BLU-RAY REVIEW: Citizen Kane 75th Anniversary Edition


THE SET-UP
The triumphs and travails of newspaper magnate Charles Foster Kane are chronicled in what many consider the greatest film ever made. Stars Orson Welles, Joseph Cotten, Dorothy Comingore, Ray Collins, and Agnes Moorehead.
Directed by Orson Welles


THE DELIVERY
Citizen Kane is widely regarded as the greatest film ever made, a title that invites debate and challenges how we measure achievements in film. Some films may provide a more enjoyable viewing experience over repeat viewings, but no one can argue that Citizen Kane excels in every aspect of what makes a film great. And I have yet to find any argument that makes a better case for another film to take the title.

That is why this is not a review of the film in the traditional sense, but rather my observations on the qualities of the film I found most interesting. Kane is the type of film that demands discussion of its elements, as there is no need to even advocate for admiration. It is a given. With that, I prefer to focus here on the technical accomplishments this film achieved. They are not what makes Citizen Kane a great film, but they did make a great film an immortal one.

The 75th Anniversary Blu-ray of Citizen Kane allows us the opportunity to escape the sea of CGI blockbusters on the Blu-ray shelf and experience a film whose innovation has not been equaled, some three-quarters of a century after its release. It is amazing that writer/director/lead actor Orson Welles was only 25 when he made the film. Not only is his performance outstanding, his work behind the camera is iconic.


The genius of Citizen Kane rests not only in the fantastic performances and layered story, but in its incredible technical prowess. It is perfectly constructed and beautifully shot, with every scene presented as a timeless work of art. Not one shot in this entire film is presented in a conventional manner; every one is inventive and visually riveting.

The Blu-ray gives the film the high-definition presentation it deserves, so each of the “deep-focus” shots (in which everything in the image remains in focus) can be appreciated for their beauty. The innovative camera work was the result of the collaboration of cinematographer Gregg Toland and Welles, whose technique of keeping everything in the image in focus was so groundbreaking, it is a rare thing to see even today. It gives Citizen Kane a look and style unparalleled by any other film.

With so much hyperbole and unwarranted praise for films these day, the term greatness and genius have become marketing terms to move Blu-rays. Sometimes, however, a film sets a standard so high, no amount of praise or acclaim can do it justice. Citizen Kane is one of those rare films. Every last frame is a marvel to behold.

Citizen Kane is not just a film for the ages. It is a film that defies the ages.

VIDEO AND AUDIO
The video transfer is nothing short of incredible. The original print of the film was reportedly destroyed in a Warner Bros. fire in the 1970s, so the high-definition transfer is made from secondary elements. Even so, the detail in many scenes is jaw-dropping. It doesn’t appear as if the image was digitally “cleaned,” but it is very possible, as grain isn’t as prevalent as I thought it would be for a film of this age.

The audio is a technically a 1.0 mono mix, but remastered to DTS-HD standards. As such, there is no true “surround effect,” to the soundtrack, but the clarity is fantastic.


SPECIAL FEATURES
For the 75th Anniversary Blu-ray, Warner Bros. essentially took the extras from the 70th Anniversary Blu-ray release and repackaged them here. As far as we can see, there are no new features that were produced exclusively for this release.

It’s a shame that the 75th anniversary edition doesn’t get new features or a more extensive archive of extras. On the plus side, the extras that are included are pretty satisfying. The audio commentaries alone make the Blu-ray worthwhile.

The special features on the disc include:

“Opening: The World Premiere of Citizen Kane” newsreel. This RKO newsreel is only a minute long, but includes some fantastic shots from the May 1, 1941 New York City premiere of the film. Running time: 1:08.

Interviews. An interview with actress Ruth Warrick (Emily Kane), recorded in 1997, provides a fantastic look into the Welles’ process in crafting the film. Her stories are fantastic, in particular, her recollection of how Welles and director of cinematography Gregg Toland would themselves dig holes in the set to place the camera at such a low level. Warrick also described Welles’ little known faith, and mentions that he once said the Bible and the works of Shakespeare were all a person needed to have in life. Running time: 5:40.

