The Orson Welles centenary approaches so the posts this week will be devoted to one of my favourite film directors. The Complete Citizen Kane was an especially generous BBC documentary—comprehensive, authoritative and 90 minutes in length—screened in 1991 for the 50th anniversary of Welles’ most celebrated film. Christopher Swayne and Charles Cabot were the producers, and the narration is by Leslie Megahey, producer and interviewer of The Orson Welles Story (1982), a two-part documentary for the BBC’s Arena that ran for 165 minutes. Megahey’s Welles film was a definitive work for persuading Welles and his collaborators to discuss the director’s entire career at length. Clips of the long Welles interview turn up in The Complete Citizen Kane, as do clips from a later BBC series, The RKO Story (1987), which devoted a whole programme to Welles’ time at the studio.
The Complete Citizen Kane captures the attention at the outset by showing you a film that never existed, Orson Welles’ Heart of Darkness, the film that would have been Welles’ first project for RKO before it was cancelled due to expense. Helping narrate the evolution of Citizen Kane is William Alland, the actor who played the investigative reporter in the film, and also the voice of the News on the March sequence. Despite obvious sympathies, the documentary devotes some time to Pauline Kael’s controversial Raising Kane essay, and the fraught question of who contributed what to the finished screenplay. The Complete Citizen Kane ends with an extract from a radio show featuring Orson Welles talking to HG Wells shortly after Welles had shocked America with his adaptation of The War of the Worlds. All arts documentaries should be this good.