Category Archives: welles

Citizen Marx/Kane

My text on reading Capital in the cinema- with Orson Welles (forthcoming in ‘Marx at the Movies’ – edited collection [email me for details if needed]).

 

The cinema hall as a place to sell Eskimo Pie.

 

‘No matter how many customers there are, it’s still an empty building’ (Orson Welles in Welles and Bogdanovich 1998: 8)

 

This chapter addresses the question of how, today, to start reading that rich book that is Marx’s Capital:– of which an immense, even monstrous, accumulation of commentary on the Marxist mode of literary production appears to have already shaped its elementary forms. In reading Capital, if anything about beginnings should be considered necessary, it is usual to say it is good to start at the beginning – not always of course, but usually to start with what is immediately at hand. Commentaries, primers, prefaces, intros, first sentences, first chapters: start at the beginning and continue on from there. This is itself debated, but my argument is that we can only approach Capital through the already existing commentary, even as we would like to start as if the book were new. And the commentary that exists is not only that which is explicitly marked as such, but also includes all the ideas we have already received about so many things – about Marx, capitalism, communism, exchange, commodities, and so much more. A vast accumulation of things that filter reading, so that it would be naïve to simply say that materialism might start with things themselves, even if it makes sense to start with commodities, the objects that are the souvenirs or detritus of our lives.

 

The key to the beginning of volume one is where Marx starts with ‘a monstrous accumulation of commodities’ [‘ungeheure Waarensammlung’ - translation modified by author], but there are many possible starts and many people don’t get much further than chapter one, or they take chapter one as the ‘proper’ beginning. I want to suggest that there is something more here and so want to begin with something else, or even someone else, who might seem the total antithesis of the celebrated critic of the commodity system. A monstrous figure to expose the workings of monstrosity all the more (the monstrous will be explained). My reading is angular, so I choose a character from a parallel history of commerce, although glossed through a film. I have in mind William Randolph Hearst – moneybags – portrayed by Orson Welles in the classic film Citizen Kane. In this chapter, I want to develop this as an introduction to Capital, through its incarnation in the figure of moneybags Kane, and to begin to get at commodities through a focus on the kind of obscure, miniature, almost irrelevant and insignificant of objects to hand – those baubles and trinkets that mesmerise Kane, and us all.

Read the whole thing here: Citizen Marx-kane.

Orson Welles Film Season at CCS Goldsmiths

Screen Shot 2013-02-09 at 17.11.55

draft notes 1.2

draft notes 1.2

lecture notes not for forwarding

Fragment of Kane

Kane collects:

‘Witness the repugnant spectacle of a blind lust for collection … Man envelopes himself in the odour of decay; through his antiquarian habit he succeeds in degrading even a more significant talent and nobler need to an insatiable craving for novelty, or rather a craving for all things and old things; often he sinks so low as finally to be satisfied with any fare and devours with pleasure even the dust of bibliographi- cal quisquilia.’ – Nietzsche

‘No matter how many customers there are, its still an empty building’ (Welles and Bogdanovich 1998:8) – the cinema hall as a place to sell Eskimo pie.

I have been reading Marx in the cinema. To read this way is to tamper with another accumulation that seems a dull dead half-life of narrative. That which surrounds the film Citizen Kane. Orson Welles might be a good choice for this illustration because he is both actor and director, at the same time working to a script and writing that script. Marx of course is famous for saying something similar in the 18th Brumaire – we make our own history but not in conditions that we have chosen (Marx 1852/202:19). Welles is also interesting as an overexamined, already known, and yet little understood, figure – famous and notorious in advance, myths and rumours abound. Kane is a film from 70 years ago but somehow it seems renewed every decade, we still babble on about it, even more than the brilliant Touch of Evil. Welles is much maligned for his politics, he was often attacked for threatening bourgeois norms (or its complacency); his work a coded vehicle for other fears (Japan, Germany, Russia); and, I will argue, never more relevant than now (financial crisis, do-gooder philanthropists as alibi for business as usual). Welles’ character in Kane is possibly useful as semi autobiographical, it is also a critical biographical portrait of the capitalist turned philanthropic campaigning journalist. I want to suggest Kane = Hearst = Gates. Welles of course, in advance, is already known – as dozens of biographies attest, and as the pre-publicity and staged controversy of his most famous film confirms. Perhaps the question to ask is whether it is possible to reclaim such a figure from the vast accumulations of biography and myth. Already in Citizen Kane Welles mocked such ambitions. The first image is of a sign that says “No Trespassing”.

