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CITIZEN KANE
70th Anniversary
Ultimate Collector's Edition

Already acknowledged as the greatest film of all time, there is little I could possibly say about CITIZEN KANE ($65) that would make any sort of a difference. This monumental motion picture was the cinematic debut of Orson Welles, who at the age of 24 had already achieved an amazing level of notoriety on the stage and in radio. Given unprecedented control over his first feature film, Welles co-wrote, directed and starred in CITIZEN KANE, which many consider to be a thinly disguised biography of newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst. Although Welles and co-writer Herman J. Mankiewicz drew on the lives of a number of prominent individuals for inspiration for CITIZEN KANE, the fact that many believed the film was about William Randolph Hearst, including Hearst himself, and because the film painted its fictional title character in an unflattering light, lead to the newspaper tycoon’s attempt to destroy the film before it ever saw the light of day. When that attempt failed, Hearst applied pressure in all the right places to limit the film’s publicity and distribution.

At the time of its release, CITIZEN KANE was hailed by most critics, but not well received by the film going public, partly due to Hearst’s efforts and partly due to the experimental nature of the film. Welles and Mankiewicz fashioned CITIZEN KANE like a jigsaw puzzle, utilizing a non-linear storytelling technique, which was decades ahead of anything else coming out of any major Hollywood studio and something that could have been off putting to 1941’s audiences… who were steeped in the more traditional narrative form. Utilizing flashbacks, the life of recently deceased newspaper baron Charles Foster Kane (Orson Welles) takes shape a piece at a time, assembled from a reporter’s interviews of those individuals closest to Kane.

Only over the course of time, did movie fans come to recognize the brilliance of CITIZEN KANE. When one looks at CITIZEN KANE now, one can clearly see motion picture technique that is now commonplace, but in 1941 this was an stylistically and structurally experimental film. In addition, CITIZEN KANE also allowed Welles and cinematographer Gregg Toland to push the envelope of motion picture photography. Employing a deep focus technique throughout, CITIZEN KANE heightens its storytelling by keeping foreground, middle ground and background objects in all in focus at the same time. The cinematography also employed numerous low angle shots that enhanced the dramatic effect, and necessitated that ceilings or the visual equivalent be added to the soundstage upon which CITIZEN KANE was shot. There is also a wondrous interplay of light and shadow in the cinematography, where visual details are purposely hidden to tremendous effect. A number of inventive special effects shots are added to the mix, which also enhance the overall visual mastery of this timeless film.

Welles unprecedented control over CITIZEN KANE also allowed him to cast then relatively unknown members of his Mercury Theatre troupe, thus bringing a number of these famous faces to the screen for the very first time. Supporting Welles in front of the camera were the talents of Joseph Cotton, Dorothy Comingore, Agnes Moorehead, Ruth Warrick, Ray Collins, Erskine Sanford, Everett Sloane, William Alland, Paul Stewart and George Coulouris.

Warner Home Video has made CITIZEN KANE available on Blu-ray Disc in a 1.37:1 aspect ratio presentation that has been encoded onto the disc with the AVC codec. For this 1080p release of CITIZEN KANE original nitrate elements have been given a digital restoration/rejuvenation at 4K resolution to produce a stunningly filmic black and white master. Image sharpness, depth, clarity, texturing and fine detail are almost continually impressive. Some shots are purposely soft and contain visual warts, but the vast majority of CITIZEN KANE comes across as a visual revelation. I have never seen Gregg Toland deep focus cinematography look any more superb than it does in this presentation. Blacks are deep, dense and impenetrable. Whites are crisp and flawless. Grayscale is immaculate. CITIZEN KANE is a purposely-dark film and the contrast has not been given an artificial boost to try and bring detail out of the shadows. The elements from which CITIZEN KANE have been mastered appear wonderfully clean, although not perfectly flawless. Beautiful, beautiful film grain is ever-present in the image, which maintains the wonderful organic qualities of this top of the line, classic film presentation.

