Friday, 5 February 2010

Citizen Kane


Charles Foster Kane is an infinity of mirrored images, a multiplicity of versions receding into nothing.

Only once, right back at the very beginning of the film, do we see him unfiltered by someone else's memory. Even then, on his deathbed, his image is distorted by vast and grotesque close ups. We never look upon Kane as a whole, unbroken portrait. The sign on the gate we float over warns "No Trespassing".
No trespassing on him, it means to say and the film does indeed keep us at arm's length.


Can we get at the truth of the man? Can any person ever be fathomed and encapsulated by one symbol? This question is never allowed to flower, nor ever properly posed within the film. The more pertinent question is, given the flashback structure, whether these accounts are relayed as if the teller were there at the time or whether they are coloured by the sepia tint of hindsight? Who can tell? These witnesses are never interrogated. The reporters are always in the dark, literally as well as figuratively. As no-one could have heard Kane whisper "Rosebud" it is maybe we who are the ones driving the search to solve the mystery (note how the woman photographer at the end takes a snap of us as though we are part of the story). The implication of viewer as director/detective, though, is never given room to breathe.

The flash photo frame

The flashback structure of interlocking accounts could have proved a Pandora's box of overlapping and chaotic 'truths', confounding and enlightening, with space left over for our own interpretation. Sadly, each account fits snugly in the overall pattern, neatly butting up against each other. No different style is used for each section, no thought applied to exhibit the uniqueness of disparate authorships. The introductions to these dreams of the past are stilted and stunted much like the linking parts in a Simpsons clip show. The journalist equates his investigation to "playing with a jigsaw puzzle" and yet, even if it were a puzzle, it wouldn't add up to much. The play with structure is pitifully limited and does not achieve anything akin to the integral force of the flashbacks
in Memento or Mulholland Drive.

*** ***

The newsreel declaration "Few private lives have been more public" has two potential interpretations. One is that his private life is laid bare for all to see. Another, more apt, is that any private life and inner depths became entwined into the persona of Charles Foster Kane the global personality and vanish between the threads of his 'CK' monogram. Some call him "fascist", some "communist". Kane as a character is a chimera, a symbol of American success derailed, all over-weaning ambition and greed: "I am, have been and will be only one thing - an American".

What do we know of his morality, his beliefs? He signs his 'Declaration of Principles' with his face shrouded in darkness - in other words, effaced. There is no doubt that he will break these promises and leave us still in the dark over who he is. Slowly and surely, as he grows old and his hair recedes he comes to resemble a statue of himself in cold and lifeless marble.

Citizen Kane is the tale of a man's search for his identity, maybe lost, maybe never truly held or owned. Xanadu is unfinished. Kane is unfinished. Still, the mystery of who he is does not come across as mysterious and a viewer's first guess will almost certainly be right - the film is at heart dime a dozen Freudian whitewash or worse still a rehash of that ancient moral: What profiteth a man if he gains the whole world and loses his own soul?


The story comes, or rather may come, to concern Kane's desperation to be heard. He never wanted to leave his home, no matter how impoverished it may have been. No one listened to his protestations. In the childhood scene he dances happily in the snow, spotted through the open window. The snow is the white of purity and innocence*. From then on, the moments of relative happiness - successful sales figures, the announcement of his first marriage to Emily - are enacted through open windows. When Kane dances again, though, he is reflected in a closed window, cloaked in black. His figure is still small and the freedom of old is now an illusion. He is trapped within the room and jerks around in the manner of a sad automaton. He has no control over himself.


He does, at first. Many are the occasions where he sits or stands as calmly as the Sun while nervous movement revolves around him. We are often in retreat in this film, tracking backwards as a character moves towards us. In the beginning of his life Kane is in retreat as his Mum walks towards us. Later, he bounds into the room after his holiday, forcing us and everyone else onto the back foot. He is in charge of everyone but not himself. With The Inquirer his megaphone to be heard again by the world. Kane grows too big, pressed down on by the ceilings. Bernstein has plenty of headroom yet Kane's side of the room is foreshortened:


Kane, frustratingly, remains two-dimensionally childish. He feels betrayed by everyone around him and roars his disapproval in maniacal tantrums: "They'll think what I tell them to think!". He is a ravenous monster ("are you still eating?" "I'm still hungry!"). His selfishness walks hand in hand with his pride, his hubristic zeal. Everything is about him. In one scene transition Kane's applause for Susan's singing melds with applause for Jedediah's praise of Kane. He wants power, approval and control to balance his childhood loss of power and love.

Yet Kane's monstrousness is overplayed. The grand speech in the gargantuan hall is too much, too extended, too embroiled in the iconography of a plastic dictator. His insertion into historical events (standing proudly alongside Hitler on a balcony) borders on comic-book pastiche.

The scale of his image, though, affords us a tantalising glimpse at parallels to King Kong where now it is Anne / Susan who is treated as the ape and put on display to appease Kane's beastly American ego (above).

There is a mournfulness to this idea of a man groping for a tantalising mirage of love. He rejects anyone who gets close and surrounds himself with replacements for the living and breathing people that he let slip from his grasp. I say 'idea' because we are not allowed to see behind the cardboard backdrops to the mechanics of these motivations. The signs and symbols are there but not what may project them.

The many doors that close in our faces close again in his. Jedediah, who was there at the birth of Kane's idealism, tries to get him to see sense: "You talk about the people as if you own them!" (Kane was taken as property by Mr.Thatcher - a cycle of abuse, no less). Confronting each other, their new-found opposition is as flagrant as yin and yang. Jedediah has a hat, Kane doesn't. Kane has a tie, Jedediah doesn't. Jedediah wears his coat, Kane does not. Peculiarly they complete each other:


One of the final shots is of his statues, his decorative pieces, the crates and pallets that he collected. The camera takes in the panoramic view, artefacts uncannily and deliberately arranged to resemble a cityscape. Kane wanted to own the world and ended up with empty and fractured bits and bobs. It is the film's one spectacular coup, a construction of genius, a symbolic chef d'oeuvre sans pareil:


He receives the 'Declaration' back from Jedediah and its stark lettering on old greying paper makes it his epitaph. There was a state funeral, the greatest of 1941 we are told, but his real funeral, his cremation, is in the fireplace at Xanadu and his ash billows out with the black smoke. He was rosebud. Perhaps.

*** ***

The revelation of Rosebud as the name of a sled is not a material revelation. It does not alter anything in our perception. It reveals what rosebud is and nothing new about the man. A tawdry device. An awful amount of time is spent telling us nothing. He loses himself in fame and power, but what is himself?
The whole mystery that sets the tale in motion is established too early, before we come to care about what it entails. Kane's traits of arrogance and bloody-mindedness are demonstrated again and again within a story old, hackneyed and deadeningly predictable. There is little or no light and shade cast onto this inevitable rise and fall.

I contend that we must care about the characters and be carried away by the story. The films of Jean-Luc Godard play with the medium as if to demolish it and raise it up again. Those are his terms. Citizen Kane, conversely, is bombastically narrative driven, barrelling along in the wake of Welles' presence. It demands to be taken as an enjoyable yarn on a purely story level and on those terms it fails. It's narrative must be served by its technique and instead it is let down by it.

Kane smacks of the work of a student of film not yet a film-maker. The compositions do not derive from the characters' internal world (like a snow globe smashing, spilling the internal out) but are imposed externally, untethered to what they mean to speak of.
On first viewing I missed an entire scene's worth of dialogue, distracted by overblown expressionist design. Time and again the acute chiaroscuro, the giant sets, the muddying echoes fall into parody. The film essays foreboding grandeur but the text is simply drawn and its illustrations seem ridiculous in their imposition of hifalutin, steroidal 'meaning'.

The imposition of meaning is a thorn in Citizen Kane's paw. The visual illustration is more often than not pleonastic. Distressed by Susan's refusal to sing Kane stands over her threateningly. She looks scared and we understand that she is scared. Only Welles' strategies are anti-intellectual. He wants to make blatant the blatantly implicit. Therefore he has Kane slowly cast his shadow over her face. Can this be said to add anything? I believe it only takes us out of and turns us away from the film.

Frequently the story is obfuscated by a magician's puff of smoke. In the aftermath of Kane's election defeat the camera is placed at ground level, or just below. I was sat there thinking: "What am I doing on the floor?". The compositions are not assimilated and therefore they stand out. The picnic scene, when his marriage to Susan faces irrevocable breakdown, is played quite laughably to the strains of It Can't be Love. Back in their mausoleum home Susan and Charles sit miles away as they talk. Does one get the feeling, I ask, that they are drifting apart?!


Why must our hands be held like this? Welles substitutes the possibility of genuine emotion with a more hollow stylised representation of the same emotions. If emotions could be intellectualised there would be no need for art. He relies on something far less reliable than simple human empathy, which is directorial shorthand. By this I mean that he places too much faith in the idea that such and such a composition / angle / lighting will produce such and such a sensation in the audience. Citizen Kane's innovative images are too ambiguous and incongruous to be charged with carrying the bulk of the artistic load. Deep focus adds depth but not necessarily the kind that cannot be seen.


The attempts at humour - the opera coach, Jedediah's boredom at the performance - are broad and broadly misjudged. The acting lacks nuance and depth, Welles showing little behind the bravura and Dorothy Comingore unconvincing in her hysteria. The fact that I have often prevented myself from writing Kane for Welles and vice versa demonstrates that Welles' force of personality is all over the film, battling against audience engagement with the character stuck behind the teeth of a smirk.


Citizen Kane does not engage. All we may gain from it is academic ideas of feelings and not the feelings themselves, scooping tiny insects with our net on the surface of a thick and opaque swamp. I should want to know about Kane, I should feel for him. I should worry for his abused wife. I should be transported by the tale of a man at the coalface of history, sculpting both it and himself. A modern Midas indeed. Citizen Kane is an intricately carved and gilded shell with nothing within. It has no heart and I confess that I was bored. It has studied and pioneering technique but to what end? Without a purpose, an achieved aim, technique is nothing. Welles shows off in the same way Kane does when he poaches seasoned journalists from the Chronicle. It is not a great film and I couldn't, in all sincerity, call it a good film.
It is a peacock display for the cameras by the cameras.




*The cold snow preserves too. It preserves his secrets until the flames melt it away to reveal the truth. Snow slowly turns to rain outside the windows of Chicago and he begins to lose what was buried there.


105 comments:

  1. Stephen, I just discovered this on my blogroll as my lunch ended. Shoot - I'll have to come back later. It looks very meaty and thought-provoking though so I can't wait.

    In the mean time I'll say that, of course, you are not alone in feeling Citizen Kane cold and unappealing. Among others of that opinion, Ingmer Bergman thought it was boring and all technique with no soul (he also harshly criticized Antonioni, though at times he reneged at that point, and Godard - whose feelings seem to have been hurt when the fact was brought up in an interview!).

    Of course, he and you are wrong, but we'll have to save that disagreement for a later time ;)

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  2. This is an incredible essay. I disagree with a number of conclusions regarding the film's overall quality, but I must say that I echo more of your complaints than one might assume, as a longtime fan. I've always been bothered by how much everyones' stories match up to one another, as well-- considering how all the different characters seemed to have wildly different opinions of the man, you might think that a couple of them would disagree with one another's accounts. It's a shame that Welles and Mankiewicz didn't think of the whole "Rashomon"-narrative device before Kurosawa did, as it would've worked perfectly in a film like this. Without it, the frame tale does begin to feel a bit of a cheat, a bit of a gimmick which potentially overstays its welcome.

    Perhaps if we got to see more of the reporter than his shadowy face or the back of his head, it might stick more, but at times that just helps us identify with his position better. It's interesting just how much Welles & Co. are willing to make all the fakery obvious up front, nakedly parading cardboard cutouts of characters just so the audience has a cipher to delve into the story. The hand-holding you're talking about seems a natural gesture for a filmmaker who sees his work as a grand experimental fire across the bow of cinematic conventions-- yes, that's largely what it was, but one can't dismiss the feeling that there's a little bit of a condescending attitude there, as well.

    It's as though Welles felt audiences wouldn't "get it" if they didn't have the safety-wheels of a mystery replete with tell-tale clues, sentimental gestures and at times rather obviously conveyed grandioeloquent expressionism to get his point across. In his defense, of course, most audiences back then didn't "get it" at all-- maybe that was due to Hearst's smear campaign, maybe that was due to filmgoers being put off by Welles' "enfant terrible" antics, and maybe it was due to the fact that his film really was just as pioneering and experimental as he thought it was. As with "Rashomon", it's probably a bit of all three, but I feel that the second is a point of view that seldom goes observed, and is rather interesting in inspecting the film's initial impact.

    At any rate, I have to admit that I really like all the big, showy gestures that Welles makes throughout the movie, no matter how trivial some of them may seem in retrospect. I also have to compliment your reading of the film as one that's remarkably in depth for a self-proclaimed skeptic (that stuff about windows is interesting-- the first time we see Kane, the moment of his death, is seen through a window-pane, too). I wouldn't weigh too heavily against the film by modern standards, however--"Memento", "Mulholland Drive", even large chunks of "The Simpsons" wouldn't have been possible without "Kane". Still, there's so much food for thought throughout this piece, I can't really do anything but offer up my compliments to the chef.

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  3. There is so much I disagree with vehemently here about this cinematically on this cinematically and artistically blasphemous review, but I will grant Stephen his day in court and come back to this. In all my years of reading serious film criticism and in reading bloggers, I have yet to see a single review on this staggering masterpiece of this negativity. That doesn't make it wrong, but at least for me it diminishes its credibility. There is a reason why so many serious scholars, critics and filmgoers think this is a masterpiece. The whole world is not dumb. This is probably the most influential film ever made, and that's only the beginning. I recommend Pauline Kael's superlative examination of the film as a first stop for enrichment on this film. But I will surely come back and examine what appears to be a penetrating and exhaustive account.

    Bergman is my favorite filmmaker, but his movie taste is severely limited, so I wouldn't take too much credence in his appraisal. Not only did he not like Welles and Antonioni, but he couldn't stand Hitchcock, Fellini and De Sica among others (See INGMAR BERGMAN DIRECTS by John Simon). Bergman had very limited taste and interest as he noted himself in intervies.
    It's telling that CITIZEN KANE is still revered and worshipped today in the intellectual circles in France, Britain, Russian, Japan and China, and is consistently named the greatest film of all time by SIGHT AND SOUND in their decade polling of international critics.

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  4. The first sentence I submitted uses the word "cinematically" twice by error.

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  5. Bravo, Stephen! This is a fantastic analysis and assessment of one of my favorite films. Though obviously I disagree with many of your interpretations and some of your descriptions, there's really only one truly deep-seated objection I would lodge and it isn't even embedded in your review, but in your larger viewpoint:

    this is NOT a subjective appraisal of your own opinion, worth no more than anyone else's, it is an objective attack on the film as a work of art - and a darned effective one at that. Those may not be the terms in which you wished to place it, but the piece deserves to be taken on those terms.

    I'll return later to offer a more in-depth response, but for the meantime I'll say that, like Bob, I actually agree with a lot of your points even as I respond to them differently. Our deepest disagreement about the film would be that you see it as primarily - even entirely - cartoonish, whereas I see it as cartoonish AND deep - formally, thematically, and narratively. Its appeal to me can be hinted at, though not encapsulated, by Welles' embrace of both sharp expressionistic devices and montage alongside a mise en scene which utilizes deep focus and long takes. God I want to keep going but I've taken too long already.

    By the way, Kael, who loved the film, actually agreed with your analysis even while finding in it something more admirable than you: she called it a "shallow masterpiece."

    That's all for now, but I shall return.

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  6. Joel: Kael also said that it more "fun" than any other film ever made. (it's an exuberant, muckracking attack on an archetypal economic baron) which in the larger scheme might be an even more significant position. And let's not fool ourselves into thinking that the 'shallow masterpiece' comment even remotely mitigates her celebrated passion for the film, which probably exceeds any critic from any country. But then there's Sadoul, MacDonald, Agee, Bazin, Sarris, Kauffmann, Simon, Young, etc. As to your first paragraph, I would cast my vote for this admittedly excellent essay - and I do like Stephen Russell-Gebbett a lot, as he has always shown me concern and respect and he's a very fine writer and tireless blogger. - I will always read what he posts - for the proposal that this is a "subjective essay, not worth more than anyone else's" and most assuredly NOT any condemnation of a work of art any more to be reckoned with than you or me or anyone else. There is a reason why CITIZEN KANE placed #1 in 1962, 1972, 1982, 19992 and 2002 in the Sight and Sound polling. The film's magisterial brilliance has not abated.

    OK, it's true, Stephen has every right to write an essay against this film, much as I have inherent privilege to write negative appraisals of VERTIGO, TOKYO STORY, THE RULES OF THE GAME or POTEMKIN. Does a single review by one blogger mitigate decades of the most scholarly criticism ever penned by the world's foremost film intellectuals? I think not. It's an extreme minority position to be respected, but in the grand scheme it's a single opinion against thousands that feel otherwise.

