JULIO ROMERO DE TORRES

This wonderful portrait, Carmen Of Cordova,
is by Julio Romero de Torres, a Spanish painter of the late Victorian
and early modern eras.  His images are dark, earthy and
erotic, with a hint of the perverse.

He started out doing conventional Victorian narrative tableaux, like the one above — titled Look How Beautiful She Was! — but eventually developed a more eccentric vision.  Below, a twist on a famous paiting by Velasquez:

Like any respectable Spaniard he both loved and feared women . . .

. . . and also tended to see them in a mystical light:

His sensibility represents an odd blend of the carnal and the spiritual
– always in his work, however sensual, we can hear the Spanish saying
“Where the body goes, there goes death.”

Above, the artist in his studio with a model and a visitor. 
Romero de Torres was born and spent most of his life in Córdoba, taking
time out to serve as a pilot in WWI and to visit the Argentine, where
he got sick, returning to Córdoba to die at the age of 55.  There
are no books in English which collect his work, although twelve more
books about the mildly amusing advertising artist Andy Warhol were
published last week.

Something is terribly wrong with our civilization — but you knew that.

There is a museum in Córdoba which lovingly preserves his house and work, which you can visit virtually here.

Thanks, as so often, to Little Hokum Rag and Femme Femme Femme for pointing the way to this enchanting painter.

ELECTRIC EDWARDIANS

Jean-Luc
Godard once observed that, with the passing of time, the fantasy films
of Georges Méliès have become actualities, now that man has in fact
made a voyage to the moon, while the actualities of the Lumière
Brothers have become fantasies, since they record lost worlds to which
we can never return, as mythological now as Oz.



I thought of this while watching Electric Edwardians,
the Milestone DVD of Mitchell & Kenyon actualities of Edwardian
Britain.  I must say I was blown away.  It's the most
gorgeous collection of cinematic images outside of Intolerance or Sunrise or Welles's Falstaff, lyrical and deeply moving.






With the
possible exception of a few infants who lived to a great age, all the
people in these films are dead.  As a commentator on the DVD
observes, the young boys in the films were part of a generation that
would be swept into oblivion long before their time by the mass carnage
of the Great War a decade or so later.  The bustling street life
that most attracted Mitchell & Kenyon becomes for us now a memento
mori, incredibly sweet and sad.






I can't imagine
that anyone who loves movies and owns a DVD player wouldn't want to
have this DVD and to watch the films on it over and over again. 
They may constitute a kind of unconscious art, but it's art of a very
high order.

IT'S ALL TRUE

In 1942, right after he finished principal photography on his second film, The Magnificent Ambersons,
but before editing on it began, Orson Welles headed off to make a film
in Brazil promoting inter-American friendship.  America was at war
and Welles had been convinced by the government that it was his
patriotic duty to undertake this assignment, designed to keep our
neighbors to the south from drifting into the sphere of Axis influence.

Welles, exempted from military service by various ailments, could
hardly have refused.  He planned to make an omnibus film mixing
fictional and documentary
episodes
– a kind of essay on aspects of South American culture.  He fell
in love with Brazil and groped his way slowly towards a form in which
to convey what he found there, finally settling on the history of the
samba as a key to the society.

His groping frustrated his corporate masters at RKO back in
Hollywood.  They were also worried that much of his documentary
footage of Carnival and the samba clubs of Rio showed what they called
“jigaboos” mixing and dancing with white people.  It was precisely
this racial diversity that Welles admired in the Brazilian culture.

Eventually RKO pulled the plug on the project.  Welles was left
with one camera, no sound equipment, 40,000 feet of black-and-white
film and $10,000.  Hoping to salvage something from the adventure,
he headed north to what was then the small coastal village of Fortaleza (below) to make a documentary-like reconstruction of a
legendary event in recent Brazilian history — the 1500-mile voyage of
four fisherman on a crude sailing raft to present grievances to the
government in Rio.

The voyage made the four men national heroes, and they were received by
Brazil's strongman leader, a sort of populist dictator, who granted the
substance of their demands.