The first time we see Kane we see only a giant close up of his lips, originally planned for the abandoned screenplay Heart of Darkness, ‘the maw of a giant in his castle, ready to gobble up the audience, the cinema, the industry’ (Walters 2004:51). Though we soon discover this is Kane’s death and he eats no more, and Welles himself is unjustly chewed up and spat upon by audiences and industry while he remains alive, ending up as rent a gag guy on celebrity roast shows – however, do see his genre appropriate demolition of Dean Martin which is exquisite car crash television.

Whatever the subsequent events, for Welles or Kane, this is a noteworthy start for a film. The lips as fetish object, monstrously large, the mouth of a giant prophesyizing the trajectory of the film, trespass or not. This introduction draws the eye through the forbidden gate, across various panoramas of the same scene, with the window in the same place on the screen. This is a detective seduction, for a film in which the mode of presentation is different to the analysis. Are the lips a fetish? We are to identify the part for the whole, the man, the life, the man’s life for that of the capitalist, the capitalist for that of the system – propertied wealth as destructive, greed as alienation – and rosebud, the innocent flower, the mystery.

Kane is also way in to my particular and contingent reading of Capital because he represents one of the pantomime villains that Marx skewers in his book, and which perhaps we might also want on the barbeque. Alongside Moneybags, we will see the bankers and moneylenders, userers, the executive committee, the state, the factory inspectors and philanthropists – think of Bill Gates, Rupert Murdoch, but also your well meaning campaigning corporate greens, the bodyshop’s Anita Roddick maybe, and the liberal professors of political economy. Police, politicians, philanthropists and political economists may have reason to be pissed as Marx pounces. Too many p’s.

With Welles, however, the biographers are on the march towards the roasting – dozens and still counting. Simon Callow begins part one of his multi volume biography (part two released 2006) with a quote that might be read as revealing as much about the anxieties of a biographer about to approach ‘the fabulist Orson Welles’ as it does about its subject’s self-consciousness:

 “If you try to probe, I’ll lie to you. Seventy-five percent of what I say in interviews is false. I’m like a hen protecting her eggs. I must protect my work. Introspection is bad for me. I’m a medium not an orator. Like certain oriental and Christian mystics, I think the ‘self’ is a kind of enemy. My work is what enables me to come out of myself. I like what I do, not what I am … Do you know the best service anyone could render to art? Destroy all biographies. Only art can explain the life of a man – and not the contrary. Orson Welles to Jean Clay, 1962 (Callow 1995:xi)

Callow continually takes away Welles’ stories about his life, even the place where he was said to be conceived is labelled a fabrication – much energy devoted to undoing the Welles myth only confirms it. Welles had already anticipated these moves. Seven years earlier in Touch of Evil he had Marlene Dietrich say of his character Quinlan, who had just been found dead, that: ‘He was some kind of a man. What does it matter what you say about people?’

 “The more we know about the men who wrote [Don Quixote, King Lear etc], the bigger chance there is for all the Herr Professors in the academic establishment to befuddle and bemuse” Orson Welles

Knowingly, Welles is surrounded by myth. Among the routine retinue, it has become commonplace to sort commentators into two camps – defenders and opponents – Pauline Kael who raised the stakes of the controversy over the writing credit for Citizen Kane into an international brouhaha on the one side, Peter Bagdonovich still attempting to finish Welles’ final masterpiece, The Other Side of the Wind (caught up in legal disputes) on the other. In between, sects and factions, a host of divergent positions and jockeying for favour, and a massive publishing culture industry that has made a commodity, franchise and brand out of the good name of the citizen.

