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A few words about...™ Citizen Kane -- in Blu-ray

A Few Words About

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#1 of 203 Robert Harris

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Posted August 27 2011 - 11:33 PM

I can't believe that there is anything that anyone could say about Orson Welles' freshman production about a man who "wants to run a newspaper," that hasn't already been said.


Suffice to say, for those poor souls who have never heard of, or seen in some quality manner, this old black & white film, that it was a 1941 game-changer in many ways.


Filled on a closed set, in secrecy, it is extremely creative, especially for its time in terms of story-telling, cinematography and acting...


Positioning of cameras, use of contrast and shadows, exposure of ceilings (also seen in The Maltese Falcon), diopters for close and normal shots combined, layered dialogue.  One could go one.


Finally arriving on Blu-ray, and apparently from the sole-surviving nitrate fine grain master, the film is generally beautiful.  The original negative was lost in a fire several decades ago.  Has grain been messed with a bit in clean-up?  Hard to tell, but nothing looks wrong or out of place.


A bit of bromide drag, especially in dupes, which is normal, but generally the fine grain looks to have been well produced, possibly only lacking a bit in the differentiation between pure black and slightly more translucent tones just above.


I'm thrilled with this disc, and the entire set for that matter, as proper additional discs have been included -- The Battle Over Citizen Kane and RKO 281.   While I'd love to had seen The Magnificent Ambersons included as a Blu-ray, it's only on DVD, and solely an Amazon exclusive.  I presume we'll be seeing a proper Blu-ray of it in the future, as I believe the OCN survives.  But wouldn't it have made a killer package to have both on Blu-ray, representing the work of Mr. Welles at RKO?


I'm not a big fan of exclusives.


Bottom line, understanding what one is seeing, the new Blu-ray from Warner is as good as this film will ever look, which is just short of stupendous.  Audio is also fully up to the task.


If I were to modify one small thing, it would be to bring down the shot in the screening room that reveals Joseph Cotten, just a couple of points.  Other than that, what I'm seeing is about as perfect as the film can get.  And yes, the rain is back on Mr. Bernstein's window.


Citizen Kane is, without a doubt, one of the most important classic releases of 2011, and may just head up the list.


I'm quite jealous of those who will see this film for their first time on this Blu-Ray.


Extremely Highly Recommended.


RAH


"All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible. This I did." T.E. Lawrence


#2 of 203 Dave H

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Posted August 28 2011 - 04:53 AM

Thanks, Robert. I have never seen this film. For years I meant to watch it on DVD, but never got around to it. However, with Blu-ray, I am actually watching these kind of classics for the first time and will definitely check it out.

#3 of 203 Brandon Conway

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Posted August 28 2011 - 04:56 AM

If only it came in reasonable packaging....


"And now the reprimand, from an American critic. He reproaches me for using film as a sacred & lasting medium, like a painting or a book. He does not believe that filmmaking is an inferior art, but he believes, and quite rightly, that a reel goes quickly, that the public are looking above all for relaxation, that film is fragile and that it is pretentious to express the power of one's soul by such ephemeral and delicate means, that Charlie Chaplin's or Buster Keaton's first films can only be seen on very rare and badly spoiled prints. I add that the cinema is making daily progress and that eventually films that we consider marvelous today will soon be forgotten because of new dimensions & colour. This is true. But for 4 weeks this film [The Blood of a Poet] has been shown to audiences that have been so attentive, so eager & so warm, that I wonder after all there is not an anonymous public who are looking for more than relaxation in the cinema." - Jean Cocteau, 1932


#4 of 203 dpippel

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Posted August 28 2011 - 06:47 AM

Agreed Brandon. $40 is a bit steep. I'll be waiting for a release that's about half that before I'll bite.


Careful man! There's a beverage here!

#5 of 203 Brianruns10

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Posted August 28 2011 - 07:08 AM

Regarding Ambersons, I believe Warner's statement alluded to the cut OCN not being extant. Several years ago, they commented in one of the chats here that they were delayed because they were searching for better elements, and later they caused a brief, sadly unfounded flurry of speculation that the preview cut, possibly Welles' Brazilian print, had been located, when they made the cryptic statement "We have found new elements." So perhaps they found a fine grain, or maybe a dupe neg. Again, just a shot out there, since I can't say when quality dupe neg stocks came about (Robert, you'd be able to help surely). Also, Robert, could you enlighten me on what "bromide drag" is? Thanks!

#6 of 203 JoHud

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Posted August 28 2011 - 07:18 AM

I bought it mostly because The Magnificent Ambersons is packaged in for $5 extra and I have never seen it. Not a huge fan of exclusive boxes, but I can live with it in this case.