Welles shot most of the footage he needed for this film-within-a-film,
but was never allowed to edit it.  After his death, the footage
was assembled into something presentable and included in a documentary
about Welles' ill-fated Brazilian project.  The documentary is now
available on DVD:




The episode of the four fishermen, even crudely reconstructed, is
simply stunning.  It may be the most beautiful semi-documentary
ever made.  Eisenstein's very similar project, done in Mexico a
decade earlier, ¡Que Viva Mexico!, looks like static fashion photography by comparison.  Four Men On A Raft, as Welles called the episode, also blows away the semi-documentaries of Robert Flaherty (like Nanook Of the North) and Michael Powell (The Edge Of the World.) 
Welles's images are dynamic, lyrical, full of movement and yet also
convey a convincing documentary feel.  They are cinematic poetry
of the highest order.

Simon Callow, in his multi-volume biography of Welles, says that if
Welles had shot nothing else in his life but this footage he would have
to be recognized as one of the supreme masters of cinema.  This is
true.

While Welles was creating this miracle in Brazil, the executives at
RKO, with the aid of some of Welles' most trusted associates, were busy
mutilating The Magnificent Ambersons
They blamed the collapse of the South American film on Welles's
procrastination and extravagance, even though he had not exceeded the
project's budget at the time it was scrapped.  The vandalism of Ambersons
had a vindictive quality to it, to judge by internal RKO correspondence
on the subject, and the myth of Welles as an irresponsible artist,
created by RKO to justify its actions, which included the dismantling
of Welles' production unit at RKO, haunted him for the rest of his life.

RKO made a point of destroying the footage they cut from Ambersons, although Hollywood figures like David O. Selznick begged them to preserve it, but the It's All True footage somehow survived.  It includes ravishing Technicolor sequences shot in Rio, some of which can be seen in the It's All True documentary . . . and the material for Four Men On A Raft.  (The color images above are not from the film.)

Do
yourself a favor sometime and have a look at the material on the DVD –
unfinished as it is, it's still one of the treasures of 20th-Century
art.

WARSAW

[With plot spoilers . . .]

Mr. Arkadin,
Orson Welles's very strange film from 1955 (also known as Confidential Report), is a kind of parody of an
international suspense thriller — with a cartoonish expressionism of
style that sometimes verges on the Gothic, on the perfectly preposterous.  Welles plays
the fabulously wealthy tycoon Gregory Arkadin, a man who is not at all what he seems to be
– and he plays him in a false nose and a bad beard and an even worse
wig that seem to make a joke of the whole proceedings.

Arkadin is ostensibly trying to keep the secret of his scandalous past
from his daughter, but this aspect of the story is barely dramatized
and totally unconvincing.  We have no sense that the daughter has
anything invested in the image of her father as a respectable man, no
sense that she (or anybody else) sees him as a respectable man, and we're offered no psychological insight into why his daughter's good opinion of him matters to Arkadin.

But Welles never had much interest in psychology — anymore than
Shakespeare did.  For a great dramatist, psychology is always a
reductive science.  Why does Hamlet pretend to be mad?  To
make himself seem less threatening to Claudius?  To amuse himself
with play acting?  Os is it because he is mad, and knows he's mad,
and enjoys the black irony of pretending to be what he actually is?

There are no answers to these questions.  People have been
psychoanalyzing Hamlet for 400 years precisely because Shakespeare
didn't.

There's no point in psychoanalyzing Arkadin, either — he is a perfect
blank at the center of Welles's film.  But, by a wonderful mystery hidden in the storyteller's art, we learn all we need to
know about him at the fringes of the film — including his terrible
“secret”, which, like the character of Arkadin himself, is not at all what it seems to be.

The clue to everything lies back in Warsaw, before 1927 — the year in which
Arkadin claims he was afflicted with amnesia.  We eventually learn that the
“amnesia” was self-induced.  But what was he trying to forget?