Welles himself deserves some praise for this. In cases where there is so much written, this will always be offered with some perspectival bias. Should it matter than that the following highlights are only a selection?:

- 1915 born, his mother a suffragette who once served time in prison for her radical views (Welles and Bogdanovich 1988:326), a ‘brilliant public speaker’, she was the first woman in Kenosha to be elected to political office (Callow 1995:9)

- 1936 an all black production of Macbeth– admittedly there are issues of exoticization here in the move of action from Scotland to Haiti, and where Welles contrives a voodoo withes scene (see Callow 1995: 235). Nevertheless, an important production

- 1938 campaigns for and champions various leftwing causes, including speaking against Franco at ‘Stars for Spain’ – a medical aid benefit. Welles gives a series of talks on the ‘People’s Front’ at the Workers Bookshop and writes for the Daily Worker. Plays Signmund Freud on stage, gets to know Hans Eisler, Count Bassie, Vincent Price, Lucille Ball.

- October 30th 1938 War of the Worlds radio play.

- 1941 Wells is ‘attacked as subversive and communistic by leaders of the American Legion and the Californian Sons of the Revolution in Hearst papers (Rosenbaum 1998:363). The FBI’s J.Edgar Hoover writes a memo linking Welles to various ‘communist’ organizations (Bogdanovich 1998: xxxvi)

“FBI director J. Edgar Hoover writes a “memorandum for the assistant to the attorney general Mr Mathews F. McGuire” stating: “For your information the Dies Committee has collected data indicating that Orson Welles is associated with the following organizations, which are said to be Communist in character: Negro Cultural Committee, Foster parents’ Plan for War Children, Medical Bureau and North American Committee to Aid Spanish Democracy, Theatre Arts Committee, Motion Picture Artists Committee to Lift the Embargo, Workers Bookshop, American Youth Congress, New Masses, People’s Forum, Workers Bookshop Mural Fund, League of American Writers [and] American Student Union…” (See James Naremore, “The Trial: The FBI vs. Orson Welles, “ Film Comment, January-February 1991” (Rosenbaum 1998:364).

- May 1st 1941 – Citizen Kane.  In a scene edited out of the film, Kane’s first wife’s son was to have been killed ‘when he and other members of a fascist organization try to seize an armory in Washington’, with the son’s body shown interred in a mausoleum where a wall inscription from the 1001 Nights begins The drunkenness of youth has passed like a fever’ (Carringer 1996:148).

- 1946 Welles gives protest speeches against the nuclear tests on Bikini Atol (Rosenbaum 1998: 397) and uses his ABC program Orson Welles Commentaries to campaign to bring charges against a policeman who had beaten and blinded black war veteran Isaac Woodward. With heavyweight boxing champion Joe Louis, Welles draws 20,000 people to a benefit for Woodward. The culpable policeman is finally identified in mid August (Rosenbaum 1998:398-9).

- 1955 on a television program Welles speaks out against passport control and immigration bureaucracy, a subject later dramatised in Welles’ film Touch of Evil.

‘the bureaucrat is really like a blackmailer. You can never pay him off; the more you give him, the more he’ll demand. If you fill in one form, he’ll give you ten’ (Welles and Bogdanovich 1998:262)

- 1962 Welles’ film of Kafka’s The Trial in part conceived as a commentary on Displaced Person Camps (Welles and Bogdanovich 1998:281).

- Filming Don Quixote, incomplete, but the Knight is the emblem of a quixotic politics

- 1972, Welles reports that he still wants to make a film of Conrad’s Heart of Darkeness, emphasizing the contemporary political associations (Rosenbaum 1998:512). Seven years later Francis Ford Coppola releases Apocalypse Now.

