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A psychological study of Charles Foster Kane, a powerful newspaper tycoon whose idealism was corrupted as he rose to enourmous wealth and power. The story unfolds as a mystery: when Mr. Kane dies uttering cryptic last words, a magazine reporter interviews the tycoon's friends in an effort to uncover the significance of the word "Rosebud."
For more about Citizen Kane and the Citizen Kane Blu-ray release, see Citizen Kane Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on September 2, 2011 where this Blu-ray release scored 5.0 out of 5.
Director: Orson Welles
Writers: Orson Welles, Herman J. Mankiewicz
Starring: Joseph Cotten, Dorothy Comingore, Agnes Moorehead, Ruth Warrick, Ray Collins, Erskine Sanford
» See full cast & crew
Citizen Kane Blu-ray Review
Warner once again sets the standard for a deluxe edition of an iconic catalog release.
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, September 2, 2011
(Note: Our review of the Amazon Exclusive Edition of Citizen Kane will be available on or around street date.)
Has any one word so defined the filmic landscape as that hoarse whispered enigma Orson Welles utters in the opening moments of Citizen Kane? No, spoilers will not be forthcoming in this review, as solving the mystery of "rosebud" is one of the enduring joys of any true film lover's experience with the medium. But that central mystery and the quest to solve its meaning which shapes the narrative drive of this film is only one of manifold joys that Citizen Kane offers any astute viewer. Welles was a brash young iconoclast with a mighty fancy new toy, and he and cinematographer Gregg Toland wasted no time in exploiting every nook and cranny that the movies had to offer. Citizen Kane is such an astounding feat of technical genius that its innovations are accepted today as rote clichés for movies, but in 1941 critics (perhaps spurred on by William Randolph Hearst, who didn't exactly take kindly to seeing his life story parodied) took Welles to task for doing all sorts of then unheard of things like shooting interior sets to show their ceilings or deconstructing a storyline with multiple points of view (years before Rashomon it should be pointed out). Citizen Kane is such a bracing experience that for obsessive-compulsive film lovers it holds such a special place that many fans can recount exactly where and when they first saw it, certainly something that is increasingly rare in this day of prefabricated pabulum manufactured from paint by numbers kits and screenwriting seminars. Though Kane was rightly appreciated by the intelligentsia of its day, and most especially by film craftsmen who instantly realized what a defining breakthrough it was in any number of ways, this is a film which has only gained luster in the intervening decades. Nothing can seemingly dim the fierce, brilliant light of Citizen Kane, and a whole new audience is now set to remember their first time with Charles Foster and his cohorts as one of the giant icons of the Golden Age of Hollywood finally debuts on Blu-ray.
Where does one begin with a critical analysis of what is generally regarded as the greatest film of all time? (With no disrespect intended to our generally very knowledgeable readership here at Blu-ray.com, I was actually gobsmacked a few days ago when I read a post from a reader claiming that more people "cared" about a recent catalog release of middling import than they ever would about Citizen Kane). Having seen the film countless times over the years, let me just impart a few random thoughts that occurred to me this time. First of all: that title. It has become such a part of the public lexicon that people don't even think about it anymore. But how subtly ironic are Welles and co-screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz being with calling the film Citizen Kane? Consider just for a moment the "democratizing" aspect of the word 'citizen.' It's a term which evens the playing field, as it were, as citizenship is a birthright (not a privilege) granted every natural born member of our society. And yet, is there any character less "regular" than Charles Foster Kane? In fact the whole film is a testament to the larger than life aspect of Kane, despite his tendency toward favoring the "little guy."
And how bracing is this film's iconic structure? Especially when one considers the fact that it came along in 1941, the absolute apex of traditional narrative form in Hollywood, if not elsewhere. We get our opening gambit of the elderly Kane dying, with that most resonant word in the entire history of film, and then, as if Welles and Mankiewicz are cats playing with an audience made of a ball of yarn, we're thrust headlong into a supposedly "objective" newsreel recounting the major plot points we're about to see unfold from a variety of different perspectives. And then even that conceit—the newsreel itself—turns out to be a cheat of sorts, as we soon find out we're actually seeing the newsreel being watched by reporters on a mission to ferret out the real story of Charles Foster Kane.
As incredible as the most visceral elements of Kane are—the fractured multi-character perspectives, the narrative ping-ponging, the astounding deep focus and oddly skewed camerawork of Toland—there are a number of perhaps more subtle contributions that Welles made to the art of film which are just as effective but sometimes less noticed. Stepping away from the more often cited contributions of Toland's achievement but staying with cinematography for a moment, literally decades before "jiggly" handheld camerawork became the (often nausea inducing) norm, Welles and Toland introduce brief elements of the technique early in the film to give us a sense of surreptitious footage of an elderly Kane holed up in his palace-prison Xanadu. But move on to sound design and there are whole new sonic vistas to experience when watching (and listening) to Citizen Kane. Pay attention for example to the superb use of overwhelming reverb as reporter Thompson wanders into the cavernous site of the Thatcher Archives. And later listen to the fascinating sound mixing late in the film when Kane and Susan have their final showdown. What exactly is going on with the screaming, laughing woman only heard in the background? And though Howard Hawks is often credited with "inventing" rapid fire overlapping dialogue, listen to how often Welles employs the device throughout the film. Also pay attention to how effortlessly Welles and Mankiewicz segue from time period to time period—often midsentence—supported by the artistic editing of a relative newcomer who would soon become an iconic director himself, Robert Wise.