The petty crook Arkadin hires to investigate his supposedly lost past
talks to people who knew Arkadin or his associates in
Warsaw.  Although they are recalling a criminal underworld, they
all speak of Warsaw as though it was, in fact, a lost paradise — now
(in 1955) locked behind the Iron Curtain, a place they can never revisit.

Finally, what “Warsaw” really means is revealed by Arkadin's old lover
there, now a faded beauty who speaks of him and of their time together as worth the
betrayal that ended it all.  “Warsaw” is simply youth — it's the
loss of this that Arkadin cannot abide.  It's what has engendered
his vaguely incestuous obsession with his daughter, it's what leads
him to kill off all his old associates from Poland.  Not to hide his
crimes but to wipe away the evidence of passing time, of the lost
paradise — the evidence that
he was a
lover once, that he had comrades-in-arms . . . a connection to other human beings.



Welles's performance as Arkadin offers us only one moment when real
emotion seems to grip the character.  It's the moment when he
looks into the decayed face of his last surviving friend
from Warsaw — and laughs, with an imperfectly disguised fury that is
genuinely chilling.  When asked what it is he finds so funny,
Arkadin replies, “Old age.”

The story of Mr. Arkadin had its origins in a script Welles wrote for an English radio series he starred in, The Lives of Harry Lime. 
There the name of the man of mystery is Mr. Arkadian, with its clear
reference to Arcadia, the mythological paradise which is also used as a
synonym for death, as in the Latin phrase Et in Arcadia ego . . . “even
now I am in death.”

In the film, Arkadin recounts a dream he has of walking through a
cemetery whose tombstones all record very brief lifespans.  He
learns that they in fact record the spans of friendships — these being
the true measures of a life.  This is the graveyard Arkadin now
inhabits — literally killing off his old friends is just his expression of
rage that they are dead to him already, and thus that he is dead. 
The Latin phrase quoted above found its way into the Anglican Book Of Common Prayer,
in the burial service — “In the midst of life we are in death.” 
That might serve as Arkadin's motto — one he cannot accept.

In the end, scared of losing his last friend, his daughter, he kills
himself.  Because of the oblique way Welles has chosen to tell his
tale, we feel no great emotion at this.  But our minds keep
drifting back to the monologue about the old days delivered by
Arkadin's aging lover from Warsaw — one of the most memorable scenes in cinema history.  This is the narrow aperture
though which we get a glimpse of the real Mr. Arkadin, fleeting,
devastating, heartbreaking.  Like Kane, he is, very simply, a lost
soul, bewildered and ultimately destroyed by his aloneness.

To have told us this in so many words would have been to trivialize the
insight.  By making us tease it out for ourselves, feel it as a
haunting melancholy at the edge of consciousness, Welles takes us
inside Arkadin in a way Dr. Freud could never have managed.

MORBID INERTIA

The Democratic Party continues its triumphant march to
oblivion.  John McCain can probably nap between now and 4 November
and still wake up on the morning of 5 November as the President-elect.

What we're seeing I think is a phenomenon characteristic of monopoly
“capitalism”, something that might be called morbid inertia. 
Large
institutions which are accustomed to monopoly power in some arena
cannot change, even when they are marching towards the edge of a cliff.

So the recording industry, faced with widespread consumer revolt
against the shoddiness and overpricing of its products, made possible
by a virtual monopoly over distribution, will not change its products
or its marketing methods when a new system of distribution
emerges.  It tries instead to enforce the old distribution system
by legal (and illegal) actions which have no logic and no hope of
success.  It sues soccer moms for downloading a few songs, it
introduces the concept that consumers don't own the songs they buy, or
even the machines which play the songs they buy.

So the television networks, losing market share steadily, year after year,
refuse to adapt to new conditions and keep doing the same old
things over and over again — going for the last cash they can squeeze
out of a paradigm which even a child can see is doomed.

So Hollywood refuses to make films for large segments of the public and
concentrates instead on the one segment it thinks it knows best, young
males, and fails to satisfy even them on a regular basis.  The
market, reacting in kind to this contempt for consumers, resorts to
casual piracy, which Hollywood then identifies as the source of all its woes.