- 1977 ‘the original Rosebud sled turned up in a prop warehouse at Paramount that used to belong to RKO. (Custom-built in the RKO property department, it was thirty-four inches long, made entirely of balsa wood, and fastened together with wood dowels and glue … three identical sleds were built; two were burned in the filming’ (Carringer 1996:49-50)

- 1973 F is for Fake – if you have not seen this, see it now.

Bogdanovich: ‘well, do you have a theory about possessions, or just an inability to keep things from getting lost’

Welles: ‘Both. The things you own have away of owning you’

B: ‘How about things like letters and books’

W: ‘I’m not laying this down as a law for anybody else. Its just that I feel I have to protect myself against things, so I’m pretty careful to lose most of them’ (Welles and Bogdanovich 1998: 183)

Don Quixote and the unfinished work of tilting at giants/windmills (this sequence exists and is brilliant) is perhaps a better autobiographical imaginary for Welles. It is both unfinished, and heroic misconstrual on the part of a maverick intelligence that is far too good for this world, and is still yet only a jester.

War of the Worlds

Welles is useful here to – as a prankster – his empire takeover expansion story was of a different order, but relevant perhaps. The ‘War of the Worlds’ (1938) was something more than a mediocre Halloween gimmick radio presentation which works through the conceit of a radio programme being interrupted by progressively more alarmist news reports that Martians had landed in America. It is a matter of record that the panic of hundreds of thousands who believed the play led to all manner of incident, with miscarriages and heart attacks and allegedly one woman in Pittsburgh taking her life rather than risking violation by Martians. As Bazin points out, it should be remembered that this occurred just as the world was preparing for WW2 and ‘the day was not far away when an unidentified announcer would interrupt an entertainment broadcast to declare in trembling voice  that Pearl Harbour had just been destroyed by the Japanese. But this time, many Americans who had gone along with Welles would believe it was a joke in bad taste’ (Bazin 1972/1991:49). Curiously enough, many people who saw the images of he twin towers of New York hit by planes in 2001 thought it was just an action movie.

The version recently filmed with the scientologist, betrayer of Nicole, and father to be, Tom Cruise is embarrassing in the extreme. It is impossible not to read the film as one big panic about terrorists attacking America. The hero (Cruise) just wants to protect his kids and the pregnant mum in her perfect home (even if it is not quite a perfect home). He is prepared to reluctantly sacrifice his teenage rebel son to the war effort, and to kill a red-neck type marine. The heroic soldiers still organise disciplined effort amidst chaos. Sure, the special effects are great, but it is so much like a close up view of 100 crashes of the World Trade Towers that I can only hope people reject the film for the tired scaremongering pap that it is. Grrr.

This tells us more than we need to know about our current climate of fear. But isn’t that what H.G.Wells had intended? The book, and the radio play, and the film, all begin with the earth being studied ‘across an immense ethereal gulf’ (Welles 1938) – an anthropological moment that is revealing in itself.

But Welles’s radio play, albeit more subtle, was primarily a prank, not intentional war propaganda. It was rather an attempt to toy with America’s faith in the ‘new magic box’ of the radio. It was an ‘assault on the credibility of that machine’ (Conrad 2003:90). It was also both almost the destruction of Welles’ career, and that which enabled him the opportunity to go to Hollywood to make Kane. Yet considering the immediate aftermath of the broadcast, with looting in half abandoned cities and chaos all over, its hard to imagine it going ahead had Welles know of the extent of this prank’s consequences Was there a plan to create more than a sensational outrage? Perhaps. Astonishingly his radio contract with CBS had been checked by Welles’ lawyer and it left him with no responsibility for any consequence of his plays except for questions of plagiarism. CBS had to deal with over 100 law suits as consequence of the 1938 invasion from Mars (Bazin 1972/1991:49).

