Citizen Kane appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.37:1 on this Blu-Ray Disc. Though not a total slam-dunk, I thought the transfer offered a fine reproduction of the source photography.
The challenging source photography, I should say. Gregg Toland’s legendary cinematography offered unusually expanded depth of field so that even in many wide shots, all elements remained in focus.
This worked well for the movie but created potential difficulties for the transfer, especially in darker interiors. When seen in brighter shots, Toland’s work looked crisp and detailed, but with those dimmer scenes, the images could seem a little more tentative.
But not soft, per se. While the movie’s definition depended a lot on lighting, it still always seemed more than adequate.
Not every movie is supposed to demonstrate tight detail at all times, so the sharpness on display here was solid and seemed like an accurate representation of the original photography.
Print flaws looked almost entirely absent. Really, the only marks appeared during the “March of Time” newsreel that took up the first 12 minutes of the film, and those instances seemed to be intentional.
I thought these defects were oddly inconsistent, though. They looked very heavy in some scenes but they were pretty much absent in others, which made me wonder how much of them were intentional and how many had cropped up over the years.
Nonetheless, all segments that didn’t use newsreel footage were clean. I didn’t discern any defects once we left the opening sequence; if any specks or marks appeared, I didn’t notice them.
Edge haloes were a minor nuisance and one that I have come to suspect resulted from the original photography’s opticals. A few high-contrast shots demonstrated light haloes, but these weren’t a substantial distraction.
The Blu-ray came without obvious signs of noise reduction. Grain appeared natural and suitable for a film of this one’s age and visual aspirations.
Black levels looked nicely deep and rich, and contrast was clean and distinct. Shadow detail also looked fine.
As I noted, some low-light interiors could seem a smidgen soft, but that was an apparent artifact of the original photography. Within the dark scenes, the elements appeared appropriately visible. In the end, this was a strong take on the film’s complicated visuals.
The LPCM monaural soundtrack of Citizen Kane hasn’t held up as well as the picture, but it still seemed solid for its age. Dialogue sounded reasonably distinct and accurate, without notable edginess. While I’d not describe the lines as especially natural, they always seemed totally intelligible and lacked any concerns.
The rest of the mix seemed to be fairly clear and relatively robust for the era. Music and effects sounded reasonably lively and bright, and they showed pretty nice depth considering their age.
The track lacked any discernible background noise, as I detected no popping, hiss, crackling or other issues. Ultimately, the audio appeared to be quite good and represented the material well.
How did this 2021 Criterion Blu-Ray compare with the original Blu-ray from 2011? Honestly, the pair seemed fairly similar.
One could find minor differences between the two, mainly in the visual domain, but these didn’t seem substantial. The Warner BD offered a high-quality affair and this one resembled it.
Expect a ton of extras across three platters, and we open with three separate audio commentaries. First we find a track from film critic Roger Ebert, who provides a running, fairly screen-specific piece.
At times Ebert tends to repeat himself, which he recognizes. For example, he frequently tells us about the technique in which the observer of each sequence sits in the lower right corner of the frame.
Despite some redundant information, Ebert’s obvious enthusiasm for the subject helps make the piece vivid, and he adds a lot of solid interpretation and insight for those listeners relatively new to the details of the film.
Ebert mixes technical details with background information and his thoughts about the techniques. This isn’t the most illuminating track I’ve heard, but it helps flesh out the movie and offers an enjoyable experience.
I will note one curious aspect of the Ebert commentary, though. At times he espouses the notion that Rosebud gives us nothing more than a gimmick and a red herring.
On other occasions he seems to concur with the notion that Rosebud represents Kane’s lost childhood, which means Ebert appears to go along with the same thoughts I mentioned in my review. In any case, I’m sticking with my own interpretation, darn it!
In addition, we get a second audio commentary from filmmaker/Welles biographer Peter Bogdanovich. He also adds a running, screen-specific piece, but this one seems less compelling than the effort provided by Ebert.
I can’t blame Bogdanovich totally for the decline, as some of my disenchantment occurs due to the order in which I listened to the two tracks. Bogdanovich echoes many of the same remarks offered by Ebert, but this redundancy could have worked in the opposite direction had I screened the Ebert commentary initially.
Bogdanovich also tends to simply describe the onscreen action to a certain degree. Some directorial insight occurs, but not a tremendous amount.