So the establishment of the Democratic Party, faced in Barack Obama with the almost unimaginable gift of a
transformative candidate who is swelling its ranks with new, young
voters, the Democrats of the future, and building a new and virtually
inexhaustible fund-raising base of millions of small-time donors,
clings to its old ways and tries to muscle an establishment, machine-anointed candidate
into the White House against the will of the majority of voters.

The larger issue underlying all this is a general atmosphere of greed
and despair, a philosophy of “get it while you can before the whole
thing blows up in your face.”



The great institutions of our culture believe in nothing these days
except oblivion and grabbing a little more short-term power or
short-term cash before the apocalypse.  The catchphrase of our time
is “The fierce urgency of me.”  It's utterly irrational of
course.  What good will power and money be after the apocalypse?

[Images by the redoubtable Fluharty.]

SOME LINES BY TENNYSON FOR TODAY

There lies the port; the vessel puffs her sail:


There gloom the dark broad seas. My mariners,


Souls that have toil'd, and wrought, and thought with me —


That ever with a frolic welcome took


The thunder and the sunshine, and opposed


Free hearts, free foreheads — you and I are old;


Old age hath yet his honour and his toil;


Death closes all: but something ere the end,


Some work of noble note, may yet be done,


Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.


The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks:


The long day wanes: the slow moon climbs: the deep


Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends,


'Tis not too late to seek a newer world.


Push off, and sitting well in order smite


The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds


To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths


Of all the western stars, until I die.


It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:


It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,


And see the great Achilles, whom we knew




Tho' much is taken, much abides; and though


We are not now that strength which in old days


Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;


One equal temper of heroic hearts,


Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will


To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

                        
– from Ulysses
                           
Engraving of Tennyson by G. J. Stodart

EDWIN S. PORTER

Check out The Art and Culture Of Movies,
a great blog by filmmaker and writer Matt Barry, for some interesting
thoughts about film pioneer Edwin S. Porter (director of the The Great Train Robbery from 1903.)  The post is illustrated with terrific screen shots from Porter's films.  (The frame above is from It Happened On 23rd Street — shot in 1901 on a block, between 5th and 6th Avenues, which looks almost the same today, architecturally speaking.)

MÉLIÈS

From
a strictly historical, generic perspective, the work of Georges Méliès
was a kind of magical dead end.  Although his films are commonly
spoken of as the precursors of science fiction and all forms of film
fantasy involving special effects, they are in fact so peculiarly
original in form, so deeply rooted in the traditions of the stage, that
they presaged nothing.

Méliès
was a magician and the operator of a theater dedicated to stage
magic.  He used cinema as an extension of the sort of acts he
performed and presented in his Théatre Robert-Houdin, built
as a
showcase for his own art
by Robert-Houdin, the great 19th-Century conjurer, the
legendary pioneer of modern theatrical magic (and the man after whom
his masterful successor Houdini named himself.)

Méliès
saw cinema as a way of presenting stage magic and amplifying its
effects by the use of in-camera tricks like stop motion and
super-imposition.  His images evoked the stage precisely, with
strict proscenium framing and frankly theatrical painted flats and
props.  He used many practical tricks from the stage, like flying
people and objects on wires or making them appear and disappear
through traps.  He added his camera tricks on top of these
time-worn effects.

The problem was that camera trickery is not the same as live trickery
in the presence of the trickster — the novelty of camera tricks
dissipates quickly, once you become familiar with them. 
Méliès's
films were wildly popular for a while and then, with the rise of the
narrative form in movies, suddenly went out of fashion — to a degree
that live magic shows never have.  In great live magic shows, you
know you're being tricked, but you can't for the life of you figure out
how.  You may not know exactly how a camera trick works, but you
know it has to do with some fundamentally technical resource of the
medium — and so can't
be real magic.  As early as 1905 people began to get wise to the
mechanical tricks of movies, as this postcard, part of a series, shows:

In movies, if the tricks are not done in the service of a story, or at
the very least in the service of creating a convincingly unified
alternate reality, they grow stale. 
Méliès
never tried to create a convincingly unified alternate reality — his
reality was always the reality of the stage, without the excitement of
the live presence of the performers.  His magical stop-motion
substitutions were charming as ideas but could never take the breath
away like the “impossible” substitutions of the live magician.