Two brief mentions of ‘the Orson Welles broadcast’ occur in Theodore Adorno’s Current of Music (Adorno 2009:47-8, 373). The first time along with the suggestion that ‘It might be worthwhile to study whether children and naïve persons are really thoroughly conscious that radio is a tool’ (Adorno 2009:47). Confronted with authentic ‘voices’ with which they cannot argue, it is not too difficult to see a contemporary significance here – even as it should also be remembered that Adorno was writing for an audience (the Princeton Radio Project Group led by Paul Lazarsfeld) that he did not much respect.

Adorno denounced the Princeton Radio Research Project for being not dissimilar to market research. Its inquiry into the ways the mass media created effects was, he argued, unable to do anything significantly different to just what the programme owners and advertisers wanted. The Princeton Radio Group had been studying the radio play of War of the Worlds in the year before Adorno offered this scathing criticism. They had identified similarities between Welles’ radio panic and the demagoguery of the National Socialists in Germany, but Adorno argues that without and examination of production methods, this research remains epiphenomenal.

Today, the dialectical shift of course necessitates recognition that we all very well know that the production process of the media (news, critique, scholarship even) is all ‘tool’ and that authority is a function of style, carefully calibrated through presenter fashion and product placement. And yet it still works. We are naïve children even when we know it. We shop knowingly, even ironically, for books about Marx, for example. As we vote, we watch, we turn in at the prescribed hour, we know that even a critical appreciation is factored into the calculations of the under-assistant west coast promo executive.

The snow dome is a way into the start. An object, collected by many, contemplated, pondered, shaken. It is not always frozen, its kitsch relevance to the everyday and its souvenir quality make it both domestic and profound, familiar, but also strangely remote. Miniaturized. I am fascinated by these domes, as have been many before.

I want to develop this as an introduction to Capital, through a contrary incarnation in the figure of moneybags Kane, and begin to get at commodities through a focus on the kind of obscure, miniature, almost irrelevant and  insignificant of objects to hand – those baubles and trinkets that mesmerize us all. When the film opens, Kane’s life is over, the story ends before it begins – the ‘No Trespassing’ sign raising questions at the beginning to flummox would-be explanations of a man’s life, or – since we know the ending – to dissuade us from thinking that Kane’s life can be referred back to the primordial snow globe scene where he is wrenched from his sled, and his mother, and catapulted into education, the news, the world… abundance and loss.

Kane is a collector – and one thing he hangs onto is the snow globe. The first sequence of the film has him dropping it as he dies, it shatters.

My friend Joanne collects snow domes. I borrow one from her each time I do this Kane lecture. I like to think of this as the cinematic scene. The snow globe shakes up conventional souveniring versions of cinema – stars and cameos – in favour of miniature worlds and mis-en-scene. A glass ball into which all manner of interpretive occult effects can be projected. The snow globe can be thought of as a miniature TV, a time machine for memory, for second sight. It records and replays the past in newsreel fashion. In her book Film Cultures, Janet Harbord notes Adorno’s elegant phrase for capturing Benjamin’s fascination for ‘small glass balls containing a landscape upon which snow fell when shaken’ – an example of the ‘frozen image’ (Harbord 2002:34 London: Sage). I think this glass ball occult theme also gets at what fascinates in the globe – the world miniaturized, yet pointing in other directions, evocative, aspirational, and leading us elsewhere. In her next section Harbord explores the increasing importance of ‘ephemeral’ consumption of the ‘dematerialized commodity’, she writes: ‘The experiential economy is characterized by time-based goods, simultaneously used up in the moment and extended in souvenir-like ancillary products’ (Harbord 2002:48 ). The film is ephemeral, the snow globe souvenir you buy afterwards is the material residue (as is the DVD on the shelf).

