Citizen Kane’s last word: “Rosebud.” It was newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst’s pet name for his mistress’s vagina. Hearst’s love for the female sex organ may be Kane’s deathbed-grasp for childhood (here, rendered via toy-sled-as-metaphor) but Orson Welles is always willing to suggest it’s something else entirely. In the end it doesn’t matter, proving that Kane’s fortune, indeed his life, was so big it could never be cataloged and appraised. Welles’s masterpiece is, at its simplest, a backward detective story with Kane’s lost childhood as an elusive puzzle piece in a lifetime of megalomania. More importantly, it’s a guided tour through Kane’s freak show past, one that exposes the man’s fiendish and compensatory need for a self-made empire and the rationale behind its subsequent decay and downfall. The film’s technical innovations are now legendary, from Welles’s deft rift on Time’s “March of Times” series to his revolutionary use of deep focus. Kane loses his empire and walks to the other end of his office; ordinary windows turn gargantuan, emphasizing Kane’s economic castration anxiety. There are no special effects here, just one of Welles’s many camera tricks. While Citizen Kane’s quirks and hat-tricks have nothing on Dr. Arkadin and the dizzying The Trial, Kane is the closest thing to a pitch-perfect how-to guide from Hollywood’s golden age. A master when it came to narrative conservation, Welles showcases the deterioration of a marriage via a breakfast table sequence predicated on swish pans, one-shots, age make-up, loveless dialogue and seemingly elongating furniture. Its themes are multitudinous (the creation of love, the ownership of power, the relinquishment of control), its sights so set on dazzling the eyes that Kane’s Xanadu (Welles’s answer to Heart’s Ranch) is never less than a circus master’s house of mirrors. It’s a sentimental journey that is, nonetheless, always ready to remind the spectator that there is no trespassing. Indeed, as they say they in the film: “I don’t think any word can explain a man’s life.”
Sadly, you've heard this a million times: the original negative was lost. Chances are then that what you've seen of films like Citizen Kane are best-you-can-get video dubs from any existing prints. Miracles are scarce but they do happen, which means Warner Bros.' Citizen Kane two-disc DVD set is a cinephile's godsend. Presented in its original 1.37:1 theatrical aspect ratio, this DVD edition comes with newly remastered sound and picture (struck from a master positive). Considerably free of grain, this luscious print does justice to Welles's meticulous lighting and compositions. Despite some inevitable edge wear, Citizen Kane looks and sounds a lot more like the film worthy of its greatest-of-all-time crown.
I will forever associate my love and appreciation for Citizen Kane with Roger Ebert, whose dissection of the film in one of his yearbooks turned me on to the Welles classic back in high school. Ebert's passion for Citizen Kane and his appreciation for all of Welles's narrative and technical feats are available in one of two screen-specific commentaries. After Ebert's engaging critique, Peter Bogdanovich's commentary sounds entirely too technical and loveless. (Bogdanovich, though, is an expert when it comes to Kane-no stranger himself to Hollywood scandal, his Cat's Meow is based on a storyline omitted from Citizen Kane.) A "Stills Gallery" also comes with a Roger Ebert audio track though it's unclear as to why the stills run out a good five minutes before the commentary. The "Storyboards" section doesn't allow the user to focus on individual storyboards while sound bites introducing various features grouped in respective sections can become grating. Other highlights include Ruth Warrick's hidden interview, photos from the deleted Georgie's Brothel scene and the documentary The Battle Over Citizen Kane featured on the second disc. This two-hour American Experience program hosted by David McCullough is essential viewing for Citizen Kane buffs interested in the ties between the film and newspaper magnate William Randolf Hearst. Admittedly, though, one of my favorite features on this disc is the "Opening Night" guest list and correspondence. The intrusive nature of this feature ties in nicely with Citizen Kane's gossipy themes. Press the pause button and you'll be able to see which stars attended the film's premiere: Hattie McDaniel, King Vidor, Gloria Swanson, Ronald Reagan, Mickey Rooney, Abbott and Costello, and so on.
With classy packaging worthy of the film it carries, this two-disc edition of Citizen Kane may be a walk in the park for fans of the Welles masterpiece but its treasure trove of features will be a great introduction for remaining novices.