Méliès
could not, in short, enlist the magic of the camera as an extension of
the magic of live stage performance.  He created a vision of a
theater where anything was possible but in the process he lost the core
of the theatrical experience — the tangible presence of its spectacle.

Méliès influenced other filmmakers, like Edwin S. Porter, in the area of narrative.  Méliès's
films occasionally have simple narrative structures, but these are
always just the armature for his tricks.  He called his scenes
tableaux — they were self contained, and he was perfectly happy to
sell individual scenes as stand-alone attractions to the fairgrounds
showmen who constituted the initial market for his films.  Each
scene had a gag, after all, and he saw the gags as the principal element of his
art.

When story films began to dominate the market he lost interest in the
industry, even as his audience lost interest in him.  Storytelling wasn't at the heart of his ambition.



This is all speaking to the formal side of
Méliès's work, but of course it had qualities which transcended its formal side.  Méliès
had a sweet, antic, energetic, whimsical imagination which comes across
excitingly in his films, even today.  It reminds one of the
imagination of the great Warner Brothers cartoonists of the 1940s,
silly, flip and surreal.  But cartoon animation was of a piece and
so created an alternate universe that was of a piece, that audiences
could surrender to wholly. 
Méliès,
who never could leave the imaginative precincts of his beloved stage,
doesn't allow that kind of identification — we are always reminded
that we are, and are not, in a theater.

Méliès
was, in one sense, a great artist who made ephemeral art, in a form
that had no future.  But his irresistible sensibility often soars
above the contradictions of his formal means.  His films will
always be fun to watch, simply because it's so clear that he was having
an incredible amount of fun making them.  He communicates his joy in stage magic and his
joy in camera magic, even if he never quite finds a way to reconcile
the two practices aesthetically.

In the history of cinema, his only legacy is joy — but there are many more important formal pioneers who left us less.

THE ENCHANTMENT OF DREAMS

The third in a series of essays in honor of André Bazin.

In a previous essay in this series I wrote:


As long as a movie constructs a substantial and coherent alternate
reality it has the power to express and manipulate our emotions. 
As long as it delivers the illusion of a world that is convincingly
real
while we are inside it
a
film can mimic the process of dreaming.  Cinema is not about, or
not only about, the mummification of reality — it is about the
translation of psychology into the realm of oneiric reality, and the
essential quality of oneiric reality is that it feels absolutely
real.



But this doesn't quite tell the whole story.  Even in the grip of
the most convincing oneiric illusion, there is a part of the brain that
recognizes it as an illusion.  This accounts for the exhilaration
we feel when, for example, we find ourselves able to fly in a dream. 
We are conscious on some level that we have been freed from the usual
restrictions of gravity, which means that some part of us remembers the
usual restrictions of gravity — we are enchanted to find ourselves in
an alternate physical universe.

There are also moments in dreams when the waking self intrudes into the
oneiric universe — something so outrageous happens in the dream that we think,
“This must be a dream,” and we think this while dreaming.  (This is usually a prelude to waking up, since the dream
state can not long survive rigorous evaluation by the mind of the
waking state.)

Whatever psychological compensations and satisfactions we get from the
oneiric state, there is always, to one degree or another, a
corresponding sense of wonder at the alternate universe we have entered
– a sense of inhabiting two states at the same time.  The unreal,
and therefore constructed, nature of the dream state invests it with the quality of magic.

The same rule applies to the dreamlike illusion of cinema, though on a
level that is consistently closer to consciousness.  However
seduced we might be by the alternate universe of the cinema, the sides
of the screen are always there in our peripheral vision.  The
visible boundaries of cinema's dream space place a greater burden on
the medium to seduce us into forgetting those boundaries, but also remind
us delightfully of the constructed nature of that dream space, which
induces wonder.