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  7. Citizen Kane does not engage. All we may gain from it is academic ideas of feelings and not the feelings themselves, scooping tiny insects with our net on the surface of a thick and opaque swamp. I should want to know about Kane, I should feel for him. I should worry for his abused wife. I should be transported by the tale of a man at the coalface of history, sculpting both it and himself. A modern Midas indeed. Citizen Kane is an intricately carved and gilded shell with nothing within. It has no heart and I confess that I was bored. It has studied and pioneering technique but to what end? Without a purpose, an achieved aim, technique is nothing. Welles shows off in the same way Kane does when he poaches seasoned journalists from the Chronicle. It is not a great film and I couldn't, in all sincerity, call it a good film. It is a peacock display for the cameras by the cameras."

    I disagree with every point here, and am flabberghasted at the agrressive tone, intimating that others might be disturbed for being "engaged." I was engaged every single time I've watched this cinematic masterpiece, it has as big a heart as any film ever made, you learned as much about a single man's corrupted personality as any film in cinema, and you did feel for his wife. If you really feel that there is 'nothing within' this film, than truthfully there is really nothing more to be said here. You are thousands of miles apart from where I stand, and you comments earlier in the review where you even attack the 'misguided attempts at humor' are dire. There were a number of humerous bits of dialogue from this greatest of all film screenplays, - I always loved the line where Welles quipped about the paper closing at that rate in over a hundred years!"

    But I found this to be the most incompetant observation in this entuire essay:

    "Citizen Kane's innovative images are too ambiguous and incongruous to be charged with carrying the bulk of the artistic load. Deep focus adds depth but not necessarily the kind that cannot be seen."

    What do you mean they are ambiguous and incongruous? Those who have watched an dstudied this film for decades - including myself - found none of the images as ambiguous an d incongruous. maybe that's part of the problem here. Beacuse a film isn't to your taste, doesn't exclude it from the hierarchy of greatness. Case in point: I never liked CHINATOWN but never questioned it's greatest as I can SEE how and why others developed an dprocessed their reactions. I NEVER place myself above my criticism, which I'm afraid Stephen you have done here all over the place.

    ROSEBUD is a DEVICE, I thought that was obvious, and a compelling one at that. Because YOU don't feel for the characters, does not mean that I and thousands and thousands of others don't. I feel as strongly and as intimately about these characters than just about any other film in the cinema.

    continued---

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  8. "An awful amount of time is spent telling us nothing. He loses himself in fame and power, but what is himself? The whole mystery that sets the tale in motion is established too early, before we come to care about what it entails. Kane's traits of arrogance and bloody-mindedness are demonstrated again and again within a story old, hackneyed and deadeningly predictable. There is little or no light and shade cast onto this inevitable rise and fall."

    That may well be the most naive and disposable comment I have ever read in my entire life from anybody; it is completely ludicrous and uninformed.

    If you are bored with something, you need to spare your readers this kind of insulting rhetoric. You can't look down on your readers, as it's rude and unfair. I pose the problem isn't with this towering masterpiece but with YOU. I know I would never have the temerity to post something like this with a straight face.

    I still consider you my friend Stephen, and I know I have blown my cork worse than i ever have here, but when it comes to this film, which has affected me som many times in my life in the strongest thematic ways imaginable, well I think it's time I come to the plate.

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  9. I wanted to say something scathing about your dismissal of KANE'S brilliant, extraordinary an dinfluential flashback structure in favor of Christopher Nolan's MEMENTO (?!?), but I think it's time to bury the hachet. There si no question that you have at the very least brought some attention to the film and have fueled a discussion here, and you certainly worked hard at the review and the attentive re-viewing. And you are an internet sweetheart, gracing so many sites with your talents.

    Please forgive me Stephen for my forceful demeanor today. As Joel and Bob knows, it's out of character. Sometimes, when i really love a film, I become unglued.

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  10. Incidentally, I would nominate the deep-focus famous "snow scene" with Agnes Moorhead as one of the two or three greatets scenes of all-time. It's a textbook lesson in perspective filmmaking, and it opossesses an eerie beauty.

    Which brings me to this question Stephen, you'd be willing to answer it. What was your opinion of THE MAGIFICENT AMBERSONS?

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  11. "The revelation of Rosebud as the name of a sled is not a material revelation. It does not alter anything in our perception. It reveals what rosebud is and nothing new about the man. A tawdry device. An awful amount of time is spent telling us nothing."

    That's the point, Stephen. Everybody wants to read some great mystery into Rosebud, scrambling to find out what this larger than life figure was talking about on his deathbed. And in the end, it was as simple as a childhood sled. I think that does reveal something about the man. To have made it some monstrously revealing secret would have been cheap, "comic-book pastiche" as you call it.

    I'll give you praise for this well-written article and say that it takes balls to take a film of this stature head on. You're writing skills are spectacular. I disagree with almost every analysis, and do somewhat agree with Sam that it comes across as you thinking that everyone else is a fool for liking this film. As Sam says, the whole world is not stupid; there is reason this film has acquired the reputation it now enjoys. It doesn't mean that everybody has to like it, but I personally think it does mean that any honest movie fan should probably respect it. I don't get Ozu's Tokyo Story at all, I'm left very cold by it, but I don't for a second think that well-respected and long-established critics, directors, etc. are buffoons for citing it as one of the greatest films ever made. So while I'm not likely to ever put it back on to take in and enjoy a film, I'm not exactly falling over myself to try and "chop it down to size."

    On the whole, though, I have no problem with someone presenting their own opinions of a film's appeal to them personally or how much they like it. But the greatness of a movie like Citizen Kane is absolutely beyond reproach.

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  12. As you know, I agree with Sam and Dave's point about the difference between "great" and "favorite" (or, more to the point, "bad" and "disliked"). We've already had that discussion and will probably have it again; at any rate, I knew coming in what your thoughts on the matter were.

    So my takeaway was actually surprise that you went so far to engage with the work, and to directly relate your objections to elements of the film. This is what I mean when I say that your attack on the film is "objective" (not, as Sam, seems to think, to imply that you're correct or that your take isn't personal): you are not just relying on your responses to the work, but working to try and relate your responses to what you saw - that "input" we spoke of in past conversations, which I consider vital to any real critical evaluation.

    Also, your tone IS very forceful and despite your frequent protestations, it doesn't sound like you're expressing a personal distaste for the picture, it sounds like you're finding something wrong with it (and, by implication, those who admire it - you don't say that you don't see the heart, you say that it HASN'T any, which is different). I'm ok with that because you engaged with the work and raised a number of challenging points about Welles' vision.

    While to a certain extent you stand on shaky ground, and I'd love to delve further into some of your assertions, I had not expected such an involved analysis of the film.

    I would also add that while I've always loved this film, I've been dismayed by the extent to which many defenders rely on the technical innovation argument as if the film was one big textbook. To me its power relies not on the grab-bag of the tricks, but the dramatic and intellectual ways in which these tricks are weaved into the narrative, the theme, wider social and aesthetic context.

    I don't think I can launch a thoughtful and incisive counterattack tonight; it will probably have to wait until Sunday. But I'm sure the post will still be generating attention at that point - btw, if you think Sam was unhinged, wait till Dennis gets wind of this...!

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  13. "btw, if you think Sam was unhinged, wait till Dennis gets wind of this...!"

    LOL, that's the truth! I agree with what you say here MovieMan, and because Stephen is somebody I know and have conversed with on blogs before, I know that he probably isn't calling us dunces for liking the film. But it could easily come across that way to someone else.

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  14. Enough has been said about Stephen's essay, so now I'll ask Sam: how can you not like Vertigo, Rules of the Game, Tokyo Story or Battleship Potemkin???

    That does it. I am officially declaring the end of my friendship with ALL OF YOU because you've made me hate cinema forever. Haha.

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  15. "Still, there's so much food for thought throughout this piece, I can't really do anything but offer up my compliments to the chef."

    Thanks, Bob. I'm quite taken aback by your kind comments.

    I get the feeling, though, that some people think that the chef is trying to poison them.

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  16. Sam,

    "I have yet to see a single review on this staggering masterpiece of this negativity. That doesn't make it wrong, but at least for me it diminishes its credibility. There is a reason why so many serious scholars, critics and filmgoers think this is a masterpiece. The whole world is not dumb."

    The world is not dumb, no. I feel differently from it that's all.

    "It's an extreme minority position to be respected, but in the grand scheme it's a single opinion against thousands that feel otherwise."

    A crowd of people is still made up of individuals.

    "You are thousands of miles apart from where I stand, and you comments earlier in the review where you even attack the 'misguided attempts at humor' are dire. There were a number of humerous bits of dialogue from this greatest of all film screenplays"

    You are staggered and dismayed by my 'attacks' but why is your engagement with the film more valid than mine. I didn't find it funny and you did. Much of what you use to back up your views (if indeed one needs to back it up) is consensus and heritage.

    "Case in point: I never liked CHINATOWN but never questioned it's greatest as I can SEE how and why others developed an dprocessed their reactions. I NEVER place myself above my criticism, which I'm afraid Stephen you have done here all over the place."

    I could see how anybody might process any film into a masterpiece. That doesn't mean that I should compromise my own view.

    Place myself above criticism? You are commenting on this piece and I am responding to you.

    You seem to think that I am saying Kane is not a good film for EVERYBODY. Of course I am not. I am vehement in the expression of MY OWN TRUTH. Again I will say: If it says "posted by Stephen" underneath then they are my thoughts and no-one else's. I do not mean to condemn Kane and place it beyond the reach of people who may love it.

    You love it and say so strongly. I don't and do likewise.

    That may well be the most naive and disposable comment I have ever read in my entire life from anybody; it is completely ludicrous and uninformed.

    "If you are bored with something, you need to spare your readers this kind of insulting rhetoric. You can't look down on your readers, as it's rude and unfair. I pose the problem isn't with this towering masterpiece but with YOU. I know I would never have the temerity to post something like this with a straight face."

    I frankly don't understand why you are determined to cast my feelings and opinions out. There are no factual errors in my statements - only opinions and honestly held ones. If I 'insult' anything it is the film. Again your arguments are simply blank declarations that the film is a 'masterpiece' and therefore, Q.E.D., I am wrong - and because I put forth my thoughts strongly I am insulting.

    Looking down on my readers? I write first for myself and then for others. If I am honest about my experience with a film that is all I can do.

    "ROSEBUD is a DEVICE, I thought that was obvious, and a compelling one at that."

    I know it's a device, Sam. But it's not compelling to me.

    "That may well be the most naive and disposable comment I have ever read in my entire life from anybody; it is completely ludicrous and uninformed."

    This is more insulting than anything insulting you credit to me. You say I am wrong because you felt differently. That would mean everyone is wrong about everything and has no right to say it. I could say you're wrong when you say you engage with it when I don't.

    "Sometimes, when i really love a film, I become unglued."

    Don't worry about it. However, I will defend my right to say my piece even more strongly than you will defend this film.

    I don't want to start a war but the Magnificent Ambersons bored me rigid.

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  17. "Bravo, Stephen! This is a fantastic analysis and assessment of one of my favorite films."

    Thank you so much MovieMan!

    I tried to engage with the film's content honestly and straightforwardly. Some will not agree and some may find me rude or contrarian, but there is nothing I have written that is dismissive without due cause and there is nothing negative put forth that has not been assiduously considered.

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  18. Dave,

    "It doesn't mean that everybody has to like it, but I personally think it does mean that any honest movie fan should probably respect it"

    I respect people's opinions and the things that they enjoy 100%.

    Thanks for the kind comments, Dave. I am not sure my writing skills are 'spectacular'! Maybe I have the technique but not the end product (according to Sam).

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  19. MovieMan,

    "As you know, I agree with Sam and Dave's point about the difference between "great" and "favorite" (or, more to the point, "bad" and "disliked")."

    For me, I don't and cannot make a distinction.

    'Favourite' need not imply lack of study or discernment. My favourites are the ones I got the most out of and the films I get the most out of are the ones I am duty bound to call the best - 'great' if you will.

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  20. Adam: I absolutely adore VERTIGO, THE RULES OF THE GAME, TOKYO STORY and POTEMKIN and all those other films. I was only making a hypothetical point there.



    "I tried to engage with the film's content honestly and straightforwardly. Some will not agree and some may find me rude or contrarian, but there is nothing I have written that is dismissive without due cause and there is nothing negative put forth that has not been assiduously considered."

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  21. Stephen: You'll have to excuse me but I don't feel this to be true remotely. (above statement)

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  22. "Stephen: You'll have to excuse me but I don't feel this to be true remotely. (above statement)"

    Well it IS true, whatever you may think. I don't write anything as a joke or for effect.

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  23. Stephen, a Russian blogger who goes by the name of "Quirky Character" penned an interesting review of KANE at his blog. I had noticed this blogger had left a comment at one of Dave's posts, and I accidentally came upon the recently-published KANE review. It's an intriguing account from abroad:

    http://hollywoodexcellence.blogspot.com/2009/11/citizen-kane-1941-overinterpreting.html

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  24. Thanks for the tip-off, Sam. I will take a look.

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  25. Well I've read "Quirky Character"'s review and it is very interesting - I like the points about the lack of films concentrating on male psychology, about boxes and that bit of Kane role play:

    "“You have no business analyzing my life or trying to guess what I meant when I uttered ‘Rosebud,’ Mr. Thompson.""

    Very good.

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  26. Oh Wow. Will be back, Stephen. I promise.

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  27. MovieMan,

    "...it sounds like you're finding something wrong with it (and, by implication, those who admire it - you don't say that you don't see the heart, you say that it HASN'T any, which is different)"

    I don't need to say that I don't see the heart because it is implicit that these are MY views and not blanket generalisations of wider truths.

    If I eat a brussel sprout and say 'this is disgusting' it's obvious that it is me talking and others need not spit out their food in exasperation at being implicated.

    It would get tiresome having to constantly write "from my point of view" or "in my opinion". All I need to write is "posted by Stephen" at the end for people to know it is one individual's perspective.

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  28. JAFB, I am very curious to know what you think about what I have written and about Citizen Kane in general.

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  29. I still think your tone and language suggests something concretely wrong with the film itself, and not merely with your perception of it. I think the contrasts you draw between subjectivity and objectivity are too broad...there's a grey space in between and you're inhabiting it.

    Which, by the way, I like! (At least aside from your sincere denial of such.) It seems that when you speak of subjectivity, you are really speaking of your own tools for ascertaining and judging the concrete. In other words, your assessments are always filtered through your own consciousness (which I obviously don't disagree with), but you're STILL making assertions about the work. They are imperfect inasmuch as they are not omniscent, but to me that doesn't disqualify them from a certain (perhaps semi-)objectivity: they are still assertions about the work, not about your perception thereof.

    It's one individual's perspective, yes, but one individual's perspective on the ultimate truth, not on one's own perspective. At any rate, whatever your intentions the language you use hijacks your purpose and gives a different impression.

    I'm going to continue ignoring the walls you put up in front of your pieces, the "do not trespass - private property" (hmmm, sounds like someone else come to think of it) and treat your assertions as if they are conclusive judgements and definitive assessments. That's where most interesting discussions begin, and I think your work deserves this approach - even though you might regard that as a negative trait, I don't.

    Now finally, do you really make no distinction between your various reasons for liking a film, or is there in your case no distinction to be made? In other words, do you treat your "guilty pleasures" (films that give you pleasure despite various flaws, or for entirely personal reasons - say, because you're interested in its setting or subject, or because you have a sentimental, nostalgic attachment to it, or for some other reason not really having to do with the film's qualities) as equal to films which appeal to you entirely on their own merits? Or do you honestly never like a film for reasons I parenthetically mentioned above, so the issue never arises?

    If the latter then first of all, I have my doubts about that (unless you are actually an alien from some advanced species, and not a human being), and secondly, if it's true than you and I are very different in our responses and I am more in need of the hierarchy and division between "favorite" and "great" which I propose; being more "fallen" than you!

    I still haven't quite responded to your judgements of CK but I'll be back to do so eventually, I hope.

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  30. To be honest, there was a big smile on my face through most of the article. I just love contrarian opinions (I, for example, dislike the Godfather and LotR movies).

    That said, I would like to argue with you, as I well and truly love this film, and I think I found something in your review which you might not have noticed.
    Quote 1: "Charles Foster Kane is an infinity of mirrored images, a multiplicity of versions receding into nothing."
    Quote 2: "Welles substitutes the possibility of genuine emotion with a more hollow stylised representation of the same emotions."
    'Nuff said, I hope. Nice review, anyway.

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  31. "I still think your tone and language suggests something concretely wrong with the film itself, and not merely with your perception of it."

    Well clearly it is MY perception that there are concrete failures and flaws in the film.

    "It's one individual's perspective, yes, but one individual's perspective on the ultimate truth, not on one's own perspective."

    'Ultimate truth' is a misleading way of phrasing it. I'm not talking about ultimate over-arching truth - I'm talking about what I see in it and what it IS to ME. Again, what or who else should I or can I appeal to? I have to consider things to be there as real as my hands typing on the keyboard. Otherwise I'll be stepping deeper and deeper into an infinity of mirrors.

    "Now finally, do you really make no distinction between your various reasons for liking a film, or is there in your case no distinction to be made?"

    Well, this is interesting MovieMan. Generally I don't actually look at reasons, unless writing about the films in question. Maybe the reasons I put forth for what I experienced are actually inaccurate.

    "...because you have a sentimental, nostalgic attachment to it, or for some other reason not really having to do with the film's qualities"

    There are plenty of films that could strike a sentimental chord with certain experiences I have been through. The fact that they do not all do so (only a tiny minority do, equal to the tiny minority that appeal to me of all films) makes me wonder if this is enough of a reason for or cause of me liking something.