An interview with editor Robert Wise, recorded in 1994, is also very insightful. Not only is Wise himself a Hollywood legend, but hearing him describe his work with Welles on Citizen Kane is riveting to hear. Running time: 3:04.


Production - This sub-section includes the following extras:
Storyboards. A running slideshow of storyboards are fantastic to see, with my only complaint that the resolution isn’t in high definition, so some of the notations are impossible to read. Running time: 3:20 

Call Sheets. This short slideshow of call sheets (a daily schedule of which cast and crew were needed) is interesting for film buffs, but the resolution (like the storyboards) makes it difficult to read everything. Running time: 48 seconds. 

Still Photography with Roger Ebert commentary. Dozens of photographs from the film are presented in this slideshow, with the late Roger Ebert providing commentary on the outstanding framing and staging that went into each scene. Running time: 10:53 
Post-Production - This sub-section includes the following extras:
Deleted Scenes. This short slideshow highlights an infamous deleted scene from the film, which shows Kane and other characters visiting a brothel. Running time: 1:12

Ad Campaign. A slideshow of advertising artwork, ad slicks, and movie posters used for the original 1941 theatrical release is included. Running time: 1:36

Press Book. Excerpts from the souvenir program given out at the premiere of the film are shown. Running time: 48 seconds

Opening Night. A slideshow of photos taken at the New York City premiere of Citizen Kane is presented, along with RKO correspondence about the event. Running time: 1:36
Theatrical Trailer. The original 1941 trailer is presented. It’s not just a preview of the film; it’s an introduction to the actors the film is featuring, and it is narrated by Welles. It’s fantastic. Running time: 3:46

Audio Commentaries. Two commentary tracks are included here: one by Peter Bogdanovich, and another by Roger Ebert. Both are wonderfully done. They are older commentaries (obviously, now that Ebert himself passed away a while back) but are still worth listening to. Your appreciation for the film will only grow after hearing them.

Bogdanovich was friends with Welles and had many conversations with him about Kane. He relays many of the stories in the commentary, providing a unique perspective on the film. The late Roger Ebert provides a master class in film appreciation with his fantastic commentary. He breaks down and analyzes the major scenes, highlighting the true genius of Orson Welles. You’ll want to listen to this one several times.

THE BOTTOM LINE: Citizen Kane gets a welcome return to Blu-ray
It may not be the definitive edition Blu-ray we would love to see, but Warner Bros. has given us a fantastic high-definition transfer of the film with a satisfying batch of extras. You can pick this up for less than $20 and enjoy the greatest film ever made. That makes this a win in our book.


BLU-RAY SPECS
Release Date: November 15, 2016
Rating: PG
Running time: 119 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Audio: DTS HD Master Audio 1.0
Subtitles: English for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, French, Spanish
Special Features: “Opening: The World Premier of Citizen Kane” newsreel; Ruth Warrick interview; Robert Wise interview; Storyboards; Call Sheets; Still Photography with Roger Ebert commentary; Deleted Scenes; Ad Campaign materials; Pressbook materials; Opening Night Slideshow; Original Theatrical Trailer.
Audio Commentaries: Two are included, by Peter Bogdanovich and Roger Ebert.
Label: Warner Bros. Home Entertainment
MSRP: $19.98

Click here to order Citizen Kane The 75th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray from Amazon!

Victor Medina is a freelance writer based in Dallas. He is the editor of several websites, and his writing credits include The Dallas Morning News, Yahoo News, Cinelinx.com and SportsIllustrated.com. He has served as a Dallas County election judge and on the Board of Directors of The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza in Dallas. You can follow him on his blog, VictorMedina.com or on Twitter at @mrvictormedina. He can be reached by email at vic@victormedina.com.

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