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  • From the Opening Sequence of Citizen Kane to the Final Shot of The Birds:A Filmic Microanalysis of Three Painted Scenes
  • Dario Lanza Vidal (bio)


this article aims to highlight the importance of matte painting in cinematographic construction and to emphasize the analytical value of these pieces of artwork. To this end, three painted scenes were chosen and subjected to a multifaceted analysis that underlines their contribution as pictorial creations, their role in landscape painting tradition, and their function as an element of filmmaking construction, within a set film model, while providing evidence for the unique ways in which this technique connects film and painting.


Filmic microanalysis—that is, the study of certain filmic elements as a means of achieving the compression of a cinematographic piece in its totality—is an extraordinarily useful tool for highlighting the importance of certain aspects that routinely escape analysis in other ways. It proposes to draw attention to certain "small fragments, micro-sequences that can be scrutinised under the analytical microscope in order to observe the condensation of the lines of force that make up the film from which they are extracted" (Zunzunegui, Closer Look 9). Taking the essence of this proposal, this study aims to perform a microanalysis of three scenes, all well-known, and submit them to a "moving away" examination, going from detail to a general view. The examples were chosen for their single common characteristic: they involved, without the viewer's knowledge, painted scenery. They all provide examples of the manufacture of filmic images through pictures, a mechanism known as matte painting, a typical resource in cinematographic construction but one that has received little analytical attention. Matte painting is both a show of filmmaking trickery and an example of special effects, and it is traditionally linked to other special effects such as pyrotechnics, animatronics, and fluid simulation. However, due to the particular nature of this resource, located somewhere between cinematographic and pictorial, it offers a wealth of interpretation considerably superior to that of the other special effects to which it is often linked. This article aims to investigate in detail whether or not a painted scene has its own analytical value that would enable it to be studied through the prisms of both pictorial representation and cinematographic narration. That is to say, the intent is to discover whether the painted scene has a multifaceted analytical value precisely due to its hybrid nature, a condition of being neither one nor the other, which so far has held it back from specialized research.

The scenes chosen for this in-depth analysis are from the films Citizen Kane (Orson Welles, 1941), Spartacus (Stanley Kubrick, 1960), and The Birds (Alfred Hitchcock, 1963). Of course, [End Page 33] the nature of the study means that any selection of works is necessarily incomplete, and another catalogue could have been chosen that would have been equally valid. However, these films were chosen in an attempt at a sufficiently diverse selection that would allow this article to examine different approaches to this particular phenomenon of painted scenes, essential and omnipresent in the history of film. The author's interest in undertaking this study has its roots precisely in the aforementioned scarcity of analytical research into this unique element of cinematographic construction and in the role—tertiary, rather than secondary—that pictorial representation has traditionally occupied in film studies.


The objective of this work, a method for analyzing painted scenes, means that the shots must be observed from a perspective that will inherently be multifaceted. For this, it is particularly pertinent to apply a method based on the positions of Panofsky, who suggested beginning any analysis of a visual work with the description of its formal characteristics—its format, tonal palette, represented motives, and technique—before going on to elevate one's scrutiny to an iconographic level. This involves highlighting the importance of the meanings implicit in representation and interpreting the codes mobilized by the author in his or her communicative act. It is then necessary to move on to an iconological level, in order to relate the work to its narrative, historic, or cultural context.

Using Panofsky's proposal as a vehicle for this study...


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pp. 33-47
Launched on MUSE
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