Despite the No Trespassing sign, Kane, and I guess Welles probably, is fixated on childhood, so no doubt Freud should be called, but just in case he is busy we might look into that crystal ball, and take the snow globe as a vision machine, not just that which Bazin describes as a ‘childish souvenir’ which Kane ‘grasps before dying’ a ‘toy that was spared during the destruction of the dolls room belonging to his wife Susan’ (Bazin 1950/1991:65 ‘Orson Welles’). He also reports that Welles had described the style of Kane as ‘bric-a-brac’ in comparison to his less famous ‘Magnificent Ambersons’ (Bazin 1950/1991:59), but Bazin also provides an excellent analysis of the single shot which presents Susan’s suicide attempt, contrasted with the six or seven cross-cut shots that ‘anyone else’ would have used (Bazin 1950/1991:78).

Melanie Klein wrote extensive notes on Kane but these were not published until 1998, not only, I think, because they were not written up, but also because the film outdoes psychoanalysis before the letter – another Wellesian prank perhaps, snooting his nose at those who’d second guess. (see Mason, A. (1998). ‘Melanie Klein’s Notes on Citizen Kane with Commentary’ Psychoanalytic Inquiry, 18:147-153).

Klein notes that the snowdome Kane drops as he dies is obviously a breast, and that Kane though lonely at the end, is not ill and has always pursued manic progressive goals:

‘in his youth, Kane has strong social feelings and purposes. The underprivileged, the poor are to be helped. He is going to devote his powers, his money, his capacities to this purpose’ and later, after failing in politics because of the scandal  when he marries Susan the opera singer it is in part to ‘control multitudes’ through her voice (Klein, in Mason 1998:148)

Kane merely collects, oblivious to what this means. He is after all a distorted capitalist, the wealth he made is base on an originary accumulation, the Colarado Load, that he does not work for. He continually feels he should do something worthy – his petronizing charitable impulse is not, we might thing today, unlike certain other tycoons, who also collect. But Capital is not just a collection of commodities.

Not that I want to pursue a psychoanalytic enquiry, the point is just to do away with the idea that the beginning is the key to the whole. That said, when Klein identifies the snowdome as the maternal breast, there is cause to recall it is the one thing Welles keeps with him after trashing Susan’s room. This is more than the ‘time capsule’ that Deleuze identified, and yet like Rosebud, it is kind of cheesy. A cheap trinketization.

Susan herself ends up a maudlin drunk when Kane dies, but she had spent a good part of the film trying to put the puzzle of trinkets together – literally in the case of her jigsaw puzzles in the great hall of xanadu.

If it were possible to understand the Kane snow globe in many ways we might include, and not privilege, it as example of what Guattari called the time crystal. This maybe combines what Deleuze calls the time-image and the movement-image.

Time image because it is memory of a past present made virtual in that crystal ball, a repository in a sense of Kane’s memory, but also – movement image – an invocation of the distances traversed in the many moments of the Kane story.

Hence also using the trick of a biographical introduction to Welles, or Marx, or Quixote as being something of a faux psychoanalytic cinema biopic filmed by Orsen Welles. He was ‘some sort of a man’, says Marlene Dietrich of Welles’ cop in Touch of Evil

Is it possible to reclaim Citizen Kane from all the readings that have passed over it so much? What residue will need to be cleared away so as to see this film anew? Is that even possible? So many biographies of Welles, but an oblique angular take on this overwritten film can perhaps still reveal something about our perspective today.

‘I still wonder why film students babble on about Orsen Welles … Even the worst films of Russ Meyer and infinitely more interesting than Citizen Kane’ (Waters 2005:12)

I still believe we can learn a lot about the world as it appears to us today from an old movie from another time – Citizen Kane – for those of you who have seen it, think of why he is “Citizen”. Citizen of where? OK, this is a much worked terrain – the search for meaning in Kane, Welles’ nuanced and complicated text that tells us at the start there should be ‘no trespassing’ on the childhood drama that motivates Kane, yet the film of course does so trespass, tells us about Kane’s childhood, shows that not all can be explained by the sled.

