This can be seen in one way in a film like Contempt, where the subject matter is filmmaking itself, allowing for the intrusion of the filmmaker into the film in a very self-referential way.
William W. Demastes discusses dramatic realism and finds that it lies most specifically in the area of motivations:
To break with the rules of reality is to create something other than realism. When melodrama transforms a villain into a reformed penitent without sufficient preparation, it has broken accepted rules of psychological credibility. When a letter magically arrives exactly when the plot requires it -- to save the farm at the last moment -- temporal credibility is shattered for most of us. We usually deride poetry from the mouths of dock workers. When sudden confessions of love resolve apparently irreconcilable conflicts, we usually call it romantic comedy and write it off as unrealistic. And when an innocent suddenly dies, we want a reason. In fact, for all of the above, we need reasons, which must themselves satisfy our rules of reality (Demastes xi).
The entire film of Citizen Kane embodies this need for realism on this level, with the unidentified reporter seeking the motivation for Kane's entire life. The film thus embodies the psychological need for an explanation for human behavior as well as the American view that such an answer is to be found in the real world more than in imagined psychological states, and the "solution" to the quest is characteristically an object, a real and tangible object that may explain everything about Kane to those who can see it for what it is.
While Welles uses a variety of non-linear methods and expressionistic choices to tell the story, it is always given a sense of reality through the photography of Gregg Toland. David Thomson describes the style as such that "Toland could deliver a new degree of realism allied to all those brooding feelings that accompany low-key, or very contrasty photography. He could do something that was unique to Kane in 1941 - make us believe we are seeing the entire world while feeling the anxieties and hopes of the inner mind" (Thomson 160-161).
Welles knew how to create or enhance drama visually through sets, props, clothing, posture, and other visual elements, and he used these and other elements to good effect to convey much information in one shot or a series of shots, often without dialogue. When the two workmen on the catwalk comment on Susan's performance as one holds his nose, this says more about her singing than pages of dialogue would. The podium and huge poster of Kane at the political rally tells us more about Kane and his ambitions and his ego than anyone could tell us in words. Welles disposes of any sense of a continuing honeymoon in Kane's first marriage in a series of quick scenes at breakfasts spread over several weeks as the couple grows more and more distant until they do not speak at all.
Welles also made good use of sound in this film, an aspect of filmmaking that is often not given as much attention as it should be. We know what we see better than we know what we hear. When a filmmaker puts together different visual elements, we can pick them out, but picking out the different aural elements can be much more difficult. Welles understood sound very well, having worked with sound as his primary mode of expression in radio. Most of the sound in Citizen Kane was recorded as the production track, as opposed to looping dialogue later, which Welles would use extensively in later films. Welles mixed sound "live" rather than doing so in post-production, and Carringer cites the scene of the party in the newspaper office as a prime example:
This sequence involves the use of a multitude of sound sources or diverse quality, levels, and placement -- solo lyrics, a chorus line joining in for the refrain, a marching band, a blast of trumpets, a crowded background, and the individual voices of Kane, Bernstein, and Leland... This sequence is every bit as impressive a piece of sound work as it is for its mise-en-scPne and cinematography (Carringer 104).
Sound is used impressively throughout the film, and in other sequences he does use dubbing and adding sound to improve what was shot, adding sound to sequences which would have been difficult or impossible to record live:
The final sequence in the Great Hall provides an example. A tremendous sense of space is absolutely essential to the dramatic concept of the scene. Overhead microphones would have seriously inhibited the camera's movements and range. The entire sequence as shot silent, much of it in long shot, and the actors recorded their dialogue in postproduction (Carringer 105).
Of course, this was facilitated by the fact that no faces could be seen, but the process could be used in other instances as well.
Citizen Kane still seems fresh and interesting today. While many of the elements of the film have been imitated, the unity of structure, theme, and cinematic elements makes the world of Citizen Kane what should be achieved by every great film -- it is a world that can exist only on film and only in this form. Any change would make this into a different film, to its detriment. In many ways, the structure of Citizen Kane showed filmmakers that the audience could understand even complex material and transitions verging widely over time and space, contributing to later films that also did not assume that the audience could only understand if everything were kept simple and if no surprises were included. The story is firmly ground in reality and explores the inner states of real human beings in an image of the world of the time.
Carringer, Robert L. The Making of Citizen Kane. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985.
Demastes, William W. Realism and the American Dramatic Tradition. Tuscaloosa, Alabama: University of Alabama Press, 1996.
Ebert, Roger. "Citizen Kane." The Great Movies (2005). http://www.suntimes.com/ebert/greatmovies/kane.html.
The Power and the Glory." TV Guide Online - Movie Database. http://www.tvguide.com/movies/database/ShowMovie.asp?MI=10992.
Thompson, Kristin and David Bordwell. Film Art: an Introduction. Reading, Massachusetts: Addison-Wesley, 1979.
Thomson, David. Rosebud: The Story of Orson Welles. New York: Vintage, 1997.