#7 of 203 Robert Harris

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Posted August 28 2011 - 01:32 PM



Originally Posted by Brianruns10 

Regarding Ambersons, I believe Warner's statement alluded to the cut OCN not being extant. Several years ago, they commented in one of the chats here that they were delayed because they were searching for better elements, and later they caused a brief, sadly unfounded flurry of speculation that the preview cut, possibly Welles' Brazilian print, had been located, when they made the cryptic statement "We have found new elements." So perhaps they found a fine grain, or maybe a dupe neg. Again, just a shot out there, since I can't say when quality dupe neg stocks came about (Robert, you'd be able to help surely).

Also, Robert, could you enlighten me on what "bromide drag" is? Thanks!


Bromide drag, which has been discussed here before, is seen in dupes that may have not received proper agitation.  The general look is off an adjacent tone moving in one direction or the other, almost as if a slight tail has been attached to an image.






"All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible. This I did." T.E. Lawrence


#8 of 203 Brianruns10

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Posted August 28 2011 - 03:59 PM

Thanks! Boy I'm dying to see some screencaps of this. I'd imagine the Beaver will be on this soon.

#9 of 203 Patrick McCart

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Posted August 29 2011 - 06:40 AM

Atlanta's Fox Theatre screened this over the weekend. While it's not the new digital restoration, it was a beautiful 35mm print that looks like it was from a duplicate negative. Excellent sharpness and contrast, but I did notice Joseph Cotten in the back of the newsroom. It was fun to see half the audience get a jolt with the screeching parrot near the end of the film. :D What are your thoughts on the sound? I noticed there's a western-style harmonica version of the "Charlie Kane" song playing underneath the scene with Leland confronting Kane after the scandal breaks. I don't remember it being audible on the DVD.

#10 of 203 Brianruns10

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Posted August 29 2011 - 10:36 AM

I remember hearing it on the DVD. It stuck in my mind because at the time, it reminded me of "Moonriver." I bet it'll come out quite nicely in that uncompressed audio on the blu-ray.

#11 of 203 Hollowbrook Drive-In

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Posted August 29 2011 - 07:36 PM

Positioning of cameras, use of contrast and shadows, exposure of ceilings (also seen in The Maltese Falcon), diopters for close and normal shots combined, layered dialogue. One could go one.

Sorry Bob, but Welles and cinematographer Gregg Toland didn't use diopters (a special lens with a split focal-length, allowing near and far objects to be in focus in each side of the frame). KANE used simple deep-focus, in which the camera's aperture is stopped down to near pinhole dimensions and the set flooded with immense amounts of light to bring up the exposure. Use of a diopter is easy to spot: the background in the half of the frame featuring the close-up is out of focus, and the foreground of the other half of the frame is similarly fuzzy. With deep focus, everything's in focus, from front to back, and that's what you find in KANE.

#12 of 203 Brianruns10

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Posted August 30 2011 - 03:00 AM

I recall in one of the commentaries that Toland also used superimpositions of various layers to heighten the deep focus. Most notably the shot when [SPOILER=Warning: Spoiler!]Susan attempts suicide[/SPOILER] and you can see a spoon in a class on the nightstand in extreme closeup, with the rest of the background in focus as well. As I understand the foreground object was added later via the optical printer.

#13 of 203 Robert Harris

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Posted August 30 2011 - 03:46 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Hollowbrook Drive-In 

Positioning of cameras, use of contrast and shadows, exposure of ceilings (also seen in The Maltese Falcon), diopters for close and normal shots combined, layered dialogue. One could go one.


Gregg Toland didn't use diopters (a special lens with a split focal-length, allowing near and far objects to be in focus in each side of the frame). KANE used simple deep-focus, in which the camera's aperture is stopped down to near pinhole dimensions and the set flooded with immense amounts of light to bring up the exposure.

Use of a diopter is easy to spot: the background in the half of the frame featuring the close-up is out of focus, and the foreground of the other half of the frame is similarly fuzzy. With deep focus, everything's in focus, from front to back, and that's what you find in KANE.

Possibly I'm being a bit simplistic.  A normal diopter would leave an area where the differential must be well hidden.  If one examines, for example, the shot in which Kane is signing off on turning over the paper -- Thatcher behind desk at left in MS, Bernstein at R in BCU, there seems to be no line of demarkation.  The shot appears perfect in every respect.  The use of the word "diopter," at least for those who know photography seemed to be the easiest way to explain in a forum atmosphere.


RAH



"All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible. This I did." T.E. Lawrence


#14 of 203 Brianruns10

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Posted August 30 2011 - 04:48 AM

I know the shot you mean, and I think for that one it may have been a combination of a longer lens to flatten the scene, on top of the recently available higher speed black and white stock, as well as powerful lighting to stop down a lot to really pump up the DoF.

