Directed by Orson Welles. USA. 1941.

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Citizen Kane, as well as being the first, is also the last fully achieved, uncompromised work of Welles’ career.’
Orson Welles: The Road To Xanadu by Simon Callow, Jonathan Cape, 1995, p. 575.
Citizen Kane dominates any (half-decent) list of the greatest movies of all time. The film is about a media mogul who creates his own towering palace that is built from the treasures of the world on a foundation of myth and legend. The subject of this probe into the ‘truth’ behind the legend is often regarded as being William Randolph Hearst, but it also took a swipe at the faceless ‘News on the March’ journalism of Henry R. Luce.

In retrospect the film is really about Orson Welles. As Simon Callow notes in The Road To Xanadu Orson often played with or invented the truth to cast himself in the role of Genius. His force of personality, energy, self-promotion, sheer physical impact and skills at seduction pushed him to the dizzying heights of stardom. 

Orson Welles had two ‘Dads’ and an ambitious Mother. He put Richard, his backward brother, in the shade and hogged the limelight for the rest of his life. Like Charles Foster Kane, Orson had a fascinating life of achievement, riches, failure and tragedy. 

Being from a well-heeled family, Orson went to the Todd Seminary for Boys, which had a fully equipped theatre. Virtually straight away he dominated all the theatrical activities with the willing aid of his headmaster, Roger Hill.

After school he fancied himself as an artist and journeyed to Ireland where with luck and bravado he got a position at the Gate Theatre. Playing the part of Duke Karl Alexander in Jew Suss he got the first taste of fame.

Citizen Kane on
                    DVD.Back in the United States he found it hard getting any work but introductions from influential people got him a place with the highly respected McClintic production team. From there his skills at self-promotion and hype brought the full glare of publicity onto his production of an all-black version of Macbeth. This was part of a Government funded project and was the beginning of a long-lasting collaboration with John Houseman. After the blazing glory of another Shakespeare play, Othello their theatrical productions stumbled. Renewed vigour came when they established their own Mercury theatrical company.

While starring in and producing all these plays, Orson made a tidy-sum recording voice-overs for the many radio stations in New York. This led to his Mercury theatrical company producing weekly radio plays for CBS. Here again Orson hit the publicity jackpot when the Mercury Theatre of the Air broadcast H. G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds. Houseman and Welles were unimpressed by Howard Koch’s up-to-date version of this classic science fiction novel, but it caused a sensation when it was broadcast in 1938. Although warnings were given throughout the programme that this was fiction many were so struck by the vividness of the production that they actually believed that a Martian invasion of the USA was in full progress. The next day a shame-faced Orson Welles had to apologise to the nation for creating this panic.

The power of the media was amply shown and it added to Welles’ reputation, indeed even those who had never listened to a radio drama or read a theatrical review now knew Orson Welles was a star.

This high-profile led to his unprecedented RKO film contract, which allowed him to make one film a year with hardly any strings attached.  After an aborted attempt at making Conrad’s Heart of Darkness he set to work on what was to be his finest cinematic achievement, Citizen Kane.

Using a newly-discovered 35mm fine grain interpositive and extensive cleaning of the film and soundtrack Citizen Kane has been restored to it’s former glory in the new two-disc DVD and video Special Edition released by Universal.

The re-mastered feature on DVD has an audio commentary by film historian Ken Barnes. On the accompanying disc is a 50-minute documentary about the making of the film, entitled Anatomy Of A Classic fronted by Barry Norman, which contains previously unreleased footage.  There’s a teasing theatrical trailer for the film that presents all the Mercury actors except for Orson who narrates the trailer and is represented on-screen by a boom microphone. There is a photo gallery, cast and crew profiles, and an outline of the film’s budget.  They have even included the original recording of The War of the Worlds radio broadcast, and a 1948 recording of Oscar Wilde’s The Happy Prince that includes Bing Crosby and music by Bernard Herrmann.

DVD RRP: £19.99
VHS Video RRP: £12.99

Nigel Watson

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