Posted: June 23rd, 2021

Orson Welles’ Use of Long Shots

Orson Welles, Hollywood’s boy genius, brought his innovative approach which has, as Andre Bazin states in Orson Welles: A Critical View: “shaken the edifices of cinematic traditions”. One of the formal characteristics that he is most well known for is the use of long takes. Although the use of long takes was already established in film, as many of the first films had no edits, Welles incorporated long takes effectively in his films to overload scenes with activity adding more dramatic tension.
The films that his formal characteristic stands out the strongest are two of his more popular films Citizen Kane and Touch of Evil. Orson Welles’ theatrical background and his love for painting are probably the greatest contributions to his long takes in which an entire scene is shot with a camera using deep focus lens to capture everything clearly within the frame. As seen in both films the long shots can be static or tracking shots. Because of the deep focus, his long shots were more effective for creating complex mise-en-scene, overflowing the frame with multiple actions.
Although using long takes are effective, they require talented crewmembers and are both very expensive and time consuming. Welles even stated in an interview that he “obviously prefer to control the elements in front of the camera while it’s rolling, but that requires money and the producer’s trust”. The overall effect created each scene as its own complete unit of time and space. It also allows the viewers freedom to scan the scene and look wherever they wish, which is like how one would see real life or sitting in a theater watching a play.

In the film Citizen Kane Orson Welles use of long take is seen throughout the entire film. Orson Welles’ director of photography Gregg Toland used very wide-angle lenses bringing the angle of the shot close to that of the eye’s normal vision. With such open composition at Welles’ disposal, it provided him with “the tools needed to inject heightened tension and dramatic intensity” that wouldn’t have as much of an impact with traditional montage editing styles.
For instance, during the scene of Citizen Kane in which young Charlie Kane’s future is being laid out for him, the audience watch his mother going over financial papers with the banker and Charlie’s future guardian in the foreground, Charlie’s father complains about his lack of control in the situation in the middle ground and deep in the background Charlie is seen through the far window playing in the snow unaware of the tragic twist that will affect his life. Seeing the different story elements all in one shot adds more dramatic tension, and even dramatic irony to the story.
In the film Touch of Evil, Welles returns to his use of long take and deep focus after returning to Hollywood’s machinery, crewmembers and big budget capable of supporting his innovative formal characteristic. Before then, Welles made movies in Europe and had to resort to using short takes due to lack of money and very few European crews being capable of performing the long takes. Welles opens the film with a 3 minute 30 second single shot that starts with a close-up of a bomb being placed in the trunk of the car before it drives off.
Then the camera elevates and follows the occupants of the car, then follows the Vargas couple with the car returning to cross the US-Mexico border. Finally it ends with the Vargas couple kissing before the car explodes off screen. The use of the single long shot in this scene was effective in creating dramatic tension with the audience, showing Welles’ brilliance with timing and dramatic irony. The fact that the audience is expecting the bomb to go off at the different instances when the car stops at crossings and is near vendors, customs officials, and the Vargas couple builds anticipation for an explosion.
The car later explodes off screen giving the audience dramatic relief while at the same time robbing them of a visual explosion. Orson Welles’ use of long shot allows him to pack the screen with action and give the audience the illusion of freedom to follow what they want in a scene making the audience being more invested because they believe they found out the conflict on their own. Through this illusion he is able to add more dramatic tension and dramatic irony to his work making it rich in content and catharsis as he did in Citizen Kane and Touch of Evil.
Works Cited Bazin, Andre. Orson Welles: A Critical View. New York: Harper & Row, 1978. Print. Citizen Kane. Dir. Orson Welles. Perf. Orson Welles, Joseph Cotten, Dorothy Comingore. Released by RKO Radio Pictures, 1941. Riedlinger, Michael C. “Orson Welles -?? Painter. ” Senses of Cinema. 30 Dec. 2009. Web. 24 Apr. 2012. . Rosenbaum, Jonathan. Discovering Orson Welles. Berkeley: University of California, 2007. Print. Touch of Evil. Dir. Orson Welles. Perf. Orson Welles. Universal Pictures Co. , 1958.

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