Kane, and Welles probably, is fixated on childhood so no doubt Freud should be called, but just in case he is busy we might look into that crystal ball, the snow dome, which Bazin describes: Kane ‘grasps this childish souvenir before dying, this toy that was spared during the destruction of he dolls room belonging to his wife Susan’ (Bazin 1972/191:65).

The different windows on the story of Kane also offer an allegorical way into reading Marx’s Capital – the initial newsreel section something like the commodity fetish chapter, a platform that warns, as does the very first sentence, that things are not what they appear, that the wealth of societies in which the capitalist mode of production prevails only presents itself as an immense collection of commodities

Although the film begins and ends with the No trespassing Sign, it is Welles I think who does want, and wants us, to trespass. His camera passes through the chain mesh, and again through various windows and signs to examine and inquire. This is something like the metaphoric architecture that governs the presentation of Das Kapital. The theatrical references to drawing back curtains (before the wizard of Oz, duex ex machina), the ocular, vision and camera lucida that ‘at first look’… implies always a second, and third, look, the ghost commentary so beloved of Derrida, and much more.

Unsurprisingly the psychoanalysis of the US in the 1930s and 1940s become a salacious mystery hunt for mommy daddy. Some say of course that Kane can be taken as (unconsciously) modelled also on Welles himself.

Kane has an ego of some considerable proportion and his personality dominates his workers for sure, but he is Citizen Kane, not only Hearst-moneybags. He has personal ‘needs and wants’ that accord to a ‘degree of civilization’ and a ‘degree of comfort’ (Marx vol 1) but these are not far from, at least aspirationally, the needs and wants of every citizen. Yet, when the successful Kane seemingly has bags of money enough to satisfy any need or want, he remains deeply dissatisfied. I imagine he was only happy as a campaigning political journalist, struggling for his paper’s success, fighting the corner of the ‘everymen’ (sic). Use-values have here relate to exchange-values, and exchange proves insufficient perhaps.

The citizen must be trained to consume, but this is also unfulfilling, a betrayal. Cain.

But it would be worth thinking of Kane as only the personification of a member of the capitalist class at a certain – changing – time in the capital cycle. We see the boom and bust, growth and crisis of the man’s career – this we should consider as an allegory of the cycle. But to be more careful, we can perhaps read this alongside Lenin quoting Marx on the tactics of the revolutionary forces after the defeats of the late 1840s, when Marx has been working on journalism and building the socialist movement patiently. Lenin tracks Marx’s tactical relationship to the bourgeois revolution in Germany:

‘In Germany, Marx, in 1848 and 1849, supported the extreme revolutionary democrats, and subsequently never retracted what he had then said about tactics. He regarded the German bourgeoisie and an element which was “inclined from the very beginning to betray the people” (only an alliance with the peasantry could have enabled the bourgeoisie to completely achieve its aims) “and compromise with the crowned representatives of the old society”  (Lenin 1918/1964:77)

In a kind of aside, sotto voce, Lenin is writing about the peasantry in 1913-1914 surely with a view to circumstances in Russia, or, since the part on tactics was suppressed by the encyclopaedia, more likely he has added this bracketed insertion in 1918 when the published as a pamphlet by Priboi publishers. Understandably he reads Marx through the prism of his contemporary circumstances, as he surely should. We do this as well, even if in any case, we can also read across the bracketed and underline the betrayal of the people that a compact between bourgeois and aristocracy entails, remembering the need to deal with the Czar. What is interesting though is to see Lenin do several things here, one offer an illustration of the materialist dialectic, and two, an assessment of where Marx was politically in the mid 1850s, which I can’t help but think has important resonances for us now. In any case, Lenin continues:

‘Here is Marx’s summing up of the German bourgeoisie’s class position in the period of the bourgeois-democratic revolution – an analysis, which, incidentally, is a sample of a materialism that examines society in motion, and moreover, not only from the perspective of a motion that is backward: “Without faith in itself, without faith in the people, grumbling at those above, trembling at hose below … intimidated by the world storm … no energy in any respect, plagiarism in every respect … without initiative … an execrable old man who saw himself doomed to guide and deflect the first youthful impulses of a robust people in his own senile interests”’ (Lenin 1918/1964:77)

This could easily be a depiction of Kane as personification of the moribund ruling class after the crisis, just as it names the foibles of Prime Ministers Blair and Cameron today, pretending to act with historical import, but this time as farce.