There are other phenomena related to cinema which offer even more
obtrusive reminders of their constructed nature and can actually seem
all the more wonderful for that.  We see precisely how they are
seducing us, and yet we cannot help but be seduced — and we marvel at
the process as a process.  One might point to elaborate miniature
environments, for example, like fantastically detailed and realistic
doll houses, or to the Bunraku puppet tradition.  In the latter,
we can plainly see the puppeteers manipulating the puppets, wearing
black clothing to symbolically distance themselves from the puppet
figures — and yet the movements of the puppet figures are so real, so
like the movements of actual human beings, that we have to remind
ourselves that they are not in fact tiny people.

Realistic automata, toy soldiers, dolls, puppets of all kinds, can
plunge us into this middle world between illusion and the consciousness
of illusion.  The joy they all induce must be complex, difficult
to define precisely, but I think it rests on two bases.  One is
the creation of an alternate reality very like everyday reality in many
crucial respects but entirely within the control of human agents –
including ourselves as spectators, who can surrender to or resist the
illusion at will.  Another is the creation of an alternate reality
in which psychological tensions and desires can be safely engaged — as
they are engaged in dreams.  Thus little children can enact
fantasies of mastery by moving small armies across tabletops, or fantasies
of nurturing by parenting dolls.

All of these things are related to the joys of cinema.  Thus we
can see the fundamental error of André Bazin's “ontology of cinema” –
which he saw as rooted in the shared ontological identity of the
photographic image and its subject, like the ontological identity
between a finger and its fingerprint.  This ontological identity
does exists in photographed cinema, but it is not the source of its
power — it is only a technique for creating the convincing illusion of
a coherent
alternate reality. 
As I've observed elsewhere, drawn and computer-generated animation can
also create such an illusion — as can the the techniques of
scale-modeling and puppetry.

CITIZEN KANE

Citizen Kane
is a hard film to “see”.  It's so alive with invention, so dense
with magical images (and camera tricks) that it's difficult to process
them in detail.  The film also has a relentless narrative drive,
aided by visual, musical and other sound transitions of exceptional
virtuosity which keep one in a perpetual state of anticipation.

The rap on the film has always been that all this razzle-dazzle
distracts one from the fact that Kane is hollow at its center — an
exercise in sensation rather than substance.  This is a complaint
that was often made about Welles' stage productions — that they were
thrilling while you were watching them but evaporated instantly from
the mind afterward.  Pauline Kael saw Kane
as a magic show — and a magic show is another kind of theatrical
experience that lives only in the moment, that has no artistic echo.

I myself disagree with this view of Kane. 
There is a hollowness at the center of the film but it's the hollowness
of Kane himself, of the character — not the actor who plays him or the
film's director (who of course are one and the same man.)  The
sharp dialogue and knowing wit of the film, the insistent technical
bravura of the filmmaking, tend to disguise the fact that Kane is a grandly sentimental work, a work of great compassion and feeling.

I have no doubt that this sentiment and compassion came from Welles
himself, though he may have been steered into it sidewise by his
screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz, who put a lot of Welles into Kane under
the cover of the roman à clef 
element that related the character to William Randolph Hearst. 
Welles always said that the Rosebud theme was all Mankiewicz's doing,
and that he wasn't terribly fond of it himself.  I would argue
that the Rosebud theme, far from being the artificial MacGuffin it's
often dismissed as, even by Welles, is in fact exactly what it seems to
be — the key
to Charles Foster Kane and to the film.  This may have been
something Welles could not admit because it struck such a deep nerve in
him.

Welles is often treated as a uniquely mysterious character, a mass of
irreconcilable contradictions, but I think this is no more true of
Welles than it is of Kane.  Everything about Welles makes perfect
sense if you remember that he lost his mother, an adoring but demanding
woman, to jaundice when he was 9, and that he lost his father, by a
longer process, to alcoholism, which finally killed him when Welles was
15.

