Chris Morris writes this article in August 2001, just as the popularity of the relatively new home video format DVD was starting to gain popularity. Movie titles were released incrementally in this new all-digital format.
Morris writes that the popularity of Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane has created a high demand for the film to be released to the new DVD video format. Warner Home had been working on a 60th anniversary release and it was planned for the 25 of September in that same year. This new release was widely expected to be visually and sonically ungraded from the previous releases to home video. Morris writes that Warner, in their attempts to rerelease Citizen Kane, had originally not been able to find a suitable quality source film. RKO’s original camera negatives had been burned in a 1980 vault fire and as a result had also hampered past efforts a restoration. The 1991 VHS release had featured the copy owned by New York’s Museum of Modern Art, however this print had dirt and scratches on it, among other defects. Morris reports, however, that after patient and careful searching, Warner had found a new nitrate fine-grain print in a European archive and that this copy has offered better picture quality and served as an improved audio source. The improved audio quality is very important because the original score had a very high dynamic range. He also reports that the new DVD release would include an interview with Roger Ebert, a 1941 newsreel about the film’s premiere, and the documentary film of the Hearst-Welles conflict, The Battle Over Citizen Kane.
One might think that just like a personal computer user, large Hollywood movie studios would have countless backup copies of their master reels. This seems not to be the case. A fire at a single film vault destroyed RKO’s only master copy. Orson Welles was the recipient of the actual production negatives and his copy was also lost in a fiery accident in the 1970s. By re-mastering and fully digitizing the remaining high quality prints, the data can be stored in numerous locations very inexpensively and very safely. As we learned in class, nitrate has a propensity to catch on fire and is very dangerous in that respect. We also learned in class that Hollywood is usually very slow to adopt new media formats. DVD hit store shelves in mid-1997 yet this movie was released in late 2001, almost 4 years later. The studios might have an excuse in this case – the long and lucky search for a suitable master copy.
Monahan, Mark. "Music that makes a man a killer Bernard Herrmann's film scores spoke as loudly as any dialogue, says Mark Monahan." The Daily Telegraph 1 July 2006. 8 April 2008.
Mark Monahan writes about Mr. Bernard Herrmann’s musical career spanning from Citizen Kane in 1941 through Taxi Driver in 1976. Monahan asserts that creating music for motion pictures is an incredibly arduous task and that the people responsible for it are extraordinarily talented. He feels that cinema would be unimaginable if not for the fantastic and wild feelings created by film scores. Monahan writes that he considers Bernard Herrmann to be one of the leading film composers of the last 100 years. Herrmann, a Russian born immigrant attended NYU to study music and made his Broadway debut at the young age of 20. He began composing for CBS radio shows and this put him into contact with Orson Welles. Welles took Herrmann on for the film Citizen Kane, and thereby launched the composer’s long and successful scoring career. After Kane, Herrmann teamed with Hitchcock and was responsible for the musical scores of all the great Hitchcock films through the end of the 1960s. Monahan has much respect for Herrmann’s talent. He writes that, “Rather than merely setting the scene or complementing the action (though they do both magnificently), [Herrmann’s scores] virtually are the action, brilliantly elucidating the characters' gnarled inner lives.” He says that the opening scene of Citizen Kane (the ascending of Xanadu’s fence) is given “a sense of dread, regret and death of the soul…” Herrmann’s most famous musical passage is the shrieking violins of the Psycho’s shower scene. In his later career he works for French and American New Wave filmmakers.
The musical score to any film is one of the most psychologically defining aspects of the experience. The music, much like lighting, sets a mood. Before the audience even knows what will happen on screen, they can get a sense of what might happen just based on the musical foreshadowing. Herrmann brilliantly uses his musical score to set the mood and tone in Citizen Kane. In happy scenes such as those with the young Kane attending parties in his honor, the music is light and we think nothing of it. In more dramatic scenes such as the initial scene of Xanadu, the newsreel scenes, and the final scene of the film with the revelation of Rosebud, the music obviously takes a more dramatic and serious tone.
