Tony: Thank you for three magnificent essays by David Thomson.
No disrespect to others in the field, but David Thomson, as a stylist, is the best I know on Welles because, unlike most of the others, he is not an academic or a dilletante but a poet, and a "disappointed lover" of Welles. It has long been my point here that when I saw CITIZEN KANE for the first time in fourteen years at the Baker Street Classic, in 1955, David Thomson at the age of fifteen or so was seeing it at the Tooting Classic, on the outskirts of London where he grew up.
I can possibly imagine the effect that seeing CITIZEN KANE for the first time must have had on him, for I had seen the picture myself at Age 9, and have never forgotten its transforming power. It is the perfect film for an "outsider" American or an English speaking admirer of America looking at the country from the outside. Thomson tells us again and again that he never recovered, that he eventually came to live in America, for many years to live in that most congenial of American cities to an Englishman, San Francisco, always under the spell of Orson Welles.
The difference between us (well, one of the MANY) is that I had been disappointed by THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS, caught up by THE STRANGER, in love with THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI, had not yet seen MACBETH nor OTHELLO, and had great hopes for Welles. Thomson, I'm sure, had to catch up with those films while realizing in the first flower of idolatry that, in the year 1955, Orson Welles was all around him -- wandering the streets, on the stage at London's Duke of York's Theater, completing MR. ARKADIN in Paris, basking in his creation of Harry Lime in THE THIRD MAN, playing Father Mapple for his friend John Huston's MOBY DICK in London, on BBC Television, getting married to the Countess Paola Mori at the Registrar's Office, making news of all kinds in Britain and on the Continent.
There would never be a time again Thomson would see his hero in such an optimistic light.
I would maintain that Welles lived only in his dreams, and from this time on, though he never gave up, he knew most of his dreams would never be realized in a form he could be proud of.
Rather than a "nostalgia for reality" of which Francoise Windhoff speaks, it was the glory he craved -- as a showman, magician, as a creative artist. It was not the past adulation of the 1930's and 1940's you bring up which was killing him because in those days, he was still completing his dreams in a palpable form. Despite the fatal mistake of misjudging the importance of THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS to his career, he had continued to progress. From 1955 on he began to live the life of Charles Foster Kane after the Great Depression.
The criticism directed at David Thomson's Rosebud fails to take into account, Wellsian in their foolishness they may be, the dream-like passages in the book (some of the mistakes attributed to it, I suppose) are exercises in psychic biography on Thomson's part. Unlike clever Callow in his shrewd, documented snottiness, Thomson is attempting to empathise what despair Welles must have felt as one dream after another fell short in the light of reality.
Of Orson Welles, I should say that it was reality not glory killed the beast. The glory of worthy accomplishments, honestly criticized, would have sustained him. And Welles' failures and physical decline, the special pleadings of those who loved Welles as much as he, damn near killed Thomson, as he found out more about his god. He tells us as much in Rosebud.
Anyway, it is good to see Thomson, whom I've met casually a couple of times in San Francisco, back on an even keel. Thank you again, Tony, for cueing up for us these insightful essays, which celebrate and illuminate our tragic hero(es).