Citizen Kane [VHS]
Special Edition, New digital transfer
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Arguably the greatest of American films, Orson Welles's 1941 masterpiece, made when he was only 26, still unfurls like a dream and carries the viewer along the mysterious currents of time and memory to reach a mature (if ambiguous) conclusion: people are the sum of their contradictions, and can't be known easily. Welles plays newspaper magnate Charles Foster Kane, taken from his mother as a boy and made the ward of a rich industrialist. The result is that every well-meaning or tyrannical or self-destructive move he makes for the rest of his life appears in some way to be a reaction to that deeply wounding event. Written by Welles and Herman J. Mankiewicz, and photographed by Gregg Toland, the film is the sum of Welles's awesome ambitions as an artist in Hollywood. He pushes the limits of then-available technology to create a true magic show, a visual and aural feast that almost seems to be rising up from a viewer's subconsciousness. As Kane, Welles even ushers in the influence of Bertolt Brecht on film acting. This is truly a one-of-a-kind work, and in many ways is still the most modern of modern films from the 20th century. --Tom Keogh
Top customer reviews
This is perhaps one of the most well known opening lines to any film, and it comes from an appropriate source. Orson Welles's Citizen Kane. On may be surprised to learn however, that a film long considered on of the greatest films of all time wasn't a hit when it was first released. In fact, released in 1941, the film was not a cultural marker of its time. In an era beset with stress and the harsh realizations of reality, the general audience demanded a lighter fare in their movie-going experience. The musicals of MGM were big at the time, and it wasn't until Welles own The Stranger was released in 1946 that he reached a mass audience. However well received The Stranger was, Welles despised it, calling it his worst picture ever.
Citizen Kane only received lukewarm reception from the public. The critics immediately hailed Welles as a genius, and the worst reviews rated Citizen Kane as a masterwork of their time. There was no indication of the fact that almost sixty years after it was made, it would still be hailed as the best movie of all time by the American Film Institute.
The question begging to be asked is, "What makes this film so good?" I honestly had a lot of trouble reconciling myself to the fact of its greatness. Like so many objects of art in our time, once something is proclaimed great by a number of people, it has a certain sort of inertia that will not allow people to consciously question its greatness. I know few people who have worked their way through such dense behemoths of books suck as Tolstoy's Anna Karina or Joyce's Ulysses. Even with this fact, they remain classics of their languages, and held up as gold standards, which we should only hope to reach. But I digress. The problem with our generation is that we don't have the attention span to realize when we are seeing a master storyteller at work. Many of the methods Welles pioneered have now become so overused that they have fallen in the realm of the cliché. The cinematography we see was at the forefront of Film Noire, a genre whose popularity lasted well into its second decade, and whose only defeat was the rise of color in film. Also seen is the non-linear story line, a device we can see influencing directors as diverse as Francis Ford Coppola and Quentin Tarintino.
The DVD restoration, on the other hand, has crisp, sharply-defined images, richly complex and nuanced blacks, whites and greys, and an audio track that sounds fresh and "present" without over-equalization of highs and lows or gratuitous stereo simulation.
For some viewers, "Kane" ranks as the greatest film of all time because it's possible to stop the film on any single frame of its 2-hour length and produce an exegesis not only on the aesthetic and technical strengths of that individual shot but on the film as a whole, given its organic structure and the microcosmic status of each of the parts. For such viewers, this version should prove especially indispensable, affording glimpses of information--faces and other objects formerly covered by dark shadow, lap dissolves once too subtle to spot even in slow motion, competing, yet independently crucial, conversations--perhaps not accessible since the film's initial release.
Even without the bonuses, the single disc would be worth the price. But the inclusion of an additional DVD, "The Making of Citizen Kane," along with the historical, biographical, contextual materials included on the first disc make this package a steal. With this many riches to choose from, viewers may be excused if they pass up the Peter Bogdanovich running commentary on the film (I couldn't stay with it for very long), but Roger Ebert's extemporary "play-by-play" is not merely profuse but perceptive, articulate, and edifying from the very first shot. Even his commentary during the gallery of stills, in which he explains why "Citizen Kane" is his favorite movie and why it deserves its reputation as the best ever, is not to be missed. (I now realize that the hurried, superficial quality of much of his newpaper reviewing in recent years says more about the product than the reviewer.)
One caution: The first disc, with "Kane" and all of the assorted contextual material that follows, initially behaved "buggy" on my iMac DV. After disabling extensions, internet connections, and practically every other program except the DVD player, I was able to run the entire disc with no further problems.
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It arrived quickly, and I was very pleased. Kudos to the shipper.