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Citizen Kane

What is arguably the greatest American movie makes its appearance on DVD in a two-disc set celebrating the film's 60th anniversary, finally allowing that perennial list topper (the AFI hit list; Sight and Sound's decade poll) to be a part of everyone's DVD library, and doing so in a spectacular new digital transfer that appears flawless and with what the box calls "revitalized digital video audio from the highest quality surviving elements." The film has probably never looked, or sounded, so good. Orson Welles's masterly debut film, about the rise and fall of a press baron based loosely on William Randolph Hearst, with its sleds and Rosebuds, is a delight, and never more so than in this brilliant transfer. In order to fully celebrate the release of Kane on DVD, Warner has added a second disc bearing The Battle over Citizen Kane, a 1996 documentary made for PBS's The American Experience. Written by Thomas Lennon and Richard Ben Cramer and narrated by Cramer, it gives an adequate summary of the background of the film. The documentary seems to rely on the Simon Callow biography, and so takes a rather hostile view of Welles, and offers a surprisingly sympathetic (and not unwelcome) view of Hearst. It's skimpy stuff, so that actress Ruth Warwick, who plays Kane's first wife, will tell about arriving on the set to find that Welles and Toland had dug holes in the floor in order to lower the camera, but the film won't go on to explore the aesthetic reasons why Welles and Toland did this. Instead, it's just a jolly tale about the crazy nuts making this movie. The second disc doesn't have much on it in the way of supplements, and the extras on the first disc are not as hot as you'd think from looking at the list on the box. Besides the movie itself, it offers Dolby Digital mono and subtitles in English, Spanish, French, and Portuguese, along with closed-captioning. There are two audio commentary tracks. The first is by Peter Bogdanovich, who's been dining out on his friendship with Welles for decades. He knows a lot about Welles, and has directed films himself, but strangely does not come across as an expert, just another anecdotalist. The other audio commentary is by Roger Ebert. As a high-profile movie reviewer and practiced public speaker, Ebert seems a likely choice, and his commentary is keyed to the moment by moment experience of the movie, though he does tend to tell you what you are looking at. Ebert's comments are fine for beginners, as far as it goes, especially if the beginner keeps his eyes open, and he does provide the occasional insight, such as noting the repetition of scenes in which Kane's fate is decided by others as he stands helplessly by. The rest of the extras are fine, it not consistently overwhelming. There's the fascinating four-minute original theatrical trailer with footage different from the film, which announces, more or less, how un-Holywoodlike the end product is going to bel; newsreel footage from the New York premiere; about three minutes' worth of a storyboards gallery, as well as a hard to read call sheets gallery (50 seconds); an 11-minute stills gallery with commentary by Roger Ebert; a one-minute or so gallery of material relating to a deleted scene set in a brothel called Georgie's, which was apparently filmed but deleted. In addition, there is a 90-second gallery of advertising and poster art, portions of the original press book in a 45-second gallery, and a gallery of stills and materials relating to the film's opening night. Printed material consists of a seven screen bio of Welles, a 15-screen production history of Kane, six screens of "postscripts" on the post-Kane careers of several participants, two screens listing awards and honors for Kane, and a screen listing the cast and crew of Kane. The good thing about these extras is that they are at least actually about the movie, unlike so many supplements these days. The bad thing is that they are ultimately underwhelming — and anyway, the transfer of the film is so good that half-assed extras really aren't necessary. Dual-DVD digipack with slipcase.
—D.K. Holm

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