Released to little business in 1941, Orson Welles’ directorial debut has loomed large ever since. While I wouldn’t put it on my “best of” list, there’s no doubt it’s a watershed moment in cinema — one with so much artistic impact that he burned out fairly quickly. Near the end of his life, the film genius was considered a has-been, reduced to do mostly voice work, including the animated “Transformers” movie. If “Kane” was the top, Unicron certainly is the bottom.
Warner Bros.’ three-disc anniversary edition is a treat, and not only because the drama is available in high-definition, and remastered at that. It’s the best it’s ever looked — perfect for eyes to be in awe of Welles’ crisp camera angles, startling tricks and palpable mood. To someone who’s only seen it before on TV and VHS, this restoration is a revelation.
To understand what made “Kane” so revolutionary and why it’s important today, refer to the set’s other two discs — DVDs, it should be noted — which do a solid job with two extra movies. From 1995, “The Battle Over Citizen Kane” is a feature-length documentary that is quite informative, if a little dry in that public-broadcasting way, which this was. I’m a little surprised it was an Oscar nominee that year, given how tough the competition is these days in that category. Better is “RKO 281,” HBO’s 1999 biopic of Welles’ struggle to make the film. Liev Schreiber (“Salt”) sounds a lot like Welles, and masterfully captures the man’s bravado and ego. It also reveals what publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst (here played not with sorrow or sympathy by James Cromwell, “Secretariat”) really meant by “Rosebud,” and it sure wasn’t a sled.
That detail may crack you up, given Warner Bros.’ showcasing of such as design element on the beautifully packaged slipcase. Inside are more than a few bells and whistles for the memorabilia collector, including repros of studio memos, posters and a souvenir program (man, going to the movies used to rule), not to mention a nice hardback book.
For the cinemaniac on your Christmas list, your work is already complete. —Rod Lott