Citizen Kane: Special Edition

January 28, 2012 13 Min Read

Review by: Matt Brighton

Plot: What’s it about?

Ok, well…let’s see here. What in the world can I say about this movie that thousands of other people out there haven’t already said? Let’s let the facts speak for themselves. The American Film Institute has ranked this movie as their number one choice. Yes, it’s “The Best Movie Ever Made” according to the experts. And who am I to disagree? Citizen Kane has been analyzed, scrutinized and downright examined frame by frame. And until very recently, I had never seen it. Yes, that’s right. One of the advents of DVD is the restoration of older, classic movies. Being a reviewer, I am seeing myself opened up to movies that I would have never thought of watching,much less reviewing. I suppose it’s fitting to say that the closest I came to this movie was when I reviewed RKO 281. In this version, it’s a look at what a struggle it was just to get Citizen Kane made. Even at the time (1941), it was causing controversy and everyone knew it. You see, even though Orson Welles denied it, the film was loosely-based on media giant, William Randolph Hearst. Hearts’ publications are still around today, and I’d be lying if I said his “empire” wasn’t as strong as it ever was. No matter who you are, you just can’t attack a public figure like that and not ruffle some feathers.

I’m assuming that there are others out there like me, who have never had the chance to see this movie. Well, I’ve had plenty of chances, but have never had much of an interest in sitting down and watching a movie from the 1940’s…I’m just too used to the fast-paced action thrillers and slapstick comedies of today. But it’s nice to see how well-made movies indeed so stand the test of time and how much crap really is out there today. I suppose I’ll try and give an overview of the plot, though I’ve talked to some people who could write books about this movie (and wouldn’t you know it, film director and Welles biographer, Peter Bogdanovich has his own commentary track on the disc–we’ll get to that later). Unlike most movies, Citizen Kane starts from the “end”. We see the house of Xanadu where Kane has secluded himself in his old age. Much like that one word that became famous in “The Graduate” (By the way, it was “Plastics”); we hear that infamous last word of Kane. “Rosebud”. Personally, I think that this is highly overrated. I think that too much emphasis has been placed on this last word as it really has nothing to do with the story. Granted, that’s just my opinion and I’ve only seen the film three times so far (once as a viewing and two more times while listening to the commentaries). So I could be (and probably am) wrong in my early assumption

The early part of the film flows like a newsreel, in fact, that’s what it is. The film about the rise and eventual fall of media tycoon, Citizen Kane. We are introduced to him as he dies, but the film takes us back and shows us his rise to power. I fear that I’ll embarrass myself if I try to hard to analyze this film, so I think I’ll just stop here. Maybe after I view it a few more times, I’ll come back and amend this review. I will say this, though. Citizen Kane may or may not be your cup of tea, but if you’re interested in film of any sort, it’s almost critical that you go and watch this film a few times. The numbers don’t lie, friends, this movie is the number one movie of all time (and it even has a little sticker on the front to let you know). And while that may not go without saying, it has attained that paramount for a reason. See this film.

Video: How does it look?

I’ve seen films from this era on DVD and on cable for years now and they all seem to look alike. That fuzzy picture with dirt and scratches on the frame. It makes us appreciate how good the movies of today look. As I watched one of Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpieces, North by Northwest, last year, I was taken back at how good that a movie this old looked. It didn’t seem right, but who was I to complain. The same people responsible for the restoration effort on that DVD have once again been called for Citizen Kane (can you say “Pressure”). I have to say that it takes more and more to impress me these days, but even for a film that’s 60 years old, this looks absolutely superb! Citizen Kane was shot in full frame (1.37:1 aspect ratio) and though it doesn’t benefit from anamorphic enhancement, the picture is simply astounding. I looked and looked for some sort of artifacting, scratches or any other error, but could find none. There are some scenes in the movie that look old and worn, but that’s the way they were supposed to. Word has it that they even dragged some of the film across the ground to get that scratched “newsreel” feel to it. If that’s not dedication to a project, I don’t know what is!

Among the other things that Citizen Kane is famous for, it’s how the picture looks. Even today, we associate an “Wellesian” camera angle as one that is shot from the ground up. They even went to lengths of digging holes in the ground so they could get the camera below ground level. What does this all have to do with the video? Not a whole lot, but I found it interesting. Suffice it to say that Citizen Kane has never looked better and I find it incomprehensible that it can look much better that it does right now. So I do have one question? Why are the people responsible for this and North by Northwest not in charge of doing every important film out there?

Audio: How does it sound?

While most movies, regardless of age, are “remixed for 5.1”, sometimes it’s best to have the original mix. Obviously a movie made in 1941 will have mono sound and that’s what you get here. I have five speakers and a subwoofer, but when you’re so engrossed in a film, you often forget about bullets whizzing by and just concentrate on the plot and what the characters are actually saying. Such is the case with Citizen Kane. Presented in new digital sound, it’s still mono. And, let’s face it, there’s only so much mono can do. I will say that for a film of this age, the sound is surprisingly clean and clear. There are some moments where some “hissing” can be heard, but you tend to overlook those and just accept that this is how the film should be heard.

Supplements: What are the extras?

As if owning the movie and having it look marvelous isn’t enough, we are treated to a Two-Disc Special Edition of this all-time classic. The first disc contains the movie and not one, but two commentaries. The first is by noted film critic Roger Ebert. And Ebert, who is an avid fan of DVD, has laid down tracks for some other movies as well. I figure if anyone knows about Orson Welles and Citizen Kane, it’s Roger Ebert and Peter Bogdanovich (who comments on the discs’ second track). Right off the bat, I was interested in Ebert’s commentary. He’s seen the films an unquestionable amount of times and is familiar with most every frame of it. Even his little observations are interesting. Such as in the first few minutes of the movie, he remarks that the light in the Xanadu house is always in the same place on the screen. And it sure is. Little things like that make the movie all the more interesting and fun to watch. And it’s a lot more fun to watch when you have experts talking throughout the movie. The second track is by Welles biographer and director (The Last Picture Show), Peter Bogdanovich. Bogdanovich’s commentary isn’t as interesting as Ebert’s, as he just notes what is happening on screen. It’s interesting though, and he does know his stuff. But if you were to listen to only one track, choose Roger Ebert’s. Also included on the first disc are some little goodies. You’ll notice a little sled on the screen and while I won’t divulge it’s meaning, click on it and you’re in for a treat. The original newsreel footage of the film’s 1941 premier is also included as is the theatrical trailer hosted by Welles himself. I liked the trailer as he took the time to introduce members of the cast and made little comments like “You’ll be seeing more of her, that’s for sure”. Unlike his character in the movie, Welles seemed excited about the project and it shows in this trailer. Some still galleries are included, narrated by Roger Ebert as well. I think they move a bit too fast, but that’s just me. Have a remote handy. Some production notes, cast bios and a bit of DVD-ROM material round out the first disc.

The second disc contains the two hour documentary on the movie, “The Battle Over Citizen Kane”. This appeared on TV a few years back, but it seemed a no-brainer to include this with the set. The documentary pretty much covers it all, but one thing I would have liked to see is RKO 281 included or maybe as a third disc in the set. But that’s just me. I can say that this is worth the price. Warner has outdone themselves once again and it’s with the best movie ever made. Run, don’t walk, to pick this up. Even if you don’t like it, odds are that someone who watches DVD’s with you will. Highly recommended.

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