    I don't have guilty pleasures.

    As for Nostalgia, isn't nostalgia created by something that was actually there and not in fact a mirage? People talk about formative moments in childhood as if there is little discrimination at that age. There is. There were very few films I enjoyed when I was young: Labyrinth and the old Star Wars films being top of that short list.

    I think it's best at this point to say that, when it comes to my approach to film-watching and film criticism, it is not something I am entirely conscious of. Just as everyone sees something different in a film, so perhaps everyone watches and processes films differently.

    Also, being unconscious in some way, it is hard to try and explain my exact philosophies. I'm still asking myself these questions, something that I think is more productive and more successful than trying to set in stone what I believe in a 'Declaration of Principles' and find myself trespassing on these tenets.

    I'm sorry if you find these answers unsatisfactory - so do I!

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  32. Ronak, forgive me for being obtuse but I don't quite understand the point you are making.

    I'm glad you enjoyed reading it, anyway.

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  33. My point was that what you thought was a weakness of the style might have been a reflection of the man being described. The man is all image? Okay, make the style all image too. In other words, the style is as shallow as the subject.

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  34. Stephen, thanks as always for the engaging response. That said, this:

    "Well clearly it is MY perception that there are concrete failures and flaws in the film."

    is going around on the merry-go-round again! Despite the semantic parsing, part of me feels we're agreeing here, which is why the inability to get a fix on your perspective is so frustrating. Here, then:

    There IS a concrete reality. (leading to the "concrete" failures and flaws in the film)

    Our perception of said reality will always be incomplete, partial, imperfect - to a certain extent guesswork, at best educated guesswork.

    Nonetheless, we are grasping towards something concrete and common, however unable we are to ever really get ahold of it.

    Do we agree on this much? From here, I think we can disagree on how to phrase things, and on certain conclusions or imperatives we draw from the above facts, but at least we can be disagreeing from some sliver of common ground.

    As for the rest...

    Well, then it looks like (unless you ARE an alien) we have a fundamentally different way of experiencing art.

    Because I DO have guilty pleasures, and not because I choose to term them that way but because they fit a category you deny yourself: I am susceptible to purely sentimental appeal (less so in terms of connecting with my personal life, then perhaps to things I've experienced - places, events - or things I'm interested in). And as a child, I was NOT very selective. There were things that did not appeal to me but my imagination had a way of fixating on and romanticizing objects that were perhaps not worthy of such - investing them with qualities that were, in retrospect, not present in the works but in what I brought to them. And today, I can still find these works charming, desire to watch them, often even enjoy them, purely because of nostalgic attachment.

    So in my case, at least, can you concede that some sort of differentiation between "great" and "favorite" is necessary, if not in your own?

    "I think it's best at this point to say that, when it comes to my approach to film-watching and film criticism, it is not something I am entirely conscious of."

    Well, to be honest, I disagree with your assessment of yourself! Not so much the film-watching which I'm not privy to (and which you have continually characterized in a way that fits this bill), but in terms of your film criticism. Your work here is fully conscious, lucid, and dealing continuously with the concrete. It may make subjective assertions - what criticism doesn't - but it lays out an objective foundation on which to do so.

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  35. "My point was that what you thought was a weakness of the style might have been a reflection of the man being described. The man is all image? Okay, make the style all image too. In other words, the style is as shallow as the subject."

    I understand, Ronak. In the particular case of this film, though, the effect of having the shallowness of the style match the shallowness of the subject is to make both uninvolving.

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  36. MovieMan, I meant more that my subjective perspective was fixing onto something real enough and strong enough to call 'concrete' without me believing that they are real or strong in other people's minds.

    "There were things that did not appeal to me but my imagination had a way of fixating on and romanticizing objects that were perhaps not worthy of such"

    How would you judge said worthiness, then?

    "...investing them with qualities that were, in retrospect, not present in the works but in what I brought to them."

    Yet how can you know what comes from you and what comes from the film? Is there not inherent quality in the ability to bring things out in people, as if they know you intimately - we are all humans after all and share similar emotional baggage that film-makers can appeal to. Is that not what makes art art?

    "So in my case, at least, can you concede that some sort of differentiation between "great" and "favorite" is necessary, if not in your own?"

    I think, to an extent, you may file certain aspects of your experience under the wrong labels - or there might be more than one folder in which they can go. I admit this differentiation may be more appropriate for you in explaining your philosophies / engagement to yourself. But I think it may not actually be exactly as you think.

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  37. Stephen,

    Hats-off, first, for daring to write such a provocative piece. Like everyone, I'm afraid I'd have to say that although I love the film, I find this article irresistible. That's the third one where we fall on the either sides of the line, but still, it's 3/3 for you, after Basterds and Avatar.

    What you have written is not only an indictment of Kane, but also of all those films where mise en scene tries to impose meaning when the text fails. Am I right? Although I prefer that the text provides some truth to the characters instead of resorting to some technical eccentricities to "paint" these characters, I'm not particularly against the method. After all, film does share many qualities with painting. I, for one, believe that cinema's greatest power lies in making us realize the metaphysical in the most commonplace of images. Hence, I prefer that cinema be largely be evocative than academic, if it is really the "mass art" as it is called.

    Having said that, that would also mean grossly overlooking the other aspects of cinema. The problem with Kane is that it has been studies way too much; to the point that everyone notes only the technical aspects of it. May be that was what Welles' wanted too. I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing. It just opens way to new ways that films can take. Even though I like my cinema to be evocative, I feel it is unjust on my part to impose my perception of it onto the film under consideration. I don't believe it is just for people to trash Godard's cinema just because it leaves them cold or if tries to engage us in an intellectual conversation (JLG being one of my favorites).

    I think the same applies to films that have so much emotions in them. but lack cinematic exploration. If Kane was too "painterly", these films would be "too novelistic". But, cinema being an artform that embraces all its predecessors, it is a bit unfair to restrict it to what it should do (your criticism can well apply to so many other acclaimed films including the likes of Ivan the Terrible and L'Avventura). I think we just have to arrive at a sweet spot, something like Fassbinder's cinema or even Bresson's.

    Also, I don't think Kane's content was completely empty. I think the film is about this very obscurity, dealing with the phenomenon where we aren't able to actually "know" a man (can we actually know any man - even ourselves - completely?), especially when he is "made" by his image. I also thought it spoke more about dictators in general, rather than Kane himself, who are but mere products of the right-wing media. On side note, I recommend last year's wonderful movie, Vincere - a film that nicely complements Kane in many ways.

    Your observations about the film are unquestionably masterful, it is your opinion about them that people may disagree with.

    Bravo!

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  38. This is a review of Bizarro Citizen Kane. All the ideas in it are stolen from the film and then in warp-speed jumps of logic pilloried as failures!

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  39. "Your observations about the film are unquestionably masterful, it is your opinion about them that people may disagree with."

    Thanks JAFB!

    "If Kane was too "painterly", these films would be "too novelistic". But, cinema being an artform that embraces all its predecessors, it is a bit unfair to restrict it to what it should do (your criticism can well apply to so many other acclaimed films including the likes of Ivan the Terrible and L'Avventura)."

    I am not applying a catch-all template, JAFB. I simply believe that this particular film does not achieve an engagement because of said issues.

    I am one for letting a film come to you on its own terms. I believe that Cinema should have no rules imposed as prejudices or obstacles to idiosyncratic visions. The blank, unknowable acting and characterisation in Au Hasard Balthazar that achieves numinous power or a film like Hotel Monterey show me how fundamentally wrong that thinking is.

    Btw I would compare Citizen Kane to the works of De Palma, though De Palma's surface is (to me) more the fulcrum of his films than a way into deeper texts.

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  40. "All the ideas in it are stolen from the film and then in warp-speed jumps of logic pilloried as failures!"

    Tony, I'm not sure what you mean by this. All I know is that it is a criticism.

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  41. "MovieMan, I meant more that my subjective perspective was fixing onto something real enough and strong enough to call 'concrete' without me believing that they are real or strong in other people's minds."

    Well, you've lost me here! Either something's "real and strong" or it isn't. The quicksand deepends...

    "How would you judge said worthiness, then?"

    Something inherent in the work itself. A movie I like because I saw it when I was 4 or 5, even though now I look at it and see shoddy craftsmanship, cynically lazy storytelling, and unengaged performances is not as "worthy" as something which holds up over time. Yet I still like the earlier movie and desire to watch it, maybe not as much as I once did, but because of the sentimental value. I just do. That's fine - nothing wrong with it. To set the former work up as some kind of icon, of equal value to a greater work due to purely subjective reason, strikes me as counter-intuitive and unnecessarily stubborn. You're kind of an absolutist on this subjectivist thing, Stephen - if one "likes" something it must be "good". No shades of gray?

    "Yet how can you know what comes from you and what comes from the film? Is there not inherent quality in the ability to bring things out in people, as if they know you intimately - we are all humans after all and share similar emotional baggage that film-makers can appeal to. Is that not what makes art art?"

    Again, it's a COMBINATION! (see above) The point is that...

    Aw, shucks. Can't finish the comment now. I'll return later.

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  42. "To set the former work up as some kind of icon, of equal value to a greater work due to purely subjective reason..."

    Though surely even the taking into account of other people's views or the consideration of an 'objective' standard will not be the same for each person. The filter can never be removed and this objectivity will remain a phantom dressed in subjectivity's clothes.


    "...shoddy craftsmanship, cynically lazy storytelling, and unengaged performances is not as "worthy" as something which holds up over time"

    Why must something hold up over time? Political works or children's films are made to burn brightest in a particular moment or appeal to a particular age.

    That cynically lazy storytelling and those unengaged performances I saw in Citizen Kane.

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  43. Stephen, this is getting ridiculous. Just because subjectivity enters into it does not mean that there's no higher standard we can hold ourselves too. You are washing away all shades and degrees and making it either/or. Our reactions are a mixture of what we bring to the work and what the work brings to us. I reserve the term "great" for works which can stand for the most part on what they bring to us.

    You keep attempting to neutralize smaller points without dealing with the big ones. Can you answer these questions with a "yes" or "no" so I can have a better idea where you're coming from? I'm still not sure whether you believe in a truth which our subjective understandings prevent us from reaching or if you don't believe in such a truth in the first place.

    So, please:

    There IS a concrete reality. (leading to the "concrete" failures and flaws in the film)

    Yes or no?

    Our perception of said reality will always be incomplete, partial, imperfect - to a certain extent guesswork, at best educated guesswork.

    Yes or no?

    Nonetheless, we are grasping towards something concrete and common, however unable we are to ever really get ahold of it.

    Yes or no?

    We can split hairs or analyze reasons for disagreement proceeding from there. Forgive my bluntness but until I get a sense of where you're coming from, I feel I'm unable to engage with your ideas.

    Thanks (and, again, if there's anything you want to ask me in return, I'll be happy to answer it directly - and in "yes or no" fashion!).

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  44. "That cynically lazy storytelling and those unengaged performances I saw in Citizen Kane."

    These are subjective assertions about an objective truth. Such is the way of most critical analysis, mine included. My point is that you are staking your ground here, whether you want to admit it or not. It's your "opinion" but it's your "opinion" of a fact. It's not the same as saying "I didn't enjoy the storytelling in Kane, or respond to the performances." It's making a statement about the film itself. The statement is untenable if you qualify it with "but only in my opinion." Either the storytelling is cynical and lazy (which states something about the author's approach, NOT your perception) or it is not. Or perhaps, lest I fall into the same either/or extremism I saw in your statements, it is at times cynical or lazy, at times not - or ambiguous in its delivery. I can accept that grey area which is why I enjoy your criticism while disagreeing with it. But the forcefulness of your statement does not imply that you mean the film is muddy but ultimately could be interpreted the way you interpret it. It implies that the film is unredeemably cynical and lazy, and that is an attitude which is mutually exclusive with my notion that it isn't.

    In other words, you are asserting a fact about the film and calling its makers into question. And I don't think that can be passed off as merely your "opinion" or "perception." To the extent that it's an opinion, it's one which stakes out a ground about the film, not about yourself.

    Of course I just use this as an example. Your argument is full of such formulations, bold assertions and direct attacks on the film and its maker. You are trying to tell us about the movie, not merely about yourself. You're staking a claim, whether you want to or not. I just wish you'd acknowledge this is what you're doing instead of retreating into the "my opinion's no better than anyone else's" and "the film can be good to one person and bad to another" as if that person is neither right nor wrong.

    As for "liking" there are all sorts of different "likes". The way I "like" Seabert the Seal is not the same as the way I "like" Citizen Kane, though there may be some overlap. Are we not to distinguish between any different sorts of "liking"? It's all the same? I'm not sure how else to read your implication that worthiness is contingent only upon the liking of a work.

    As for political statements and children's entertainment, yes they have a certain utility that they can achieve within a fixed amount of time. So does a lightbulb. The achievement of utility and the achievement of art are not the same thing.

    Without fixed values (whether or not we agree with them completely, they at least give us something to bounce off of), I think we might as well be speaking gibberish to one another - I've no use for postmodernism. Your ethos smacks of it, your writing does not. And I guess I'm just kind of confused by the discrepancy between the two!

    I tried to hold back so you could answer the above queries first, but felt like jumping into the frey. Please forgive. I still hope you'll address those "yes or nos" above first before moving on but I guess I've only myself to blame if you tackle this response in all its tangents or nitpicks first.

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  45. Well, Stephen has found the short-cut to getting loads of comments - write something puerile about an accepted masterpiece and sit and wait for the brickbats to arrive.

    Stephen seems a nice enough guy, but really, attacking Kane and making out that everyone else is an idiot, while writing a positive review about Lady in the Water by M Night Shite-amalan. That's like saying that Shakespeare's Macbeth is a piece of shit but God did I love the latest Jilly Cooper.

    No amount of publicity for the site is worth the ridicule this piece will generate - he'd have less reason to be embarrassed if there was a Youtube video of him shagging a sofa in a state of hypnosis than by posting this in public.

    I'm not waiting for the masterpiece bouquets to be launched in the direction of Johnny Mnemonic.

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  46. Well, Stephen, amongst your other achievements, you have made Allan come out of his hiding place and pay a visit to another blog! If nothing else, I'd say that's an accomplishment. ;)

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  47. "I'm not waiting for the masterpiece bouquets to be launched in the direction of Johnny Mnemonic."

    Excuse me while I go put a call in to the florist...

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  48. Allan,

    "Well, Stephen has found the short-cut to getting loads of comments - write something puerile about an accepted masterpiece and sit and wait for the brickbats to arrive."

    I don't crave comments or publicity. I write these posts primarily for myself and if people want to discuss them, so much the better.

    I write with conviction and complete honesty, regardless of other opinions on the film. I thought maybe people would welcome an honest appraisal of the film that does not fit within the 'accepted' norms.

    "...but really, attacking Kane and making out that everyone else is an idiot, while writing a positive review about Lady in the Water by M Night Shite-amalan."

    I have not once made out that anyone is an idiot. I have stated, simply, that what I got from the film. The problem people are having is not so much with the vehemence of my argument or its phrasing. They just will not accept a differing opinion, which is surprising.

    "No amount of publicity for the site is worth the ridicule this piece will generate - he'd have less reason to be embarrassed if there was a Youtube video of him shagging a sofa in a state of hypnosis than by posting this in public."

    All I have done is criticise a film, a piece of celluloid. You do not even do me the courtesy of addressing me directly on my own site. There is more puerility in your hostility towards me and my opinions than in anything I have posted about Citizen Kane.

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  49. Btw, I somehow missed this before:

    "I think, to an extent, you may file certain aspects of your experience under the wrong labels - or there might be more than one folder in which they can go. I admit this differentiation may be more appropriate for you in explaining your philosophies / engagement to yourself. But I think it may not actually be exactly as you think."

    I'm not quite sure what you mean by this - can you elaborate?

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  50. Wow. I'm coming late to this, but I'm pretty amazed — and more so by the viciousness of some of these reactions than by anything in Stephen's actual piece. The essay is obviously contrarian and combative, and I disagree with a lot of it, but it's well-written and I understand where Stephen's coming from. Yes, he misunderstands the Rosebud revelation and makes some other questionable assertions. But he has good points as well. Basically, he's arguing that Welles' exaggerated aesthetics distract from the film's emotional and thematic content. That doesn't seem worthy of this extreme and, from some quarters, surprisingly non-civil response. Stephen's central criticism is one I have some sympathy for in this case, though I wouldn't go as far as Stephen in tearing apart the film, by any means.

    I love a lot of things about Kane (that opening sequence is brilliant), but it's far from perfect. Welles' acting here is occasionally overblown, and his habit of *always* calling attention to the camera placement can be worthy of some eye-rolling. And I must admit I find the flashback structure kind of clunky and contrived. It's a worthy and important film in so many ways, but it's not unassailable. The only reason so many people treat it that way is because it's been enshrined as a MASTERPIECE, or worse as the greatest film of all-time. The bulk of Sam's argument above, as per usual, is that the film has been praised by almost everyone. Not a very persuasive defense. No film is unassailable. And if Kane is a masterpiece, it's a very rough, ragged masterpiece.

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  51. Ed,

    I do 'get' the Rosebud revelation and what it is used for. I just don't think that the strategy and storytelling as regards this device is particularly sophisticated or interesting.

