Picture Perfect

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Review of 'Citizen Kane', director Orson Welles

This DVD release of Citizen Kane (1941) in a brand new print is a moment for celebration. Firstly, it is a dazzling story about power. Loosely based on the life story of William Hearst, the newspaper baron who was the Berlusconi or Murdoch of his day, the film sets out to provide a portrait of the vanity and excesses of a contradictory elusive personality.

Secondly, Citizen Kane was also made at a time when the Hollywood cinema language reached a new maturity. Creative technicians embraced the opportunity to push the potential of the technology to the limit. This period was also a moment of enormous social turmoil, post-Depression, where writers were sharpening up their social critique in genres such as gangster and social problem films. Welles entered into this arena from a background in radical theatre. His career was to express the contradictions at the heart of 'Hollywood art cinema'.

Welles disdained Tinsel Town for threatening to reduce all its great ideas and talent into a homogeneous product, so his deal with the studios, unique to this day, was to allow him full creative control. Liberated from the need to justify his work to the studio bosses, he set about experimenting. The result is a film that combines the stylistic ideas of German expressionism, the craft of American theatre and new technical innovations directed at expressing reality in a more heightened way than ever before. It's rare to see a film where the harmony between style and narrative function is always perfect. Every frame of Citizen Kane seems to have been designed to at once underline the story and amaze us with its pictorial brilliance. The story itself flits between emotional tones with enormous confidence as Welles narrates a tale of a megalomaniac capitalist in the throes of collection mania, ill at ease with himself despite his riches.

At the time William Hearst fought to keep the film away from an audience. There was to be no mention of the film in any Hearst newspaper, and an influential critic worked behind the scenes to block the film's release and blacken the name of Welles. Welles just about managed to extricate himself from a tabloid style sting involving an underage teenage girl. In addition the original negative was burnt in suspicious circumstances.

The audacity and sheer exuberance of the film are still impressive and the informative documentary sets the context for the film, debunking some myths surrounding the project. The print has an amazing sharpness and clarity, with stronger contrasts, and a richer grading of tones. A feature shows a technical comparison between the new and old print and one is soon in no doubt about the need to shell out for this DVD copy. Welles's notorious broadcast of HG Welles's War of the Worlds, which terrified an unsuspecting nation of radio listeners and brought him to the attention of the studios, is also included. Citizen Kane is an enormously influential film and this is a must-buy DVD.