Citizen Kane - 70th Anniversary Ultimate Collector's Edition Review

What can you really say about Citizen Kane? It just might be the most studied film in existence and it’s considered one of the most resilient classics of all time, and so unless you’re analyzing the film from an obscure angle like “racism in the media workplace”, you’re likely rehashing well worn territory. The same could be said of anniversary releases of the film on Blu-ray and DVD. After 70 years, is there really any new material to load into a box set that cinephiles haven’t already received in a past iteration? In terms of digital extras and physical trinkets, no, the set is really just a compilation of previously available collectibles all gathered into the same package. So what’s the incentive? A new hi-definition restoration from the original nitrate elements giving the film its best on-screen presentation you’ve probably ever seen.

Based loosely on the life of true media mogul William Randolph Heart, the story of Charles Foster Kane retraces his successes and failures as his survivors attempt to puzzle out the meaning of the last word he utters upon his deathbed: “Rosebud”. Fronting the charge to piece together the details of Kane’s life is reporter Jerry Thompson (William Alland), and as the flashbacks continue, we see the intimate happenings of Charles Foster Kane as recounted by his closest friends and associates. Who is Rosebud? It’s one of the great questions of cinema history and the remastering of the film for its 70th Anniversary reminds us why the film has such staying power.

Normally, we’d examine the story, cinematography, and other elements of the film, but there’s little to say that hasn’t been said, and in truth, it’s not what anyone looking to buy this set is curious about. So let’s get to the details.

Blu-ray Bonus Features

Starting with the physical extras:

The story of Citizen Kane featuring 48 pages of photos and a retelling of how the film came to be, its reception, and the media brouhaha that surrounded the whole endeavor. Next up is a collection of poster cards with reprints of the classic one-sheets for the film. Looking them over, you have to appreciate how far the film industry has come from using “It’s Terrific!” as the main marketing campaign for Citizen Kane. Also included are reprints of the opening pages of the original program for the film’s presentation at the Ambassador Theater on April 9, 1941, a letter from RKO Radio Pictures President G.J. Schaefer notifying Welles of a change to the disclaimer title to make it more flattering to a certain mogul, a copy of Joseph Cotten and Agnes Moorehead’s casting request for the roles of Leland and Mrs. Kane, respectively, (for which he received $1,200 and she $1,000), receipts for Orson Welles’s liquor purchases at a pharmacy, the film’s budget sheet, a press release outlining how Orson Welles had to join three filmmaking unions for the film to get made, the “Best Picture of the Month” Box Office Blur Ribbon award for Citizen Kane and Orson Welles, and a (retrospectively funny) written denial that Citizen Kane is about William Randolph Hearst.

The last and perhaps the best piece of memorabilia is the reprint of the original 1941 souvenir program in full-color and with all the classic artwork and photos intact. It’s a great touch to round out the comparatively scattered collection mentioned above.

For the disc-based extras, before we dive into all the stuff on the Blu-ray for the main feature, there are two supplementary DVDs. The first is The Battle Over Citizen Kane, the documentary about the controversy surrounding the film’s release and subject matter, and the second is HBO’s RKO 281, a narrative feature about the creation of Citizen Kane with Live Schreiber as Welles, Roy Scheider as RKO head George Schaefer, and John Malkovich as screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz (the title comes from the studio designation for the film’s project status). Both are superb efforts in their own right, and even though RKO 281 received some heat for several misrepresentations of key figures, it’s quite entertaining for any fans of Citizen Kane.

Save for the film’s restoration, all of the digital extras have been included in past releases of Citizen Kane, however I do believe this marks the first time they’ve all been compiled in one place. On the basic side, the disc has two audio commentaries courtesy of Peter Bogdanovich and Roger Ebert, storyboards, call sheets, the theatrical trailer, and deleted scenes. The most enthralling extras are the classic featurettes taken from the film’s original ad campaign and opening events which include interviews (Ruth Warrick and editor Robert Wise) and classic premiere footage. If after watching the film with Ebert’s commentary you’re interested to hear him talk more about Citizen Kane, you can click over to the photo gallery which has another commentary recorded by him. Considering his extensive knowledge of film history, the featurette makes for a surprisingly interesting little tidbit. Digital copies of the film’s call sheets and its press book round out the featurettes, and while interesting, these aren’t things most people will ever go through more than once, if ever.

"Citizen Kane - 70th Anniversary Ultimate Collector's Edition" is on sale September 13, 2011 and is rated PG. Drama. Directed by Orson Welles. Written by Herman J. Mankiewicz, Orson Welles. Starring Orson Welles, Joseph Cotten, Agnes Moorehead, Dorothy Comingmore, Ruth Warrick.

Lex Walker • Editor

He's a TV junkie with a penchant for watching the same movie six times in one sitting. If you really want to understand him you need to have grown up on Sgt. Bilko, Alien, Jurassic Park and Five Easy Pieces playing in an infinite loop. Recommend something to him - he'll watch it.


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