HOLLYWOOD — A subdued, stately mood dominated the El Capitan on Thursday, where nearly 600 attended a gala screening of Orson Welles’ “Citizen Kane,” sponsored by Warner Home Video and the American Film Institute, as part of the launch of the newly restored pic on DVD.
From pre-screening reception invitees listening intently to President Bush’s address to Congress to AFI’s Jean Firstenberg paying tribute to Gotham fire and rescue workers and intro’ing a mass-singing of “America the Beautiful,” the event was several degrees removed from the typical industry bash.
Venue was apt, since this was where “Kane” made its Hollywood preem 60 years ago, though the exact date was four months earlier, on May 1, 1941. Welles biographer and helmer Peter Bogdanovich (who also did an audio commentary track, along with critic Roger Ebert, for the DVD) laced amusing impersonations of Welles and John Ford, who he noted was Welles’ favorite director, during his intro.
“Orson hated talking about ‘Kane.’ One time when I was talking with him, he was raving about Greta Garbo. I couldn’t help be the party-pooper and say to Orson, ‘Yes, but wasn’t it a shame that she only made two great movies?’ Orson paused, looked at me and said, ‘Well, you only need to make one.’ ”
Bogdanovich added that, without naming them, he deems that Welles made more than one great pic, but that “Kane” is the landmark: “It’s probably the first modern film.”
A few attendees noted how, after Bush’s rally speech, the resumption of swing music at the reception lent the air of what it must have felt like on the World War II home front.
One who recalled that era firsthand was guest Robert Wise, editor of “Kane” and the only living member of Welles’ creative crew.
“It feels great to be here and see the film live on 60 years later,” Wise said. “We knew that we were getting something special during the early stages of the shoot, because as editor I would see the dailies alongside Orson. I would get excited to see what came in each day. All the actors were new, and what was being done was very unusual for a picture in those days.”
Crowd was not especially delayed by additional security going in, and was asked to contribute to the American Red Cross on the way out. Guests included Warner VP of video mastering Ned Price (who supervised the restoration) and Warner Home Video exec veep and G.M. (U.S.) Thomas F. Lesinski; plus Sasha Alexander, Elliott Gould, Jack Klugman and Alan Thicke.