As probably the 1,000th writer to try and tackle Citizen Kane, I'm not sure what to
say. That this film has been routinely voted as the greatest ever made --
beginning with the 1962 Sight & Sound poll and most recently in the 1998 AFI
poll -- has probably put off several viewers who have never seen it. After all,
if it's the greatest film ever made, it has to be good for you. And if it's good
for you, it probably isn't any fun at all.
So I'd like to begin with a quote from the late Pauline Kael, thoughtfully
included on the cover of the new Citizen Kane DVD ($29.99), which states
that this film "may be more fun than any other great movie." Director Orson
Welles has made better movies, The Magnificent
Ambersons (1942) and Chimes at Midnight (1966) among them,
but Kane stands as the most astonishing model of great filmmaking ever.
It's a collection of templates for great scenes. And it's fun. Trust me.
The film tracks the life of Charles Foster Kane, newspaperman extraordinaire,
collector of riches, failed politician, husband, father and lover. For his grand
first film at age 25, Welles chose a grand story, based in part on the life of
William Randolph Hearst (his first choice, Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness,
didn't work out). And he went about filming it in the grandest way possible with
the greatest crew imaginable.
Gregg Toland (The Grapes of Wrath) provided the astonishing and
still-revolutionary deep-focus photography; Bernard Herrmann (Psycho) composed
the score; Robert Wise (West Side Story) edited; and Herman J. Mankiewicz
(Dinner at Eight) co-wrote the screenplay with Welles.
Additionally, Welles cast a band of actors who had worked with him on stage
in the Mercury Theater but who had never worked in film before. (Agnes Moorhead
and Joseph Cotten, at least, went on to memorable careers.) Each artist
discarded everything known and practiced in filmmaking up to that point and came
up with something new, something amazing.
I could cite all the memorable moments in Kane, and it has more than most
films, but that would be a waste of space. However, I still get a charge out of
the famous "breakfast" scene, where we see the disintegration of Kane's marriage
through a series of breakfasts. But no scene in Kane ever fails to amaze me,
and watching it for perhaps the 15th time on this new DVD, I still felt
fulfilled and happy afterward.
Warner Brothers' new DVD boasts a beautiful new transfer (perhaps too
beautiful -- the "News on the March" newsreel sequence now looks too clean),
plus full-length commentary tracks by film Peter Bogdanovich (who wrote the
definitive Welles biography) and film critic Roger Ebert.
The second disc contains the Oscar-nominated documentary The Battle Over
Citizen Kane (1996). Chicago Reader critic and Welles expert Jonathan Rosenbaum
informs me that the film doesn't get all its facts right, but I think it still
works as an enjoyable tabloid exercise. The DVD set also includes photos from
the deleted "brothel" sequence, newsreel footage, theatrical trailer and
Buy DVD |
Starring: Orson Welles, Joseph Cotten, Everett Sloane, Dorothy Comingore, Ruth Warrick, Ray Collins, Agnes Moorehead
Written by: Herman J. Mankiewicz, Orson Welles
Directed by: Orson Welles
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Running Time: 119 minutes
Date: September 27, 2001