However, Bogdanovich is able to inject some good information, mainly via anecdotes that relate to his discussions with Welles. This contributes greater depth to the subject and brings some intimacy to the subject.
Bogdanovich also inserts some insight not found during Ebert’s track, though I think Roger’s chat is superior in that regard. Ebert also fills his time better, as Bogdanovich’s piece suffers from a few too many blank spots, and a modicum of his statements deliver obvious descriptions of the action on screen.
Nonetheless, this is a fairly interesting commentary, as Bogdanovich adds enough good information to make the track worth a listen.
Interestingly, unlike Ebert, Bogdanovich doesn’t think that Kane was the best movie ever made, or even Welles’ greatest film. Unfortunately, he doesn’t go into depth about the flicks he thinks top Kane, but this still becomes an interesting revelation, especially since it goes against the common opinion.
For the third commentary, we find a Criterion exclusive from film historians James Naremore and Jonathan Rosenbaum. Both sit together for their running, screen-specific view of story/character domains, historical context, cast and crew, production specifics, cinematic techniques and interpretation, and related thoughts.
After two prior commentaries, it becomes inevitable that the third will occasionally become redundant. Nonetheless, Naremore and Rosenbaum offer a good amount of new info, and I like the fact they don’t always agree on various perspectives. This winds up as a pretty engaging discussion.
With that we head to Disc Two of this three-platter set. The main attraction here comes from The Complete Citizen Kane, a 1991 BBC documentary that spans one hour, 35 minutes, 16 seconds.
“Complete” mixes then-new and archival notes from Bogdanovich, writer/director/actor Orson Welles, theatre director Micheál Mac Liammóir, researcher Miriam Geiger, film historian Robert Carringer, sound re-recorder James G. Stewart, makeup artist Maurice Seiderman, grip Ralph Hoge, studio executive assistant Reginald Armour, editor Robert Wise, optical effects creator Linwood Dunn, film critic Pauline Kael, screenwriter’s son Frank Mankiewicz, writer Sam Marx, author Anita Loos, journalist Adela Rogers St. Johns, and actors William Alland, Ruth Warrick, Ben Lyon and John Houseman.
“Complete” discusses the origins and development of Kane as well as aspects of Welles’ early life/career and shift to movies, specifics about the Kane production and its technical domains, cast and performances, deleted scenes, notes about partial inspiration William Randolph Hearst, and the movie’s release, reception and legacy.
With 95 minutes at its disposal, “Complete” covers a lot of territory, and it does so reasonably well. Admittedly, I’d like a more straightforward approach to the production, as the show jumps around in terms of topics/chronology.
Nonetheless, we learn a lot and find plenty of information not located in the commentaries. Throw in the participation of various Kane principals and this turns into a good program.
With Working On Kane, we get an 18-minute, 16-second collection of interviews shot for Criterion’s 1990 laserdisc. Here we hear from Wise, Warrick and Dunn.
As expected, we get general notes about those participants’ time on Kane. Nothing here seems particularly engaging, but we get a smattering of worthwhile comments.
Also created for that 1990 LD, On Toland runs 15 minutes, 32 seconds and offers info from cinematographers Allen Daviau, Haskell Wexler and Vilmos Zsigmond. As implied by the title, they discuss the photography of Kane.
Much of this simply delivers praise for Toland, Welles and the film. The filmmakers offer a few actual insights but they mostly make this a puff piece.
New to this release, we get a chat with film scholars/effects experts Craig Barron and Ben Burtt. In this 27-minute, 34-second reel, they tell us about audio and visual domains in this fairly informative reel.
Film scholar Robert L. Carringer delivers a circa 2021 “video essay” that spans 13 minutes, 52 seconds. He talks about interpretation of various elements, with an emphasis on the legendary “Rosebud”. Carringer offers some good history and thoughts.
Next film critic Farran Smith Nehme appears in a 23-minute, six-second program. She looks at the life of William Randolph Hearst and how Kane reflected reality in this tight and engaging reel.
Reframing Kane lasts 15 minutes, 56 seconds and involves info from film scholar Racquel J. Gates. She relates the challenges she encounters when she teaches Kane to a 21st century audience and gives us some interesting observations.
