Lionsgate // 2012 // 84 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Daryl Loomis // May 18th, 2013
Now you'll know everything.
Except you won't. Instead, the only thing revealed in Citizen Hearst is how much power one man can continue to maintain six decades after his death. This supposed documentary is less a revelation about the man and the history of his empire than it is an overt, pathetic advertisement for the Hearst Corporation and its subsidiaries.
Beginning with his father, mining magnate and politician, George Hearst, Citizen Hearst follows William Randolph's life from his early days to his days at Harvard to the day that his father bestowed the San Francisco Examiner onto him. That was the beginning of the empire and the film traces its growth through the rest of the film. But Hearst's death comes some thirty minutes in and, sadly, the next hour is a rundown of the companies that the Hearst Corporation owns and how great and innovative each one of them is.
All of the promotion for Citizen Hearst and the DVD box itself promised a real look at Hearst's empire, how it was built, and how it has maintained itself for so long. I suppose it delivers this, but only on the very shallowest level. One could dig deeper with a toothpick, but director Leslie Iwerks (Dirty Oil) has no interest in anything of the sort. I didn't necessarily want a hit piece, but I'd really like to have some of the messy issues of Hearst's life and legacy cleared up through objective journalism, it's nothing more than a celebration of wealth and power.
Given the promotion Citizen Hearst received, it didn't take me long to start wondering what was going on with the fluffiness of the piece, but eventually came quite clear. After the death of Hearst in the story, Iwerks begins her litany of the Heart Corporation companies. When she got to the Arts & Entertainment Network, I finally had my "aha" moment. A&E is a subsidiary of the Hearst Corporation; I probably should have already known that, but I didn't. Now I understood. Citizen Hearst was an internal project designed to please the corporate overlords. When they saw it and were indeed pleased, they realized they could air it as a giant advertisement for their company.
The shoddy journalism is compounded by pathetic interviews and an extremely boring narrative. Some of the luminaries shilling for the corporation include Oprah Winfrey, Leonard Maltin, Heidi Klum, and Ralph Lauren, all of whom declare that the Hearst Corporation is just great and allows them ever so much freedom and creativity. The current editor of Cosmopolitan magazine describes how they were a vanguard for feminism while, each month, reinforcing negative self-esteem for women that can only be solved by reading Cosmo.
Even the promised unprecedented access to San Simeon, the Hearst Castle, can be bested by a cursory image search on the internet, which is pathetic since those cameras would be the only ones allowed into the places where tourists cannot tread. The only thing worthwhile in the entire film is a minute-long clip show of the early days of ESPN. One minute in ninety...pretty pathetic.
Citizen Hearst arrives on DVD from Lionsgate. The 1.78:1 anamorphic image looks fine for a documentary, with sharp digital camerawork and realistic colors. The archival footage is of mixed quality, but none of it looks terrible. The stereo sound is average, delivering the narration and dialog just fine. Extras include three deleted scenes that are just as pointless as the film and an old episode of America's Castles featuring Hearst's unfinished monument to Gilded Age excess. The hour-long message here is basically one of look at how quaint it was that Hearst threw such lavish parties during the Great Depression and it's gross.
Citizen Hearst is one of the most worthless excuses for a documentary I've seen in some time. I've seen less advertising in issues of Skymall. If you love paying homage to your corporate overlords, this is the film for you. Otherwise, stay far, far away.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 84 Minutes
Release Year: 2012
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Deleted Scenes