Welles cut himself off from his father six months before his death, in
an effort to get him to face his drinking problem, and never forgave
himself for the betrayal, for allowing his father to die alone and
estranged from him — something he could never make up for.  It's
not dime-store psychology to see these traumas as the forces which
fueled and warped the unfolding of Welles' genius — they are primal
emotional events.  And so with Kane's abandonment by his mother
and father.

The nostalgia for Rosebud, for what it represents, does sum up Kane's
life, and it's not a simplistic analysis.  The loss of a parent in
childhood is a wound that never heals — it can be endured but never
overcome.  A child always sees the loss of a parent as a rejection
– in the case of Kane, his mother's decision to send him away was on one level a literal rejection, however well-motivated.

Simon Callow, Welles's most astute biographer, is dismissive of Welles's performance in Kane,
feeling that it never achieves depth, and he feels this way about most
of the performances in the film — with the notable exception of that
by Agnes Morehead as Kane's mother.  We don't see her for long but
we sense worlds of grief in her as she sends her son out to the wider
world, where she hopes he'll have a better life.

It is a singular performance in
the film, but I think its singularity makes perfect sense.  Kane
has a hole in his heart which robs him of personal substance, makes him
a perpetual performer incapable of real intimacy with anyone.  And the
significant others in his life are content to be his audience –
thrilled or appalled by his “act”, excited and inspired, but with no more real
commitment to him than a theater audience has for the lead actor in a
play after the curtain comes down, or after his celebrity fades.

We share their guilt in this, of course — we the audience are also
thrilled and appalled by Kane's act, excited and inspired, amused by his rise and morbidly delighted by
his fall.  But Welles won't let it go at that.

The story of Kane is a shadowplay, with one real person at its center
– Agnes Morehead's Mary Kane, who has unwittingly, in an act of misguided
sacrifice, turned her son into a shadow.  There are many moments
in the film, especially as Kane ages and begins losing everything, when
Welles lets us (though not the other characters in the film) into his
psychic universe, a place of bewilderment and pain.

Welles is curiously least convincing when he plays Kane at
the age Welles actually was when he made the film — he's like an older
man doing an unconvincing imitation of a younger one.  It's as
though Welles doesn't know how to be young — but that works for the
young Kane, a man born to power and wealth, who has to play at being a
regular lad.  Yet Welles is utterly convincing as the older Kane
– as though he knew in advance what it would be like to hold the world
in your hands and then see it slip from your grasp.  Callow
suggests that the young Welles is preserved in Kane
like a fly in amber but the truth is far stranger — the
older Welles is on display in that film, fully formed (and deformed) by
the vicissitudes of failure and disappointment.

This is uncanny, of course, and in retrospect disturbing — but it
represents a brilliant imaginative leap for the young actor, one he summoned up from the core of his being, and it's very
moving.  Welles asks us,
and allows us, to pity Kane, to forgive him — and he gives us good and
sufficient reason to do both.

Rosebud.

The ambiguity, the unknowable quality of Charles Foster Kane is the real MacGuffin
of the film.  Rosebud is its heart, hiding in plain sight in the
last scene just as the truth of Kane hides in plain sight throughout the
film.

[Thanks to six martinis and the seventh art for the screen grab of the sled in the snow.]

THE HIGGS BOSON

This November, the world's most powerful particle accelerator, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC),
above, will become operational in a tunnel underneath the border between Switzerland and
France.  The tunnel is circular and 17 miles in length.  It is hoped that this accelerator will reveal the Higgs
Boson, an hypothesized but never detected particle that is part of the
make-up of “empty” space.  The theory is (as far as I can
understand it) that what we think of as a perfect vacuum is in fact a
super-conductor, and the Higgs Boson is the medium of conduction. 
This particle would help explain how other particles acquire mass and
point the way to a Grand Unified Theory of physics.






Albert Einstein
said, “Space is not merely a background for events but
possesses an autonomous structure.”  The Higgs Boson would help
define that structure.  I have always loved Einstein's statement,
since it seems to explain, metaphorically, the function of space in the
plastic arts, like ballet and architecture — and movies.  The
illusory space on the other side of the movie screen feels to me like
something solid, which can be molded, carved, shaped by movement within
it — even, in a purely imaginative way, by the potential for movement
within it.  It is plastic — in the sense that it can be molded.