    You seem to think, like many people here, that if I didn't like something or see its worth that I didn't 'get' it - which is nonsense.

    "...though I wouldn't go as far as Stephen in tearing apart the film, by any means."

    I think, Ed, that you are falling into the same trap as others. I have been as vehemently critical of other films in the past, yet am not accused of 'tearing' them apart or of being provocative. If I praise something wholeheartedly, I am likewise not accused of inciting slathering and incontinent exhibitions of joy.

    The status of Kane is such in the public consciousness that any criticism is distorted into outrageous provocation.

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  52. Ed,

    Thank you for the comments and I'm glad you agree (though it should be self-evident) that no 'masterpiece' is "unassailable".

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  53. MovieMan,

    I meant that what you take to be a product of Nostalgia may not be, what you take to be an appreciation of the concrete objective may not be etc. because it's hard to know given that everything has to be filtered through the personal eventually anyway.

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  54. MovieMan,

    I see that you are still desperate (I'm not entirely sure why) to get to the bottom of my approach. I have explained as far as I can over dozens of posts, and in detail what I believe it to be.

    I will try and answer your questions again, earnestly, but I don't think you are ever going to fully understand what I mean because it is so far from your own ingrained mindset.

    "There IS a concrete reality. (leading to the "concrete" failures and flaws in the film)"

    There is a reality, yes - but seeing as I am the tool of perception, that concrete reality may be seen as different by others. I know that you don't understand that, but there it is. Concrete realities are facts - the bulk of a film and any artistic experience / communication does not deal with facts.

    "Our perception of said reality will always be incomplete, partial, imperfect - to a certain extent guesswork, at best educated guesswork."

    This is neither yes nor no. There is no way of knowing the extent of this imperfection of perception. I will say again: there is only MY perception.

    There is only MY quest to circumnavigate the pitfalls of MY perception.

    It all becomes ME eventually.

    The film has a concrete reality in my mind and nascent concrete realities for other people's minds. The factual remains still but the emotional and spiritual (which filters the intellectual too) within the film shifts in different patterns for whoever sees it.

    Just because mine is only one view doesn't mean that it is not all the truth that I can fully grasp and own and the only one that I can honestly espouse as being apt to the film's worth. Subjective is King - a probing, intellectually acute, emotionally receptive, open-minded being - but still subjective.

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  55. Stephen, may I compliment you on having hosted one of the most invigorating comments threads I've read? (A quality subtracted from by this comment.)

    That discussion between movieman and you is one especially close to my heart (there's a reason my blog's called 'Life as it Ain't').

    Anyway, the real reason I'm commenting has to do with the criticism of your criticism I made and your reply to it: just acknowledging that I find your stand fair enough (sounds stupid, but helps internet cordiality a lot).

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  56. Thank you, Ronak.

    Your cordiality is always welcome.

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  57. "I see that you are still desperate (I'm not entirely sure why) to get to the bottom of my approach."

    Because until I do, we might as well be speaking different languages. How can we converse if we don't even know what our words are referring to? Hence I'm surprised that you're surprised!

    "There is a reality, yes - but seeing as I am the tool of perception, that concrete reality may be seen as different by others. I know that you don't understand that, but there it is."

    Of course I understand it. My own perspective, and I'm not just talking about intellectual opinions but actually emotional grounding and perceptual frameworks, has shifted enough in my own life that I'm well-aware how no person sees things the same moment to moment, let alone different people. Which is all the more reason why I see the need for a more fixed referrent.

    "Concrete realities are facts - the bulk of a film and any artistic experience / communication does not deal with facts."

    Emotional experiences are facts - they exist - but they are slippery to define as they do not exist physically and are only verifiable second or third-hand. To me this only suggests we must take all definitions and descriptions of such with a grain of salt, but that they are still worth considering and analyzing. Also, you're ignoring the fact that these emotional experiences often appear to be similar from person to person and are always related to something in the work itself. Hence, there IS something concrete to analyze which is having an impact on this elusive experience. Part of the iceberg is above water, even if it's just a sliver.

    (continued below)

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  58. (continued)


    "This is neither yes nor no. There is no way of knowing the extent of this imperfection of perception."

    A seeming dodge, but actually you've answered "yes." If there's "no way of knowing" than by definition the perception IS imperfect. Even if one is grasping almost every aspect of the work there is to grasp, if one isn't sure how much is left one is still missing a crucial detail. So we agree here too.


    Where we seem to disagree is in disregarding everything outside of one's immediate emotional/intellectual reaction. Everything is filtered through the Self, true, but ME is a multitude. The "objectivity" I speak of is not omniscience but the quest to expand one's consciousness to embrace the multiple responses. You will never HAVE someone else's experience but the two may overlap so much as to be described as "similar". Likewise, understanding what the filmmakers sought to achieve may help you evoke a similar reaction in yourself.

    In other words, "greatness" is the ability to evoke a certain strong reaction in the viewer, and to do so not by accident but by qualities lodged largely in the work itself. "Greatness" can be sought out, it doesn't have to thrust itself upon you right away - it exists, it's there and our imperfect senses can detect it; failing that, our intellect can at least define its contours and see that it's probably there even if we can't quite get ahold of it. To limit one's assessment of the film to one's immediate reaction, disregarding the reactions of others or the intentions of the filmmaker as irrelevant, is to miss out on the bigger picture. It will never be the "biggest" picture but it can be "bigger." Putting aside the rocky terms "subjective," "objective" maybe even "great" (substitute another word in the above sentence if that term offends) do you see what I'm saying here?

    The larger argument shouldn't fall prey to semantics, which may be as much my fault as yours.

    Anyway, your responses helped clarify your own thought-pattern for me to a certain extent, though you still didn't answer question #3:

    "Nonetheless, we are grasping towards something concrete and common, however unable we are to ever really get ahold of it.

    Yes or no?"!

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  59. Ed:

    I am fairly certain that you were not referring to me as presenting myself as "uncivil" anywhere on this thread, but I feel I must respond to the crux of your basic criticism of my argument here, without again bringing Stephen on the carpet. My use of the intelligensia and decades of illustrious praise for this film is fueled by agreement, not the desire to jump on the bandwagon.
    While others here may derive a tingling glee by assailing a commonly accepted masterpiece of the form, I personally do not. Why are we not allowed to have masterpieces in cinema? Why is it so inconceivable that there are a few films made during the course of 110 years that might just have reached the level of perfection or near-perfection? Why is there a hankering to deduce that if the entire cinematic world is eternally enraptured by a film for decades, that something must be amiss?

    When you say that "If KANE is a masterpiece, then it's a 'rough, ragged masterpiece' you are speaking for yourself. This is not an opinion that I share, as I don't cling to that rhetorical disclaimer. I have spent a good part of my movie research over the years reveling in and being enriched by some of the most astute minds on this magisterial film, as result of the fact that I, Sam Juliano, have been endlessly dazzling, enraptured - and as opposed to Stephen - eternally engaged emotionally and intellectually. If I didn't feel as strongly as I did perhaps I would have not done so much reading, as there are many instances where I have not agreed with the prevailing opinion.

    Hence, why is it that Bazin, Agee, Sadoul, Sarris, Kael, Kauffmann, Norman, Powell, Halliwell and the virtually full contingent of French and Russian opinion et al should automatically be suspect because THEY happen to think and believe this is a spectacular film and work of art? Why is it that one single, solitary blogger -Stephen Russell-Gebbit- has the "scoop" on what so many people worldwide have apparently missed? I say there is good reason why this film is eternally revered, and why endless volumes have been written - far more profoundly that this still-admirable essay testifying to its greatness.

    It's not remotely ragged. In theme, character examination, inovation, sound and performance it's among the most enrapturing and intellectually enagaging films ever made.

    Stephen is entitled to contest anything he wants, and I appreciate the better points of the firestorm that has resulted here.

    But at the end of the day, after proper appreciation for the formidable effort, I just move on, not remotely compromised in my own belief that the world got this one right all the way down the line.

    When speaking of something this masterful, I don't plan on wasting my time discussing perceived "failings" I frankly don't have the time or interest.

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  60. MovieMan,

    "A seeming dodge, but actually you've answered "yes." If there's "no way of knowing" than by definition the perception IS imperfect."

    I was speaking as if from your point of view.

    "Which is all the more reason why I see the need for a more fixed referrent."

    Whatever words we use and whatever we deem them to mean, the issue for me is simple - what is this fixed referrent beyond the fact that we see and hear exactly the same basic things? If we are always grasping fruitlessly for it, it may as well not exist. Even if we were all aware of everything there is to know about a work, we would still see it in 6bn different ways.

    Is the perfect viewer the one who 'gets' the film? Is the perfect viewer the one who sees all there is to see? In both cases he could either hate it or love it.
    Of course I look and explore and ponder.

    ""Nonetheless, we are grasping towards something concrete and common, however unable we are to ever really get ahold of it.

    Yes or no?"!"

    I am not grasping for a concrete, I am searching for all I can get from a work. I form a concrete from what I have gathered. I don't and cannot see a way of grasping an objective concrete.

    As for something 'common' I'm not sure what you mean by this. Do you mean something to share, or something personally held by enough people as true to form a shared accepted 'concrete'? If we are all imperfect tools, the 'concrete' sculpture we chisel together will also be imperfect. But that is not a problem,

    "In other words, "greatness" is the ability to evoke a certain strong reaction in the viewer, and to do so not by accident but by qualities lodged largely in the work itself."

    This is crazy talk. A work is not just a mirror. Where else would I get reactions to a film from? It creates, projects, reflects, but the work is the instigator.

    How do you know if it is by accident? What would that mean? Must a work create something on purpose to be great? I suppose you mean objectively great rather than great to me, or you or any body. What does it matter if you are reacting to an echo of yourself or to something 'concrete' in a film?

    What does it matter if the greatness is an illusion or some kind of proven reality. The sensations and thoughts are the same.

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  61. Sam, sorry to butt in but you were stepping on my lawn (!)...

    "Why are we not allowed to have masterpieces in cinema? Why is it so inconceivable that there are a few films made during the course of 110 years that might just have reached the level of perfection or near-perfection?"

    We do have masterpieces, sure. Yours are different to mine, 'tis all. Perfection? I have no idea what that would look or feel like.

    "Why is there a hankering to deduce that if the entire cinematic world is eternally enraptured by a film for decades, that something must be amiss?"

    I can't speak for Ed but I don't see anything amiss in people agreeing. All I ask is that an open mind be kept about everything. If you close off discussion, you stifle the work.

    "Hence, why is it that Bazin, Agee, Sadoul, Sarris, Kael, Kauffmann, Norman, Powell, Halliwell and the virtually full contingent of French and Russian opinion et al should automatically be suspect because THEY happen to think and believe this is a spectacular film and work of art?"

    You wield these names as if they are synonyms for greatness or locks to be placed on further discussion - i.e. the great ones have spoken. I just see them as individual perspectives.

    By the way, I too have read their criticism of Citizen Kane.

    "Why is it that one single, solitary blogger -Stephen Russell-Gebbit- has the "scoop" on what so many people worldwide have apparently missed?"

    I don't have a scoop. I didn't write this to disabuse you of misapprehensions or bring you out of the dark, I wrote it to set down and explain my feelings on the film. Why have I struck such a raw nerve? Is the fortress so weak as to not be able to hold off a "solitary blogger"?

    Does this mean that solitary bloggers become 'right' when they gather together and reach a certain number? How many does it take? 20, 2000, 2 million?

    "It's not remotely ragged. In theme, character examination, inovation, sound and performance it's among the most enrapturing and intellectually enagaging films ever made."

    It's great because it's great, then. I say it's not great because the character examination, innovation, sound and performance was superficial, misused and unconvincing. It's opinions. That is all I am trying to do. Share, not convert.

    "When speaking of something this masterful, I don't plan on wasting my time discussing perceived "failings" I frankly don't have the time or interest."

    When I think of masterful films like The New World or Dekalog or Au Hasard Balthazar I relish discussion of all colours to broaden my mind and let the work flourish again. I don't jealously guard what I love.

    I'm sorry if I've made you waste your time, Sam.

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  62. Stephen: I have no qualms at all with 'jealouly guarding what I love" and I will continue to exercise that strong sentiment. You say it as if it were some kind of a bad practice or inherent weakness. I take seriously what stirs within me my the deepest passions. I would just as readily defend with ferocious ardor Wagner's PARSIFAL, Kern's SHOWBOAT, Mozart's 'Clarinet Concert in A' and Edward Munch's THE SCREAM just as I would in cinema defend Renoir's RULES OF THE GAME, Dreyer's PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC and Eisenstein's POTEMKIN. It is your right to express yourself as you did here, and to assertively declare that BALTHASAR, DEKALOG and THE NEW WORLD are "masterful" - the first of those three is for me one of the greatest of films - as it is MY right to stand behind the works of our most formidable intellectuals, who I have researched and studied for years.

    You can negate or diminish the power of these names to enhance your own issues as much as you want, but I choose to venerate the work of our best writers, even if I don't always agree. Yeah I do bandy around these names as if they were the synonyms for greatness. These people have earned it.

    Stephen, I can't help but notice that both pro and con you seem to relish playing the role of 'contrarian.' Is this something you do consciously? I would much rather get it right than being different myself.

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  63. "You say it as if it were some kind of a bad practice or inherent weakness. I take seriously what stirs within me my the deepest passions."

    I have no problem with your passion at all. By jealously guard I mean that you won't let people look upon the work and honestly express their own passions about it. You try and hide it away from view.

    "Stephen, I can't help but notice that both pro and con you seem to relish playing the role of 'contrarian.' Is this something you do consciously? I would much rather get it right than being different myself."

    I am not a contrarian. The definition is 'somebody disposed to taking opposite position'. All I am disposed to is representing what I think.

    I write about what I feel like writing about - what interests me. Is it so hard to conceive of someone who has differing views and follows no 'agenda' in their expression?

    "I would much rather get it right than being different myself."

    This is rampantly meaningless, Sam. I should just shut down my faculties and read what I should think then.

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  64. Sam, having read your comment on my animation post, I'd like to say again that your input is always valued and if I came across as abrasive here I didn't mean to.

    I have been a little taken aback by the way some people have expressed themselves, that is all.

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  65. I tried to post a long response. It was not satisfying to me. Let me take you point-by-point because I feel we keep getting lost in abstractions.

    "I was speaking as if from your point of view."

    I have absolutely no idea what you are talking about here. What point of view? When were you speaking? Did you not mean yes? I am so lost in the thickets right now.

    "What is this fixed referrent beyond the fact that we see and hear exactly the same basic things?"

    Are you saying that the only fixed referrent is the input we share? In other words, we see and hear the same movie, but interpret it different ways? If so, I'd say that this is true but there are also often similarities in our interpretations. And that this often appear to be caused by the work itself. Two people see the same film and respond similarly. A gesture makes them both weep, an expression makes them laugh. Why? Sheer coincidence? I think not - I think the "input" of the work had something to do with it. To be specific, why do so many people love Citizen Kane? Could it be something in the work itself which conditions this response? And if so, is that not worth taking into consideration in one's assessment of the work. If not, why not?

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  66. (continued)

    "If we are always grasping fruitlessly for it, it may as well not exist." Two points - one, the grasping is not fruitless as it helps us reach a greater understanding, develop a common language, sharpen our own faculties, increase our own enjoyment. Two, ever heard that it's not the destination which matters, but the journey? Sometimes we never get to our destination. In life we do, but that desination is dust - does this discredit everything that went before, and make it fruitless? Your refusal to countenance any rules or guidelines, any attempt at objectivity, could easily be used to discredit language, values, indeed any human activity whatsoever - and indeed they have.

    "We would still see it in 6bn different ways." But Stephen again you are discounting the possiblility of any two people - let alone hundreds, thousands, millions having any overlap in their reactions. No man's an island - there's room for common ground and to not seek it as to render language and judgement impotent, to speak into the wind.

    "In both cases he could either hate it or love it." Yes, but it will be an INFORMED hate or love. There's still gray areas, room for ambiguity and disagreement, but they are now based on mutual understandings and an intricate combination of subjective and objective factors. Not merely a whim, which is all your ethos requires to dismiss a work.

    "Of course I look and explore and ponder." Good for you. But there's absolutely nothing in your value system or standard for criticism impelling others to do so. As I've said before, you yourself have broad taste and thoughtful analytical skills. But your argument - that all that matter is the personal response in judging a film's greatness - could be used to justify the most narrow-minded sort of prejudice, the most blinkered vision.

    "I am not grasping for a concrete, I am searching for all I can get from a work." The work is one concrete. It exists, it's there. "All you can get" is conditioned by the work itself, hence by searching for what you can get, you ARE grasping towards it (not "grasping for it" which is not what I said). Likewise, in putting down your thoughts on paper you are grasping towards an expression of your inner experience - one that other people will be able to understand and relate to, either agreeing or disagreeing. That's another concrete, right there. Otherwise why write? Why not keep your interior experiences entirely interior?

    "This is crazy talk. A work is not just a mirror. Where else would I get reactions to a film from? It creates, projects, reflects, but the work is the instigator." Huh? This has been my point all along. Why are supposedly disagreeing on this, with you suddenly taking my position!? Sometimes you lose me, Stephen!

