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CITIZEN KANE (2 disc set): DVD

SYNOPSIS: 
Charles Foster Kane (Orson Welles) inherited a fortune as a kid and grew up to be a wealthy media baron in the early 20th century, but he was a paradox of a man, full of contradictions, admired by some, hated by many. On his death, a newspaper reporter is sent to find out what he was really like, by interviewing anyone who knew Kane, including his now alcoholic mistress and his old friend and employee Jed Leland (Joseph Cotten). He is also instructed to find out what Kane’s dying word, ‘rosebud’ might have meant.


Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Beautifully remastered and transferred, Citizen Kane looks and sounds superb on DVD, after a three year restoration effort using the highest quality elements available and the latest digital tools. Warner Bros claims it looks even better than it did in the original theatrical release 60 years ago – which is entirely possible. As for the film itself, wigs and make up look a little dated, but the film is still extraordinarily compelling, partly because it’s a character study of a larger than life, enigmatic man who is portrayed as a complex and troubled soul, a man with all the money and power he could want, but without feeling truly loved. His search for love begins the moment he feels he loses it – when he is sent off by his mother while still a kid, one snowbound day, to go East, leaving behind the small property which happens to sit on a goldmine. It makes him rich yet leaves him poor. 

The film traces Kane’s life in flashbacks, first as the rakish newspaper publisher who creates what is now called tabloid journalism, a political aspirant and finally a lonely and bitter old man. It doesn’t exactly glorify Kane – and William Randolph Hearst, the real media magnate who felt the film was a vicious and slanderous version of his own life, tried to destroy the film and Welles. See the lengthy dodco on Disc 2 for the feature length documentary about this mighty battle. It provides all the information you could want, with interviews that include Welles, the film’s stars and associates of both Hearst and Welles. 

Many regard Citizen Kane as perhaps the greatest film ever made, and do so for a host of reasons, not the least the many pioneering creative achievements in the language of cinema at the time. (eg the use of cloth ceilings so the camera could take low positions; the use of deep focus to keep foreground and background in focus at the same time). At the risk of committing cinematic heresy, I am bound to voice my doubts about this work representing the pinnacle of filmmaking, as many believe (it ranks No 1 on the American Film Institute’s list). That doesn’t mean I think the film is weak, and it certainly ranks with the greatest films of all time. 

If you listen to one of the two commentary tracks, the one by Peter Bogdanovich, one of the first things you’ll hear is about the film’s pioneering approach. The point I’m making is that the film is regarded as a work of genius (which it might be) because it took filmmaking language and ritual into new terrain. In 1941, Welles did things that were considered wildly creative. They were. At the time. I think lovers of cinema are wound up in the romantic legend of Orson Welles’ debut feature, its controversy and its iconoclastic approach. Bogdanovich is Welles’ biographer. His view is personal and cinematic.

With Roger Ebert, we are shown a different slant, a profoundly informed movie consumer whose intimate knowledge of Hollywood overall drives his commentary. They are perfectly complementary, and no self respecting film enthusiast could fail to be thrilled.

What this DVD enables us to do, then, is to explore the film in great depth, along with its socio-historic context, and its romantic position in the movie world’s hall of fame.

Remember, Welles made the cover of Time when he was 23. An artist.

The legend has grown: the battle that engulfed Welles, when Hearst erupted over the film, and the subsequent idolisation of the subject has its roots in the primal power struggle. The two hour doco – looking and sounding a tad dated now – nonetheless explains why the film has earned its place in history. Citizen Kane rocked not only the most powerful men in America, the row echoed its subject matter. “This is the story of two outsized Americans,” intones the narration, “proud, gifted and destructive…geniuses, each in his way. They were men who’d grabbed for power, and achieved it . . . The fight that ruined them both, was thoroughly in character.” 

And of course, neither Welles nor Hearst are simple; they were conflicted, self-contradictory, good and bad, black and white….and this complexity is part of the screenplay’s success. So is the appeal of the expansive disc 2, which includes footage of a 1982 interview with Welles, which is revealing in a surprisingly personal way. But there is much more to this doco: a whole historic perspective, as well as a range of sidebar stories that builds the compelxity of the backdrop to Citizen Kane.

You won’t need me to tell you where this DVD belongs; you either have to have it or you wouldn’t be reading this.

Published September 4, 2003

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CITIZEN KANE (2 disc set): DVD (G)
(US) - 1941

CAST: Orson Welles, Joseph Cotton, Dorothy Comingore, Everett Sloane, George Coulouris, Agnes Moorehead, Ruth Warrick, Paul Stewart

DIRECTOR: Orson Welles

SCRIPT: Orson Welles

RUNNING TIME: 119 minutes

PRESENTATION: 1.37:1

SPECIAL FEATURES: Disc 1: audio commentary by Peter Bogdanovich; audio commentary by Roger Ebert; 1941 New York premiere newsreel; storyboards, production photos, memorabilia; theatrical trailer. Disc 2: The Battle Over Citizen Kane

DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Warner Home Video

DVD RELEASE: September 10, 2003







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