Roger Ryan: Thank you for your clarifying details. You are someone who always knows what he is talking about, especially when it comes to THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS. I shall always be indebted to you for allowing me to see your reconstruction of the film.
Tashman: To properly describe any work of fine art, it is necessary to deal with several or more levels of meaning. I hope you will grant me that I was attempting to give cleanly only an interpretation of the sociological and moral aim of the film, not all of its cinematic, dramatic, characterizational and emotional implications, etc.
Of course, Aunt Fanny is one person! An individual!
If she (and the other characters, singly and in ensemble) were not, we would not be discussing THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS. It would be a formulaic saga, populated by dry stereotypes. It would be simply the piece of pretty junk that the RKO hacks tried to make of it.
You do not seem to grasp the common enough extrapolation of a single human individual in Literature representing a larger group, whether it is Marlowe's Faust, Shakespeare's Falstaff, Flaubert's Emma Bovary, Miller's Willy Loman or Williams' Blanche Dubois (a modern Aunt Fanny, if a retrgrade one). They are individuals, YES, but they also represent their type, their social class, their gender, and their place in history.
In the period Aunt Fanny lived, when the poor houses were set up (a kind of early day Social Security, if you will, Tashman) during and after the great panics, she would clearly have represented a class of woman known as "old maids," no matter what qualities, admirable or otherwise, she possessed. Families kept rooms in their homes, often in the attic for their "old maids." And so, Fanny does represent that group of American women then, who would call themselves today, or at least agree to the title, "emancipated women."
The gains the latter group has made in the last hundred years are now about to be challenged.
For we do still live in a patriarchal society, Tashman, an embarrassed, hang dog one, it is true, but all the surly jokes, all the mean provisions men of power (our modern day Kanes, if you like) institute to diminish women, testify to that fact. For instance, why do women, in the broad American scheme of things, still make less than men when performing the same work? Why do men not have their testicles cut off when they are promiscuous, spread what used to be called "social diseases," or when they father bastards? Most of that weight still falls on women, not men, in the form of poverty, psychotherapy, incarceration, hysterectomies, abortions, etc. That's why Aunt Fanny, and women like her, had to be kept isolated, so that they would not prove an embarrassment should they commit a mistake, "make a mess."
That's why, in addition to the motivations Roger Ryan brings up, the final boarding house scene was so vital to Welles' conception of the true meaning of Tarkington's The Magnificent Ambersons. Not the sentimental ending the novelist fashioned to placate socially the rich friends he hung out with in the resorts of Kennebunkport, Maine, in his later years.
In the near future, American men and women are going to begin to see that the rudimentary guarantees instituted by administrations like those of Teddy Roosevelt and FDR have been nibbled away, and the funds which might have saved them, squandered. There will be many more modern Aunt Fanny's (most of them with children) than in the late 19th Century.
I would not call Tarkington a sentimentalist in parts of The Magnificent Ambersons. As the Wikipedia tells us: "It was the second volume in Tarkington's Growth trilogy, which traced the growth of the United States through the decline of the once-powerful and aristocratic Amberson family dynasty, contrasted against the rise of industrial tycoons and "new money" families in the economic boom years after the Civil War leading up to WWI." In other words the men who led to Charles Foster Kane, but he could never entirely escape the bad habits of sentimentality, which made him the runaway popular novelist of such charming blockbusters Mary's Neck and Penrod.
It was Welles' family acquaintance Tarkington's attempt to rise above sentimental popular entertainment in a couple of novels like THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS which attracted him to the property.
And I'm afraid, Tashman, to be blunt, you are dead wrong about Welles not seeing the rise of Fascism in America. He saw it all around him. His Faust, modern dress Julias Caesar, Danton's
Death, slews of radio plays like "His Honor the Mayor," CITIZEN KANE, THE STRANGER, THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI, MR. ARKADIN, and THE TRIAL are all metaphors for what he saw as the coming of fascism to America. Ironically, that was one of the reasons why those allusions were cut from many of his films, why projects like Smiler with a Knife, and The Road to Santiago were nixxed by the financiers. It was why he put himself in danger in the gathering McCarthy Period by defending a Black war hero maimed by Southern police, and the Chicanos persecuted by the LA power structure.
I am not a literary critic, nor a social revolutionary, but I can see how things were, if only in restrospect. It is something we should all strive for.
Finally, along the same line, if you do not realize that in the case of the Taliban the crucial thing WAS Puritanism and patriarchy, you do not realize why we are on the brink of an unnecessary catastrophe. They wanted us out of their moral and social order, which kept women firmly in their grip. (Still does after we have brought "democracy" to Afghanistan.) A direct line can be drawn from the efficacy they found in their "reforms" and the convenience "Industrial Age Fathers" found in publicly enforcing "Victorian morality."
That was something about which Welles often spoke, often influenced his choice of material (such as his last project, a film of King Lear), how old main hold on to their power, especially over women, their last play thing, to the very last.
In the "big picture," true believers everywhere, whether they are fundamentalist Christians Orthodox Jews, Islamists, Fascists, Nazis, Stalinists, Corporatists, etc, tend to have similar agendas for their bretheren. And it is the Aunt Fanny's who are among the victims of these Citizen Kane's.
If you do not recognize that truth, Tashman, it is you who has "a very poor eye for the telling detail." Indeed, Welles would not have entertained that confusion. I suggest you study the excellent insights of Roger Ryan because, unless it disturbs Jeff, I find debating with you marvelous sport.