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  67. "How do you know if it is by accident? What would that mean? Must a work create something on purpose to be great?" As far as filmmakers are concerned, no. They can certainly achieve something great by accident, though much of what they achieve does not fall into this category. The work is, to a certain extent, independent of its makers. It does not do things "on purpose" or "accident" but its resonance with a viewer can be a result of accident. If I see a film and a character is played by my good friend, and it makes me enjoy the movie the way most people would not, is this not an "accidental" enjoyment? It has little to do with the qualities of the work, and is an entirely personal investment. This is an extreme example but is true to varying degrees of many of the things people mean when they say a work is "great." They may like the subject matter, or the star, or have been in a good mood when they went to the theater that day. Perhaps they were drunk when they saw it and their buoyant spirits lifted the film up. I find it useful to parse out the different factors that go into enjoyment. I'm still unclear as to why you do not - why the drunkard or the lovers who impose their own joie de vivre on whatever happens to be playing are as correct in calling the film "great" as someone who approaches the work to a greater extent on its own terms.

    "What does it matter if you are reacting to an echo of yourself or to something 'concrete' in a film."

    Well, Stephen it matters greatly if you're going to write the following: "the film keeps us at an arm's length"; "This question is never allowed to flower, nor even properly posed within the film"; "the implication of viewer as director/detective, though, is never given room to breathe"; "the play with structure is pitifully limited"; "we are not allowed to see behind the cardboard backdrops to the mechanics of these motivations"; "a tawdry device"; and especially "on those terms it fails"; "Welles substitutes the possibility of genuine emotion with a more hollow stylised representation of the same emotions"; "The acting lacks nuance and depth"; "All we may gain from it is academic ideas of feelings and not the feelings themselves" [is this the royal "we", Stephen?]; "It has no heart"; "It is not a great film". If you are writing about concrete aspects of the film then your authoritative tone, harsh value judgements, and assertions about the work itself are justified, even if misguided. If all you are doing is reacting to an echo in yourself and know that this is what you are doing, then you have no call to take Welles to task so severely.

    A critic, in knocking a film has a tacit agreement with the work. That is "I'm saying you're wrong, but I run the risk of being wrong myself." You call the film wrong - and no arguments about "only my view" or "just my personal take" can undo the language used above - and then you deny the latter possibility, by implying there can be no right or wrong when it comes to film criticism. I find this grossly unfair to Welles. And if I believed that your review itself embodied this view - which, frankly, it does not, as it is bold, assertive and burnishes the pretense of making objective observations - I would have much less respect for it than I do.

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  68. I think perhaps you are lost, MovieMan!

    I think you are confused about the line between the objective article (that we grasp towards) and the a supposed objective judgment of it.

    "But Stephen again you are discounting the possiblility of any two people - let alone hundreds, thousands, millions having any overlap in their reactions. No man's an island"

    6bn different ways. Of course by that I mean there is no COMPLETE overlap between two reactions / experiences. That's why they are different.

    Also, why should I take into account another person's experience into mine. Let them be true to theirs and me to mine. Why be a weak echo of another? It's just adding another filter and another 'imperfection'.

    This discussion itself could be used as a test-case for how we view other people's subjectives. It's not that you don't understand where I am coming from it's that you want to mould my, yes, slightly addled thoughts into a box and a box of your liking.

    My approach is not quite anathema to you but you find it hard to accept and so you continue to try and manoeuvre me onto more acceptable ground.

    To reiterate, because all else is noise: My approach is about MY relationship with the film as I see it and as I explore it and everything about it. Whatever I read or see and bring to MY judgments will be filtered through ME.

    As the Joker says

    "I think you and I are destined to do this forever"

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  69. "This is an extreme example but is true to varying degrees of many of the things people mean when they say a work is "great.""

    Just a thought: The issue you have is not with the use of the word 'great' which you associate with an objective truth. The issue you have is with the word 'IS'. If I say 'in my opinion the film is great', it is the IS which loses some of its power.

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  70. Finally, in your discussion you continue to take the democratic approach - as if all opinions are equal. But some are more informed than others. I've taken Sam to task at times for falling back on critical consensus, but the fact is that while such a tactic can not be a conclusive argument, it CAN be a starting point. Your sentiments are democratic, but Sam's ring more true:

    "Yeah I do bandy around these names as if they were the synonyms for greatness. These people have earned it."

    All is not equal. You, for your part, have earned more consideration than someone just sniping at Kane while refusing to flesh out their positions. Likewise, these writers whose opinions you essentially brush off earned the right to be given special consideration.

    Above all, ask yourself WHY Kane has appealed to so many and earned so much respect over the years. You've done a marvelous job of summing up your own antipathy towards the film but so far you have proven rather stubborn and small-minded towards the film's defenders. At best you mystify the film's appeal to them, taking it as sincere but refusing to compromise your own distaste with a humoring of their point of view.

    At worst you seem to grant only bad-faith motivations for liking the film, as if its "status" and "reputation" were the only causes for its celebration. Yet Stephen, how exactly did this status and reputation emerge in the first place? It didn't emerge out of thin air. Kane wasn't born with a silver spoon in its mouth, either - it was at least a decade and behalf before it began topping best-ever lists.

    And the terms the film has been described in - though often disappointingly limited to technique - have also often exuded warmth, humanism, spirit, all qualities you deny the film because you do not see them in it. But why do others do so?

    I'd be interested in seeing you deal with the film's reputation and the reasons for its popularity. Think of this not as an obligation, but an opportunity. I've already demonstrated that I consider this component crucial to criticism, but consider this a request not an admonition. Now that you've shared your own personal ambivalence, how about examining, investigating what it is about the film that appeals to others? You may determine that it's a matter of taste, that your opinion hasn't changed but you see where others are coming from. Or perhaps, in putting yourself in another's shoes, you'll come to see the film differently. At any rate, actually writing about why the film you don't like is taken to work by so many would be an intriguing exercise for you and your readers. Yet you seem to show little curiosity as to why/how the film appeals to so many. I find that unfortunate; putting aside my above views (that such a curiosity and consideration is essential to criticism) it's unfortunate because it robs your thoughts on the matter of a certain dimension.

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  71. While I'll be disappointed if this is the only response I get to my several hours of lost sleep (as demonstrated above)!

    But to finally be succinct, putting aside our philosophical disagreements I'm bothered by the discrepancy between your stated views and your language. And I'm bothered by your notion that we need not consider others' points of view. This impoverishes criticism and ultimately film culture as the ossification of everyone into their own island continues undiminished.

    I hope you will read and respond to my closing statement in the third comment. You have condemned the film yet refuse to be condemned yourself (or to admit you've condemned the film when all of your readers see it as such). That strikes me as unfair. Please have the courage of your language's conviction. Anything else is having your cake and eating it too.

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  72. "Above all, ask yourself WHY Kane has appealed to so many and earned so much respect over the years. You've done a marvelous job of summing up your own antipathy towards the film but so far you have proven rather stubborn and small-minded towards the film's defenders."

    Where have I done this. You are imagining it, as others have. If I take a position contrary to others it does not mean I disdain them.

    I don't 'brush off' those critics. They have written much that is thoughtful and interesting. They are opinions and opinions are all we have and all-important.

    "At best you mystify the film's appeal to them, taking it as sincere but refusing to compromise your own distaste with a humoring of their point of view."

    I don't need to humor their point of view. It goes without saying that I accept what people think. They don't need my seal of approval to be true and strong experiences.

    "At worst you seem to grant only bad-faith motivations for liking the film, as if its "status" and "reputation" were the only causes for its celebration."

    Again, this is not true. If all the arguments I have been given in the comments page revolve around 'status' and 'reputation' then that is all that I have responded to. I am still waiting on these boards for thoughts, arguments, points, observations that could add up to a coherent 'proof' of Citizen Kane's greatness. So far all I get is 'it is because it is'.

    "Yet Stephen, how exactly did this status and reputation emerge in the first place? It didn't emerge out of thin air. Kane wasn't born with a silver spoon in its mouth, either - it was at least a decade and behalf before it began topping best-ever lists."

    Yes, because lots of people consider it great. I know that. What is your point exactly?

    "And the terms the film has been described in - though often disappointingly limited to technique - have also often exuded warmth, humanism, spirit, all qualities you deny the film because you do not see them in it. But why do others do so?"

    I cannot authoratitively answer that because I am not them. Every film is loved by someone or hated. What then should I do with my own judgments? You say:

    "At any rate, actually writing about why the film you don't like is taken to work by so many would be an intriguing exercise for you and your readers"

    This would be intriguing for ANY film but because I cannot entirely put myself in their shoes it could end up being a distant, incomplete embodiment of what they consider to be great in it. You could do a report but not a thorough and honestly accurate exploration.

    "Yet you seem to show little curiosity as to why/how the film appeals to so many."

    Where are you getting this from?

    "...it's unfortunate because it robs your thoughts on the matter of a certain dimension."

    How do you know that I have not been aware of other writing and thoughts on Kane and tried to see what they are getting at, at least out of curiosity? Is it because my review / essay is almost entirely negative? If there is only black in my review do you think therefore that I have not looked at the whites and the greys?

    You cannot put the cart before the horse and try to reverse engineer my entire thought process from my review.

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  73. "And I'm bothered by your notion that we need not consider others' points of view. This impoverishes criticism and ultimately film culture as the ossification of everyone into their own island continues undiminished."

    It's the opposite. Because I don't see an objective concrete then all opinions are king and all are valuable. You and others impoverish criticism by saying how blasphemous and misguided my negative review of Kane is. Why can you not see that?

    "You have condemned the film yet refuse to be condemned yourself (or to admit you've condemned the film when all of your readers see it as such). That strikes me as unfair. Please have the courage of your language's conviction. Anything else is having your cake and eating it too."

    I know my readers consider the film great and that is more than fine by me. All I wanted was the opportunity to say my piece. I have not denied anyone their praise of it. I have been denied a fair hearing for my opinions.

    I have NOT condemned my readers. This is getting slightly ridiculous.

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  74. I think aspects of your review are misguided. I certainly don't think its blasphemous! All opinions cannot be king. There's a right and wrong. I can't abide postmodern relativism as it turns everything to mush, so you and I will probably never see eye to eye on this. But that's a side point. In what sense do you find all opinions "valuable" to yourself, and not just to their individual proprieters? I have not seen you really engage with an opposite view in the sense of teasing out where the person might be coming from. You seem to respect its existence, but have little interest in it. That's your prerogative but I feel it hinders your already excellent criticism by setting yourself unnecessary limits. But I've laid that out above.

    By the way, I strongly object to your view that disagreements impoverish criticism. They enrich it. I am for a true pluralism which allows not only divergent views on a subject but also disagreements among those views. I find for myself that staunch disagreements have ultimately enriched my own perspective and helped me see other views in a new light. Yes, even yours! I agree that the notion of your review being "blasphemous" and not worthy of discussion hinders criticism, but not that thinking that it is "wrong" or "misguided" does so. Why is it we're allowed to criticize films - often harshly - but not each other? Why are critics allowed to leap out from behind their hiding place to hurl stones at artists and then leap back so that no stones can be cast at them? This seems unfair to me.

    By the way, how have you been denied a fair hearing for your opinions? Even the most vociferous critics have been unable to censor you. If you are going to give all opinions equal weight, then you have to do the same for opinions repugnant to you - like that your view is somehow "blasphemous."



    By the way - very important point here - when did I accuse you of condemning your readers? I said you condemned the film but seemed to deny doing so - at least in any authoritative fashion (which your language seemed to belie) and that your readers seemed to disagree with you. That's all.

    What I've gotten from this exchange and that, like me, you believe in a greater reality, and like me, you believe that as imperfect instruments we can't ever fully comprehend it. The crux of our disagreement, then, seems to be in the idea of pursuing a greater mutual understanding. You seem disinterested in such a goal whereas I see it as essential. You humor other points of view, while I try to understand them.

    At any rate, our disagreement has not really been over Kane as over your methodology and language, and the discrepancy between the two.

    An exhausting exchange, but in a limited way an enlightening one. I hope it did not get too "ridiculous" - and that the next to I limp back to the site it can be to talk about Kane and hopefully let the metaphysics and philosophy simmer on the backburner for a while!

    A great Joker point by the way, and fitting! Though I wonder who is who...(I think I know...)

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  75. "There's a right and wrong. I can't abide postmodern relativism as it turns everything to mush"

    I'm against this kind of relativism in morality especially where there is firmer ground to stand on. Then of course that's just my view. In art and in film I find it hard to avoid the mush.

    "By the way, I strongly object to your view that disagreements impoverish criticism."

    MovieMan, I never said that. I'm not against disagreements (I love disagreements). I'm against the moment when a disagreement becomes a suppression or two fingers in the ears, which is what has been happening.

    "Why is it we're allowed to criticize films - often harshly - but not each other? Why are critics allowed to leap out from behind their hiding place to hurl stones at artists and then leap back so that no stones can be cast at them? This seems unfair to me"

    You can criticise my approach but when people start saying that I am an idiotic, contrarian attention-seeker who might as well 'shag' a sofa on YouTube I think I can safely call that personal and beyond the pale.

    "By the way, how have you been denied a fair hearing for your opinions? Even the most vociferous critics have been unable to censor you. If you are going to give all opinions equal weight, then you have to do the same for opinions repugnant to you - like that your view is somehow "blasphemous.""

    As I said above fair hearing means HEARING, not just letting me speak. I have heard very few 'opinions' about the film here and even fewer that actually elaborate on simple declarations.

    Reading your comment, you are still misunderstanding much of what I say.

    "A great Joker point by the way, and fitting! Though I wonder who is who...(I think I know...)"

    Haha! Grasping for a greater reality? "I wouldn't know what to do with one if I caught one".


    Thanks for the discussion, MovieMan.

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  76. Thanks, Stephen, and we can mostly let the great beast slumber for a while. One question, though: what do you mean by "misunderstanding much of what [you] say"? About the film, or about your larger views? What do you feel I'm misunderstanding? I don't mind disagreeing, but I don't want to think I'm misrepresenting your views in doing so.

    By the way, I understand your frustration with some of the responses, I really do. But the fact remains that if you aren't willing to devalue anybody's opinion, you're on shaky ground devaluing the more "uninformed" ones (and I use that term loosely, as Allan and Bobby are obviously informed, but they don't express that in the comments themselves, which are mostly personal attacks). Also, I have known you and enjoyed your writing for a while now, so I know that you are not insulting your readers nor setting yourself up as superior. But stumbling across this piece for the first time, I can see how someone might get that impression, in your use of language and your essential disinterest in another point of view.

    Even so, I STILL don't think that reading would justify the vitriol, but I'm just trying to show you that your approach - which I personally LIKE - is going to have consequences, perhaps unfair ones. You have to be prepared for that, unfortunately, though I don't blame you at all for bristling somewhat.

    Ok, next time I'm back it'll be to discuss the film, I promise! (After a healthy break, I hope...)

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  77. Thanks, MovieMan.

    I meant misunderstanding where I am coming from in general regards my critical approach / philosophies. But this is something that we have gone through a billion times and as you know I find no reason to consider my tone an indication of arrogance in any way.

    I wasn't trying to devalue the 'uninformed' ones. I was talking about how I cannot engage in a detailed discussion of the film if the comments are personal or as superficial as they accuse me of being.

    "Ok, next time I'm back it'll be to discuss the film, I promise! (After a healthy break, I hope...)"

    I would greatly welcome a detailed discussion of the film and I look forward to it.

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  78. Citizen Kane, then:

    Overall, I agree with many of your points but interpret them differently and would also supplement them with other observations. For example, you are not mistaken to see the over-the-top, bombastic, surface-heavy touches in Kane, but you seem not to notice or give credit to the subtleties which counteract this and render the film complex, deep, and above all, rich. Kael called the film a "shallow masterpiece" - meaning it as a compliment - but I think she too was not responding to the pockets of resonance and depth tucked into the facade. Welles was a showman but also a poet and often the two qualities are wrapped around one another. That's my overarching view anyway, as far the particulars, I'll go point-by-point.

    "Can we get at the truth of the man? Can any person ever be fathomed and encapsulated by one symbol? This question is never allowed to flower, nor ever properly posed within the film."

    I think they are both posed - how else would you have framed these questions if they are not? - and that the answer is "no", but we can get closer. We certainly understand Kane a little better at the end than we did at the beginning. Welles later backed away from the "Rosebud" device but it's quite effective; it would be mistaken to take it for the whole "truth" but it does key us into one aspect of Kane's life, a touching loss of innocence, which colors the rest. It's also located at the very beginning of his life - give it both resonance and a little bit of irrelevance. While the taking of him away from his family obviously had an influence over the rest of his path, think of all the other things that must have happened along the way to shape the man. Hence, if this is a jigsaw puzzle piece, it's only the first one. There are hundreds more to be found and put in place, and the film ends before that can even be attempted.

    The question is rather explicitly presented in the early parts of the film and allowed to flower in the sense that once we are introduced to the symbol itself at film's end, we can to investigate the scenes ourselves with a new eye, and see if we think it explains some of his behavior or psychology.

    "The implication of viewer as director/detective, though, is never given room to breathe."

    What do you feel would have given it more breathing room? This is an area where I just disagree with your assertion. What devices could have further facilitated the "implication of viewer as director/detective" - particularly since you thought holding the reporter in the shadows did not do so? Maybe you have a point here, I'm just not sure what it is yet.