The most refreshing thing about Citizen Kane is how resilient the film is to repeated viewings. In fact there are very few films which hold up so brilliantly to revisiting, and Kane tends to reveal new details virtually every time it's watched. The film is such a riot of technical invention that it's sometimes easy to forget how brilliantly performed it is by a handpicked cast of Welles' Mercury Theater collaborators, most of whom are doing their first film roles here and many of whom (Joseph Cotten, Agnes Moorehead) would go on to iconic careers of their own. Welles of course was an inarguable genius who burned brightly, perhaps too brightly for his own good, burning out in a mad combustion of hubris, stubbornness and an unwillingness to realize that today's wunderkind is tomorrow's persona non grata, at least within the cliquish confines of the film industry. But for a brief, shining moment, Orson Welles was the Golden Boy of Hollywood, and Citizen Kane is a triumph of almost unimaginable proportions, one which rightfully rests high atop its own mountaintop fortress, immune from the ravages of time and reassessment.
Citizen Kane Blu-ray, Video Quality
Warner once again does itself proud with a stunning high definition restoration and presentation of a catalog title, one of the crowning jewels in its assets catalog. Previous home video releases have been roundly criticized (sometimes fairly, sometimes not), but Citizen Kane's brand new AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 1.37:1, mastered from a 4K restoration of original nitrate elements, should satisfy all but the most diehard, picayune-obsessed complainers. Many people have bitched and moaned about the very dark image quality of much of Kane on both VHS and DVD, without realizing that's exactly what Welles and Toland were going for. These two were experimenting with chiaroscuro years before any Johnny come lately auteur had even thought of it. The Blu-ray presents this shadowy world with gorgeously rich black levels and abundant shadow detail, which is not to say viewers are suddenly going to see William Alland's face all of a sudden, to give one salient example. But what amazing detail and what a refreshing lack of compression artifacts. Usually tricky items like chain link fences and palm fronds resolve with absolute clarity, and Toland's incredibly impressive deep focus work is delivered with jaw dropping intensity. The frequent use of back lighting offers an amazing display of gray scale and contrast and unlike the DVD, grain structure has not been erased to within an inch of its life and looks completely natural. There is some very minor ringing on just a couple of scenes but that is about the only issue of any kind with this release, and it's kind of churlish to even mention that, so minimal is it in the overall scheme of things.
Citizen Kane Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Say what you will about the Dolby process (and believe me, I hated its compressed highs long before it became fashionable due to my own recordings which were processed with noise reduction), it can hide a multitude of sins. Therefore, while a layer of aural shellack has been peeled away from Citizen Kane courtesy of this new lossless DTS-HD Master Audio Mono mix, that means some of the sonic warts can more easily be heard. There's some persistent distortion in the upper midrange that is especially noticeable early in the film, including the opening cues of Bernard Herrmann's iconic score, and, later, in Susan Alexander Kane's first appearance. That anomaly aside, which is no doubt endemic to the stems themselves, this is a brilliantly effective track, one that is surprisingly full sounding for its age. Especially impressive is Welles' incredible sound design (as noted above in the main body of the review), which gets a sparklingly clear reproduction here. Thankfully no faux surround mix has been attempted, and while that may give the film a slightly more claustrophobic sonic quality than some would like, fidelity is generally very strong here, with no egregious dropouts and even better no overwhelming hiss despite the lack of that Dolby masking on the high end.
Citizen Kane Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Warner has provided yet another deluxe package with an excellent assortment of supplements both on the Blu-ray and two DVDs included, as well as other print material included in the sturdy slipcase.
Citizen Kane Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
What can you say about Citizen Kane that hasn't already been said? Probably not much, except this: if you've never seen it, you are in for one of the grandest, most memorable film experiences of your life. For your first-timers, don't "think" too much as you watch, simply glory in the magnificence of the story and how it's told. But then go back (several times) and exult all over again at how incredibly brilliantly Welles and his team reinvented film, establishing "norms" that are utilized to this day. This Ultimate Collector's Edition is a very handsome package and it sports gorgeous video quality and very good audio quality. You probably can already guess Citizen Kane comes with my Highest recommendation.
Citizen Kane: Other Editions
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Citizen Kane Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Citizen Kane Blu-ray - September 25, 2012
Universal Pictures will release on Blu-ray Orson Welles' classic film Citizen Kane (1941), starring Orson Welles, Joseph Cotten and Dorothy Comingore. Considered by many the greatest film ever made, Citizen Kane will be available for purchase online and in shops ...
• Amazon Blu-ray Deal of the Week: Citizen Kane (Expired) - February 26, 2012
Amazon's Blu-ray Deal of the Week affects Warner Home Entertainment's Citizen Kane Ultimate Collector's Edition. The feature-length debut of filmmaker Orson Welles (The Stranger), this drama tells the narratively innovative and visually striking tale of Charles ...
• Citizen Kane: 70th Anniversary Ultimate Collector's Edition Blu-r... - June 13, 2011
Amazon has finally listed Citizen Kane: 70th Anniversary Ultimate Collector's Edition available for pre-order. This long-anticipated Blu-ray contains not only Citizen Kane and a wealth of related collectable materials but also director Orson Welles' long-unavailable ...
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Citizen Kane Blu-ray, Forum Discussions
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