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July 1995, Week 1


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Donald Larsson <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Mon, 3 Jul 1995 09:51:56 -0600
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Drew McElligott asks:
" On the topic of NON DIEGETIC IMAGES- I've always wondered if the white
parrot in Citizen Kane is diegetic or non-diegetic. It appears around the time
when Susan is leaving Kane and Xanadu. The bird really comes out of nowhere and
knowing that Orson Welles generally hates the use of symbols in his films, it's
been a mystery to me why he threw that in - my only guess is that the bird's
terrible squaking would wake any audience up.BUt the question remains, is this
a diegetic image or no?"
This is an interestingly ambiguous question.  The bird (a cockatiel or
cockatoo, actually) was indeed put in partly to startle the audience (a la
Haydn's "Surprise" Symphony) and as a variation on all those thunderclaps
and loud Herrmann chords that also announce scene changes.  But look at the
bird--and you can see through its eye!  This was apparently due to a printing
Now the bird itself is not unusual to think of as resident at Xanadu (sub-
tropical location and home of the "world's largest private zoo"), but the
image is arresting, ambiguous--and so quick on the screen that after it
startles, it remains disconcerting.
BTW, look at THE THIRD MAN for another encounter with a similar bird!
Speaking of CITIZEN KANE, there's also a nice, but very subtle, example
of background sound obscuring dialogue in one scene.  After Boss Gettys
tries to blackmail Kane into withdrawing from the election, Kane pursues
him down the stairs, screaming, "I'm going to send you to SING-SING, Gettys!
SING-SING!  SING- " (and the last syllable is replaced by the beep of a
car horn as Gettys closes the front door behind him on the way out).
Don Larsson, Mankato State U (MN)
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