E.T. and Citizen Kane: Strangely related

In their own way, E.T. and Citizen Kane have been two of the most influential movies of all time.

An escapist parable on the importance of family, wonder and understanding, E.T. inspired a generation of fantastic children’s movies with dazzling special effects and has left an indelible mark on pop culture. Who hasn’t heard the phrase “E.T. phone home”? However, strange as it may sound, a sci-fi family movie like Steven Spielberg’s E.T. could never have been made without Orson Wells’ dramatic masterpiece of 1941 Citizen Kane.

The recently released and remastered version of Citizen Kane on DVD is accompanied by an insightful two-hour documentary, The Battle over Citizen Kane, in which one learns that the film was the first in Hollywood where the director had total creative control over his picture.

Back then, Hollywood’s studio system meant that producers hired directors to churn out formulaic pictures to make big money at little risk (sounds much like today!). Citizen Kane paved the way for directors as diverse as Martin Scorsese (Raging Bull, Goodfellas), Daniel Aronofsky (Pi, Requiem for a Dream) and Steven Spielberg who all have their signature style.

As any film student will tell you, Citizen Kane has had a profound influence on film’s basic grammar. Of notable importance was its development of ‘deep focus’ (scenes where everything in a shot is in focus, so movement and composition determine where the eye follows) and ‘long takes,’ where a shot can go on for several minutes, without any editing. If not the first film to make use of some of these techniques, it was the first that did so to such an extent and as self-consciously.

If you don’t find these techniques engage your interest, (for they are often used today), the film’s great story surely will. The life and times of media baron Charles Foster Kane are described from the perspectives of those closest to him. We learn of his stolen childhood, youthful idealism and astonishing arrogance. In the film, the complexity of his character is emphasized by a shot of Kane walking by a mirror in which he is seen in multiple reflections.

E.T., like Citizen Kane has been recently reissued on DVD. For film buffs the special features on both are compelling reasons to rent them. E.T. contains an informative on-set documentary and recent interviews with Spielberg and the cast. The film is digitally touched-up by Spielberg; the alien is slightly more expressive, several omitted scenes are added, and guns are replaced with walkie-talkies.

Moreover, both E.T. and Citizen Kane DVD’s have production notes and storyboard drawings. Finally, the documentary The Battle Over Citizen Kane gives a fascinating account of the lives of William Randolph Hearst, on whom the movie is loosely based, and Orson Wells, who remarkably shares many similarities with Kane.

The Kane DVD also has an option in which Roger Ebert gives a play-by-play over the entire film.

If not for a little lesson in film history, rent E.T and Citizen Kane for some good entertainment.


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