Shiny Shelf

Citizen Kane

By Eddie Robson on 17 November 2003

For decades now, new audiences have come to ‘Citizen Kane’ with one thought in mind: it can’t really be that good… can it?

Remarkably, it is. When first released – although there was by no means a critical consensus, with James Agate describing it as merely ‘A quite good film’ – it caught the attention because its director/writer/star, Orson Welles, was only 25 years old and this seemed like the beginning of an incredible career. Unfortunately he never produced anything to equal his debut feature. Furthermore, its visual style and narrative were innovative in 1941: these have been imitated countless times since and have been sapped of their power to surprise.

This does not matter at all, because ‘Kane’ is still a very good story, extremely well told. It’s as simple as that. It does not owe its success to tricks, it’s just a quality piece of work.

Practically everything that has been said about this film has already been said, and yet I could talk about it all day. It’s full of great performances, from the big flamboyant parts (Joseph Cotten) to ones that last a single scene (Agnes Moorehead, who got her chance to fully shine in Welles’ ‘The Magnificent Ambersons’). Each shot is crammed with detail (keep an eye out for the unobtrusive appearance of Kane’s snow-globe in the middle of the film). It is vast, dense and hugely rewarding.

The one thing that does remain to be said, and said frequently, is that if you haven’t seen it, then see it. Click here and buy it right now. And if you don’t know then ending, then I envy you like I envied anybody who got to see ‘Casablanca’, ‘Planet of the Apes’ and ‘Fight Club’ without knowing what was coming.

The film has been released on DVD before but the package was a bit pathetic, featuring almost no extras. If the old copies (which, for purposes of identification, are yellow) get dumped in the sales, don’t touch them – get this one, it’s worth the extra. It’s a two-disc set, the main attraction of which is a spanking cleaned-up print which does full justice to Welles’ deep-focus photography and rich lighting contrasts. A great bonus treat is the inclusion of two of Welles’ pre-Kane radio plays, ‘The Happy Prince’ by Oscar Wilde and the infamous ‘War of the Worlds’.

There is also a new one-hour documentary hosted by Barry Norman, who clearly relishes the opportunity to wax lyrical about the movie. There’s a film historian’s commentary (not the Peter Bogdanovitch one from the US release but who cares, he’s overexposed anyway) and, oh, loads more. Basically this disc is no less than ‘Citizen Kane’ deserves, and just about excuses how long we’ve had to wait for it.

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By Eddie Robson

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