Davies, Marion. "The Times We Had : Life with William Randolph Hearst." Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merril, 1975.
In 1951 after W.R. Hearst’s death, his mistress, Marion Davies began to record her memoirs on magnetic tapes in the privacy of her Beverly Hills home. She was Hearst’s close companion for 32 years and some say she was the inspiration for the character Suzan Alexander Kane in Orson Welles’s 1941 classic, Citizen Kane. This article is the forward written by Orson Welles to a book of her recorded thoughts, published posthumously in 1975.
Orson Welles tries to clearly and efficiently explain all of his reasons why his character Charles Foster Kane and Susan Alexander Kane are not actual personas of William Randolph Hearst and Marion Davies. He does this by describing differences of Kane vs. Hearst and Davies vs. Susan Alexander. Welles writes that there are many parallels between his characters and the Hearst couple and that these parallels could have been confusing to the audience; however upon closer inspection, one sees that they are quite different. He begins by claiming that San Simeon – even if it hadn’t existed in real life – would have had to be invented for the purposes of the script. “Everything was invented.” He then writes that W.R. Hearst was born wealthy to pampering parents while Kane was born into poverty and raised by a bank. Marion Davies, a well known beautiful actress could have had anyone she wanted, whereas Susan Alexander felt that she belonged on the streets – and this is indeed where Kane found her. Also, Susan was a lonely wife trapped in an empty castle whereas Marion was a mistress and busy hostess of all the social events in Hearst’s estates. Lastly, he claims that Marion and Hearst is a love story while Citizen Kane is not. Welles concludes his passage by making one last reference to his film. Susan Alexander was a terrible singer and forced to perform by Kane. On the contrary, he claims that Marion was a very talented actress and would have been a star even without Hearst’s interference.
Central to general discourse of Citizen Kane, is the similarity of the movie characters to that of Hearst and his mistress. It might seem amusing that Welles, writing this forward 34 years after the movie’s release, claims that the characters in the film are absolutely not based on Mr. Hearst. So many allusions are made in the film to the Hearst Empire – the fact that Kane runs a newspaper, Xanadu, financially sponsoring and forcing Susan Alexander to perform – that it seems preposterous to claim otherwise. Welles ends the forward by writing, “As one who shares much of the blame for casting another shadow – the shadow of Susan Alexander Kane – I rejoice in the opportunity to record something which today is all but forgotten expect for those lucky enough to have seen some of her pictures… She would have been a star if Hearst had never happened.” It seems that in his older age, Welles regrets his cheeky comparison of this woman and wants her to be remembered for her own contributions to cinematic history.
Bosley Crowther was a film critic for the New York Times. He is one of the first critics to call Citizen Kane the best movie of all time.
Crowther wrote a glowing review of Citizen Kane on May 2nd, 1941, the day after the premiere in New York. He was so impressed with the film that four days after the premiere, he wrote in this article that Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane could be the greatest movie of all time. He conceded that he might have been going out on a limb and that the felt slightly uneasy about this bold declaration, but that he knew that the film was vastly superior to average film of the day. He wrote that because the film maker was so young – only 25 –he was not sure how the future would fare for Welles. He commented about the movie’s hyped-up release and stated that at the premiere, the film was “riding the crest of the most provocative publicity wave ever to float a motion picture.” This wave of publicity was caused by Hearst’s insistence that the film be taken off of the market before it was even released. Crowther wrote about the viewers reactions to the portrayal of the media tycoon. Even though not a single “black mark” is made against the character, the audience still walked away with a vague idea of the rash techniques used by ruthless publishers. This juxtaposes the films portrayal of Kane as an honest publisher. Crowther then wrote about the ending of the film and how he felt that it increased the complexity of the film because the ending didn’t explain itself. He was of the opinion that Welles was a brilliant filmmaker, but because he was so young, he would need more experience in the discipline.
