RKO 281 (1999)

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The PBS documentary The Battle Over Citizen Kane (1996) was nominated for an academy award and so captivated Ridley Scott that he explored the possibility of turning the story into a feature film, but Scott couldn’t gain a commitment for a high enough budget – around $40 million – to make it a personal project.

Instead, though, he persuaded HBO to invest a lower sum, and confined his involvement as an executive producer (along with his brother Tony). British director Benjamin Ross (The Young Poisoner’s Handbook) came on board to shoot the film entirely in British locations. Those included St Pancras railway station, a swanky inner city hotel, and the historic 15th century Guildhall, which were stunningly presented as the lavish San Simeon Hearst castle that dominated the 60-something settings of the film. I wonder fleetingly whether Ross’s involvement didn’t create too genteel and cultured a vision of Hearst’s more vulgar tastes.

Liev Schreiber headed an impressive ensemble cast that included James Cromwell as William Randolph Hearst, John Malkovich as Citizen Kane co-writer Herman Mankiewicz, and Roy Scheider as RKO studio boss George Schaefer.

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Citizen Kane (1941)

An escalated commitment to exceptionalism

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For years I intended to write a scholarly paper on Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane (1941).  It never came.  Then I intended to write a review just because I hadn’t written the paper.  That didn’t come either.  Last time but one that I looked, I wanted to write a review as an adjunct to my equally unfinished treatment of film noir, and again I didn’t follow through.  The reason in each case was that I could not understand why it was that I don’t regard this film nearly as highly as so many academics, film connoisseurs, journalists, and sundry critics.  Worse, I thought it was because there was something about it that had eluded me, and that there could be nothing I might say that hadn’t been said a hundred time already.

Last weekend, however, I read the following lines in a newspaper:

… its reputation has soared to the point where it is regarded as a classic, a near-automatic inclusion on any list of “the 10 best films ever made”.

A number of books have been written about the film and its demanding director.

No, it’s not about Citizen Kane.  It’s director Bruce Beresford commenting on John Ford’s The Searchers (1956), a film of which he declares himself ‘not a huge fan … despite efforts through the years to convince myself it is a great film.’

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