Few movies — few art pieces, even — carry the reputation of Citizen Kane. From its origins: as the film debut of theater wunderkind, Orson Welles; the film was always supposed to be revolutionary. RKO studio heads gave 25-year-old Welles complete artistic freedom (something unheard of back in the era of dictatorial producers like David O. Selznick and Irving Thalberg) and allowed him to work in secret, trusting that he would deliver something extraordinary.
He delivered more than anyone had ever bargained for, with a majestic motion picture based on the life of newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst. Welles’ loose adaptation of Hearst’s life
traded the San Francisco millionaire, for the similarly named Charles Foster Kane (played by Welles in an astonishingly brutal performance). The film begins with Kane’s death and then moves back and forth in time, as a journalist (William Alland) tries to uncover the secret behind Kane’s last words: the now iconic “Rosebud”.
The thinly disguised similarities between Hearst’s and Kane’s life created one of the most legendary scandals in Hollywood history, with all the major studios threatening to destroy RKO and Welles if the film was released. When the film came out (after a tough legal battle that left RKO producer George Schaefer without a job) it resulted in a mild success, with people too afraid to declare their love for it and others pretty much boycotting everything related to it.
The film would go on to win a single Academy Award for its screenplay (mostly thought of as a consolation prize to keep Welles’ mouth shut about other industry insiders) and Welles lost all the power he had just been given; it’s arguably said that Citizen Kane was his only “completed” movie. His career then became a constant pursuit of money and artistic freedom, neither of which were ever given to him with the same will as in 1940.
However as the years went by, Citizen Kane became an example of how to make movies. His technique, which at first was ignored because of the controversial story it delivered, became a method of worship by filmmakers all over the world and since the ’60s, Citizen Kane always tops every list of “best movies of all time”. Was Welles’ capricious behavior worth it in the face of all he lost? It’s funny to think that because of his movie he ended up becoming a tragic figure as he proposed Hearst was. Because he gave it all in the name of his art, he ended up losing a world he could’ve ruled forever. This is just one of the many aspects that make Citizen Kane one of the most enigmatic masterpieces of all time.
Since the film has been discussed so much, it’s not necessary to enter into specifics about its plot and story devices, instead of analyzing this film à clef for its achievements — which could be named forever — it’s time to focus on the spectacular bonus material in this Blu-ray edition.
Warner Brothers has gone all out and delivered the best Blu-ray release of the year, an achievement all on its own in terms of technical mastery and layered entertainment value. Citizen Kane: 70th Anniversary Ultimate Collector’s Edition may have something for everyone. The HD transfer, for example, will please those in search of extreme visual purity while adding a fascinating layer to cinematographer Greg Toland’s “deep focus”.
The film which has always been famous for its use of light and shadow, now becomes a magnificent visual spectacle, with each frame demanding our attention for the sheer beauty of its content. Scenes that in past releases were a bit “smoky”, now obtain a clarity that contrasts beautifully with the Faustian qualities of the story’s moral center; selling one’s soul had never looked more gorgeous.
For all those who treasure historical footage and extra material, this release of Citizen Kane offers endless hours of entertainment including fascinating commentaries, featurettes covering its world premiere and informative interviews with editor Robert Wise (who would then go on to direct films like West Side Story and The Sound of Music). One of the discs in this edition is dedicated to the gargantuan The Battle Over Citizen Kane, a superb documentary which covers every aspect of its production and release.
For those in search of “lighter” historical fare, this release also includes the television movie RKO 281, which depicts the tumultuous production history and features a superb performance by Liev Schreiber as Welles and James Cromwell as Hearst. Other aspects of the film are covered by the beautiful print material which includes reproductions of original publicity stills, a lush press book and more, all tightly packed in a puzzle inspired box with allegorical “rosebud” markings.
Perhaps the best bonus feature in this release (and one, as of now, only exclusive to Amazon.com) is a disc containing The Magnificent Ambersons, Welles’ followup to Kane which is widely regarded as one of the most influential pictures of all time, even if it was completely butchered by studio heads. When Welles left the country on a business trip, his movie was edited without his knowledge and all the footage was destroyed.
The original film clocked in at more than three hours, the only version available now is 90 minutes long. The lost Ambersons footage now has become an archaeological piece of endless value which we might never lay eyes on. For what it’s worthk though, the film remains one of the landmark literary adaptations and its brilliance is only overshadowed by the sadness in realizing its incomplete state.
Whether you value it for its outstanding artistic contributions or its undeniable entertainment values, Citizen Kane: 70th Anniversary Ultimate Collector’s Edition is a must-own for any film lover.