    "Sadly, each account fits snugly in the overall pattern, neatly butting up against each other. No different style is used for each section, no thought applied to exhibit the uniqueness of disparate authorships."

    Oddly, while you later condemn the film for its superficial command of style and technique, here you seem to wish it was MORE didactic. To me, the didactisim and the demands of classical storytelling complement one another nicely. The story is allowed to be told more or less chronologically, and at first glance we could see each narrator as just a step along the way - their personality irrelevant to their role as communicators of one step in Kane's life journey. Yet as I revisited the film, I noticed how each segment in Kane's life matched the personality of the teller: Thatcher focused on the stubborn child; Bernstein the grand, cheerful young man; Leland the increasingly hypocritical, traitorous middle-aged man; Susan the warped, domineering ogre of late middle age; the butler Kane's regretful old age (ironically portrayed in a single moment plucked from the very end of Susan's recollections).

    (to be continued)

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  79. (continued)

    Of course, Mankiewicz and Welles assembled the tellers in this order so that Kane's life could be told in something approaching chronology. But they created each character in a fashion which makes the narrative device seem organic. The only time it really seems forced is when Leland relates Kane's meeting of Susan. True, he says "Charlie told me about it later" but everything else we see in the flashbacks (that I can think of) was witnessed by the person relating it. Plus, it does not quite match the spirit of Leland’s other observations. It’s the only time that Welles & Mankiewicz are unable or unwilling to meet the demands of both the character-centric observations and the need to unfold their story in a somewhat logical manner.

    As for there not being a stylistic distinction between the flashbacks I agree that’s true in terms of overly obvious distinctions (though again, I thought you didn’t want the film to be too obvious?) but am not sure it’s true in a subtler sense. I’d have to watch the film again to determine that. As it is, I seem to remember more stark deep framing in the Thatcher sequences, complex bustling but not as mannered compositions in the Bernsteins, dramatic angles and skewed perspectives with Leland, and intense close-ups and grotesque set pieces in Susan’s memory. With a long, dramatic take – a long last look, so to speak – in the butler’s recollection. Maybe I’m exaggerating but I do recall a certain subtle difference in aesthetic approach, all while remaining within the range of Welles’ (admittedly broad) style.

    “The play with structure is pitifully limited and does not achieve anything akin to the integral force of the flashbacks in Memento or Mulholland Drive.”

    No doubt the flashbacks in those films are more rigorous (particularly in the first case) and complex (particularly in the second). I felt Memento as cold as you seem to feel Kane, but Mulholland Dr. in addition to its emotional riches does provide a satisfaction in the way it doubles back on itself and presents the flashbacks in a dramatically ambitious and unpredictable way. But Kane is playing a different game, and in it’s own way is just as complex. After all, unlike Lynch’s film in particular, it sets out to balance the intricacies of an ambitious structure with the desire to tell a (relatively) easy-to-follow narrative which an audience can follow. I think it meets both demands brilliantly with the primary exception being the inclusion of the meeting-Susan scene (and now that I think about it, the confrontation with Gettys) in the Leland section. You said the segments butt up against each other too nicely but this isn’t really true in the beginning & end, only in the middle (between Bernstein & Leland, and to a certain extent with Susan & Leland, though she does double back in his narrative if I’m not mistaken). Thatcher covers a wide breadth of Kane’s life, giving us a slightly closer view of the man than the newsreel did, but not that much closer. The film’s screenplay deftly balances at least four purposes: to tell the biographical life story of Charles Foster Kane; to compose a dramatic narrative with its rise-and-fall, beginning-middle-end demands (though as Godard put it, not necessarily in that order); to illustrate the different views on Kane’s personality by utilizing several different narrators; and to correspond these different purposes one another (for example, so that the different views echo different stages in Kane’s life, or so that the type of perspective offered gives us some insight onto Kane’s biography). I would not call this play with structure “pitifully limited” and would like to hear more in terms of your comparison, which is a little vague at present; what is “integral force” and how do the other two films employ or engender it?

    (to be continued)

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  80. (continued)

    “The introductions to these dreams of the past are stilted and stunted much like the linking parts in a Simpsons clip show.”

    I would say they serve their dual purposes – introducing us to the characters and seguing into another segment of Kane’s tale – quite well. Each one is evocative and rich. We are not plunked down into anonymous locations but placed within a recognizable frameworks which colors not only how we see the characters but how we will experience the story to come: Bernstein in his “chairman of the board” high-rise, Leland in his towering but impersonal old-age home; Susan in her Atlantic City dive. These settings are bursting with atmosphere and the character’s dialogue is anything but blankly functional. In particular, how a segment which contains that priceless ferry anecdote, one of the greatest asides in cinema, could be described as “stilted and stunted” is beyond me.

    “Yet Kane's monstrousness is overplayed. The grand speech in the gargantuan hall is too much, too extended, too embroiled in the iconography of a plastic dictator. His insertion into historical events (standing proudly alongside Hitler on a balcony) borders on comic-book pastiche.”

    The middle section of the review is I think a brilliant notation of many of the film’s coups – the way it relates mise en scene to meaning. It could stand alone as a positive appraisal of the film, despite the fact that you proceed to knock it. To me, this shows you at least engaged intellectually with the movie, if not emotionally, and refutes your detractors claim that you are only focusing on yourself and not paying attention to Kane. Moving on…

    “The revelation of Rosebud as the name of a sled is not a material revelation. It does not alter anything in our perception. It reveals what rosebud is and nothing new about the man.”

    We already knew “rosebud”, whatever it was, was important to Kane. He repeated twice, at two points in his life, once when he was dying spiritually and once when he was dying physically. The revelation of the name on the sled is thus part two of a material revelation: that at the most difficult times in his existence, Kane muttered the incantation of childhood happiness. It locates him, spiritually, in the past. There is only one prior clue that this is so: his admission to Susan that he was visiting storage to look at old things. That could be taken as an aside or a minor note; the revelation at the end of the film reveals that, no, this nostalgic interlude was not just a momentary diversion to this man who seemed to live perpetually in the present or even the future, always striving, always moving forward, always building, constructing, running for something, butting heads. It was in fact essential in some way to him, as it was something he turned to in moments of deepest frustration and self-pity. Was it all there was to the man? Of course not. But the notion that the revelation of Rosebud on the sled does not give us any new insight into Kane (a notion shared by many of the film’s defenders, by the way) is one that strikes me as absurd. It certainly altered my perception.

    (to be continued)

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  81. (continued)

    “The whole mystery that sets the tale in motion is established too early, before we come to care about what it entails.”

    But this is one thing I love about the film, the way it takes us on a journey from outside to inside, and then stops to say “no trespassing” after bringing us to the brink. Nonetheless, while distancing us beginning to end, there is a forward movement, towards empathy, understanding, and involvement. Simultaneously, ironically, the character becomes more cruel and cold and the narrators less friendly and understanding toward him. Yet if we see the young Kane initially as a bizarre but intriguing public figure and then a garrulous, charismatic young man – somebody who we’d love to have drinks with, without really feeling like we knew him – by the dark, bitter end we can perhaps identify with him more deeply and feel that we are somehow sharing in his tragic fate. Particularly, the butler’s recollection is (ironically considering the servant’s emotional and social distance from Kane) the closest we come to an “inside view” perhaps because it’s so uneffaced by either personal loyalty or bitterness. We observe Kane at one of his darkest moments, and we’re with him.

    Now, of course I use “we” advisedly. I am well-aware that you don’t share this response. But the fact that I do, and that others do as well belies the notion that “establishing the mystery early” is necessarily a structural mistake. (By the way, this is not recourse to the objective/subjective argument; I’m not questioning your response or judgement of this particular work, but your more universal statement about trying to engage audiences in a mystery before they are attached to the characters – anyway, isn’t this often the case? True, sometimes, we settle in with the protagonists – though usually they’re the detective rather than the detected; but in others we start in media res and gladly go along for the ride.)

    “Kane's traits of arrogance and bloody-mindedness are demonstrated again and again within a story old, hackneyed and deadeningly predictable. There is little or no light and shade cast onto this inevitable rise and fall.”

    Bernstein’s recollections are by and large cheery, painting Kane as a brash exuberant youth. Even Leland’s display some warm qualities in the man. And Thatcher himself is such an unlikable stuffed shirt that his dislike for Kane is bound to make us like the protégée just a bit. I don’t think the arrogance and bloody-mindedness develop fully into well into the picture, thus I can’t see how there rise and fall is not nuanced, full of “light” and “shade.”

    I don’t quite understand your comparison between Godard and Welles. You feel that Welles puts the narrative before the form, and thus the film should be judged primarily on the narrative (just as Godard, putting form first, should be judged on that)? Actually, strike that – it seems like I do understand the comparison. I reservedly agree. I think it would be hard for this film to succeed if its narrative did not. One could argue the film’s form is most important (I would not) but even if that’s true, Welles makes the narrative the gateway to the form. So we agree here – the film rises or falls on the strength of its narrative.

    “barreling along in the wake of Welles’ presence”
    You’ve got me a little confused here. Do you mean Welles’ presence as filmmaker or as actor? If the latter, wouldn’t that belie the claim that form is following narrative in this movie, and that the film is “bombastically narrative driven” which is the first clause of this very sentence? If as actor, I suppose you are conflating Welles with Kane with narrative, a few leaps too many but I see what you’re saying.

    (to be continued)

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  82. (continued)

    “The compositions do not derive from the characters' internal world (like a snow globe smashing, spilling the internal out) but are imposed externally, untethered to what they mean to speak of.”
    This seems to run contrary to everything you so meticiulously laid out in the previous section, detailing the meanings of Welles’ mise en scene. This is the closest you come to fulfilling Tony’s baffled response which seems to see the piece as a kind of voodoo criticism. Could you explain how all those connections you so astutely observed, between costume and character, angles and relationships, settings and dramatic relevance, are “untethered to what they mean to speak of”? It seemed like you were making the opposite point before.

    “The film essays foreboding grandeur but the text is simply drawn and its illustrations seem ridiculous in their imposition of hifalutin, steroidal 'meaning'.”
    Now you seem to be saying that the devices are too tethered to what they mean to speak of. At any rate, taking this argument in isolation, I find that the film risks being over-the-top and plays a risky, tricky game. However, I think it avoids the imposition of artifice because it utilizes multiple tactics, some purposefully overdrawn and cartoonish, some more subtle (think of all the long takes, the deep-field photography, the crowded mise-en-scenes). It basically bombards our senses with all the approaches cinema had utilized up to this time, and does so in the context of a story, and storytelling style, in which this makes sense. Can one be “bombarded” with subtlety? I think so – I think we can switch gears between different methods if the juxtaposition and flow and rhythm is just right. Maybe it doesn’t work for everyone, but I’d like to see you at least recognize the film’s multitude of tactics, some of which are more “open” and “deep”. If you’re still going to dismiss Welles’ style, can you at least do so by dismissing all of it? By saying that the switches in tone and texture are too jarring for you, rather than ignoring the switches altogether? I don’t ask for you to love the film, just to recognize there’s more to it than you’re letting on when you say “the text is simply drawn.” Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn’t.

    By the way I did not know what “pleonastic” meant before looking it up, but seeing that it’s essentially a synonym for “redundant” (does anyone else see the irony in that word having a synonym?) I know what you mean. As Marilyn pointed out at Wonders, Welles is sometimes Brechtian, but as he’s consciously superficial within the context of a format (Golden Age Hollywood filmmaking) which is unconsciously superficial it can become difficult to parase out his intentions. Is he having it both ways?

    A few points here: one, the film is not perpetually Brechtian. As I said above, sometimes it’s sensitive and nuanced (the ferry anecdote, the trashing of Susan’s room, and often within the very same scene or even shot as it’s being bombastic – it displays sensitivity and showmanship simultaneously at times). And when it is bombastic – and obvious – I think it adds color and texture to the picture. The shadow being cast over her face may be symbolic, but it’s also a rich image in and of itself. This is another aspect we haven’t discussed much – not just the narrative meaning and intellectual connotations of Welles’ imagery and decisions, but their emotional effect. Images in film can stand for something, but they are first and foremost images.

    (to be continued)

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  83. (continued)

    Hence, you may be on the floor because it’s an interesting perspective. You may be hearing “It Can’t Be Love” not just because its lyrics fit the mood but because its mood and rhythm add a certain feeling to the scene. Speaking of which does one get the “feeling” that they are drifting apart? If so, than the scene works. If one gets the “thought” that they are drifting apart, not so much. It seems you feel the exaggerated, pronounced tenor of the material kills potential emotion by making you too conscious of the director’s approach. Of course, you do not mind this in Godard but as you point out these are the terms of his very approach. Welles has to serve his narrative first.

    So here we come to a fork in the road where taste and personal preference may part ways and make reconciliation unlikely (at least if you do not see the value in trying to reconcile another point of view with your own). All I can say, then, is that I find these strategies do not subvert the narrative for me, that they work as images and gestures in and of themselves without detracting from the film’s subtler moments or its mission to entertain and move us through a narrative. A film is always at least two things: a whole and its parts – a present moment which exists in isolation and a part of greater structure. Many of the best films, perhaps the majority, will balance both these functions. I would say, even when narrative is the primary purpose, the most important function of a film is how it succeeds in the given moment. Maybe this is a contradiction of my earlier stance, that Kane rises or falls on the strength of its narrative. Perhaps it is. Best to say that Kane in particular cannot be counted a success unless it’s narrative succeeds. But that all movies, which by necessity includes Kane, cannot be counted a success unless they succeed in engaging the viewer in the moment.

    “Deep focus adds depth but not necessarily the kind that cannot be seen.”
    Here is one moment where you do address the film’s more subtle shadings. I would argue that any physical depth entails a little bit of the kind of depth which “cannot be seen”, which may in fact be contingent on what we can see (or hear).

    “Citizen Kane's innovative images are too ambiguous and incongruous to be charged with carrying the bulk of the artistic load.”
    Again, I’m a little confused with the seeming contradiction. You previously establish that Welles’ devices are too on-the-nose yet you go on to describe them as “ambiguous” and “incongruous”. Can you explain this?

    Perhaps I will come back to tackle the last two paragraphs, but I’ve hit most of the essay and now time forces my hand: I have to leave and will not be back till late tonight. Anyway, I’ve given you plenty to chew on here so take your time and if you wish, expand on some of your ideas and respond to some of my thoughts. I’ll look forward to a dialogue if it emerges.

    Thanks,

    Joel

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  84. MovieMan,

    Many brilliant points that may well highlight a few issues in my review, which I will try to unentangle...

    "I think they are both posed - how else would you have framed these questions if they are not? - and that the answer is "no", but we can get closer."

    Well, I said 'properly posed'. I say that because very early I had a strong sense of the fact that we would not find out anything of substance of the inner Kane beyond a sort of nebulous background pining for love.

    We don't get closer - yes, and that is the point - but it is not properly posed because the structure and the style seems to make no inroads into answering or, more importantly, creating a tension between what we see and what we don't. I don't know if that makes sense, but it is a largely emotional / gut response.


    "The question is rather explicitly presented in the early parts of the film and allowed to flower in the sense that once we are introduced to the symbol itself at film's end, we can to investigate the scenes ourselves with a new eye, and see if we think it explains some of his behavior or psychology."

    But you kind of get the feeling that that is what it is all about from the off - the vast, beached whale of a man in a cold gothic citadel. The implication, fed by convention in books and film, is that the innocence has been lost along the way. I don't think the revelation of Rosebud is 'material' as I said.

    "What devices could have further facilitated the "implication of viewer as director/detective" - particularly since you thought holding the reporter in the shadows did not do so?"

    I mentioned a) the fact no-one heard the last Rosebud and b) the photographing of US.... These are the only times when I felt drawn to even THINK about the audience being integral to working this thing out. The reason is because the flashbacks do seem thorough in that we see Kane at all these important times publicly and privately.

    There aren't little grooves between the pieces of the jigsaw that allow us to slip in. So I don't think the idea is touched upon enough to make it of academic interest nor are we given room within the structure to make it a reality - i.e. where we would have to bear the burden of discovery - as in Mulholland Drive.

    "Oddly, while you later condemn the film for its superficial command of style and technique, here you seem to wish it was MORE didactic"

    That wouldn't make it more didactic, it would make it more interesting / realistic in terms of the way people remember and the way people see the world. Even if it was a contrivance of sorts, at least it would flesh out these characters as more than just ciphers to smooth the narrative journey: 'Yes, I remember Kane and pretty much like other people did, and with similar angles and shadows...'

    "Yet as I revisited the film, I noticed how each segment in Kane's life matched the personality of the teller"

    Perhaps, but the style of the recollection and the fact that they don't particularly contradict or give new life or veneers to the other flashbacks is a problem I had. It's a long time since some of those events occurred for the people recollecting and yet we don't feel like they grope for their memories in the same way the film gropes for Kane's true personality.
    Again, it's a narrative device that speaks a little of expediency and is not fully exploited - that's what I mean by 'integral force'.

    To be continued...

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  85. "Maybe I’m exaggerating but I do recall a certain subtle difference in aesthetic approach, all while remaining within the range of Welles’ (admittedly broad) style."

    This may well be the case, but I would have to look again. The problem is of course, when you go looking with a fine toothcomb you could end up convincing yourself of any theory that, when you look again from afar, doesn't hold up.

