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Orson Welles' Citizen Kane on DVD (again): still worth picking up?

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There are some movies that are certainly benefited by Blu-ray editions, an easy option would be action movies that captivate audiences with the large spectacles they hold. A crisper, clearer picture helps drive home that this is a big event movie. Yet, why add a movie, albeit a classic, that carries subtler methods of drawing in an audience? Is it worth the extra money, the extra time spent re-treading a film you've previously seen or even already own? This is the question that has perplexed me since Warner Brothers earlier this year announced it would be re-releasing another Blu-ray collector's edition of Orson Welles' classic Citizen Kane, in honor of the film's 70th anniversary. The answer is still not fully clear, but let's look to see what could be a determining factor if you should be adding the set to your Christmas lists this year (no, its never too soon to start).

For the uninitiated, those who hear the word Rosebud and simply presume we are talking about the bud of a rose. Citizen Kane follows the story of young Charles Foster Kane, a boy taken early in life from his mother to be educated and groomed for presumed success by becoming the ward of a successful industrial magnate. Once Kane leaves the care of his handlers, he sets out to get involved in the news business and soars to great heights of success. Yet, his tale is continually undercut by harsh lows and blows to his ego by the family he tries to develop on his own. This is depicted through an interview format with those seemingly closest to Kane following his death, a conceit setup early in the film, as a group of reporters seek to understand the meaning of Kane's last word, "Rosebud."

Each of the performers, mostly members of Welles' Mercury Theatre Company in their big screen debuts are a finely tuned instrument. Each actor understands the role they play in telling the bigger story, and service the greater picture rather than detract from the focus on Kane's life. This is Kane's story and Welles' ball to drop. The young, svelte, and dashing Welles takes us in a steady progression through the decades that are depicted, the beats of Kane's life, with aplomb. It is remarkable to consider how Welles did not strictly rely on makeup, but changed his physical makeup to demonstrate this man's life and body breaking down and failing him till his dying breath. The screenplay by director-star Welles and Herman J. Mankiewicz cleverly engages the audience, pulling you into the seedy underbelly of this man who seemed to have all he could desire in life, but suffers from a constant feeling of ennui and detachment from those surrounding him. Welles' direction is subtle, each shot carefully constructed to add a piece to the puzzle of Kane that is not always directly stated. Welles beautifully captures the atmosphere of the fast-paced New York, crammed with people and power for Kane, and juxtaposes it nicely with the largese mansion, Shangri-la, Kane moves into with his second wife that demonstrates how hollow his life becomes. For those solely interested in seeing classic New York films this is a must see. The movie is also particularly dynamic for those interested in a good mystery, classic film techniques (oh the black and white contrasts of light and dark are beautifully transferred here on Blu-ray), and those who wish to see one of the most critically lauded/ controversial films of all time.

The real reason to get the boxset for those who already own the previously released standard DVD and Blu-ray editions of the film would be for the collection of special features included for this genuinely ultimate collector's edition. All of the features from previous releases are included (the dryly acerbic audio commentary by Roger Ebert still holds up well, a decade after it was originally recorded). There are also a few other minor documentaries that provide fresh insight into what the film's significance is to today's audience. Sadly as would happen with a film made seventy years ago, the entire cast has since passed on and there are very few interviews with the filmmakers available. Still the interviews and commentary that is given, provides context to a film that is captivating on its own terms and explains its unique positioning in film history. The American Film Institute has twice declared it the greatest American Film of All Time, and with good reason (the movie is technically groundbreaking and has a story that contains themes that are still palpable to contemporary audiences). Yet, due to how closely and controversially it satirized to the near-point of mocking then newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst (who was still alive when the film was made) the movie was blackballed during its initial release. When the Academy Awards rolled around in 1942 the movie only managed to win in the Best Screenplay category; allowing for the far less controversial How Green Was My Valley to snatch the Best Picture. This was a film that took time for audiences to realize just how ahead of its time it was (for the non-classic film scholar, a contemporary comparison might be to consider just how well-regarded and cultish Fight Club has become).

So should you get the giant fancy 70th Anniversary Edition of Citizen Kane? Do not hesitate if you have somehow managed to live your life this long without ever getting a copy, it is a film worth seeing and revisiting without a doubt. If you already own previous editions, it might be advisable to wait or steal a friend's copy to glimpse at the few features that were specially created for this edition. Yet, if you are a hardcore Blu-ray enthusiast then this edition is certainly worth the dollar and time. It is a movie that looks great and manages to dazzle without a single explosion erupting on the screen. Good luck deciding and hopefully this provides a better insight into the decision.

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