Archive for the ‘Citizen Kane (1941)’ Category

Blu-ray Cover.jpg

Distributor: Warner Brothers

Release Date: November 15, 2016

Region: Region A

Length: 01:59:23

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Main Audio: 1.0 English DTS-HD Master Audio

Additional Audio:

1.0 English Dolby Digital Audio 1.0 Polish Dolby Digital Audio

1.0 Portuguese Dolby Digital Audio

Subtitles: English (SDH), Spanish, French, Czech, Greek, Hungarian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian

Ratio: 1.37:1

Bitrate: 30.65 Mbps

Notes: This title was previously released in various DVD editions and has been released on Blu-ray. The two previous 70th Anniversary Edition releases offer the same 4K restoration transfer of the film but include supplemental features that aren’t included with this 75th Anniversary Edition.


“I got that good a contract because I didn’t want to make a film. And you know when you don’t really want to go out to Hollywood—or at least this was true in the old days or ‘Golden’ days of Hollywood—when you honestly didn’t want to go, then the deals got better and better. And in my case, I didn’t want money. I wanted authority. So, I asked the impossible hoping to be left alone. And at the end of a year’s negotiations, I got it—simply because there was no real vocation there. My love for film began only when we started work.” –Orson Welles (Monitor, Interview with Huw Weldon, March 13, 1960)

One can feel Welles developing a true love for film in every frame of Citizen Kane. It is one of those unusual stories that seem quite unremarkable upon hearing a synopsis but are uniquely rewarding due to rich characterization, subtext, and an innovative approach to storytelling. The film’s central character is Charles Foster Kane. Kane is a powerful publisher who eventually aspires to be president of the United States. He starts out with absolutely nothing and proceeds to acquire vast amounts of wealth and power without ever realizing that he is losing himself amongst his numerous acquisitions.

“I must admit that it was intended—consciously as a social document—as an attack on the acquisitive society and indeed on acquisition in general, but I didn’t think that up and then try to find a story to match that idea. Of course, I think the storyteller’s first duty is always to the story… It wasn’t at all a communist picture or a Marxist picture. It was an attack on property and acquisition of property.” –Orson Welles (Monitor, Interview with Huw Weldon, March 13, 1960)

If the film earned a reputation as “communist propaganda” it was most likely due to the efforts of a certain newspaper magnate named William Randolph Hearst who felt that Citizen Kane was a thinly veiled and slanderous account of his own life and sought to use his formidable muscle to halt the film’s production and distribution and ultimately to destroy Welles himself. However, the film’s production was always on extremely shaky ground due to the tumultuous political work environment at RKO.

“There was indeed a very definite effort to stop the film during shooting by those elements in the studio who were attempting to seize power. Because in those days studio politics—particularly RKO, and indeed many of the big studios in Hollywood were very much like Central American republics. And there were revolutions and counter-revolutions, and every sort of palace intrigue and there was a big effort to overthrow the then head of the studio who was taken to be out of his mind because he’d given me this contract which made the making of these films possible. And stopping me or proving my incompetence would have won their case. So, it wasn’t malice towards me. It was a cold-blooded political maneuver. It didn’t have anything to do with Mr. Hearst. That came later…” –Orson Welles (Monitor, Interview with Huw Weldon, March 13, 1960)

It did come a bit later, but when the trouble with Hearst arose it nearly stifled the release of one of cinema’s most cherished masterpieces. It eventually saw a release, but William Randolph Hearst and Hedda Hopper (aka the wicked witch of the west coast) managed to keep the film out of the larger theaters (such as Radio City Music Hall) and the Hearst chain of newspapers wasn’t allowed to advertise or write about the film. The result was relatively disappointing box office.

It was favorably reviewed (in publications that weren’t actually owned by Hearst), and the film went on to receive nine Academy Awards nominations—including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Actor, Best Score for a Dramatic Picture, Best Sound Recording, Best Art Direction (Black and White), Best Cinematography (Black and White), and Best Film Editing. Herman J. Mankiewicz and Orson Welles took home the statue for Best Original Screenplay, but legend has it that Welles was booed at the ceremony.

