Citizen Kane (DVD, 2002, 3-Disc Set, Gold Edition Box Set; Includes RKO 281) Reviews
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Citizen Kane (DVD, 2002, 3-Disc Set, Gold Edition Box Set; Includes RKO 281)

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Greatest Film of All: Citizen Kane (No SPOILERS)

Jul 2, 2012 (Updated Jul 2, 2012)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Technical innovations, script, performances, direction, music, cinematography

Cons:none

The Bottom Line: No Spoiler review of the DVD presentation of the Greatest Film: Citizen Kane


There are some who remain skeptical Citizen Kane is the greatest film ever made.  It does not matter except that disagreements in opinion in whole or in degrees make life a lot more interesting.  And Kane certainly made the movies a lot more interesting. 

Kane’s use of some remarkable technical innovations and experimental techniques (that have since been widely-used) won’t impress those who insist the film is un-involving, dated, stilted and boring.  Whether such opinion is genuine or a knee-jerk reaction to its stellar reputation also doesn’t matter. 

You are definitely missing something if you aren’t able to enjoy Citizen Kane.  And by enjoy…I don't mean just appreciate it's incredible innovations in terms of cinematography, editing, lighting and more.  I mean being entertained by how it presents its fascinating characters to tell the entire story of a man’s life.  I have found it to be exciting funny, (satiric), tragic, exciting, romantic and rooted with sharp observations regarding human behaviors, faults and more.  It's so far from being dull to me, I can only vaguely understand such opinions of the film.  I can see of course how some appreciation and perspective of older films is necessary, but for me and many others, calling Kane dull is akin to dismissing Shakespeare because it’s difficult to understand and too theatrical.

Cinematographer Greg Toland's beautiful use of light and shadow and photographic genius is usually not disputed.  And the more you know about how innovative some of the shots were and what lengths it took to accomplish them, you'll appreciate the effort even more.

Citizen Kane examines the fictional life-story of Charles Foster Kane.  It all starts with a quest to find out the significance of the last word Kane uttered as he died -- Rosebud.    Remarkably most of the techniques used and its use of obvious and more subtle symbolism sill work.  In fact the KANE is constructed not unlike some massive reality television specials that might be called… The Unauthorized Biography of Charles Foster Kane. Of course it would be those reality television specials that are poorly mimicking some of the ideas and structures of Citizen Kane and not the other way around.  For me, I can still get passionate and even emotional about Kane’s innovative use of various camera angles, dissolves, an actor’s look, a line of dialogue, a pause.  Few films truly deserve being called a masterpiece, but for Kane, masterpiece doesn’t seem adequate. I don’t mean to suggest it’s absolutely perfect in each and every detail—there are certainly a few gaffes to be found if you look hard enough—but they are minor. 

The DVD package (and it’s newer expanded version)is a wonderful way to see this classic. 

You do have to believe that someone over-heard Kane saying Rosebud of course in that famous first scene, with that famous shot of the snow globe where he whispers loudly "Rosebud".  A word that starts the film moving backward to uncover the mystery and meaning of not just that word but of the man's strange and wonderful life.  A fictional life with many paralells to the real life William Randolph Hearst (more powerful, influential and feared in his day than Rupert Murdoch ever was). 

 And you might be interested to know that Rosebud was supposedly William Randolph Hearst's actual nickname for a certain … uh… special body part, of his mistress. A very specific … oh never mind.  It's no wonder Hearst was furious with Welles and went on a obsessive campaign to destroy the film and ruin Orson Welles' career.  That story is detailed on this DVD's second disc with the PBS produced documentary.  And is it factual or urban legend?  Doesn’t matter…really---it’s a great story. 

One of the most enjoyable reviews of Kane I’ve ever read is right here at Epinions by Alex.  I’ve even avoided submitting my own review of Kane because I don’t really have a lot to add to what he has already written about the film with a wonderfully passionate style as well.

Please make sure you read his review:   ALEX’S CITIZEN KANE REVIEW

Rather than discuss any more of the film, I’ll concentrate on the DVD  features.  Kane is superbly analyzed and discussed by Alex.

I will mention the once in a lifetime cast that includes: Orson Welles, Joseph Cotton, Dorothy Comingore, Agnes Moorehead, George Coulouris, Ruth Warrick, Ray Collins, Erskine Sanford, Alan Ladd, , Paul Stewart.

It was written by  Orson Welles and Herman J. Mankiewicz (and John Houseman)

It was produced by Orson Welles (and Houseman); Directed by Welles  with a memorable score by Bernard Herrman.

DVD IMAGE AND SOUND

This refers to the special 2 disc edition originally released on September 25th, 2001.  Subsequent editions have been released that have included all of the special features discussed below.  There’s even a more expansive package available.

It's a pity that most will not see KANE on a large screen with a a few hundred people in the audience.  We give a movie more focus and attention when we see it in a theater and tend to be slightly more involved and less passive about our viewing.  We can’t pause it, answer a phone call, interrupt its intended flow by a craving for a cookie.  As well regarded and genuinely well preserved you might believe the film has been, it's doubtful you've ever seen the film so crisp, clear and without serious defects as you will on this DVD.  A very unique fine-grain master was found with which to begin the transfer process.  That means that even when the film shows us the darkest of its shadows we can still make out details--details you may not have ever seen before.  Details that perhaps only audiences back in the 1940's at the best movie palaces had ever seen before -- Details that are to be savored and enjoyed.  

It is presented of course in full frame. That is how it was made to be seen.  You'll  see a hint of edge enhancement in a few places, but it is kept to a minimum.  It is the black levels that have been finely tuned adjusted to perfection that gives the film the look it is supposed to have.  Not an overly processed look, but one which creates one of the warmest black and white films you’ll ever see.

