Telling a story through testimonials and flashbacks: A step to drama & realism


“On the opinion of prestigious critics, Citizen Kane is the best movie of the history of movies.” (Larousse, 2004)

Probably not all people agree with this opinion, but the truth is that Citizen Kane created an enormous controversy when filmed because it had a story behind. The story was related to the reporter William Randolph Hearst, and it held lots of problems because some said that this film was based on his life. Of course this fact would help in a great way for the movie’s success, so that’s why the story had to be told in such a way that could impact viewers. “When Herman Mankiewicz approached Welles with the idea of the story, Welles was concerned that the materials would be too sprawling, too unfocused” (Giannetti, 1996). That’s why he had an idea of how to present the information: telling the story through testimonials. Orson Welles tells the story from different points of view because he wanted the events of the film to be told through flashbacks, which made the movie more dramatic and realistic.

Telling Citizen’s Kane story through testimonials and flashbacks enriches the dramatic structure of the film, and gives the viewer the feeling of a more realistic story because it’s perceived with the idea that people who is telling it was involved directly on he story, and it turns out to be more believable. In one of the first parts of the movie, when Bernstein is telling a part of Kane’s story, he tells us how was the early days of the Inquirer and its development. It also tells us something very important for Kane: his first marriage to a woman called Emily Norton. Because of the newsreel at the beginning, where Kane’s life is presented briefly, we expect to know more details about their child, their breakup, and how was that he finally married another woman: Susan Alexander Kane. This part of the story, told by Bernstein, has a dramatic tone because although he present Kane’s good side, working hard to get to the top, with a great personality, he also presents him like a man who’s busy all time, who is not in home enough, and has problems with his wife. Of course Emily expresses her disagreement of the situation, and those little fights give this part of the story a great drama orientation. The fact that Bernstein was in those days a close collaborator of the Inquirer, and that Kane was his friend, makes it more realistic because people have the feeling of hearing true words from a man who was in closer contact with Mr. Kane, and that probably knew a lot of his life because they trusted each other.

In Walter P. Thatcher flashback, he tells Kane’s story since childhood to his financial decline, passing through his first years at the Inquirer, and his early relation with Bernstein and Leland. This turns out to be realistic because audience knows that Thatcher knew Kane since he was a little kid and tells the story about how he changed, and what he finally led him to his turn down. This part results to be dramatic, and it gives more impact to the story because it’s presented in such a way that you can see through Thatcher eyes how Kane was going down, but it also leaves you with the desire of knowing more about how exactly happened that he went down.

Almost the last flashback in the movie is the one of Kane’s second wife, Susan Alexander Kane, which probably tells the most important part of the movie because she presents Kane in a more human way (what normal may seem more realistic for most of the people), with all of his mistakes and bad sides. The way Susan presents herself as a Kane’s victim is very dramatic; she lets the audience know how lonely she was, the fact that she was not supported by her husband and that he only cared about himself because he was always too selfish to think about others. Realism is reflected when we see her in a terrible physical and mental state while she’s telling the story. She seems tired of life, she’s drown in alcohol and this helps us to believe what she’s in those conditions because she suffered a lot while living with Kane, and that’s the reason why she’s now in that dreadful state.

Orson Welles had the story, but it was necessary to think about a way of presenting it in a better way for increasing its impact; that finally led to the use of series of flashbacks and through testimonials from different people who knew the protagonist. Definitely this way of telling the story had a greater impact than telling it just by ordering events chronologically and letting the story happen, and this finally achieved was he was looking for: to make a movie that were dramatic and realistic at the same time.


  • Larousse, Edición. El Cine. España: Spes Editorial, 2004.
  • Gargin, Peter. Las 100 mejores películas. México: Alianza Editorial, 1993.
  • Arnheim, Rudolf. El cine como arte. España: Ediciones Paidós Ibérica, 1996.
  • Giannetti, Louis. Understanding movies. United Status of America: Prentice Hall, 1996.


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