Sorry, Peter, I just thought, because you liked Suspects, you probably also might have appreciated Silver Light and Warren Beatty, or Desert Eye. They are similar in style.
You get me thinking, Peter. The addition of the qualifier, "brutal." So you think that Thomson's accusation of seduction is like the attack ("pass" women used to say, if it didn't go too far) on young Ann Baxter? Thomson doesn't mention that one, but Miss Baxter did. Perhaps, you are right. What's in a rape, after all? That may have been part of Welles' pattern. The idea of profuse apologies afterwards which Roger brings up would fit, too, from what we know of abuse pathology.
I think that we need more evidence.
[CALLING HOLLYWOOD STATION . . . CALLING HOLLYWOOD STATION. WE NEED TO GET INTO THE ARCHIVES.]
I was interested, too, in your reprints of those scathing reviews of Rosebud from such eminent and influential publications as The American Spectator, The Wilson Quarterly, and . . . and . . . and The New York Times. No positive reviews but that crass one (no doubt) from Time Magazine, eh? I was just about to slink off to gaze at a rosebud, when I decided to take a look for myself.
Whoa, Nellie (McKay?): What's this? A rather positive New York Times review from their Chief Film Critic (at the time), Janet Maslin:
Afflicted by Genius
By JANET MASLIN
Published: June 30, 1996
ROSEBUD The Story of Orson Welles. By David Thomson. Illustrated. 463 pp. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. $30.
IN appropriating a name for his brash new book about Orson Welles, David Thomson presumes to borrow "Rosebud," the most famous word and symbol associated with Welles's career. The author's high-handedness perfectly mirrors that of his biographical subject, and his astute, fascinating study lives up to the brazenness of his title.
Daring to venture onto the well-trodden territory of Welles's career, Mr. Thomson uses his full array of pyrotechnics to shape a knowing, incisive and enormously lively portrait, summoning "the verdant, exuberant disorder" of Welles's life. Writing with the same bravado that marks his incendiary (and invaluable) "Biographical Dictionary of Film," Mr. Thomson is arrogant, sometimes galling, often uncannily right. He's never dull.
If there are doubts whether the contradictions that shape Welles's imperious career can support another book after Simon Callow's exemplary "Road to Xanadu," the first part of a projected two-volume biography, published earlier this year, Mr. Thomson dispels them easily. "Rosebud" is no match for Mr. Callow's supreme thoroughness or penetrating insights into acting and directing, but Mr. Thomson prefers bolder strokes: sweeping pronouncements that capture the essence of Welles's life better than they do the facts.
So he declares that during Welles's tumultuous honeymoon with Hollywood, from 1939 to 1942, "he achieved glory, but he ruined himself; the one was not possible without the other." Welles went, Mr. Thomson adds, "from being what Hollywood saw as the naughtiest boy, deserving of rebuke and comeuppance, to being the most lastingly influential of American film makers. For in his willful stress on genius, independence and mercurial ungraspability, he offered a treacherous beacon to generations of young people seeking to make more movies. He was as merry and cruel in this as a Santa with an empty sack, for he knew that no one would surpass or match what he had done."
Mr. Thomson eagerly proclaims himself one of the most ardent of those acolytes, complete with the apocryphal-sounding story of his first discovering "Citizen Kane" in an empty theater in South London; the year was 1955, and the author was 14. (The exultant boyishness and astounding mastery shown off by Welles in "Kane" won him the worshipful attention of many an impressionable adolescent; Kenneth Tynan and Francois Truffaut were others.)
At its most extreme, this devotion leads Mr. Thomson to worry melodramatically that "Orson Welles took my life," but it has also felicitously influenced the way "Rosebud" is constructed. This book is both written and directed, complete with magisterial long shots of Welles, knowing asides to the audience, a film clip of "Kane" (Mr. Thomson explains it almost frame by frame, drawing on his experience as a teacher) and subplots about Welles's various collaborators and mates. There are also the occasional intrusions of an imaginary publisher, who drops in to debate with the author and needle him. "But are we getting to Hollywood?" this voice asks as Mr. Thomson concludes his discussion of Welles's Mercury Theater days.
"You want to be there?" Mr. Thomson parries.
"Doesn't everyone?" the publisher replies.
Such asides run the risk of unbearable flippancy. (Mr. Callow kept his own book eminently readable without needing to be cute.) But they are brief, well timed and part of an engrossing, often beautifully written book. Of the dazzling young Welles presiding triumphantly over the Mercury Theater, Mr. Thomson writes: "He was 22, sonorous, tall, handsome and empowered with jobs, ideas and opportunities. People had to work hard to resolve to dislike Orson Welles; otherwise they were seduced." And of the same chameleon at a much later, more troubled stage of his career, he asks: "How does anyone live 50 years in the jungle of American show business, meeting uncommon disappointment and humiliation (just because he is afflicted by genius), and die with a boy's bright smile in his eyes?"
