Review by Michael Jacobson
Orson Welles, Joseph Cotten, Agnes Moorehead, Everett Sloane, Erskine
Sanford, Ruth Warrick, Dorothy Comingore, Ray Collins, George Coulouris, William
Alland, Paul Stewart
Director: Orson Welles
Audio: DTS HD Mono
Video: Full Frame 1.33:1
Studio: Warner Bros.
Features: See Review
Length: 119 Minutes
Release Date: September 13, 2011
could be said about it that hasn’t been said before?
Absolutely. A singular
American vision? No question.
A work of art? Inarguably.
greatest film of all time?
year old Orson Welles came to RKO Pictures with the most enviable contract in
movie studio history. He had
complete creative freedom to choose, write, direct, and star in any picture he
saw fit. That kind of creative
freedom had never been seen before, nor would it again.
that much freedom, Welles could succeed or fail completely on his own terms.
He made a bold choice for his first motion picture subject: yellow
journalist William Randolph Hearst, one of the most powerful media moguls of his
time or any time.
and friend Herman Mankiewicz had been a frequent guest at Hearst’s mansion of
San Simeon. He knew secrets about
the newspaper tycoon that few were privy to.
It became the basis for one of the greatest screenplays ever written.
not content with just brilliant writing, the experimental and bold Welles began
thinking outside the box during the filming of his movie.
He created some of moviedom’s most cinematically memorable shots, from
slow moving cranes that seemed to go up and up and up, deep focus shots that
showed greater dimension than ever before, mixing light and shadow for
expressive visuals, and most of all, using editing as a tool of storytelling.
In other words, he took a smattering of vocabulary, and turned it into
the language of cinema.
single scene has inspired as much discussion as the breakfast table scene
between Charles Foster Kane (Welles) and his first wife (Warrick).
Ten years of marriage are told in just a minute or so of screen time,
with a spiraling visual wipe cutting between each scene and two characters once
in love moving farther and farther apart behind this table.
Welles, whether he knew it or not, was beginning to shape film into an
art form that could tell volumes of stories with a few carefully crafted
cast was perfect, from himself and Ms. Warrick to Mercury Theatre veterans like
Joseph Cotten, Everett Sloan, Agnes Moorehead, along with newcomers like Dorothy
Comingore. They peopled Kane with
the characters that would tell the story of a once great man who lost nearly
everything. Welles’ story would
be deliberately non-linear. It
would begin with the death of the title character, and the story would therefore
not be told from his point of view, but from the point of view of those who knew
Welles’ genius would not be appreciated.
Making a viable enemy in Hearst, the angry tycoon did everything in his
power to stop Citizen Kane. RKO
was actually offered back their entire production cost to simply burn the
negative…imagine! Kane would
see light of day, but the backlash was already set up. It went largely ignored, and was booed at the Academy Awards,
where it picked up on a single award (for screenplay).
career would never recover. Starting
with his next picture, The Magnificent Ambersons, the studio reserved
(and exercised) the right to re-cut his movies. Some of Welles’ original footage from that masterpiece was
removed, never to be seen again. Over
the course of his life, he would get recognition for what he created with Kane,
but never another legitimate chance to be the iconoclastic auteur he once
was. It was as though he made the
greatest movie of all time, and was never forgiven for it.
Did I say greatest movie of all time? Yes, I guess I did. No picture has been as influential or has inspired as many filmmaking careers as Citizen Kane. Without it, there might not have ever been a Martin Scorsese, a Brian De Palma, an Alfred Hitchcock or a Stanley Kubrick.
struggle as a moviemaker might have been seen as a failure in every way but one:
Citizen Kane came through uncut, unharmed, and completely intact
to serve as an indelible artistic landmark on the medium of motion pictures.
is indeed the greatest film of all time.
Blu-ray will set a new standard for classic film transfers.
My last home video copy of Kane was the 50th
anniversary edition, which I thought looked quite good.
I had no idea. This new
digital transfer is flawless…cleaner and brighter than just any black and
white film I have on disc. There
are no marks or scars anywhere (save the purposeful ones used during the “News
on the March” sequence”), and the contrast is sharp, detailed and pristine
without a hint of grain, shimmer, or contrast.
Blacks are deep and pure, whites are bright and clean.
The detail level is so good, I noticed aspects of images that I’d never
seen before in my countless viewings of the film. In the scene where Thompson interviews Mr. Bernstein, for
example, you can see rain in the far window.
Not only that, you can see the reflection of the rain in a small pattern
on his desktop. The deep focus
shots made famous by Welles and cinematographer Gregg Tolland are more revealing
than ever. Every fan of this movie
will want to stand up and cheer this most laudable of efforts!
may be the highest mark I’ve ever given a one-channel mono mix, but this
uncompressed soundtrack deserves it. Sound was
crucial to Kane, and this newly remastered track captures it perfectly,
from Bernard Herrmann’s remarkable score to the subtle background sound
effects that comment on certain scenes, to the loud, echoing interiors of Xanadu
and the Chicago Opera House. This
track is dynamic, clean, and free of noise…a perfect accompaniment to the
are two commentary tracks: the one by critic Roger Ebert is overflowing with
information, and makes for a good studious companion to the film.
Director and biographer Peter Bogdanovich provides a more relaxed, paced
commentary that’s a little less informative, but still for fans, a worthwhile
listen. The first disc also
includes the trailer (one of the all time great ones), a short premiere newsreel
clip, production notes, ad gallery, photo montage (with Ebert commentary),
studio correspondence, call sheets, and storyboards.
These aren’t designed to be flipped through at your leisure,
unfortunately…you basically have to watch them go by at the disc’s chosen
speed. Keep an eye out for a couple
of nice Easter eggs, too: interview
clips with star Ruth Warrick and editor Robert Wise.
Disc two is the documentary feature The Battle Over Citizen Kane. It’s exactly the same as the previous DVD release, and is a nice addition. For our full length review of it, click here. And the third disc contains the HBO film RKO 281, also a DVD, and a terrific retelling of the story of the making of the movie and the beginnings of the unmaking of Orson Welles
The anniversary package also includes some wonderful collectibles, including:
10 Reproductions of Studio Memos and Correspondence
20-Page 1941 Souvenir Program Reproduction
48-Page Book with Photos, Storyboards and Behind-the-Scenes Info
5 One-Sheet/Lobby-Card Reproductions
All in all, one terrific package!
Citizen Kane stands alone. No other film has been more influential, more imitated, more studied and more admired, even 70 years after its initial release. Orson Welles may have never reaped the benefits of his ingenious singular vision, but movie fans have, and continue to do so. This is a landmark film with an amazing transfer and terrific package of extras. This is what Blu-ray is all about, friends. It doesn’t get any better than this.