thesentence, and a Happy New Year , fifteen years later, and ina different location. In real-time, only a few moments andscarcely ten feet of film have passed. Yet, the director suse of continuous sound over a synchronized, match-cutpicture track tells us that several years have passed, andthat the boy has grown into a man under the auspices of a nowaging but relentlessly stern Thatcher. Perhaps the most efficient use of the lightning mixtransition comes in the second act of the film and relatesthe entire progression of Charles Kane s gubernatorialcampaign. The sequence begins with a shot of Kane at SusanAlexander s boardinghouse as she sings at the piano. Theensuing match-cut takes us to a richly appointed parlor in anapartment which Kane has retained for Susan, who is stillsinging. As her performance ends, there is applause fromKane, which is deftly dissolved into the applause of a smallcrowd in attendance at a rally where a Kane associate isaddressing them on his behalf. The applause swells as thespeaker continues, I am speaking for Charles Foster Kane,the fighting liberal who entered upon this campaign with onepurpose, and one purpose only– . At this point, the voicebecomes Kane s own, and we see him addressing a throng ofsupporters at a rally in Madison Square Garden. As thecamera tracks toward the speaker s podium, the words growlouder and the sentence is completed, –to point out andmake public the dishonesty and downright villainy of Boss JimGettys political machine. As Kane s address carries on,the narrative takes on a conventional form once again. Here
again, Welles has used audio to motivate and contextualize asequence which gives his audience a wealth of informationabout events that have transpired over the course of months,in the space of a few moments of film. The lightning mix technique is used in several instances throughout CitizenKane and in each of Welles subsequent films, in addition tobeing adopted by several of his contemporaries. Yet another device which Orson Welles brought to filmfrom radio and used for the first time in Kane is referred toby David Cook as the, overlapping sound montage (A Historyof Modern Film 412). On stage, and in film until Kane, linesof dialogue were spoken one after another without incidenceof overlap. Welles composed scenes in such a way thatmultiple characters spoke, as they do in real life, at thesame time so that part of the dialogue is lost. Welles usedthis method to create a sense of realism, and what Cookrefers to as, collective conversation (412). The primeexample of this device as used throughout Kane takes place inthe screening room after the projection of Kane s News onThe March newsreel. The entire audience seems to bespeaking at once. Viewers of Citizen Kane find themselves inthe midst of the meeting as a participant, rather than anomnipresent observer of it. Again, Welles has found a way touse sound to suspend his audience s notion that they arewatching a film, but instead advances the perception thatthey are part of events portrayed onscreen. While directorssuch as Lewis Milestone had used overlapping dialogue infilms prior to Citizen Kane, none had used it to such anextent, or to achieve the same result. However, like thelightning mix, a great many directors have since adopted thetechnique. Among them are Carol Reed, and the more recentRobert Altman (Higham American Genius: Orson Welles 48). The most pervasive, yet least intrusive element ofOrson Welle s repertoire of radio derived aural manipulationsis related to the alteration of spatial relationships betweencharacters within the motion picture frame. He has usedsubtle sound alterations to change subconscious perceptionsof characters and events in most every scene within CitizenKane. In order to begin to understand the workings of thesesubtle adjustments, it is important to understand that soundhas several integral functions in conventional narrativefilm. Penny Mintz describes the conventions as follows:Spatial sounds obey the laws of real sound. Our earsplace the sound within space. We are not limited,aurally, as we are visually, by the flay screen. If thesound track of a movie accurately conforms to thebehavior of natural sound in space, we receive auralcues which determine distance, direction, and, to acertain extent, the surroundings of the source. Theresult is a definition of space a substantially lessillusionary sense of depth. (290)As in life, a well constructed film soundtrack indicatessurroundings. In particular, a sense of surroundings isprovided by sound quality and volume. One can detect suchdifferences in the voice of Charles Kane as he moves throughthe halls of Xanadu as compared to the same qualities as Kanespeaks in the car, on the way to the picnic. This varianceand others like are the result of accurate representation ofnatural properties of sound. Bordwell and Thompson explainthat, Various objects absorb and reflect different amountsand frequencies of sound according to material density (Fundamental Aesthetics of Sound in the Cinema 189). As people who experience these natural phenomena in lifeand cinema alike, audiences have come to perceive,subconsciously interpret, and expect natural differentiationof sounds in the real world surroundings and filmicapproximations of them. When these factors are ignored, or purposely used todistort the duplication of real sound, the mismatchmakes us vaguely uncomfortable, slightly dislocated,usually without our knowing why.(Mintz 290)Orson Welles was acutely aware of the potential to operatewithin the subconscious perceptions of his audience by meansof sound nuance. Examples of such deft manipulations can befound in the majority of Citizen Kane s Xanadu scenes. Itshould be noted that Welles developed and made greater useuse this technique in his later films, Lady from Shanghai andTouch of Evil. (LoBrutto Sound on Film 207). While it is possible to indicate surroundings in filmthrough appropriate use of sound texture, it is somewhat moredifficult to accurately portray direction by similar meansbecause humans perceive direction primarily through thebinaural nature of their auditory structure. (Penny Mintzhas stated that humans detect a time difference between twoears and the minute difference in volume due to the soundshadow cast by the head ). This obstacle has been largely overcome since theinvention and of stereo recording and playback, but OrsonWelles did not have these devices at his disposal when hemade Kane. Instead, aural direction had to be illustrated inmonaural cinema through use of visual cues onscreen. Weperceive the source of a voice because we see its speaker slips move in time with the words we hear. Likewise, thedirectionality of off-screen sound had to be indicated by thereaction of characters we could see. Welles, who had longbeen a practitioner of a sound-only medium was not hamperedby these technical limitations. On the contrary, says RobertCarringer, Welles ordered that sound playback be slightly outof synchronization in two passages in Citizen Kane, andwhenever Rosebud references were made (The Making ofCitizen Kane 126). This device, like sound texturemanipulations, contributed to the subconsciousdisorientation, and discomforting of viewers. Orson Welles drew from his experience as a radiodramatist not only in terms of simple sound design. Becausehe first understood the implications of sound as a standalone dramatic medium, and its power to manipulate thesubconscious, he was able to combine sound with image in waysthat had synergistic effect which went far beyond the powerof either medium when treated as separate elements. Ratherthan using sound to merely contribute to realism of theimages he created, Welles was able to use the sound and imagein tandem, and sometimes in contrast, to provoke, clarify,and manipulate perceptions of time, space, character,distance and discord which could not have come out of eithermedium alone. Radio Cinema Radiocinema.
Altman, Rick ed., Sound Theory, Sound Practice. New York:Routledge, 1992. Bordwell and Thompson Fundamental Aesthetics of Sound in theCinema, in Weis and Belton ed., Film Sound: Theory andPractice. New York: Columbia University Press, 1985. Carringer, R.L. The Making of Citizen Kane. Berkeley:University of California Press, 1985. Cook, David A. A History of Narrative Film. 2nd Ed. New York:Norton & Co., 1981. Dancyger, Ken The Technique of Film and Video Editing.Boston: Focal Press, 1993. Higham, Charles American Genius: Orson Welles. 2nd Ed. NewYork: St. Martin’s Press, 1985. LoBrutto, Vincent Sound-On-Film. Westport, Conn.: Praeger,1994Mintz, Penny Orson Welles Use of Sound, in Weis and Beltoned., Film Sound: Theory and Practice. New York:Columbia University Press, 1985. Naremore, James The Magic of Orson Welles. Dallas: SouthernMethodist University Press, 1989. Rosenbaum, J. ed. This is Orson Welles. New York: Harper &Collins, 1992.