Tony: You seem to work against your own argument. Of course, "you can have it both ways." As one of the prime works of 20th Century cinematic art, CITIZEN KANE is about Hearst, yet not about Hearst. Susan's character has some resemblance to Marion Davies, but in many regards, they have very different characteristics. The picture is a work of dramatic fiction, and as I put it in my Epinions review, years ago:
"The general outline of Mank's script [for CITIZEN KANE] followed a jigsaw puzzle of the lives of self-made or lucky plutocrats who dominated America from the Civil War onward: Hearst, observed nearby at his movie unit on the MGM Lot; Reaper King Harold McCormick, who married Edith Rockefeller, and for his Polish mistress, Ganna Walska, bankrolled an opera house in Chicago; John D Rockefeller, Sr, recently dead, whose grandson, Nelson Rockefeller, Jr, Welles knew in New York; Samuel Insull, much in the tabloids for his return to America to face prosecution, having absconded to Greece with a fortune . . . many others -- the railroad giant Huntington!"
I must have in that review, somewhere, reference to Jim Fisk, the original boy plunger of Wall Street, who built the Metropolitan Opera House for his mistress, and who was shot down on the steps of her apartment by her lover. And recently, THERE WILL BE BLOOD brings up another candidate, Edward Doheny, who parlayed a silver strike into a fortune in Southern California oil. He engaged in a competition with his son, Edward "Ned" Doheny, Jr., over who could build the biggest palatial estate. After mutual involvement in the bribery of Harding Administration Interior Secretary Fall over government oil leases at Elk Hills threw America into a decade of political embarrassment, "Ned" built Greystone Manor in the Hollywood Hills, where he was found shot to death with his (male) secretary by his trophy wife Lucy, and their family doctor.
CITIZEN KANE is about all of these people, and about none of them.
We are talking about an artistic creation, based on a type of individual unique to America in the 19th and 20th Century. They were usually males of poor or humble origins who, because of the incredible undiscovered riches of America (or shoddy deals about those riches), made huge fortunes, influenced the political life of the nation, built massive palaces, attempted to put their stamp on our cultural life, and aped the aristocracy of Europe or Asia, often in an absurd and offensive manner. That line of individual may have reached its nadir in the later generations of the Bush Family.
These men tended to die alone, sometimes violently, abandoned by all but their retainers or mistresses.
CITIZEN KANE is also clearly about Welles, as he and Mankiewicz saw, and projected, his life. Yet, obviously, CITIZEN KANE is not primarily intended to be an imaginative autobiography of Orson Welles. Charles Foster Kane is . . . Charles Foster Kane. And Susan Alexander Kane is . . . Susan Alexander Kane. In the moment, they are no more, no less.
Welles apologized to Marion Davies in several places because critics and tabloid writers, once they convinced themselves that CITIZEN KANE was entirely about William Randolph Hearst, took a complex fictional character like Susan Alexander Kane, and lazily simplified her into Marion Davies. It was a grossly unfair characiture of Miss Davies, an innocent in the matter, and Welles acknowledged the fact.
I have little doubt that Welles, one way or another, artistically and in personal acts, continued to apologize to her for the rest of his life. After all, the identification of Susan Alexander Kane with Marion Davies was the artistic "flaw" least forgiven about CITIZEN KANE, the most publicly recognized work of genius he produced.
I think you are right, Tony, Welles doth protesteth too much about "rosebud." It is not so much a symbol of love but of the loss of a mother, and the freedom a toy represented to a young boy. The death of Beatrice Welles, when he was nine, is the pivotal event in the life of Orson Welles. The first wife he chose, Virginia; the early actresses he hired for his movies, Dorothy Comingore, Dolores Costello -- all are remarkable for their resemblance to Beatrice.
Yes, CITIZEN KANE is about love, I agree. Remember Leland rambling on about how "Charlie wanted everybody to love him," how he wanted love, but only on his own terms, and how he lost it "because he had none to give." But the picture is also about the control that wealthy old male plutocrats exert over people, lovers, money, industry, and the nation. It's about history, about being male, male dominance as being destructive above all else to democracy, about communication and the lack of it, about being an American, about a lot of things. CITIZEN KANE, like all great works of art, is about a core meaning, levels of meaning, and finally, whatever we find in it . . . ourselves.
Perhaps, that is why Welles ended so many of his works with the closing remark: "I remain, obediently yours."
Last edited by Glenn Anders
on Fri Jan 04, 2008 7:23 pm, edited 1 time in total.