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Citizen Hearst (2012)

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A glimpse behind the glass walls of the Hearst Tower, featuring interviews with top magazine and fashion editors of Harper's Bazaar, Cosmopolitan, Esquire and Town & Country, among others, ... See full summary »



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A glimpse behind the glass walls of the Hearst Tower, featuring interviews with top magazine and fashion editors of Harper's Bazaar, Cosmopolitan, Esquire and Town & Country, among others, while also traveling to San Simeon, Calif., for unprecedented access to the Hearst Castle and interviews with Hearst family members. Written by Production

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5 October 2012 (USA)  »

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Propaganda from beyond the grave
11 February 2015 | by (New York City) – See all my reviews

Oh my. Where and how do I begin? Maybe I should assume that you're like me, someone who saw "Citizen Kane" and the biopic "RKO 281" and became very interested in this mysterious villain named William Randolph Hearst and the allegations raised about his life. Naturally you'd think a documentary that rips its title "Citizen Hearst" would dig mercilessly into the guts exposed by the Welles film.

Not. Even. Close.

First of all, in this 90 minute train wreck claiming to be the true story of W.R. Hearst, a grand total of 8 measly minutes addresses the film "Citizen Kane" and the shocking allegations it raised. Did Hearst really invent the Spanish-American War to sell newspapers? Did Hearst really have an extramarital affair at age 53 with 19-year-old actress Marion Davies, and did he really buy her fame & stardom? Did Hearst really attempt to blackmail "Citizen Kane" producers with threats of exposing that they were Jewish & homosexual unless they destroyed the movie (as depicted in RKO 281)?

No answers here. None of those issues are covered, except for his Spanish-American War fabrications which this documentary tries to diffuse by accusing newspaper man Joseph Pulitzer of doing as well.

So what do you get for your money? You get a glossy documentary that's more about Hearst's impact on modern media than it is about Hearst himself. After 30 minutes, as if they ran out of good things to say about Hearst, this documentary abruptly shifts to a story about Helen Gurley Brown. What's that you say, who the heck is Helen Gurley Brown? Silly rabbit, she was the editor for Cosmopolitan magazine in 1964. Ahh, you say, wait what the heck does that have to do with W.R. Hearst who died in 1951? Silly rabbit, Hearst was the third owner of Cosmopolitan when he bought it in 1905. Ahh, you say, wait why would a biography of Hearst waste time talking about a magazine he didn't even create, and an editor he never even met? Silly rabbit, I have no clue.

And so, the next 60 minutes have nothing to do with Hearst except for the loose association that these modern incarnations (Cosmo, Esquire, Harpers Bazaar, etc) are currently owned by the Hearst Corporation. Imagine buying a documentary about David Lee Roth (original singer for Van Halen) and instead getting an hour of his replacement Sammy Hagar. Or if you're not a VH fan, imagine buying a documentary about Charleton Heston in 1968's "Planet of the Apes" and instead getting an hour long celebration of the stupid remake in 2001.

And by the way, ya gotta love how this documentary rams it down our throats that Cosmo is such a great feminist voice. Yeah, they failed to mention how Cosmo airbrushes and Photoshops the living snot out of their wasp-waisted, buxomely-buoyant, nearly-naked cover girls to the point that it causes severe neurotic disorders in millions of women. Please spare us the charity angle, Hearst's continuing empire is no more concerned for the common woman or man than W.R. Hearst ever was.

Next... (Oh man I'm just getting started!) let's talk about the people that this documentary chose to interview. There aren't any historians or biographers. Instead the hand picked experts are all managers, CEOs and other people on the payroll of the Hearst Corporation.

Oh yeah, and bizarrely they chose to interview film critic Leonard Maltin. Maybe that would've been appropriate if they had focused on the parallels between W.R. Hearst and the film Citizen Kane. But no, Maltin is just there to tell us his opinion of how awesome Hearst was. And narrating this documentary is William H Macy who sounds a lot like an uninspired actor who just needed the money from this gig.

Don't stop me now, I'm on a roll. Let's get further into what's so incredibly wrong about this production. The music, oh Gods of Olympus deliver us! I can understand sappy, patriotic, emotion-dictating music in a Walt Disney kid's flick, but in a (supposedly) impartial documentary? Do we really need rousing trumpet fanfare to augment Leonard Maltin's speeches about how amazing the Hearst empire is?

In the end, this is nothing but a paper-thin propaganda piece. I suppose it's fitting, given that Hearst was allegedly the greatest propaganda monger in American history. As the line goes in Citizen Kane, "Since the pyramids, Xanadu is the costliest monument a man has built to himself." And in this case 'Citizen Hearst' is the costliest film a corporation has built to itself.

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