Monday, September 5, 2016

A Moment with CITIZEN KANE

"Restored. Remastered."  I'm in a state of ecstasy when I see those words attached to a classic film being shown on a big screen or new to DVD.  I'm very passionate about film preservation and about inspiring others to appreciate classic films.  For decades, when respected film critics were polled about their picks for the ten finest films ever made in Hollywood, CITIZEN KANE by director/actor Orson Welles was always in the top ten.  But I never had any interest in the film.  Not even when my dad told me it was a great film at times when it aired on local TV in Los Angeles.  And that's why I couldn't really connect to it.  When I was a kid, there was no cable, no Turner Classic Movies on television.  We didn't have VHS tapes or DVDs.  We babyboomers saw classic films on local television.  They aired on "The Million Dollar Movie," "The Late Show" and "The Late, Late Show."  Local movie show hosts in L.A. like Jackie Joseph (an actress who later became a regular on CBS's hit sitcom, THE DORIS DAY SHOW), Tom Franzen, Ben Hunter and John Willis presented classic movies in the morning, the afternoon and at night.  Back then, you didn't always see prints that were in mint condition.  Also, there were commercials during the movies.  Often, scenes were edited out to make time for more commercials.  Such was the case with local airings of CITIZEN KANE.
This movie would come on at night and I'd try to watch.  The prints were always tired.  Grainy or too dark.  It never seemed the same because different scenes would be chopped out to make way for used car commercials.  It just seemed like a boring old movie about a boring old guy who once ran for political office.
I admit that my disinterest continued through the 1980s.  And then a buddy in New York City invited me to go with him to a revival theater screening of a restored, remastered CITIZEN KANE.  This was in the early 90s.  I went.  The experience was like liberty bells ringing in my head.  The movie was not physically as dark as I thought.  That darkness I saw on TV came because of muddy, over-used prints.  Seeing it in pristine condition, in its entirety, without commercial interruption and on a big screen was a totally different and thrilling experience.
It was...and still extraordinary film.  Orson Welles gave us a work of cinematic art.
I have since seen it many times.  A couple of weeks ago, I watched it again.  I gave it my full attention.  I got off social media.  I didn't answer the phone. I focused on the DVD.  And guess what?  I discovered something new that I'd never noticed before.  Something that's probably been written about by a film scholar but not in any article I've yet to read.  One of the most famous scenes of a Golden Age Hollywood film is the opening of CITIZEN KANE.  Charles Foster Kane utters his last word before he dies -- "Rosebud."  In his hand is a snow globe with a little replica of a house in it.

That circular snow globe motif, if you will, reappears nearly one hour into film when first we see Susan Alexander.  Notice the light above her as she leaves a drugstore with a toothache.  Kane is curious about the young blonde on the street corner who seems to be a bit in distress.  Look at the lights on the front of her apartment building.
Here's the item in the set decoration that I never noticed before until a couple of weeks ago.  When Kane first meets Susan, he goes to her apartment.  She sits at her vanity, still under the effect of some medication she was given for the toothache.  Look at the left of the shot under the framed photograph.
On the left under a framed photograph is the snow globe with the little replica of a house in it.
In previous viewings of CITIZEN KANE, I had never noticed that.  And the snow globe motif continues.  Notice the bulb that goes out onstage above Susan Alexander's disastrous debut as an operatic singer.
There was  time when some folks would say to me, "Why do you watch those old movies over and over again?"  But no one ever said to people, "Why do you read Shakespeare, Dickens, Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald over and over again?"  Now, if anyone does say that to me, I tell them that film is literature.  It is its own literature and you can discover new elements, new depth, new delights when seeing them again.  Just as you can re-reading Dickens.

It's great to be in an age of film preservation and restoration.

1 comment:

  1. Wonderful movie. I still don't quite understand it but it's the mystery that makes it compelling for me.



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