Thank you, Night Man, for your kind comment. I am pleased that you appreciate my efforts, even if you don’t agree with my conclusions.
And thank you Glenn, for once again enlarging the discussion and pointing us all in fresh new directions. I think your insight that “nearly every Welles film presents a bewildered search for an understanding of women” is fantastic, particularly as your choice of the word “bewildered” really nails the tone that Welles seems to be striving for in these films, particularly in the performances of his protagonists, whether played by himself or others. All anyone needs to do is remember the expression on Mike O’Hara’s face for most of the running time of The Lady From Shanghai in order to confirm the truth of that observation.
I might go as far as to say that nearly every Welles film presents a tragic passage from a warm, life-affirming, woman-centered, almost matriarchal culture, to a cold, mechanistic, ruthless male-centered culture that slowly grinds the life out of everything within it. Battle of Shrewsbury, anyone? Rosebud represents that lost world, so does the Amberson mansion during the ball; there is the Boar’s Head Tavern in Chimes at Midnight and Tanya’s bordello in Touch of Evil. Sometimes, as in Kane, or Ambersons, or Chimes, the film is specifically about the transition; in other films, such as Lady from Shanghai, Macbeth, The Trial, and Touch of Evil, the transition has already occurred, and the world is a cesspool. I do not think it a coincidence that the most degraded images of women in Welles’ pictures occur in the films where the transition is almost complete.
I would like to read your theory, Glenn, about Ambersons being “really” about Aunt Fannie, because you are right. Aunt Fannie is not a goddess, like Isabel Minafer, she is a lesser figure, but she has a place in the world over which the goddess rules. When the goddess, and her world, dies, Aunt Fannie is cut adrift, left to wander, an increasingly marginalized and ineffectual figure, until, in the original conception, she fades away in a cheap boardinghouse, rocking, rocking, while the Two Black Crows natter in the background. God, what a desecration that tacked on studio ending is.
In my previous post, I stated, apropos my theory, that after Touch of Evil, it was “all down hill” for Welles. I would like to amend that statement. Certainly, Welles never again gave us an image of woman to equal the resplendent Tanya. Perhaps Welles realized that, after Dietrich, there was nowhere to go but down. There are two half-hearted attempts, in Miss Burstner, and Doll Tearsheet, both portrayed by Jeanne Moreau, but neither portrayal rises above the quotidian (imagine Dietrich in both roles to see more clearly what I mean); and Welles, perhaps sensing the dimunition, shifts his focus in The Trial and Chimes at Midnight to the triumph of the world where a goddess is simply not possible (although she never quite disappears. If you are looking for the real goddess in Chimes, I have two words for you - Mistress Quickly).
But Welles did revisit the goddess in all her magnificence one more time, very obliquely, in his justly celebrated paean to Chartres cathedral in F for Fake. Welles calls Chartres “a celebration to God’s glory, and the dignity of man” and hopes that “it might be just this one anonymous glory, of all things, this rich stone forest, this epic chant, this gaiety, this grand, choiring shout of affirmation, which we choose, when all our cities are dust, to stand intact, to mark where we have been , to testify to what we had within us to accomplish…” All this may seem magnificently conventional to the casual viewer, except that, once we dig a little bit into the historical quagmire, we discover that Chartres was less a monument to the glory of God than to the glory of Mary, the Virgin, the Blessed Mother, or, to put it more concretely, the Christian version (transformation?) of the Great Mother herself, the White Goddess. Notre-Dame, the prenom to all the great French cathedrals, means "Our Lady". "Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Chartres" translates as "The Cathedral of Our Lady of Chartres".
You note, Glenn, correctly, that Graves was not the first to bring the White Goddess into prominence. In fact, I was first put on her scent, as it were, not by Graves, but, secondhand, by Gore Vidal, who for other reasons led me to Henry Adams, who turned out to be, among other interesting things, an early (late?) acolyte of Our Lady. Adams wrote Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres, a brilliant study of the brilliant thirteenth century , in which he argues the Goddess, in her incarnation as the Blessed Mother was the central energy, or force, or animating principle of that society, which climaxed in the triumph of Chartres.
Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres is an extraordinary work, but it is dense and technical and difficult to summarize. So instead, to bolster my point, I will quote somewhat extensive passages from the chapter “The Virgin and the Dynamo”, from The Education of Henry Adams, written in 1900. Then I will, blessedly, shut up.
Adams was writing during the Industrial Revolution, when his familiar world, and the world of his illustrious ancestors, was being upended (sound familiar?). Adams had attended the Chicago Exposition of 1893 and been astounded at the display; vast new forces, of electricity, of x-rays, and beyond, were about to change the world. The history-minded Adams looked at this staggering display and realized that the “nearest approach to the revolution of 1900 was that of 310, when Constantine set up the Cross. The rays that Langley disowned, as well as those which he fathered, were occult, supersensual, irrational; they were a revelation of mysterious energy like that of the Cross; they were what, in terms of mediæval science, were called immediate modes of the divine substance.”
Adams saw society as being organized along a central dominating principle of force, whether that force be physical, such as electricity, or symbolic, such as the force represented by the cross. And between 310 and 1900 he saw in the medieval world of the thirteenth century the revival and triumph of the force of the goddess, a goddess that he found disturbingly absent in his beloved, and soon to be vastly changed, America:
“When Adams was a boy in Boston, the best chemist in the place had probably never heard of Venus except by way of scandal, or of the Virgin except as idolatry; neither had he heard of dynamos or automobiles or radium; yet his mind was ready to feel the force of all, though the rays were unborn and the women were dead….The knife-edge along which he must crawl, like Sir Lancelot in the twelfth century, divided two kingdoms of force which had nothing in common but attraction. They were as different as a magnet is from gravitation, supposing one knew what a magnet was, or gravitation, or love. The force of the Virgin was still felt at Lourdes, and seemed to be as potent as X-rays; but in America neither Venus nor Virgin ever had value as force;—at most as sentiment. No American had ever been truly afraid of either…The Woman had once been supreme; in France she still seemed potent, not merely as a sentiment, but as a force. Why was she unknown in America? For evidently America was ashamed of her, and she was ashamed of herself, otherwise they would not have strewn fig-leaves so profusely all over her. When she was a true force, she was ignorant of fig-leaves, but the monthly-magazine-made American female had not a feature that would have been recognized by Adam. The trait was notorious, and often humorous, but any one brought up among Puritans knew that sex was sin. In any previous age, sex was strength. Neither art nor beauty was needed. Every one, even among Puritans, knew that neither Diana of the Ephesians nor any of the Oriental Goddesses was worshipped for her beauty. She was Goddess because of her force; she was the animated dynamo; she was reproduction—the greatest and most mysterious of all energies; all she needed was to be fecund….
All this was to American thought as though it had never existed. The true American knew something of the facts, but nothing of the feelings; he read the letter, but he never felt the law. Before this historical chasm, a mind like that of Adams felt itself helpless; he turned from the Virgin to the Dynamo as though he were a Branly coherer. On one side, at the Louvre and at Chartres, as he knew by the record of work actually done and still before his eyes, was the highest energy ever known to man, the creator four-fifths of his noblest art, exercising vastly more attraction over the human mind than all the steam-engines and dynamos ever dreamed of; and yet this energy was unknown to the American mind. An American Virgin would never dare command; an American Venus would never dare exist.”