The LHC (seen above under construction) could also result in other observable particles and phenomena
– one of which is tiny black holes.  Some scientists believe that
it could create a black hole large enough to suck up the
entire earth, resulting in the total annihilation of the
planet.  There is a pending lawsuit which is seeking to prevent
the operation of the accelerator on just these grounds.  Most
scientists believe that if black holes
are
created they will be so small that they will break up of their own
accord.  If they don't, we will never know about it, since we will
be instantly consumed by them.





Back in 2000, when some Catholics were fearing that the end of the
world was at hand, based on secret revelations supposedly given by the
Virgin Of Fatima, Pope John Paul II said that if the world was coming
to an end we should face the prospect “with dignity and
courage”.  That strikes me as the best policy, all things considered.





One other possibility is that the LHC will reveal nothing, which will
be a signal to physicists that almost all current thinking about the
nature of the universe is heading in the wrong direction.  That
would be interesting, too.


DAISY KENYON

Fox home video has been releasing a lot of terrific DVDs in their Fox Film Noir
series — great transfers of entertaining films with generally
excellent commentaries and brief featurettes about the movies and their
creators.  They're running out of films from their vaults which
can plausibly be called noir — except that these days, apparently, just about anything can plausibly be called noir.

Daisy Kenyon, the 23rd title in
the series, is an extremely interesting film by Otto Preminger from
1947 which could plausibly be called domestic noir,
though it doesn't involve crime or violence in any significant
way.  It's basically a soap opera centering on a very complicated
love triangle, but it's disturbingly dark, in ways that wouldn't have been
conceivable in Hollywood before WWII.

Joan Crawford plays a career girl in New York who's having an affair
with a married man, played by Dana Andrews, a charming self-centered
lout.  Neither character seems to feel any moral qualms about the
affair, and Preminger presents it with an almost cynical nonchalance
that's strikingly adult and modern.

Crawford meets an equally charming but somewhat unstable returning war
vet, played by Henry Fonda.  Fonda's character feels that the
world and everyone in it has become dead, and isn't sure if this
feeling has to do with the loss of his wife in a car accident or with
his experiences in combat.  The war, and its collateral moral damage, are also referenced in an off-screen subplot in which
the Andrews character defends a Nisei war vet whose farm was stolen
from him while he was off fighting for his country, heroically, in
Italy.  He loses the case.

According to Preminger's biographer Foster Hirsch, these elements
were not prominent in the novel on which the film was based.  It
was Preminger and his
screenwriter who chose to associate the moral confusions and neuroses
of the characters with the broader anxieties of post-war American
society, issues of guilt over the price of victory, over the
psychological wounds suffered by the soldiers who won that
victory.  It's a theme one finds
in many noir and noir-inflected films of the time, sometimes explored explicitly, as it is here, sometimes only by implication.

Perhaps Preminger was too explicit.  Daisy Kenyon
was a box-office disappointment.  Without the cover of the
crime-thriller genre, elements of which figure to one degree or another
in most other domestic noirs, the film's investigation of post-war American angst may have cut too close to the bone for contemporary audiences.

The mood of the film is almost unbearably tense and unsettling,
eventually involving child abuse and a scandalous divorce trial played
out in the tabloid press.  There had always been soap operas like
this in American movies, of course, but there was always a clear sense
of when moral boundaries were being crossed and what the consequences
would be.  Daisy Kenyon plays out in a world in which moral boundaries seem to have been erased.

The Spanish title of the film translates as “between love and sin”
but the tale offers few clues as to where one stops and the other
begins.  The romantic triangle is resolved at the end, more or
less, with everyone doing the “right” thing — but there's hardly a
sense of moral triumph.  We feel that all the characters are going
to remain adrift in a morally ambiguous universe, trying to walk a line
that none of them can see clearly.  This is noir territory, all
right, but strictly domestic, and explored primarily from the point of
view of the female protagonist, which distinguishes it from the classic
noir cycle.