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Citizen Kane on DVD

Citizen Kane (Orson Welles, USA, 1941, 119 minutes, Warner Bros, www.warnervideo.com & www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/kane2/

I know the world needs another comment on Citizen Kane about as much as it needs a remake of Charade or The Manchurian Candidate but here goes anyway.

The two-disk DVD set issued a couple of years ago in the States and available locally does contain some wonderful extras that warrant attention.

I suppose I watch Kane every couple of years but this was the first time I’ve watched the DVD. Let me say first that the quality of the image seems to me to be flawless, absolutely splendid. The master from which it is taken is clearly in magnificent condition. This time I decided to watch the film with the voice-over commentary of Peter Bogdanovich, the film director who has written a book on Welles and claims in his commentary to have been a friend of the director for the last eighteen years of his life. It would appear they spent some of those eighteen years discussing Citizen Kane at length.

Bogdanovich’s commentary is a superb mixture of telling anecdote (Orson’s theatre training causing him to think he had to handle the lighting almost inadvertently leading to the unique dissolves between scenes), personal information conveyed to him by Welles (his feelings for his mother and his desire to be a “speechmaker”) a deep knowledge of the history of the film and the film industry (the enlightening remarks about Dorothy Comingore and her subsequent career) and the observations of a very smart film-maker.

Bogdanovich “explains” how some of the brilliant deep focus shots were in fact two shots joined together, explains Gregg Toland’s role and the part he played in delivering the effects sought by a tyro who didn’t know what he could and could not do. At times too he mentions something quite simple. What Orson liked about the film and what he didn’t. It’s a most enlightening couple of hours.

The rest of the pack loads up the extras including a near two hour PBS doco which skims across the lives of Welles and William Randolph Hearst, thrown into confrontation by the film, though if you listen to Bogdanovich, not the whole story of its gestation and its purpose. The pack also contains a wealth of other material including another separate commentary track by Roger Ebert, the original trailer (clearly made by Welles and a brilliant piece of work lasting 3 minutes and 46 seconds), storyboards, production notes, filmography, newsreel shots of the belated New York opening and much more.

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