    The integral force I am talking about is how in Memento and Mulholland Drive the flashbacks are key to the film because of the nature of flashbacks - digging back, slightly blurred, slightly distorted. The narrative requires these flashbacks and grows because of them.

    The difference in those two films is that the flashbacks originate from the protagonist, the person we wish to find out about. It is more about the internal, first-person world. Kane's flashbacks are only there because the detectives are there (in the present). The film could easily have been told 'straight' - without flashbacks - and not be 'materially' changed.

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  86. "These settings are bursting with atmosphere and the character’s dialogue is anything but blankly functional."

    There is no interest in them beyond moving the story along. You don't get closer to the characters and they don't pique the intrigue. Also, correct me if I'm wrong. but these segments - particularly with the (poorly made-up) Leland - are full of empty declarations like: 'Charlie only cared about himself' or 'never believed in anything', 'never had a conviction'.

    These are bold and seemingly final statements that one would hope/think would lead to a slight revision once the flashbacks have begun. But it didn't feel that way. Leland says this is how it was - in too plain terms in my opinion, I've never come across people summing up friends in these big, black and white ways - and the flashback creates no torque between words and 'facts'. I mean he's old now, maybe he should forget the subtleties but be reminded once he goes back in time...

    "That could be taken as an aside or a minor note; the revelation at the end of the film reveals that, no, this nostalgic interlude was not just a momentary diversion to this man who seemed to live perpetually in the present or even the future, always striving, always moving forward, always building,"

    That scene in his childhood is the most immediate to me - the most alive in its use of sharp black and white and its emotional rawness. After that we are not given anything that, in conventional Hollywood film-making, would qualify as true 'character development' - we are given plot points, grand moments in his life but they don't have that immediacy.

    Therefore, as that childhood scene stands out so far - the final image of mother holding child in CU is brilliant - it seemed natural to me that that it is the key and important event.

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  87. "...is one that strikes me as absurd. It certainly altered my perception"

    Well clearly the notion isn't absurd to me because it did not alter MY perception(!).

    "Yet if we see the young Kane initially as a bizarre but intriguing public figure and then a garrulous, charismatic young man – somebody who we’d love to have drinks with, without really feeling like we knew him – by the dark, bitter end we can perhaps identify with him more deeply and feel that we are somehow sharing in his tragic fate."

    The newsreel shows me the archetypal big, brash media mogul. He's off-putting. Maybe that's just me, but it's hard to necessarily care about a man who is shown as being all-powerful and cocky with it. He doesn't make me think - 'what's he really like?' His superficial garrulous manner comes off as being all there is.

    "We observe Kane at one of his darkest moments, and we’re with him."

    That's the problem. I'm with him in the room, but never with him emotionally - I'm looking out the window.

    "But the fact that I do, and that others do as well belies the notion that “establishing the mystery early” is necessarily a structural mistake."

    I take every film on its own merits - another may establish a mystery early and succeed in grabbing me. This one does not. The mystery appears a couple of seconds after we see the man. It places one mystery I don't care about solving ('Rosebud') on top of one that has been simultaneously posed ('Who is this?'). It's rather too distantiating - especially given the bombastic clangs on the soundtrack and 'look-at-me, isn't this a momentous occasion' silhouettes through the window.

    "...but in others we start in media res and gladly go along for the ride.)"

    Yes, I agree. The prime example for me is Star Wars - two droids, a war, soldiers killed, man in black...

    "...thus I can’t see how there rise and fall is not nuanced, full of “light” and “shade.”"

    I mentioned that he starts off in control and 'cheerier'. I mean here the narrative arc has no shade. It is a smooth curve up and down. The up and the down themselves are shades, but the progression is simple and simplistic.

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  88. "One could argue the film’s form is most important (I would not) but even if that’s true, Welles makes the narrative the gateway to the form. So we agree here – the film rises or falls on the strength of its narrative."

    I think I should say at this point that each film, taken as it comes, will seem to ask to be taken (subconsciously perhaps) in a certain way and set up its own framework for success or failure.

    The character Kane, in his movements, his successes and his declarations moves us and the plot forward - we have to barrel along behind this. I used 'Welles' because his presence is so large. Sorry if that's confusing. It's not a purely contemplative piece. We have to go with him through the stages of the story. The extent to which we take him by the hand or are dragged kicking and screaming is where film can soar or falter.

    "..detailing the meanings of Welles’ mise en scene."

    No. I set out the difference between the 'idea' being proposed or imposed and whether it sticks to an emotional reality. There's nothing to ground these compositions on. They either try to obliterate the 'meaning' of a scene (as if it has to have an overt 'meaning' when anyone can understand emotions) or create symbolically something from nothing (in a children's book llustrations without the text).

    In Dekalog 1, a man destroyed by the death of his son angry with God pushes at an altar. The wax from the candles drops down on an icon of Mary to form tears on her face. This is founded in the text, encapsulates it and elevates it. This happens in Kane with the boxes at the end (as I said a stunning image) but if the symbol is just floating it can mean anything - it becomes 'ambiguous' too because it is building a house on no foundations.

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  89. This may seem like a contradiction but sometimes Kane overlaps symbols with meaning too obviously (the shadow on Susan's face) and sometimes it creates something that could mean anything, could be a point or could be an opportunity for a spurious academic to say 'their clothes create a yin and yang'. It's an observation that needs guesswork and good faith.


    Only once is the balance right - with the cityscape of boxes.

    "Now you seem to be saying that the devices are too tethered to what they mean to speak of."

    I'm talking about different parts of the film and different aspects (camera angles, light and shadow, costume, placement of characters). Maybe that's not obvious.

    "Maybe it doesn’t work for everyone, but I’d like to see you at least recognize the film’s multitude of tactics, some of which are more “open” and “deep”. If you’re still going to dismiss Welles’ style, can you at least do so by dismissing all of it?"

    Why would I have to dismiss all of it to dismiss some of it? There are tactics, yes, but they don't create an engagement, they don't create what they want to - an association with the film, an excitement...

    "By the way I did not know what “pleonastic” meant before looking it up, but seeing that it’s essentially a synonym for “redundant” (does anyone else see the irony in that word having a synonym?)"

    Try tautological.

    "The shadow being cast over her face may be symbolic, but it’s also a rich image in and of itself."

    It's a cheap cliche. It's not rich because it says little and I wouldn't frame it and put it on my wall.

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  90. "Hence, you may be on the floor because it’s an interesting perspective. You may be hearing “It Can’t Be Love” not just because its lyrics fit the mood but because its mood and rhythm add a certain feeling to the scene."

    Indeed. I don't doubt that these are valid responses. However, if I am (overly) aware of them that becomes an issue. The same mood could have been created with a song less 'in tune' with the storyline.

    "Of course, you do not mind this in Godard but as you point out these are the terms of his very approach. Welles has to serve his narrative first."

    I am still struck by how Godard can throw a multitude of empty personas at the screen spouting philosophical, political ideologies and keep our interest in it and their humanity with a simple close up.

    "...a whole and its parts – a present moment which exists in isolation and a part of greater structure. Many of the best films, perhaps the majority, will balance both these functions."

    Yes, by and large I would agree. However, putting in great ingredients will not necessarily create a great dish. And going back and saying 'this IS a great dish because look, it has the finest lamb and the ripest apples...' does not really cut it.

    A silly analogy perhaps, but one that keeps me from looking too deeply at the trees until I can't see the wood.

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  91. Thank you very much indeed for your probing comments on my piece, especially for calling me out on the confusions surrounding the imposition of meaning.

    It will help me become a better writer.

    I think I have reconciled those contradictions to myself at least! I was really struggling to tie those loose ends together! Anyway, whether I can explain it or not, the film still leaves me cold (after 4/5 views) and I don't see that changing.

    By the way, do you want me to call you Joel (you signed it 'Joel')?

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  92. Stephen, thanks for the quick respons. You can call me whatever you like; truthfully I "signed" the piece almost as a kind of shorthand for "the end" - after all those words, I needed some sort of conclusive punctuation!

    Sometimes on your site I can cut-and-paste and sometimes I can't. I'm not sure why; for now I can't, so I will answer your points in numerical fashion rather than following quotes. Hope that makes sense.

    1. To my eyes, the style cretes this tension between what we see and what we don't in a number of ways. Firstly, the structure, bringing us closer and closer as I described in my comment - granted we do get an unmediated "close look" right away but it's so close it's almost useless: a pair of lips, a sound, a crashing snow globe, we don't know to whom any of these things belong yet (as you point out). From then on, we see Kane only through filters.

    As for the emotional/gut response, I know that's the case but hopefully we can trace some of that back to what's in the film. I liked your review because it did this in large part and now hopefully we can go a little further. Aside from all the "subjective/objective" principle ideas, this is a practical matter - the only way to discuss the film is with recourse to a common experience - i.e. the film itself.

    2. Can you explain what you mean by "material"? That it does not change anything fundamentally? This is an interesting point. I'm not sure I did feel the lost innocence was central to Kane's persona until Rosebud. Of course, I also first saw the film when I was very young and on subsequent views, of course, knew what was coming but had the memory of the surprise revelation (well, sort of - my friend's dad wandered into the room about a minute before the big reveal and said "I can't believe it's the sled" and then seemed surprised when I said I hadn't seen it before - thanks!).

    Many watching it from more jaundiced, cynical eyes I would have seen it coming. Would it have mattered? In a way, as you and others acknowledge, the mystery is only a device though I happen to think it's an important and successful one. One could also, I suppose, view the sled as a punctuation mark - not a surprise subversion of what came before, but an underscoring and final emphasis on the undertone of the whole story.

    I'm not sure this is my view, but it's one worth considering.

    3. What do you mean by seeing Kane "privately"? Among friends? That may be thorough, but it's also justified by the device, in that it's his friends being interviewed. We're still not quite getting the interior man though we may feel we're coming to understand him better as the film goes along. Do you mean the scene where he trashes the room at the end? This is facilitated by the open door and all the people watching. The film does not seem to give us Kane unfiltered at almost any point, which is your initial point in this paragraph but then you go on to say that we get a thorough picture of Kane. So do you feel the audience is not implicated enough because the flashbacks were too mediated, or not mediated enough?

    (to be continued)

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  93. (continued)

    Overall, it seems that you are not satisfied with the space the flashbacks give us to work within but I'm still not sure what sort of "little groove" you're looking for. You have a couple examples of what you like about the film (though initially, I thought you were criticizing the "photography of US") but do you have any sort of broad idea of what it is you'd like to see within the context of Kane? What would help you feel Welles was opening up space for the viewer to navigate Kane's life, unmediated? I'm not asking you to become co-creator of the counter-Kane, but a step in the right direction might help clarify your thoughts for me. I’m still a little uncertain what specific sort of devices you’re looking for.

    4. So, out of curiosity, what did you think of my disputing that these characters DO see Kane in different ways? Both narratively, and to a certain extent, stylistically? In didactism, I was assuming that by criticizing the lack of stylistic distinction you wanted to see more of a sharply formal divide between them. Like, say, using cold, long takes for Thatcher; fast cuts between static shots for Bernstein; warped angles for Leland; expressionist close-ups for Susan. Three points if I interpreted you correctly, then: one, as I said I think the film does do this, just in a subtle way so that the story can still flow; two, if the film did do this, wouldn’t it exacerbate rather than mitigate your formal criticisms, i.e. “why am I on the floor?”; three, tied in to point two, would this not continue to impose “formal meaning” whereby Welles assumes that by making a certain stylistic decision he’s evoking a certain emotion, something you criticized elsewhere? I’m still having trouble reconciling your complaint here with your larger objections.

    5. Ok, but expediency has to enter in somewhere, especially if Welles is trying to some extent to make a narrative film acceptable to general audiences. Kane must balance the demands of Hollywood entertainment, novelistic control of structure and point of view, and cinematic expressionism. I think it does so expressively. It seems you want more overt contradictions between the flashbacks – perhaps even one scene remembered two different ways. “Rashomon” so to speak. I don’t really think that’s what the films about. Perhaps you would have preferred two scenes, with no material differences (i.e. the dialogue is the same) but a different perspective creating a different understanding? That, I’ll grant you, would have been interesting, but I can’t say I fault the film for taking the approach it did. It would be a fundamentally different film if it took that approach, because it would not really be able to span the whole of Kane’s life: it would have sacrificed biography and storytelling, to a certain extent, to make an interesting intellectual and aesthetic point about different views on a situation, and how these can be expressed using the tools of cinema. All of which would be great but ultimately, this is not what Kane is after. Still, I think it incorporates enough little elements of this to keep things interesting.

    (to be continued)

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  94. (continued)

    6. Stephen, I was not out to look for differences between the flashbacks; it was more something I noticed over time and upon reflection. It’s not meant to “hold up from afar” – from afar it’s meant to be Hollywood storytelling that can entertain a mass audience. Only upon further investigation is one expected to turn up all these subtle distinctions and developments. I don’t see anything wrong with that; in fact, I celebrate it!

    When you say the film could be told “straight” without flashbacks, do you mean with the characters sitting there relating their stories as monologues, or – as I think you mean – that we could see the whole story through the flashback sequences strung together and the linking devices and framework cut out.

    If so, I’m kind of flabbergasted you think this would not change the film “materially”! It would be a fundamentally different experience. Perhaps what you mean to say is that it would not change the flashback scenes themselves materially. You may have a point in terms of what’s onscreen – it would work, for someone unfamiliar with their usual context, as scenes in a straightforward narrative too. But I’ve two objections to that: one, to the extent this is true, I don’t see what’s wrong with that – as I said above, it means the film can work on two levels, as a straightforward narrative and as something more complex, which is good; two, there is a fundamental difference between the two ways of watching these flashbacks because in the existing film, we’re aware of the various narrators and the framing device and this colors how we view the flashbacks. They are informed, to a great deal, by their context. Indeed, as I said before, everything onscreen has two functions: to exist in that moment, and to be a part of the whole. You can’t just ignore the second, as important and fundamental as the first may be.

    7. Leland’s sequence is not the most impressive. He is, as you note, poorly made up, and his lines (like about the nurses) are a little corny, though I enjoyed them. You ignored my example of the ferry monologue, one of the most celebrated asides in cinema. How does this only have interest in moving the story along?

    I have to flat-out dispute you on this. The linking sequences are full of technical flourishes, loving details, asides, character touches that have nothing to do with blankly “moving the story along.” I’m frankly not sure how you can see it otherwise.

    8. By the “nostalgic interlude” I was referring to the scene when Kane mentions he was going to visit his belongings in storage. This is really the only time the adult Kane refers to his childhood, and I found it a subtle moment, not at all keying us in to the fact that this was the central component of Kane’s personality (if, indeed, it is). Yes, the beginning is powerful – though for you to believe its strength gives the game away you’d have to believe Welles made the rest of the film purposefully disappointing – but just because it sets the tone does not mean it’s necessarily the key to everything else or that it had supreme, lingering importance for the child. “Rosebud” is more of a reminder than a reveal and of course it isn’t supposed to explain everything. I don’t think the film rises or falls on it, though I think the film is strong nonetheless.

    We do get “character development” and they usually follow the “grand moments.” The loss of the election is shown in montage, then we get Leland and Kane wandering around the office. Susan leaves Kane, but it’s only in the follow-up flashback with Kane trashing the room that we get a real glimpse at what’s going on in his mind. Welles’ film crackles with asides, gestures, details, little moments, throwaways – this is the man who wrote the “cuckoo clock” speech for Pete’s sake! When you scold him for focusing too much on the gears of plot and “moving things along” I’m baffled – I experience Welles as just the opposite type of artist. Like Kane, he is obsessed with paraphernalia and clutter.

    (to be continued)

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  95. (continued)

    9. “Well clearly the notion isn't absurd to me because it did not alter MY perception(!).”
    Hmmm, now I can cut-and-paste again. Go figure.

    As for the above, we won’t get into that tug-of-war for the moment. Except to say that perhaps you meant “us” royally.

    10. “His superficial garrulous manner comes off as being all there is.” But that’s never all there is. That’s all we see – of Kane in this case (initially), and of other big movie moguls in others. Perhaps I have more curiosity about such figures than you. At any rate, the film presupposes a certain amount of curiosity and excitement. I share a Wellesian sensibility in this regard – a desire to spin biographies off of everyone, to create genealogies and past histories out of whole clothe – which you perhaps do not. But certainly, the film speaks to me here.

    That it doesn’t to you is fair enough, but by not pursuing that avenue you’re denying yourself a rewarding opportunity to engage with the material. Just my 2 cents. If you approach a film more on its own terms, you might discover something interesting about it and about yourself. That you are not innately curious about a larger-than-life figure (or any figure for that matter) may be a stumbling block to appreciating what the film is after.

    11. “That's the problem. I'm with him in the room, but never with him emotionally - I'm looking out the window.”

    What window? I’m talking about the scene where he trashes the room.

    12. My point about the mystery is not that it has you right away (though it has me; see below) but that posing it early does not necessarily mean you can’t get into it eventually.

