THATCHER (gesturing to the headline): "Is that really your idea of how to run a newspaper?" KANE: "I don't know how to run a newspaper, Mr. Thatcher. I just try everything I can think of."That was precisely Orson Welles's position vis-à-vis filmmaking when in 1939, at age twenty-four, he arrived in Hollywood as a filmmaker for the first time knowing virtually nothing about filmmaking, lured there by RKO's new studio head George J. Schaefer who in order to secure Welles's services had signed Welles to a contract to make one film a year; a contract that gave Welles unheard of control over the finished product including the film's final cut. And what was Welles's very first film shot a mere one year later? Why, Citizen Kane, of course, as today just about every moviegoer worldwide knows. For Welles to have created Citizen Kane right out of the box, so to speak, is roughly the equivalent of, say, Richard Wagner creating Tristan und Isolde the very first time he ever put pen to manuscript paper. Impossible, of course, but create Citizen Kane is exactly what Welles managed to do, and without so much as breaking a sweat creatively (there were other matters connected with the project that caused Welles to sweat copiously, but those matters are outside our concerns here). Over the past almost three-quarters of a century since its premiere, so much has been written about Citizen Kane (and about Welles himself, for that matter) that there really seems little one can say that hasn't already been said. We do, however, want to say a word or ten concerning several ancient but only recently read critical pieces on Citizen Kane by critics now deceased whose writings we respected in the past (although rarely agreed with), among them The New Yorker's Pauline Kael and The New York Times's Bosley Crowther, which critical pieces viewed Citizen Kane's Rosebud with some contempt calling it a gimmick and a rather hokey one at that. Some twenty years after the fact of the film, Welles himself, although for reasons that must be held somewhat suspect, declared Rosebud a bit embarrassing and confessed it to indeed be merely a hokey gimmick; "dollar-book Freud," as Welles wryly put it. Well, Rosebud most certainly and most clearly is Freudian. But "dollar-book Freud" and merely a hokey gimmick? We think not. In 1941, the year of the film's release, the great Jorge Luis Borges had a few unkind words to say about Citizen Kane famously calling it, among other not so good things, "a labyrinth without a center." Clearly, Borges didn't much care for Rosebud either and so dismissed it entirely from consideration. How do we know that even though we've never read Borges's piece in full? Because "a labyrinth without a center" is exactly what Citizen Kane would be absent Rosebud, for Rosebud is precisely the center of the labyrinth that is Citizen Kane. The film (and the final draft of the screenplay) was structured that way from Day One. There's nothing the least gimmicky or "dollar-book Freud" about Rosebud as it's handled in Citizen Kane although in less skilled hands it could very easily have become both. One has only to consider the film's great coda to appreciate the fact. That coda is dramatically, logically, emotionally, and psychologically quite perfect and no mere O. Henry twist; an exemplar of Welles's idea that,
You could write all the ideas of all the movies, mine included, on the head of a pin. It’s not a form in which ideas are very fecund. It’s a form that may grip you or take you into a world or involve you emotionally — but ideas are not the subject of films. [...] That is why, I think, my films are theatrical, and strongly stated, because I can’t believe that anybody won’t fall asleep unless they are. [...] For myself, unless a film is hallucinatory, unless it becomes that kind of an experience, it doesn’t come alive.If one ever doubted our contention that Welles as a filmmaker was Wagnerian to the very core, an idea long held and frequently expressed by us in the past, the above should convince him otherwise. Not only is Rosebud the center of the labyrinth that is Citizen Kane, it provides as well the symbolically perfect final and central piece of the enigmatic jigsaw puzzle that is Charles Foster Kane himself whose life and actions as revealed in Citizen Kane are thoroughly consistent, psychoanalytically speaking, with a man who as a young child was abandoned by a beloved mother (abandoned being how a young child interprets the separation no matter the actual reason), feels himself to blame for the loss of her love (which is how abandonment is interpreted by a young child no matter the actual reason), represses (in the strict Freudian sense) the psychic trauma, and is then driven unconsciously the rest of his life to attempt to wash away his imagined but undefined sin and win back his mother's love while at the same time never allowing himself to become deeply attached to anyone for fear of again being abandoned although he has no conscious inkling whatsoever of any of this or of what's driving it. More like leather-bound, gold-leaf-edged Freud we'd say and no gimmick, hokey or otherwise. Of course, if one is inclined to dismiss all things Freudian just on general principles and is looking instead for social or political or spiritual or existential relevance, or social or political or spiritual or existential moral point or the like, then one will surely find Rosebud to be a hokey gimmick and "dollar-book Freud," and Citizen Kane to be something less than the consummate work of art others such as ourself consider it to be. For instance, the great filmmaker Ingmar Bergman — as a filmmaker, as Mozartian to the core as Welles was Wagnerian — was no fan of Citizen Kane or of Orson Welles.