This article is groundbreaking with respect to the fact that it is one of the first to hail Welles’s movie as a masterpiece and one of the greatest movies ever made. In the years after the film, its popularity waned at first but then began to increase with time. When one looks today at various organization’s rankings of the best movies of all time (eg Time, AFI, IMDB), usually Citizen Kane tops the list. One might think that Crowther’s positive reviews of the film would inspire more viewership, however the film was not a blockbuster and it seems that Hearst’s attempts at suppressing it were effective.
Leff, Leonard J. "Reading Kane." University of California Press; Film Quarterly, Vol. 39, No. 1 (Autumn, 1985), pp. 10-21
In this article, critic Leonard J. Leff comments on the meaning of Rosebud.
Leonard Leff aims to examine and explain certain questions regarding Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane. He writes that he wants to comment about the arranger of the images, the audience, and a method of reading the film that would allow one to understand his or her reactions to viewing the film and understand the meaning of what they are seeing. Leff begins by describing the methods of presentation of the character Charles Foster Kane by following the journey of Jerry Thompson, the newsreel reporter asked to discover the meaning of Kane’s last word “rosebud.” The history of Kane’s life is given as a summation of the experiences of those few people closest to him. Though Leff mentions the contributions of Kane’s second wife, Susan Alexander, and his long time companion Mr. Thatcher, he focuses on the revelations from Kane’s personal diary. From this point, the author moves his focus to the symbolic meaning of the sled called “Rosebud.” Does the sled give insight into Kane’s life? Does it help the audience understand the character? Can it be seen as a “missing piece of a jigsaw puzzle?”
Mr. Leff’s explanation of the meaning of the sled gives fascinating insight into Charles Kane’s persona. Rosebud is a sled. It is the sled that Kane was playing with on the day he was sent away from his home and his parents. Leff goes as far as to try to relate the sled as a symbol of Kane’s past – a symbol of his home before his great wealth. Leff writes of Kane’s reaction to leaving is mother, “From Charles’s sullen face, the film cuts to neither Thatcher nor the father. Instead, it dissolves to the boy’s sled. The sound of a train whistle far in the distance, connoting Kane and his guardian’s movement east…” Is the sled a huge puzzle that offers closure to the film? Leff argues that the film affirms this. The viewer is given a huge “rush” -- the timpani rolls, the music retards and crescendos, and the camera slowly zooms into “Rosebud.” The revelation may not solve anything because Mr. Thompson never makes the discovery, but the viewer is given a sense of closure.
Carringer, Robert L. "Citizen Kane." Journal of Aesthetic Education, Vol. 9, No. 2, Special Issue: Film IV: Eight Study Guides (Apr., 1975), pp. 32-49
This article explores the technical cinematic innovations that affect the composition of Welles's scenes.
In his essay on Citizen Kane, Robert Carringer describes this history of what many critics consider Orson Welles’s (and perhaps all of history’s) greatest film. Mr. Carringer begins by revealing some biographical information of Welles and the technical innovations that he pioneered in the film (all serving to draw closer attention to the acting). Most notably he comments on Welles’s use of unexpected ultra-low angles, his preference of using single long takes without intercutting, and the extreme depth of field that is used to bring every part of the scenes into focus. Carringer moves on to write about the validity of comparisons that critics have made of the similarity of the character of Kane to notorious personalities of the day, including most notably newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst. Mr. Carringer also covers Orson Welles’s career transformation from radio to cinema, and he ends the essay describing the plot and character of the film.
This article fantastically reveals some of Welles’s technical cinematic techniques, specifically the use of large depth of field. The director chose to break normal filmmaking conventions in order to achieve certain new dramatic effects. The use of extraordinary depth of field shots was quite unorthodox considering the technology available at the time. The camera aperture has to be very small to achieve this effect and therefore Welles had to use extremely fast film stock as well as special lights and lenses in order to let in as much light as possible. A larger depth of field eliminates the need for editing to break the dramatic space into multiple centers and it also allows for long, drawn out single-take shots. As items from infinity to within a few inches of the lens were all in focus, this enticed Welles to compose his scenes such that the audience’s attention would be drawn to characters entering from far away and off screen. An example is the flashback scene taken from the diary of Kane’s childhood. The shot frames 4 characters: Mary Kane signing away her son, Thatcher busily pushing the papers to her, Jim Kane pacing in the middle ground, and Charles, obliviously playing outdoors in the snow, seen through the window. This unusual effect helped to revolutionize film cinema and is taken for granted by future generations.
