In promotional cassettes for Citizen Kane, Turner Home Entertainment trumpets its 50th-anniversary edition as a ”fully restored” version, ”digitally remastered from the original fine-grain master positive.” But that claim is about as accurate as a tabloid headline from Charles Foster Kane’s Enquirer.
According to T.H.E.’s Dick May, only the first 10 minutes come from that much-vaunted ”fine-grain,” which is not an ”original” but a second-generation copy from the Kane camera negative (that true original perished in a fire in the ’70s). The rest of the images were taken from a preexisting duplicate negative because, says May, ”its condition could not be improved on.” So why doesn’t the new Kane look nearly as good as, say, Turner’s rerelease of the 1933 King Kong? Video-transfer technician John Dowdell, who created a razor-sharp laserdisc of Hitchcock’s Notorious for the Voyager Co., thinks the fault may lie in the transfer process. ”Translating theatrical black-and-white to video is tremendously difficult,” he says. ”If a technician’s not skilled, or his machinery’s old or not optimally adjusted, even a first-rate print or negative will come out lousy.”