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DVD Review: Citizen Kane

By Doug Crooks, Independent Movie Critic

I know what you're thinking:
"EVERYBODY thinks Citizen Kane is the best movie of all time.
Every movie critic is quick to jump on the Kane bandwagon and praise it. It's the 'HIP' thing to do."

Doug's Recent Reviews:
Pearl Harbor
Thirteen Days
5 Great DVDs
Well, you know what? Citizen Kane is worth it's weight in gold, and then some.

This week Citizen Kane was released on DVD, as a two disc special edition (linked in the sidebar). This isn't just going back and re-watching a master piece. This DVD is like going back in time. The disc features two commentary tracks, my favorite by Pulitzer Prize winning film critic Roger Ebert, the other by Orson Welles biographer Pete Bogdonovitch. Ebert's commentary points out the details of this masterpiece, and helps anyone to see what makes Citizen Kane so great.

So what's the "masterpiece" about?

Quite simply Citizen Kane is a tale about the life of newspaper giant Charles Foster Kane: from Kane being taken from his mothers as a boy, do his death bead. Everything, every decision, in his life seems to be a reaction of being 'stolen' from his mother. Kane is painted in an unfavorable light of 1940's publishing tycoon William Randolph Hearst, and Citizen Kane. Hearst was so upset with the film, and it's obvious reflection of his life, that he did everything in his power to ensure that Citizen Kane never saw the light of day.

"The Battle for Citizen Kane," the two hour Oscar Nominated documentary, is on disc two and tells the tale of Hearst's battle with the public, the film studio, and Welles over Kane. It's a very fascinating movie in and of itself, as it describes the controversy of Orson Welles, Hearst and American Politics of the time, and Hearst's attempts to crush Citizen Kane. One of my favorite sections of this disc shows rare footage of Orson Welles reading his now famous War of the Worlds radio broadcast.

The film Citizen Kane itself is preserved beautifully in the digital format, and has never looked better. Watching the film this week for the first time in many years, I noticed that there are just as many special effects in Kane as there are in, say, Star Wars. Ebert even points this out in his commentary track. And the beauty of Citizen Kane is that it is still as revolutionary today as it was in 1941. Welles broke old Hollywood 'rules' while filming (the way he used focus and lightening, among others), and his brilliant technique is unparalleled even today. I continually found myself amazed at the visual style of Welles.

The commentary tracks also talk a lot about the visual style, and Ebert's track especially tells of the significance of what images on the screen meant to the audiences that watched Kane in 1941. Another important thing to remember, is that at the time, Welles was given a contract that was unheard of. He was only 26, and was given absolute total control to make his film. The studio couldn't edit a frame, and Welles, was able to bring his vision exactly how he wanted to. It's also amazing to think that Kane was shot on such a tiny budget.

Citizen Kane has been named the Number One movie ever made by the American Film Institute, and is a true classic in every sense of the word. DVD is a great format for this film, bringing out Orson Welles' style better than any VHS tape I've ever seen. The extras on the disc are also amazing, featuring an original trailer for the film (even the trailer seems to 'Un-Hollywood' and revolutionary), the 1941 Movie Premier Newsreel, a gallery of Welles' storyboards, photos, and other little gems.

If you consider yourself a movie lover and have never seen Kane, now is your chance to take it all in with the DVD format. If you like films that are a little different, you'd be amazed at how well a 1941 film holds up today with such movies as 'Pulp Fiction,' 'Memento,' and other time line-bending films.

So do yourself a favor - skip laying down another eight bucks for a mediocre movie at the local cineplex, and go to your nearest video store and rent a real American Movie classic (then go into depression thinking, "Welles did this at 26, and all I'm doing is [insert mundane job description here]." Sigh. . .

- Doug Crooks, Movie Critic

Just so you know how I rate my movies:
Rush out and see this movie immediately
See this movie soon, but on your own time
See this movie at a matinee or with a free pass, save a couple of bucks
Video store or cable TV special

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