RKO soon locked Citizen Kane away in its archives and by the early 1960s, it had been out of circulation for many years. Luckily, AFI tastemakers selected it as the “Greatest Film of All Time.” Such arbitrary lists are ridiculous but their praise rejuvenated interest in the film.  Since then, Welles’ masterpiece has remained # 1 or # 2 on countless critics’ lists and other surveys including those from Roger Ebert, The BBC, Rolling Stone magazine, Pauline Kael, among many others. While it is easy to argue against the claim that Citizen Kane is the “best film of all time,” one cannot argue that the film isn’t an incredibly rich and rewarding experience, an innovative film, and essential viewing for both cinephiles and future filmmakers.


The Presentation:

3 of 5 Stars

The disc is protected in a standard Blu-ray case with attractive film-related artwork. The overall result is rather underwhelming when one compares it to the film’s two previous releases—both of which utilized a more satisfying design concept.

The 70th Anniversary Edition was given two different releases. The first was labeled an “Ultimate Collector’s Edition” and it received ‘digi-pack’ casing with a stellar assortment of collectibles including a hardback book, reproductions of key art and advertisements on cardstock, reproductions of letters and memos from the production, and a reproduction of the opening night’s souvenir program. What’s more, it included two bonus DVDs with supplemental material not available with this release. The second release was given ‘digi-book’ packaging and included only one of the two bonus DVDs.

The point is that Warner Brothers seems to be downgrading each consecutive release.

 The menu utilizes a different design concept than the one utilized for the cover because it is essentially the same disc that was featured in the previous two releases—and the menu design reflects this fact.


Sound elements from the film’s opening newsreel can be heard over the menu and the overall effect is really quite nice.


Picture Quality:

4.5 of 5 Stars

Warner Brothers is capable of offering truly incredible Blu-ray transfers, and this is especially true when they are armed with a 4K restoration of the film in question. This particular disc is a case in point. Of course, one might say that Citizen Kane is one of their most prestigious catalog titles, and it deserves the best transfer possible. Their AVC encoded transfer is a beauty to behold. The shadowy chiaroscuro frames exhibit delectably rich black levels with what seems to be accurate detail in the shadows of the frame. What’s more, this is achieved without any distracting compression artifacts. Clarity is also beautifully rendered without sacrificing any of the film’s natural grain structure. There is little room for criticism, but some will no doubt notice a bit of ringing if they are looking for such things. However, this isn’t necessarily even worth mentioning. It rarely ever presents itself and it isn’t noticeable to any distracting degree when it actually does present itself.


Sound Quality:

3.5 of 5 Stars

This lossless Mono DTS-HD Master Audio isn’t quite as impressive as its visual counterpart, but one feels that this might be due to the actual source materials. Recording techniques weren’t as advanced at the time of the film’s production as they are today. Minor distortion can rear its ugly head at times—especially during some of the film’s musical interludes. However, one can certainly praise the track for its depth, and Welles offers an impressive sound design for his debut feature—no doubt a holdover from his radio experience. It is nice that the original Mono mix is offered in favor of any faux stereo “upgrade.” Luckily, there aren’t any unfortunate anomalies such as hiss, dropouts, or hum. It is a very good transfer of the film’s original soundtrack—and this is all that anyone should expect.


Special Features:

3 of 5 Stars

Why is the film’s 75th Anniversary release less substantial than its 70th Anniversary release? The original Blu-ray release of Citizen Kane was truly remarkable. In addition to the print extras discussed in the “Presentation” section of this review, the release included two DVD discs featuring two feature-length films about the production of Citizen Kane.

The first DVD was devoted to an Oscar-nominated documentary feature entitled “The Battle over Citizen Kane.” It provided fans with a decidedly comprehensive account of Hearst’s battle to rid the world of Citizen Kane. The film offered substantial biographical information about both William Randolph Hearst and Orson Welles while offering a comparison of their personalities. It was probably the best supplemental feature in the entire package, and it is sorely missed in this new release. As a matter of fact, this reviewer would gladly trade both commentary tracks for this single documentary.

The second DVD featured an HBO telefilm entitled RKO 281. While the program was admittedly less revelatory and substantial from an academic perspective, it certainly added quite a bit of value to the package. Of course, none of this ultimately matters because neither of these interesting films is included with this new release.