For me [Orson Welles] is just a hoax. [Citizen Kane is] empty. [Citizen Kane is] not interesting. It’s dead. Citizen Kane, which I have a copy of, is the critics’ darling, always at the top of every poll taken, but I think it’s a total bore. Above all, the performances are worthless. The amount of respect that movie has is absolutely unbelievable! [...] In my eyes [Orson Welles is] an infinitely overrated filmmaker.Oh dear. Well, what can one say. It may be Bergman's entirely honest assessment or, in part at least, payback for Welles once declaring (a declaration with which we are not in the least in sympathy) that,
I don’t condemn that very northern, very Protestant world of artists like [Ingmar] Bergman; it’s just not where I live. The Sweden I like to visit is a lot of fun. But Bergman’s Sweden always reminds me of something Henry James said about Ibsen’s Norway — that it was full of "the odor of spiritual paraffin." How I sympathize with that! I share neither Bergman’s interests nor his obsessions. He’s far more foreign to me than the Japanese. [...] There’s an awful lot of Bergman ... that I’d rather be dead than sit through.Again, what can one say? But all that's quite beside the point, the point being that Rosebud is as essential to Citizen Kane as was the gas in the Inquirer's gas lamps the day Kane first drafted his "Declaration of Principles". Shortly after its release, Citizen Kane was everywhere recognized as the consummate masterwork it so clearly is and subsequently elevated to its rightful place among world cinema's greatest and most enduring achievements.
[T]he performers are given four or five pages of music — the notation imitates the shapes of ... Inuit markers — which they execute at their own pace. Musicians with portable instruments are instructed to move about freely. Prearranged signals prompt a move from one page to the next. The result is a composition that on the microcosmic level seems spontaneous, even chaotic, but that gathers itself into a grand, almost symphonic structure. At 4 P.M. on a Sunday, thirteen hundred people assembled in the Drill Hall to hear the piece, variously standing, sitting, or lying on the floor. First came an awakening murmur: one group of performers exhaled through horns and cones; others rubbed stones together and made whistling sounds by whirling tubes. Then one member of the ensemble — Schick, perched above the entrance to the Drill Hall — delivered a call on a conch shell. With that commanding, shofar-like tone, the sound started to swell: tom-toms and bass drums thudded, cymbals and tam-tams crashed, sirens wailed, bells clanged. It was an engulfing, complexly layered noise, one that seemed almost to force the listeners into motion, and the crowd fanned out through the arena. I spent some time in the outer hallways, where at one point I was caught unawares by a Chinese opera gong resounding deafeningly down a stairwell. Toward the end of the first hour, a decrescendo began, with the roar of drums and gongs giving way to gentler timbres of triangles, temple bells, and low cymbal washes. The sun was beginning to set, and the Drill Hall darkened. In the coda, piccolos and orchestra bells took up an array of bird songs that Adams had meticulously notated. For a few long minutes, it seemed as though Manhattan had been replaced by an endless tundra.On reading all this, we let out a groan. "Jesus!" we thought to ourself. "A bloody Sixties 'happening' fer chrissake. Didn't we have enough of that kind of thing way back then to last a lifetime?" Apparently not for Mr. Ross (for whom, it should never be forgotten, we have the highest admiration and respect), for as he continued further,
[A]nyone who ventures to declare in a public forum that "Inuksuit" was one of the most rapturous experiences of his listening life — that is how I felt, and I wasn’t the only one — might be suspected of harboring hippie-dippie tendencies.And that was indeed our very next thought and ineluctable conclusion. The Sixties may be long gone but they're clearly not dead and woe is us.
Franz Welser-Möst, music director of the Vienna State Opera, is so critical of Jean-Louis Martinoty's two recent Mozart productions [Le Nozze di Figaro and Don Giovanni] that a planned third [Così fan tutte] has been cancelled, reports the Kleine Zeitung. [...] From the outset, said Welser-Möst, Martinoty dismissed everything in the pit as a collateral matter.RTWT here.
Metaphorically speaking (and once one gets past technical considerations of craft, one can speak of the core matters of aesthetics in no other way), the singular principal hallmark of all artifacts of the realm of high culture is their perceived aspiration to transcendence; transcendence of the quotidian world of experience, of the culture within which they were produced, and even of their very selves as works of art. And that singular hallmark is what's singularly lacking in all the artifacts of the realm of popular culture, their singular principal hallmark being a perceived aspiration to the widely accessible here-and-now entertaining. Please note, I did not say all the artifacts of the realm of high culture are transcendent. Clearly, only the greatest are. Rather, I said that, in themselves (as distinct from the conscious intentions of their creators), their hallmark characteristic is their perceived quality of aspiring to transcendence. That quality is unmistakable, and can be sensed almost palpably.... And the inherent property of such artifacts responsible for that perceived quality of aspiring to transcendence is that such works always harbor secrets which are given up only slowly and by repeated visits, and then only to the most searching and probing eye or ear, the greatest works seemingly having an almost limitless store which are never divulged entirely no matter how long and deep the searching and probing. There can be no meaningful aesthetic comparison between works that occupy such a realm with works that occupy a realm where their just as unmistakable and almost palpably sensed hallmark characteristic is their perceived quality of aspiring to the widely accessible here-and-now entertaining; works which by their very nature harbor no secrets, or harboring them, give them up almost at once. That last is, in fact, at the very heart of what makes such works "popular".