This article by a LA Times correspondent, written on May 9, 1941, documents the west coast premiere of Orson Welles’s famous film Citizen Kane. Kendall reports that the premiere of Citizen Kane is held at the famous El Capitan Theater, a Hollywood landmark stage theater. The author describes a nostalgic feeling of “the old days” of Hollywood amid spot lights which pierced the sky in front of thousands of fans gathered – much in today’s fashion – to see their favorite stars. The glitz and glamour seems to add to Welles’s ego as he walks down the red carpet, his entrance timed. The crowds make even more noise for Barrymore as he walks into the theater. When stopped for questioning on the red carpet, Welles makes only one remark – about his gratefulness to George Schaefer, the president of RIO-Radio Pictures. “If it had not been for George J. Schaefer there would not be a Citizen Kane.” Outside the theater, the star-struck crowd for the premiere is so large that RKO had to erect temporary bleachers. The article then extensively lists the famous attendees, including Mickey Rooney, Ronald Reagan and Bob Hope. Kendall also includes a photograph of the “stellar foursome” including John Barrymore, Dolores Del Rio, Orson Welles, and Dorothy Comingore.
This article is a fantastic first hand account of the media and popular frenzy surrounding the grand release of RKO’s Citizen Kane. The movie premiered at the famous El Capitan Theater and was the first movie to be shown at that location. The theater remains a landmark to this day on the Hollywood strip. This article clearly shows that despite Hearst’s best efforts to suppress the film’s release, these attempts only furthered to publicize the movie and create even more attention for the premiere. Hearst did succeed in limiting the films success and it wasn’t for many years that interest in the film was revived. This article also, interestingly enough, reveals that as early as 1941, Hollywood felt a sense of nostalgia for the good-old-days of past. It is interesting to see these feelings manifest at such an early date, especially because today we consider Hollywood’s Golden Age to encompass the 1920s through the late 1950s.
This article taken from the January 27, 1941 issue of Time magazine was written shortly after the movie was completed, but a good three months before the theatrical release on May 1st, 1941. The article, written after the initial press screening of Citizen Kane describes the very initial reaction of William Randolph Hearst’s “Cinecolumnist” Lolly Parsons after she sees a private screening of the film with her two lawyers and chauffer. RKO’s first screening of the film included invitations to Hollywood’s “journalistic elite” with the notable exception of Hearst’s representatives. This raising an initial suspicion, compelled Ms. Parsons to insist on a special showing for her review. Though told by Orson Welles that the movie was not about Mr. Hearst, she noted obvious similarities and appealed to RKO to halt the release of Citizen Kane. Hearst’s papers made no mention of the film. The article was written before the official release date was set and claims that RKO has decided to release it in the following month of February. I was also written before Hearst’s famous $800,000 offer to offset the production costs and halt the release.
This article is a fascinating account of the first weeks of the memorable Hollywood clash of Hearst vs. RKO regarding the release of Welles’s potentially libel-generating film Citizen Kane. There are many obvious similarities between Charles Foster Kane and William Randolph Hearst, and Hearst, among others is assumed to be a main inspiration for the movie and the famous character. Ms. Parsons, Hearst’s film columnist, cites the most obvious comparisons to be the multiple relationships Kane has with different women in his younger years and the “wholesale grabs of Europe’s artistic offscourings.” Because of temporal limitations, the article only touches the very beginning of the altercations between Hearst, RKO and Welles. The Hearst newspapers make no mention of the film, it is never reviewed, and eventually he makes an $800,000 offer to keep the film off the market. The 25-year-old Orson Welles reaches – as many consider – his peak. From here, he has a rapid falling out of Hollywood and mainstream cinema for many years.
