Friday, July 9, 2010

DVD Review: Citizen Kane: Two-Disc Special Edition


Citizen Kane: Two-Disc Special Edition

(Released: 2001 by Warner Home Video)
Another Looong DVD Review by Joe Torcivia

Rosebud!” The dying word of a rich and powerful man. But what does it mean? The life of “fictional” tycoon and publishing powerhouse Charles Foster Kane is documented legend. But his last word remains a mystery… and one that intrepid reporter Thompson intends to solve.

Thompson travels through Kane’s world of associates, friends, wives, and the like for a new angle on the story every studio’s newsreel is reporting. Kane’s life is revealed in flashback, through these interviews. Our reporter learns much, but remains baffled by the enigmatic word “Rosebud”, as do our cast of characters – until the final image where we, the audience, get the scoop that so eludes Thompson.

Despite breathing Earth’s atmosphere since 1955, I’ve somehow reached this stage of life without ever seeing “Citizen Kane”. I’ve always heard it spoken of as “The Greatest Film of All Time” and now, thanks to the Warner Bros. DVD release Citizen Kane: Two-Disc Special Edition, this life-long curiosity is satisfied.

Oh, to digress, HERE is the story of the "Other DVD" I purchased WITH “Citizen Kane”.

I must say, I loved it! Though I still prefer “Casablanca”, I can easily see WHY it’s been called “The Greatest Film of All Time”. Orson Welles, his daring story of the rise and fall of newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst (the basis for “Kane”), and Welles’ troupe of Mercury Players (including Joseph Cotton, Ray Collins – best known as PERRY MASON’s acerbic adversary “Lt. Tragg”, and sixties animation’s “Dick Tracy voice” Everett Sloane) are amazing, especially given that they were not all established “movie stars” at the time!

Speaking strictly for myself, the film benefits from my ability to view it uninterrupted, and in as near pristine a condition as it could possibly be, courtesy of DVD and HD TV.

It also benefits from the fact that the ENDING is well enough known to have become a part of our popular culture and collective consciousness. Armed with this knowledge, I was able to note that the ending was “telegraphed” at least THREE TIMES during the course of the film that I was able to notice. Without an abundance of detailed elaboration these moments were:

Young Kane, playing outside in the Colorado winter.

A comment from Kane to mistress and future wife Susan, as to where Kane was going when they met.

The abrupt stoppage of Kane’s rampage, after Susan left him.

I’ll say no more, just in case others have managed to reach 2010 without seeing the film as well. (I CAN’T be the ONLY ONE, can I?) We try to be as Spoiler-Free as possible at TIAH Blog. And, yes, I feel, in this case, knowing the ending IS a plus, in that I can appreciate “getting there” all the more!

As is our custom in these reviews, we’ll break it into CONS and PROS.


The CONS:

While not nearly as extensive in content as the Warner’s release “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre: Two-Disc Special Edition” (See THIS REVIEW), there are NO CONS to this wonderful set! It only pales when compared with the contents of the “Sierra Madre” set, and certain others like it, where Warner REALLY gives the best possible treatment.

The PROS:

The Film: The genius of novice filmmaker Welles.

The Cast: See Above.

Print Quality: Um… If you’ve never seen a film before, can you REALLY say: “It’s never looked better!”? My guess is, that if I HAD seen “Citizen Kane”, even theatrically – but especially on television, this is likely as grand as the film can appear!

Extra Features:

Two Full-Length Commentaries on the film: One by film critic and historian Roger Ebert, and one by director Peter Bogdonovich. Both run the complete 1:59:20 of the film, and both are very informative in their own way.

Bogdonovich, naturally, approaches the material from a director’s perspective, but Ebert is the true fount of information – proving that no one knows the material like a very enthusiastic “fan”. This is evident when hearing both men describe a scene of “changing perspective”, where Kane is seen walking TOWARD and AWAY FROM a series of large windows – his figurative and literal stature changing in this scene as well.

Overall, Ebert actually describes Welles’ processes and the “Deep Focus” techniques of cinematographer Gregg Toland (in which Toland kept BOTH foreground and background in constant focus, rather than shifting focus to the “point of interest”) in greater detail than does Bogdonovich, whom one would presume would have the better perspective.

This is especially notable when one realizes the amazing amount of Hollywood flim-flammery contrived for a film that would seem to have little or nothing in the way of “special effects”.

Other items of note revealed in the commentaries include: Welles breaking an ankle while hurriedly descending a staircase (and continuing the film with the broken ankle), the remarkable “film aging” of Welles as Kane from his 20s to his 70s, and the possible “real-life” meaning of “Rosebud” (Blush!). Ya didn’t get this stuff at the cinema, folks!

Various Items: Stills, storyboards, call sheets, advertising posters, Gallup Polling on audience reaction to “Citizen Kane” by gender, age, population center, and income (signed by George Gallup himself), guest lists at the Hollywood premiere that include “Mr. and Mrs. Bob Hope”, “Ronald Reagan and Jane Wyman”, and “Abbott and Costello” (Didn’t they have dates?), and even a fan letter to RKO that reads as follows:

Do not let go Orson Welles because the rest of your pictures are childish compared to Citizen Kane”!

An RKO Pathe Newsreel (that oddly begins with a close-up of a rooster crowing) on the New York premiere of “Citizen Kane” on May 01, 1941.

Disc Two consists of “The Battle Over Citizen Kane”, a 1996 PBS documentary that was part of the series “The American Experience”.

This is the story of Orson Welles’ struggles in making “Citizen Kane”, and his further struggles in getting it released, while facing pressure and opposition from William Randolph Hearst. Perhaps the “titanic battle” was romanticized a bit, perhaps not. Either way, it is captivating and informative – giving a great sense of the individuals involved and the time in which they operated. It runs for 1:53:20.

Participants include Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Peter Bogdonovich, Robert Wise, Ruth Warrick (the first Mrs. Kane), Richard Alland (reporter Thompson), and Jimmy Breslin – once a reporter for Hearst’s New York Journal American. There are actors, writers, historians and biographers for BOTH Welles and Hearst. A standout is Welles staffer Sam Leve, who punctuates his contributions with plenty of energy and character.

If the presentation of this documentary has one fault, it might be in its absolute faithfulness to the source material. It includes the original “ad” (can we call it that, in reference to PBS?) for Scotts Lawn Products, and concludes with an offer to ORDER A HOME VIDEO CASSETTE of the presentation. No thanks, I own the DVD!

Oddly, the cost of the VHS tape of the documentary alone was 29.95, while the price of the two-disc DVD set with the film and all its extras is 23.99. Who says things aren’t better these days!

Overall:

This is a great film and a great package. It is recommended if you’re sampling “Citizen Kane” for the first time – or seeing it for the hundredth!

2 comments:

Jeff Overturf said...

Another happy denizen of my library!

Joe Torcivia said...

Clearly, you have excellent taste, sir!