#15 of 203 Robert Harris

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Posted August 30 2011 - 05:10 AM



Originally Posted by Brianruns10 

I know the shot you mean, and I think for that one it may have been a combination of a longer lens to flatten the scene, on top of the recently available higher speed black and white stock, as well as powerful lighting to stop down a lot to really pump up the DoF.



the shot would have necessitated special optics.


"All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible. This I did." T.E. Lawrence


#16 of 203 Brianruns10

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Posted August 30 2011 - 07:03 AM

Another possibility: the Bernstein/Kane/Thatcher scene compositionally mirrors a later scene where [SPOILER=Warning: Spoiler!]Kane fires Leland[/SPOILER]. Kane is in the foreground, Leland situated a bit further back, and Bernstein in the distance watching. I recall this shot was created through optical printing, with Leland and Bernstein shot separately from Kane, and the two combined. Pretty amazing feat of timing between the two. Maybe they did the same for the former scene?

#17 of 203 Robert Harris

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Posted August 30 2011 - 07:43 AM



Originally Posted by Brianruns10 

Another possibility: the Bernstein/Kane/Thatcher scene compositionally mirrors a later scene where

Kane fires Leland
. Kane is in the foreground, Leland situated a bit further back, and Bernstein in the distance watching. I recall this shot was created through optical printing, with Leland and Bernstein shot separately from Kane, and the two combined. Pretty amazing feat of timing between the two.

Maybe they did the same for the former scene?


Interesting thought, but shots comped through optical printed tended toward a bit of jitter and movement, and in this case, steady as a rock.  Apparently Everett Sloane was told not to move a muscle.





"All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible. This I did." T.E. Lawrence


#18 of 203 Richard--W

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Posted August 30 2011 - 08:06 AM

I'm glad that The Battle Over Citizen Kane and RKO 281 are included as extras, but I do wish someone would find a home for the reality-docudrama The Night That Panicked America starring Paul Shenar as Orson Welles. This recreation of The Mercury Theater's "War of the Worlds" broadcast on Halloween 1938 aired on TV on Halloween 1975. It shows the theater company acting out the play in the studio and intercuts with scenes of escalating panic in the lives of listeners. It was unanimously acclaimed in 1975 and frequently repeated, but it's on the verge of being forgotten today. It's also a vital piece of Orson Welles lore. To paraphrase Paul McCartney, it looms large in his legend.

#19 of 203 Brianruns10

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Posted August 30 2011 - 08:07 AM

Well I dug out my old DVD, not having the new disc of course. The Kane/Leland/Bernstein, according to the commentary, was indeed optical printing of two pieces, but having reviewed the other scene I believe I was mistaken. There is a subtle camera tilt that would negate the possibility of optical printing, given that this film predates Vistaglide and motion control. I did notice though, if you look closely, Bernstein is really flirting with being out of focus. His hand on the document has good detail, but his face and body, being closest to the foreground, appears on the DVD to be just a hair soft, which would seem to suggest that Toland was really at the limit of the DoF of whatever combination of lens focal lengths, aperture settings and attachments would allow.

#20 of 203 Hollowbrook Drive-In

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Posted August 30 2011 - 10:10 AM

Possibly I'm being a bit simplistic. A normal diopter would leave an area where the differential must be well hidden. If one examines, for example, the shot in which Kane is signing off on turning over the paper -- Thatcher behind desk at left in MS, Bernstein at R in BCU, there seems to be no line of demarkation. The shot appears perfect in every respect. The use of the word "diopter," at least for those who know photography seemed to be the easiest way to explain in a forum atmosphere. RAH

What you're describing are traveling mattes, and the film is full of them and practically every other kind of special optical effect developed to that time, including glass shots and the Schufftan Process, but not for the scenes you and the others refer to. There's no line of demarcation between Kane, Thatcher and Bernstein because there's no matte or split field -- it's all just deep focus, a technique sadly all but lost today in a cinematic world where the typical practice is to photograph two-shots from forty feet away using a telephoto lens. I would direct your attention to John Frankenheimer's films of the early-mid 1960's, particularly SEVEN DAYS IN MAY, where he uses the same deep-focus techniques to exceptional effect. Again, no special effects employed, only a stopped-down lens and copious amounts of light. Frankenheimer and his cinematographer, Ellsworth Fredericks, had an advantage over Welles and Toland: faster film stocks and lenses, and one big disadvantage: they had to light a (flat; spherical lenses) 1:1.85 frame, meaning more of the set had to be lit brightly, whereas KANE was 1:1.37. In the end, as to the amount of light needed for each fill, it was probably a wash. Most directors know how to compose a frame side to side and top to bottom, but only a really superior director, like Welles and Frankenheimer, can compose a shot front-to-back in such an exquisite way that it becomes a key component in the story-telling process.





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