Luckily, Warner Brothers is still offering a relatively satisfying assortment of supplemental material in this new release:

Feature Length Commentary by Peter Bogdanovich

Peter Bogdanovich is an articulate speaker and an engaging storyteller, and his commentary track is probably the most substantial supplemental feature included here. His well-established friendship with Welles (if it can be called that) allows him to convey a number of revelatory information along with quite a few anecdotes and some technical details about the production. It isn’t the perfect commentary track because only Welles could give a comprehensive account of all aspects of production. Since he isn’t still alive to bestow his wisdom here, Bogdanovich will have to suffice.

Feature Length Commentary by Roger Ebert

Roger Ebert is known for his ability to engage a listener and for his general knowledge of cinema history. However, because he simply brings a general knowledge, his commentary is relegated to general background information, appreciation for Gregg Toland’s contributions to the film (which often involved revolutionary technical advances), and an overall appreciation of the film as a whole. However, this is an incredibly pleasurable way to spend a few hours.

Opening: World Premiere of Citizen Kane (01:08)

This short RKO-PATHE newsreel covers the world premiere of Citizen Kane. A title card informs us that the event was held at the Palace Theater on May 1, 1941. The vintage footage is an extremely interesting artifact, but one wishes that it were longer. There is barely any opportunity to absorb what is being shown here. The actual footage is barely over 30 seconds in length.

Interview with Ruth Warrick – (05:40)

Ruth Warrick is an engaging interview subject and her memories of her work on the film adds quite a bit of value to the disc. One only wishes that her recollections were less generalized and that she would provide a few specific anecdotes from the set (especially since she appears to be an articulate speaker).

Interview with Robert Wise – (03:04)

Robert Wise is equally articulate as he remembers how he came to edit Citizen Kane and the various issues surrounding the production. Again, one simply wishes that the interview was longer and a bit more comprehensive.

Theatrical Trailer – (03:46)

Oddly enough, the most interesting video-based supplement might be this unusual theatrical trailer for the film. Instead of showing audiences footage from the film, Orson Welles announces various cast members and teases the audience with contradictory descriptions of Charles Foster Kane. Even more interesting is the fact that Welles never actually appears in any of the footage. We are only shown a mic as it lowers from a boom into a close-up before hearing his familiar voice. This is obviously a tribute to his fame as a radio personality.

Photo Galleries:

The Production – (15:01)

There are three primary photo galleries included here (Storyboards, Call Sheets, and Still Photography), and they are shown as a video slideshow. No musical accompaniment is included, but the “Still Photography” segment (which clocks in at over ten minutes) includes a commentary by Roger Ebert. Ebert isn’t discussing the photos being shown, gives a general appreciation of the film and its place in cinema history. It is obvious that it is included here as an afterthought as his dialogue goes on much longer than the gallery of stills. It is frankly unnecessary as one would prefer that Ebert’s thoughts were presented in interview format along with the Ruth Warrick and Robert Wise interviews.

Post Production – (05:11)

The four photo galleries include in this section (Deleted Scenes, Ad Campaign, Press Book, and Opening Night) are largely textual in natures and include such things as letters and memos. However, there are a few interesting visual delights—such as a few interesting storyboards and still photographs from a handful of deleted scenes. The press book is also a highlight. All galleries in this section are shown as a video slideshow with no musical accompaniment.

It should probably be freely admitted that photo galleries and on-screen text-based features have never really interested this reviewer. They are nice but rarely feel substantial and it seems that these things would be better represented in some sort of collector’s booklet instead of as part of the disc itself. The inclusion of Ebert’s commentary might have made the Still Photography section more interesting, but it was poorly and awkwardly utilized. Frankly, none of these galleries add much to the overall supplemental package.


Final Words:

With both of Citizen Kane’s 70th Anniversary Blu-ray releases out of print, this new 75th Anniversary Edition earns an enthusiastic recommendation for anyone who doesn’t already own one of the previous two editions of the film. However, those who already own either of these previous releases can rest easy in the knowledge that they own the better package.


Review by: Devon Powell