Another piece from 1990, filmmaker Martin Scorsese presents a seven-minute, 25-second discussion of his experiences with Kane and how it influenced him. Scorsese veers toward the usual praise at times but nonetheless tells us some of why the film impacted him.
An 11-minute Still Gallery presents a running set of images accompanied by commentary from Roger Ebert, as he adds a decent overview of the production and some thoughts about the movie. The photos only last for the first five and a half minutes of the program, and then Ebert’s remarks continue for the remaining time.
This becomes a good collection, though unfortunately, the Blu-ray doesn’t improve the quality of the images from their original DVD source. Still, this becomes worth a look.
The Opening: World Premiere of Citizen Kane shows a one-minute, eight-second newsreel clip from that event. Unfortunately, all we see are some plain shots from the theater and we hear no commentary about the action. Also, the actual premiere footage only fills the second half of the brief piece, so it’s not very valuable.
Much more interesting is the film’s theatrical trailer. This three-minute, 47-second ad features material created exclusively for the promo, and it’s very entertaining.
Welles remains off-camera but narrates the piece and makes it wonderfully snide and mocking. I think it’s a clever and provocative trailer.
With that we head to Disc Three, where My Guest Is Orson Welles offers an anthology of Welles’ TV appearances across the 1970s and 1980s. This package spans 42 minutes, 37 seconds and involves segments from The Merv Griffin Show and The Dick Cavett Show> as well as a speech at the AFI.
This becomes a montage across those settings, and we get Welles’ views on his life and career. One cannot really trust the veracity of what Welles says – and Ruth Gordon calls him out when he relates one of his “tall tales” - but he offers a lot of entertaining material.
With Knowing Welles, we get a piece created for the 1990 LD. Across its 22 minutes, 24 seconds, we hear from Bogdanovich and fellow filmmakers Frank Marshall, Henry Jaglom, Martin Ritt and Gary Graver.
All knew Welles and they relate some of their experiences with him. We get a pretty good collection of memories, without too much fawning.
Under Joseph Cotten, we get two clips: a “1966 Interview” (15:16) as well as a “1975 AFI Speech” (3:02). The latter introduces an honorary award to then-new filmmakers and seems charming but insubstantial.
The 1966 segment proves more informative, as Cotten covers Kane and other aspects of his experiences with Welles. This turns into a solid chat.
From 1996, an interview with William Alland runs 20 minutes, 49 seconds and provides the actor’s thoughts about his life/career as well as his time in collaboration with Welles. Alland provides a nice collection of memories.
The Mercury Theatre category includes a few components. We find a 1988 South Bank Show episode (50:47) that involves actor/Welles collaborator John Houseman as well as a 1979 Merv Griffin Show episode (18:31) in which Welles and Houseman reunite years after their “bad breakup”.
South Bank offers a good look at Houseman’s life and career. Griffin lacks the same substance but I like the look at the two former partners together after so many years. Some of it repeats from the earlier talk show montage, but not much – and we see future convicted murderer Robert Blake as a fellow guest!
In addition, “Theatre” provides three of that group’s radio broadcasts. From 1938, we find “Dracula” (53:13) and “Heart of Darkness” (35:24), while 1941 provides “His Honor, The Mayor” (28:42).
The first two seem moderately interesting, but “Mayor” becomes the most engaging, if just because it offers such a blunt reflection of societal issues and politics. All three become useful additions to the set.
For something more tongue in cheek, we go to Orson Welles: On the Nose. This eight-minute, 21-second featurette discusses how often Welles would change the appearance of his nose in films. It becomes a fun exploration of an unusual topic.
Finally, Disc Three concludes with The Hearts of Age, an eight-minute, 21-second silent movie from 1934 that represented then 19-year-old Welles’ first stab at filmmaking. Loose and experimental, I can’t claim it offers anything especially compelling, but it offers a fine bonus for historical value.
A booklet completes matters. It involves photos, credits, and a long essay from Bilge Ebiri. This addition concludes matters well.
Possibly the most praised film in history, Citizen Kane remains an excellent experience 75 years after its initial release. The movie has aged quite well, and its stylistic techniques seem dynamic and compelling to this day. The Blu-ray offers excellent visuals, good audio and an informative array of supplements. I’m not sure this Criterion release betters the picture and audio of the Warner Blu-ray, but its long set of supplements makes it the best overall package.
To rate this film, visit the 60th Anniversary Edition review of CITIZEN KANE