The audio is Dolby Digital 1.0.  Rather than artificially enhance and try to remix the soundtrack it was merely cleaned up and presented as clean and crisp as possible.  It might have been nice to have heard a stereo version of Bernard Herrman's magnificent score, but it would seem utterly un-natural to long time fans of the film.  So the decision to keep things simple, and merely make sure the soundtrack was clean and free from distortion was a very good one indeed.  It might not be anything to get excited about, but kudos to the long hours devoted by the technicians in giving us such a clean and nearly flawless soundtrack to accompany this masterpiece.  Few will acknowledge the fairly subtle addition a near flawless but 1.0  soundtrack makes to the film, but it's actually substantial.

DVD EXTRAS

On Disc 1 you'll find several extra features including the two feature length commentaries—

There is a 1-minute newsreel clip showing Orson Welles and Dolores Del Rio arriving at the New York City Premiere of Citizen Kane.

There is also the film's original theatrical trailer which has not been restores and while in decent shape is well worn.

There is a generous selection of stills which are automated but can be paused if desired.  You will fine three subsections within THE PRODUCTION.  These include storyboards, call sheets (which are very difficult to read ) and still gallery. The still gallery contains additional commentary from Roger Ebert. If you hold the last frame of the still gallery you will discover that Ebert's commentary continues past the actual stills. 

THE POST PRODUCTION section has four subsections including Deleted Scenes which offers photos, sketches and storyboards that show scenes which did not make the final cut of the film or were abandoned even before they were shot.  The Ad Campaign shows the various marketing art used for Citizen Kane.  Press Book has shots of the original souvenir book handed out at the New York Premier of the film.  Opening Night has photos from the New York Premiere.

All of the still galleries have extensive notes and descriptions of the photos.  This is far more extensive than most still gallery type features on DVD's.  While it is not quite the same as an additional documentary it contains perhaps an hour or more worth of material to go through… even longer if you stop and study what you are being shown.

The Production Notes section are divided into different categories and are quite extensive as well.  They include:  'In the Beginning' , 'On the Set' ,  'Postscripts', and ' Awards and Honors'.

There are two somewhat hidden interviews on the DVD.  If you highlight the sled on the features menu you will be treated to a 5 minute interview with Ruth Warrick who played Emily Norton Kane.  She talks about being a first-time actress, working with Orson Welles and how the film was shot under strict security so no one would know exactly what was being shot or how it was all going to be put together when it was finished.

The second  hidden feature (Easter Egg) is on the last page of the second section of the production notes.  It's another sled and clicking on it will give you a brief 3 minute interview with director Robert Wise. Wise was the editor on Citizen Kane and he tells the story about meeting Welles for the first and one of the first screenings of the film for very nervous executives and lawyers

On Disc 2  you will find the full length documentary The Battle Over Citizen Kane which was originally aired on P.B.S.'s American Experience Program.  It is exactly the same documentary that has been previously available on it's own on DVD and home video.  I'm glad to see it as part of this special edition where it belongs.

It tells the backgrounds of both William Randolph Hearst and Orson Welles.  How their paths crossed, how the two men clashed and how Hearst became obsessed with stopping Kane and destroying Welles' career.  Kane bombed at the box-office but was then nominated for 9 Oscars, however it won only one and afterwards RKO withdrew the film from the market and put it in it's vault for several years.  Hearst's campaign to ruin the film and Welles was pretty effective but he also hurt his own career and reputation in the process.

There is a lot to the story and you probably don't know all of it.  The documentary is on the dry side telling the story through the expected archival photographs, clips and interviews.  However, the story and the people involved are nothing short of remarkable.  Anyone with an interest in older films, Welles, Kane, etc will consider this a must-see documentary.

The visuals are nothing extraordinary but over all the presentation is clean and free from any major flaws or defects.   The Audio is Dolby Digital 2.0 and is nothing outstanding but is more then adequate for the material and free from defects.

COMMENTARY TRACKS ON DISC 1:

There are two valuable and interesting feature length commentary tracks.  

The first is from film director and Welles' biographer Peter Bogdanovich (The Last Picture Show, Paper Moon and the under-rated Saint Jack).  Bogdanovich's comments are both screen specific when he makes mention of some of the (more obvious) technical achievements in the films and analyzes the storyline.  He occassionally will relate personal stories about Welles and conversations he has had with Orson about the film.  He will also mention stories involving John Ford, Welles and others as well.  Bogdanovich mentions that Kane is not even his favorite Welle's films.

Roger Ebert's feature length commentary is even more interesting, informative and more passionately presented then Bogdanovich.  He at times repeats some of the same information that Bogdanovich has mentioned but when he does there is even more specific information being shared. Ebert sepdns a lot of time talking about the innovative cinematography (deep focus photography), editing, the special optical effects used to create the imagery in the film and the lighting.  He goes into some detail about the symbolism used throughout the film and how the film was actually very low budget.   Almost all of Ebert's facts are accurate and it's clear he is very passionate about the film.

If you are not quite sure why this film is held in such high regard by so many historians, film buffs, fans, and critics, Eberts commentary will explain it all for you in a very interesting, informative and entertaining manner.   You may find it hard to believe how much there is to the film and how much talent Welles and his Kane colloborators brought to the film.

FINAL WORD:

The final word?  Citizen Kane is a masterpiece and this DVD celebrates that by showing off the film at it's very best.  The extra's allow those who have not read several books, or seen documentaries about the film on Hearst and Welles to 'catch-up' with critics and film-buffs.

Copyright© Christopher J. Jarmick 2012.


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