While Mr. Thomson's account of Welles's precocity is suitably buoyant, his book's real strength is in analyzing the chaos and self-destructiveness of the post-"Kane" years. The seeds of "rising bogusness" show up early and are tied perceptively to Welles's later troubles. Mr. Callow saw the same Achilles' heel (as did critics in Welles's time, citing the deliberate yet troubling hollowness of Charles Foster Kane, as well as Welles's capacity for showing, in Brooks Atkinson's phrase, "more genius than talent"). But Mr. Thomson sees coherent patterns linking Welles's personal and professional habits of deception over a lifetime. "In so many ways," he writes, " 'Citizen Kane' loomed over Orson Welles as he grew older, not just as an achievement beyond equal but as an underground presaging of his own destiny."
The debacle of "It's All True," the four-part film Welles tried to make in Brazil and never completed -- while at the same time cavalierly absenting himself from the studio's drastic re-editing of "The Magnificent Ambersons" -- is analyzed as a definitive episode in Welles's life. "There was never a movie there, only an extravagant, self-destructive gesture, and the aftermath of guilt," Mr. Thomson writes. " 'It's All True' became not so much a duty or an opportunity as a wound he could not leave alone." Citing another failed project, a novel Welles planned to adapt and star in with his second wife, Rita Hayworth, Mr. Thomson further underscores this damaging pattern. "Temperamentally averse to compromise, to getting along with the sharks and minnows in show business, Welles could move with awful speed from arrogance to wounded lament," he observes. "This is akin to the child's way of dealing with the difficult or disobedient world -- but Welles was now 30."
"Rosebud" follows Welles into self-imposed exile in some of Europe's grandest hotels, conjuring up unpaid bills, seven-course dinners, new admiration from the younger generation that rediscovered him, crazily erratic film work and so many great, unrealized expectations. "He comes, more and more, to be a man known not just for his works but for the things not done, the plans announced," Mr. Thomson says.
The book's critical analyses of some of this later work are especially iconoclastic and interesting. On "Othello," for instance, made over a nearly four-year period under especially iffy circumstances, Mr. Thomson declares: "There is hardly an unspectacular shot . . . but there are seldom two or three in a row that make sense. As befits its circumstances, the picture is forever beginning again, on a new, more stunning tack." Mr. Thomson also links Welles's main motifs throughout the body of his work. Speaking again of "Othello," he says: "The film does not answer the question why Iago acts as he does, but it makes a monument of the mystery -- is this not as Wellesian as 'Kane'?"
While Mr. Thomson finds much-overlooked merit in Welles's later literary adaptations -- "The Trial," "Chimes at Midnight" and the more obscure "Immortal Story," an hourlong adaptation of an Isak Dinesen novella -- he finds the quintessential assessment of his subject in "F for Fake." And he sees something liberating for Welles in Pauline Kael's famous attack on his authorship of the "Citizen Kane" screenplay, in which she argued that Herman J. Mankiewicz deserved principal credit for writing "Kane" (a claim that Mr. Thomson flatly pronounces "misguided"). Initially wounded by this questioning of his credit-monopolizing supremacy, Welles eventually took it as an opportunity to make peace with his own destructive braggadocio. It wasn't a sled, but it was enough to set him free.
I'll let this Pro speak for me, Peter, and not append half a dozen others that I found from the likes of The New York Review of Books and the Spectator. [I did find an interview of Jonathan Rosenbaum with our own Lawrence Frence, in which Larry said: "I liked your review of the Callow book, and especially liked your splendid put-down of David Thomson's awful Welles biography, ROSEBUD." Thank goodness, he's read ROSEBUD, even if Todd Baesen has not!]
Peter: I did not bring up Mrs. Thomson's marital relations with her husband. You did.
I'll leave you with a final-final thought, that Thomson has been writing a screenplay on the life of Louis Armstrong, which brings Welles back nearly to where he started in Movies. If it should ever be made, I would not be surprised if there were not a scene where Welles and Armstrong meet, and Welles in return for a one page biography of the seminal muscian's life promises to produce Louie's bio-pic, as we now say. [Basis, much later, for the emasculated NEW ORLEANS, 1947.]
And about five years ago Thomson published in The Guardian a marvelous synopsis of a film about Welles' early years. Maybe, that will see the light of a projector, too. Then, Thomson will be doing fiction, the way you demand him to, and he will be vindicated in the eyes of his lost father.
Last edited by Glenn Anders
on Fri Aug 15, 2008 3:02 am, edited 4 times in total.