Brian Henderson elaborately describes certain key techniques in classic and modern filmmaking by citing examples from famous films such as Citizen Kane, Bringing Up Baby, North by Northwest and Johnny Guitar. Henderson begins his article by discussing distinctive creators among set designers and production directors in “the latest stage of auteurist dialectic.” He moves from a comparison of Hollywood set designers to the architectural profession and discusses the value of production stills taken during the filming of movies. Production stills, though giving a simple and concise summary of the visual set which can preserve our knowledge of the filmmaking, don’t preserve the full knowledge of the filming because no single vantage point can be used to reproduce or understand a set. A photograph only presents a view from a single angle. One would need multiple shots from different angles to accurately learn about the styles of different film sets. Henderson argues that production stills are most valuable simply for publicity purposes – he cites examples of sets from Bringing Up Baby. The author also describes visual and illusionary techniques in filming, such as the use of large foreground models and miniature background models to simulate depth. Some filmmakers replace parts of the sets with miniatures that are built to scale or they use devices that create composite images such as rear projection, glass shots, travelling mattes, the Shufftan process, or an optical printer. Some of these special effects are used to supplement the narrative of the film. The Shufftan process which uses a semitransparent/semi-reflective mirror can be good at showing before and after images – a technique used in documentary filmmaking. He also mentions techniques used by Orson Welles in Citizen Kane, and techniques by Alfred Hitchcock.
Henderson elaborates in some detail the extent of the use of special effects in Welles’s Citizen Kane. An interview with optical printer, Linwood Dunn, reveals that not very many people know about the extent of the post production work and modifications made to the film. Many photographic effects used and only a handful of people actually worked on the post production special effects. Dunn says that special techniques other than advanced hardware had to be used to get the deep-focus shots that Welles desired. In scene of Susan Alexander’s suicide attempt, the girl and poison are featured in the foreground while the doctors and Kane contrasted as they enter in the far background. To achieve this effect, in-camera editing techniques were used. First the foreground was shot with a dark background, then film was rewound, the lens refocused, and the film stock was exposed again with the background lit and foreground dark. Over 50% of footage involved special effects, but this was not well known for about 40 years after the film was released. Shots of Xanadu (Kane’s palatial estate) were filmed as miniature models. This common technique saved money on set design.
In his letter to the editor of the PMLA, Walter Shear argues that Robert L. Carringer’s analysis of Kane’s character in “Rosebud, Dead or Alive: Narrative and Symbolic Structure in Citizen Kane” is overly complex and fails to see the obvious simplicity of the film. Carringer argues that Kane’s personality is a pastiche of the multiple viewpoints of all his closest acquaintances, and that this distorts any seemingly objective display or definitive account of the actual character. Carringer argues his case citing that the only way Kane’s character is revealed in the film is through interviews with close friends, associates and family members. As a result, the character, he argues, is subjected to the various biases of those describing him to the inquiring reporter, Jerry Thompson. Mr. Shear argues on the contrary that Kane’s character is revealed through his desire for people to love him. As Shear cites, “’Love… that’s why he did everything. That’s why he went into politics.’” He states that this relatively simple view can closely describe Kane’s actions and ambitions. Not only does it support Kane’s decision to run into politics; it also justifies Kane’s desire for his paper to have a personal relationship with each one of his readers. He also has multiple relationships in his young adulthood. Shear states that this quest for love could be a search to replace his mother as a source of love in his life. (This being a result of being snatched from his family at too young an age.)
Shear convincingly describes the motives of Charles Foster Kane’s impulses in life – politics, running a newspaper because it would be fun and enthusiastically underwriting his second wife’s singing career – all in an effort to gain acceptance and be adored by the public. With this knowledge in hand, one can very easily watch the film and understand some of the seemingly rash decisions that the character of Kane makes. Who in their right mind, with so many alternatives, choose to run a faltering newspaper “because it looks fun?” With a secure personal fortune and no need to earn money, it would make sense that a person in such a situation would seek to find personal gratification of a love that was never present in childhood.