    13. I guess the question is, why does Star Wars work for you and not Kane? What is it about it’s “in media res” opening that clicks whereas Kane’s does not? For me, the imagery of Kane’s opening is a tonic. Oh cool, a half-finished gothic palace, all those shadows and paraphernalia. Beautiful use of light and shadow. I respond emotionally to the plastic elements. And some of the ideas present – a tragic figure, a larger-than-life individual, locked away in their own private prison. Clicks with my Romantic sensibilities and makes me want to see more. And then the jarring shift to the newsreel, which appeals to another fact of my perception: the craving for information overload, for a succession of images spanning years and styles (silent, talking, shaky handheld, “official”). And the juxtaposition of these two styles speaks to another quality of my imagination – the craving for different sorts of experiences, contained nonetheless within a flexible framework which can hold them both. An intellectual desire which grows from emotional, aesthetic needs. In other words, the film has me from the get-go.

    I mention this not so much to “counter” your point-of-view as to provide another, which hopefully you find interesting and which maybe opens your eyes a bit to seeing the film from another perspective.

    (to be continued)

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  96. (continued)

    14. As to the light and shade and biographical procession. Welles and Mankiewicz have chosen to tie the biographical forward momentum to the spiritual/emotional tangling. They have complemented aging with the emotional development and shading of the narrative. They are, of course, not the only ones to do so – indeed, life experience often echoes this, albeit with as you point out more light and shade in between. In a two-hour film they streamline the purpose, and justify this through the selection of narrators who will be bound to highlight one aspect or another. You raise an interesting point, and as an adherent of tension I will admit that they run a risk here. By giving preference to harmonizing these purposes rather than playing these different structure off of each other, they do raise the possibility of losing nuance and complexity and ambiguity. Ultimately, I feel Welles does not so as a director for several reasons: the multitude of details and associations mitigates a tendency for the scenes to imply one meaning only; the knowledge of Kane’s decline, coming as it does in a sense “before” the rise complicates an uncolored interpretation of his early “cheery” years; and the fact that many of Kane’s “positive” qualities are closely tied to his “negative” qualities – his hubris which comes off as brash exuberance initially is the same quality which gives rise to his domineering control later on, and so forth. Much as I love tension, I can also admire – and sometimes prefer – amplication, which is the strategy pursued by the filmmakers in this case. It leads to something approaching myth in which, rather than echo the chaos of life, the authors exaggerate for effect, to draw our attention to a certain quality. That Kane, I think, is able to contain both amplification and – perhaps to a slightly lesser degree, but notable nonetheless – complexity is one of its strengths to me.

    15. Vis a vis “Welles” and “Kane”, thanks for the clarification. I think we largely agree here then; this is kind of what I thought you were saying.

    16. I must confess I’m still a little lost here. In paragraphs 6 – 15 (roughly) you set out a number of ways in which Welles suggests aspects of the characters through his mise en scene. For example: “From then on, the moments of relative happiness - successful sales figures, the announcement of his first marriage to Emily - are enacted through open windows. When Kane dances again, though, he is reflected in a closed window, cloaked in black.”; “We are often in retreat in this film, tracking backwards as a character moves towards us. In the beginning of his life Kane is in retreat as his Mum walks towards us. Later, he bounds into the room after his holiday, forcing us and everyone else onto the back foot.”; “Kane grows too big, pressed down on by the ceilings. Bernstein has plenty of headroom yet Kane's side of the room is foreshortened”; Confronting each other, their new-found opposition is as flagrant as yin and yang. Jedediah has a hat, Kane doesn't. Kane has a tie, Jedediah doesn't. Jedediah wears his coat, Kane does not.” In what way do these observations “set out the difference between the ‘idea’ being proposed or imposed and whether it sticks to an emotional reality.” How, given that the qualities you mention these gestures evoking are central to the characters and story, is there “nothing to ground these compositions on”? How do they “obliterate the ‘meaning’ of a scene” when you’ve just developed how they enhance it; how do they “create symbolically something from nothing” when they are complemented by the dialogue and overarching narrative concerns? The jujitsu still has me confused!

    By the way, Kieslowski would not be my example of a director less self-conscious in his use of visual metaphor; if anything he’s just as self-conscious only with less humor than Welles!

    (to be continued)

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  97. (continued)

    17. “Why would I have to dismiss all of it to dismiss some of it?” Your language does not suggest you’re dismissing some of it, but rather generalizing about Welles’ entire approach: ““The film essays foreboding grandeur but the text is simply drawn and its illustrations seem ridiculous in their imposition of hifalutin, steroidal 'meaning'” is a statement about the whole film, not parts. It speaks about the overdrawn aspects you mention earlier, but not the more subtle touches, the deep focus, the accumulation of detail, the room for asides. In other words, what so many see as the richness of Kane but which you mostly avoid discussing in order to take about the grander, more bombastic set pieces which are also part of the picture, but not the whole of it.

    18. “It's not rich because it says little and I wouldn't frame it and put it on my wall.” But the whole point is that an image is not only rich because of “what it says.”

    19. “I don't doubt that these are valid responses. However, if I am (overly) aware of them that becomes an issue. The same mood could have been created with a song less 'in tune' with the storyline.” A fair point. I worry myself about the balance between commenting on a theme or story point with another element and maintaining enough of a distance so that it doesn’t seem too obvious, but the audience has to tease it out a little bit. I think there’s wiggle room here for your judgement to ring true; Welles risks obviousness and at times perhaps descends into it and may ruin the enjoyment otherwise engendered by his approaches. For all the acclaim and praise and consernation, it’s sometimes interesting to remind ourselves that this was Welles’ very first movie!!! While it is rich and perhaps his best film in that sense, I don’t think it is unflawed or perfect. (I agree with Ed – while I wouldn’t necessarily use the term “ragged” it is certainly not a piece of perfectly proportioned classicism!)

    He’s certainly open to criticism here.

    20. Re: the Godard aside, like Welles he is concerned with the juxtaposition with different cinematic approaches, both belong to a cinema of clashes rather than unity. The shoes may be on the different feet – Welles cloaking his humanistic instincts in a didactic structure and bending-but-not-breaking of Hollywood filmmaking while Godard presents his didactism in elements of raw, uncut “reality” – live sound, long takes, flaws in the delivery, close-ups with capture the flickering humanity. Welles conceals reality within fantasy, Godard presents fantasy naked in the midst of reality. For myself, I like both approaches but it’s interesting to consider.

    21. No, a decent analogy, and I largely agree. Of course, I DO think the ingredients create a great dish here, but not solely because each ingredient by itself is good.

    22. Thanks, Stephen, and same here. We respond how we respond – while I’d like it if my views helped you warm up to the film, I’d also be satisfied if they gave you a somewhat different perspective on it, or a sense of how it “worked” for othes while its appeal baffled you.

    This was fun.

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  98. MovieMan,

    "Can you explain what you mean by "material"? That it does not change anything fundamentally? This is an interesting point."

    Yes, that's what I mean.

    "The film does not seem to give us Kane unfiltered at almost any point, which is your initial point in this paragraph but then you go on to say that we get a thorough picture of Kane."

    We get a thorough picture in that the character is not opened up as the film progresses. The sense you get of him early - brash monster pining deep inside for a lost childhood / innocence - is the beginning and the end of it.

    Yes, the film means not to get too close or 'solve' his mystery but at least then you would expect cul-de-sacs to emerge where we think we learn something of Kane but we don't.

    "What would help you feel Welles was opening up space for the viewer to navigate Kane's life, unmediated?"

    It's not so much that it is mediated, it is that if there is no confusion or no significant lacunas between the mediations, then our work as investigative, probing audiences is limited.

    "...whereby Welles assumes that by making a certain stylistic decision he’s evoking a certain emotion, something you criticized elsewhere? I’m still having trouble reconciling your complaint here with your larger objections."

    Firstly, I personally saw no distinction, or no stylistic distinction strong enough to register intellectually/emotionally.

    Secondly, there is a difference between a style that creates a different mood (which acts as a sort of colour/emotional filter a la the use of steel blue in Terminator 2) and the details of the compositions which may speak more directly to 'meaning',

    "It seems you want more overt contradictions between the flashbacks – perhaps even one scene remembered two different ways. “Rashomon” so to speak."

    It's not so much that I want it - the film seems to need it. Also, the fact that there are no real contradictions seems more artificial (in terms of the realism of recollections) than if there weren't.

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  99. "...because it would not really be able to span the whole of Kane’s life: it would have sacrificed biography and storytelling, to a certain extent, to make an interesting intellectual and aesthetic point about different views on a situation,"

    It wouldn't sacrifice biography and storytelling - it would open up the story to take in more of the character of the 'narrators'. It could still retain the thrust of biography without the distraction of an 'intellectual' point.

    "...or – as I think you mean – that we could see the whole story through the flashback sequences strung together and the linking devices and framework cut out."

    Precisely.

    "...two, there is a fundamental difference between the two ways of watching these flashbacks because in the existing film, we’re aware of the various narrators and the framing device and this colors how we view the flashbacks."

    I disagree. Aware we are, but not for long (at least with me). I'm not looking for a corny voice-over to remind us. My viewing of the flashbacks was not coloured by the narrator. The differences in Kane - more at ease or more troubled - do not arise because of who is telling the story but because of the time at which the flashback takes place.

    I maintain: You can take these bits out. Sure, it would be a different experience (if you cut out one second - like that crazy Cockatoo cut - it would make a difference) but maybe a better one. And materially? I don't believe it would make a big change.

    It is true, however, that the film is quite intense stylistically and therefore these interludes are a kind of breathing space, a pause of a few minims before we go crashing back in.

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  100. "You ignored my example of the ferry monologue, one of the most celebrated asides in cinema."

    A confession: I can't even remember it. Either I found it uninteresting or maybe I had begun to zone out when these interludes were appearing.

    I acknowledge that I should maybe have been more alert but, when you start to get the sense that the meat is in the flashbacks - and as you say it is only an 'aside' to the narrative - it becomes easy to take a back seat and wait for the engine to kick-start again.

    Sorry.

    "I’m frankly not sure how you can see it otherwise."

    You say character touches. If there was greater attention to the character of these narrators in their actual narration, these touches wouldn't seem so irrelevant. We are with these characters for a minute, waiting for them to trigger a flashback - I am not invested in nor made to invest in what they are like.

    "Welles’ film crackles with asides, gestures, details, little moments, throwaways – this is the man who wrote the “cuckoo clock” speech for Pete’s sake! When you scold him for focusing too much on the gears of plot and “moving things along” I’m baffled – I experience Welles as just the opposite type of artist. Like Kane, he is obsessed with paraphernalia and clutter."

    It doesn't crackle to me. The clever-clever witticisms or mini-monologues just didn't do it for me. Just because he wrote that Third Man speech (which, incidentally also comes across as a set-piece moment, sticking out clumsily like a sore thumb) isn't proof that he did the same thing in Kane.

    'Paraphernalia and clutter' - that basically means the gubbins that gets in the way, that clogs up. It's not decoration.

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  101. "As for the above, we won’t get into that tug-of-war for the moment. Except to say that perhaps you meant “us” royally."

    I should say that the use of 'We' in my review is not to implicate people in my point of view but merely to bring them a little closer to it.

    And yes, I do use it royally as well.

    "I share a Wellesian sensibility in this regard – a desire to spin biographies off of everyone, to create genealogies and past histories out of whole clothe – which you perhaps do not"

    Perhaps I do not. We come again to that line - am I just not going to be interested in these people whatever, or has the film failed to engage my interest?

    "At any rate, the film presupposes a certain amount of curiosity and excitement."

    It can't take it for granted. I want to be excited. I go into films with curiosity, that's the whole point. If the film repels my curiosity that's another thing.

    "That it doesn’t to you is fair enough, but by not pursuing that avenue you’re denying yourself a rewarding opportunity to engage with the material."

    I don't think I pass up the opportunity (at least consciously). The film doesn't sell the character and the tantalising biographical depths of the character.

    "Just my 2 cents. If you approach a film more on its own terms, you might discover something interesting about it and about yourself."

    I always do this - for the love of God, I've watched this five times trying to give it a chance.

    "What window? I’m talking about the scene where he trashes the room."

    It's a general point I was making. The window is a metaphorical window, with metaphorical gold cross-banding and metaphorical silk drapes.

    "My point about the mystery is not that it has you right away (though it has me; see below) but that posing it early does not necessarily mean you can’t get into it eventually."

    I agree. I just think the fact it hits right away (in this particular film) disadvantages it and mitigates against getting into it eventually.

    "I guess the question is, why does Star Wars work for you and not Kane? What is it about it’s “in media res” opening that clicks whereas Kane’s does not?"

    Boy, I'd have to really think about that. It could be that Kane makes too big a show of the momentous nature of the place and the event (the shadow, the close ups, the big music). It doesn't let you IN. 'In media res' works best when you are disoriented like a newborn child, allowed to totter around like C3PO. Kane says LOOK what's happening. Star Wars allows you to ask: 'What is this massive ship? Who are they?' We are linked by the opening to C3PO and R2D2 as they are also in the middle of something big that they can't control. In Kane we are only with the Director, pointing us here and there - we can't explore emotionally as much.

    This is probably the wrong reason - but it could be why I got into it.

    "And then the jarring shift to the newsreel, which appeals to another fact of my perception: the craving for information overload, for a succession of images spanning years and styles (silent, talking, shaky handheld, “official”)."

    Don't bite my head off, but I love the information overload of the 'Southland Tales' opening with the various video streams. But that is matter-of-fact and melancholy. Kane's newsreel is so desperate to make this man into a gargantuan figure, so desperate to tell us of the importance of HIM and the FILM that it is off-putting.

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  102. "...and the fact that many of Kane’s “positive” qualities are closely tied to his “negative” qualities – his hubris which comes off as brash exuberance initially is the same quality which gives rise to his domineering control later on, and so forth."

    A very good point. But if his negative qualities are wedded to his positive qualities then overall subtlety suffers - the progression is still a straight line that talks of the shift of these characteristics from the 'positive' side of the coin to the 'negative'. A shift that is predictable and straightforward.

    "Much as I love tension, I can also admire – and sometimes prefer – amplification, which is the strategy pursued by the filmmakers in this case."

    I understand yet for me it didn't achieve amplification so much as reiteration.

    "How, given that the qualities you mention these gestures evoking are central to the characters and story, is there “nothing to ground these compositions on”? How do they “obliterate the ‘meaning’ of a scene” when you’ve just developed how they enhance it"

    They evoke qualities but you don't feel that they are 'part' of the characters. It's external and not internal. It's hard to explain, I know.

    As for the contradictions. Maybe I use language that suggests certain examples to stand for the whole film. That's not the case. Sometimes the compositions 'obliterate' and sometimes they seek to impose without real emotional/ character/ textual foundation.

    I think the problem is in my explanations. It's something I felt throughout. That may be unsatisfactory, but there you have it - it's there nonetheless.

    "By the way, Kieslowski would not be my example of a director less self-conscious in his use of visual metaphor; if anything he’s just as self-conscious only with less humor than Welles!"

    Blasphemy, I say!

    In the Dekalog (I agree he gets carried away with symbols and metaphors in his later works), Kieslowski typically uses just one major symbolic representation (the icon, the wasp in the glass...), expansion of themes and emotions. It is on-the-nose but not too pat. It always helps understanding by adding to the text instead of reiterating or patronising it.

    Welles overloads with showy and patronising redundancies.

    ",,,but rather generalizing about Welles’ entire approach: ““The film essays foreboding grandeur but the text is simply drawn and its illustrations seem ridiculous in their imposition of hifalutin, steroidal 'meaning'” is a statement about the whole film, not parts."

    As I said above, there is that ambiguity. I meant 'at times', or 'in this case'.

    It's also a general thrust argument. I know it obliterates (!) a bit of subtlety but when writing a review as well as an essay I get stuck in the trap of giving a simple 'overview'. My mistake.

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  103. "It's not rich because it says little and I wouldn't frame it and put it on my wall.” But the whole point is that an image is not only rich because of “what it says.”"

    I know. I meant it isn't rich in any way (taken out of context). By 'what it says' I'm not referring to 'meaning' as such but how it 'speaks' to you - intellectually, emotionally, textually...

    "For all the acclaim and praise and consernation, it’s sometimes interesting to remind ourselves that this was Welles’ very first movie!!! While it is rich and perhaps his best film in that sense, I don’t think it is unflawed or perfect."

    I should say that I think his films improved - Touch of Evil is a good film and F For Fake, despite its self-congratulatory playfulness, is full of glorious moments. Welles was clearly a highly intelligent, witty man. That doesn't mean he always got the film-making bit right.

    re Ed,

    I don't think it's ragged. I think it's too controlled.

    "Welles conceals reality within fantasy, Godard presents fantasy naked in the midst of reality. For myself, I like both approaches but it’s interesting to consider"

    Beautifully put, MovieMan.

    "No, a decent analogy, and I largely agree. Of course, I DO think the ingredients create a great dish here, but not solely because each ingredient by itself is good."

    Fair enough. I can't really argue with that.

    "I’d also be satisfied if they gave you a somewhat different perspective on it, or a sense of how it “worked” for othes while its appeal baffled you.

    This was fun."

    Yes, it has given me a different perspective, especially on different perspectives(!). Its appeal doesn't baffle me. I don't shake my head if I can't see what others like. We're all different.

    I've enjoyed it too. I hope I too have given you at least a little insight into why (or what I think is the why) Kane didn't engage me.

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  104. re 'Four Months, Three Weeks and Two Days'

    I've found the DVD but it doesn't work on my computer. That's life.

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  105. This is a very interesting blog and so i like to visit your blog again and again. Keep it up.

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