CITIZEN KANE is presented on Blu-ray Disc with a 1 channel DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack. For a film that have achieved its seventieth anniversary, I have to say the sound quality is appropriately spry, but it somewhat limited by the recording technology of the time. The lossless encode brings out the maximum fidelity of the vintage recordings, allowing one to fully appreciate the complexities of the sound design, which benefited from Welles’ experience in crafting radio dramas. CITIZEN KANE is a marvel of sound technique, which adds even more layers to Welles storytelling prowess. Bernard Herrmann’s Oscar Nominated score for CITIZEN KANE also benefits from the lossless encode, coming across with more clarity that it has in the past. Of course, the lossless encode also reveals some of the roughness and shrillness in the higher frequencies. It is not a big problem, but there are tiny distortions that one will notice at higher volume levels. Most signs of background hiss and other noises have been cleaned up in the mastering process, which leaves the track with a generally smooth quality. Dialogue is always crystal clear and easy to understand. Portuguese and Polish Dolby Digital monaural tracks are also encoded onto the disc. French, Spanish, Portuguese, Czech, Greek, Hungarian, Polish and Romanian.

The interactive menus allow one access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as the supplements, some of which have been ported over from previous DVD releases. Starting things off are two running Audio Commentaries included on the Blu-ray Disc; the first is with film critic Roger Ebert, who provides a thoughtful and somewhat entertaining discussion of the film that allows his admiration for CITIZEN KANE to shine through; the second commentary is with director Peter Bogdanovich, who was a friend to Orson Welles in the later years of his life. Bogdanovich takes a more scholarly approach in his discussion of CITIZEN KANE, but does also include personal recollections of Welles himself in the commentary.

Also included on disc one is newsreel footage of the New York premiere of CITIZEN KANE, plus a Theatrical Trailer. Next up are vintage Interviews: the first is with actress Ruth Warrick and the second is with the film’s editor Robert Wise. Other supplements are broken down into three sections The Production, Post Production and Production Notes. The Production is presented video fashion and includes Storyboards; Call Sheets and a Still Gallery, which features a narration by Roger Ebert. Post Production is also presented video fashion and includes Deleted Scenes, Ad Campaign, Press Book and Opening Night. It should be noted that the Deleted Scenes includes no actual footage, but still photographs and storyboards of deleted material.

Moving over to disc two, one will find a DVD edition of THE BATTLE OVER CITIZEN KANE- the set’s most interesting supplement. THE BATTLE OVER CITIZEN KANE is an almost two hour documentary was originally broadcast on PBS as part of their The American Experience television series. The film provides rather extensive biographies of both Orson Welles and William Randolph Hearts, as well documenting the unpleasantness that occurred during the production and release of CITIZEN KANE. THE BATTLE OVER CITIZEN KANE is an absolute "must see" for any fan of the film or its director/co-writer/star.

On disc three, one will find a DVD edition of RKO 281. RKO 281 is a 1999 HBO film that starred Liev Schreiber as Orson Welles, James Cromwell as William Randolph Hearst, Melanie Griffith as Marion Davies, John Malkovich as Herman Mankiewicz and Roy Scheider as RKO studio head George Schaefer. The film dramaticizes much of the material contained in THE BATTLE OVER CITIZEN KANE, but also takes a certain degree of license to fictionalize aspects of the story for dramatic purposes. While not a pure history lesson, RKO 281 is certainly good entertainment.

In addition to the video supplements, the set also features some print materials. There is a very nice forty eight-page Hardcover Book entitled Orson Welles Citizen Kane, which contains photos and production notes. Also included are a Reproduction Of The Opening Night Souvenir Program, plus Artwork Reproductions and Reproductions Of Studio Materials related to the production of CITIZEN KANE.

Unquestionably, CITIZEN KANE is one of the greatest masterpieces of the cinema. The Blu-ray presentation provides glorious video and very good audio, something certain to please just about every fan. Absolutely, positively recommended. 

CITIZEN KANE (70TH ANNIVERSARY ULTIMATE COLLECTOR'S EDITION) 


Citizen Kane (70th Anniversary Ultimate Collector's Edition) [Blu-ray] (1941)

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DVD & Blu-ray Disc reviews are Copyright 2011 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.


 

 

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