So you might be forgiven for thinking that Kane was schizoid too – we see several versions of the man that do not add up to ‘a’ life. And the mythographer, Welles himself, always took on many roles and seems to have glossed details in a grand style. Peter Conrad cites both Malinowski and Lévi-Strauss to support his contention that Welles’ storytelling – about himself, or of Hearst – did not need to be constrained by the facts (Conrad 2003:34)

The materialist comprehension of the commodity, object, souvenir or trinket (these are not the same) is different to that of the psychoanalytic approach, which takes individuals and their drives, desires and motives into first account. The fetish is not just a deviant displacement, not just a sexual misrecognition (mommy-daddy) but a feint or trick that hides a deeper social malaise to do with distribution and ethics.

Citizens: On Marx and Kane (talk abstract for 16.3.2012)

This is the abstract, or at least the opening move, of what I wil say at the “Marx at the Movies” conference at Uni of Central Lancashire in March.

Citizens: On Marx and Kane.

In reading Capital, if anything about beginnings should be considered necessary, it might be good just to start with what is immediately at hand. There is much much discussion and theory about this, and its probably naïve to simply say that materialism might start with things themselves, but why not start with the objects, commodities, souvenirs or detritus of our lives? There surely is enough stuff of which to take account in our contemporary world.

The key to the beginning of volume one is where Marx starts with ‘an immense collection of commodities’, but there are many possible starts… So, I want to begin with something, or even someone, who might seem the total antithesis of the celebrated critic of capitalism. Marx was not a rich man, however well bred, well married, well educated, he was in and out of the pawn shop, knew a lot, intimately, about debt, borrowing, credit, and – as is very well known – relied upon a certain moneybags called Frederic Engels very often to get by. Engels though, whatever his peculiar foibles in taking up with two sisters, riding to hounds, effecting a mourning jacket and partial to fine liqueurs, does not deserve to be lampooned as much as the figure with which I want to begin. I choose a character from the not too far removed history of Capitalism, though glossed through a film – I have in mind the life of William Randolph Hearst. Moneybags. As portrayed by Orsen Welles in the film Citizen Kane.

In this talk, I want to develop this as an introduction to Capital, through a contrary incarnation in the figure of moneybags Kane, and begin to get at commodities through a focus on the kind of obscure, miniature, almost irrelevant and insignificant of objects to hand – those baubles and trinkets that mesmerize us all. When the film opens, Kane’s life is over, the story ends before it begins – the ‘No Trespassing’ sign raising questions at the beginning to flummox would-be explanations of a man’s life, or – since we know the ending – to dissuade us from thinking that Kane’s life can be referred back to the primordial snow globe scene where he is wrenched from his sled, and his mother, and catapulted into education, the news, the world… abundance and loss. Kane is a collector – and the one thing he hangs onto is the snow globe. The first sequence of the film has him dropping it as he dies, it shatters… A cinematic object, collected, contemplated, pondered, shaken, smashed. A snow dome is not always a frozen moment, its kitsch relevance to the everyday and its souvenir quality make it both domestic and profound, familiar, but also strangely remote. Miniaturized, yet televisual. I am fascinated by these domes.

John Hutnyk

Kane Redux: ‘Alone in his never-finished, already decaying pleasure palace, aloof, seldom visited…

What I figure is that pushing the analysis beyond the farrago of an imploding media empire is also an urgent task.

Its not like we’ve never been here before:

‘Alone in his never-finished, already decaying pleasure palace, aloof, seldom visited, never photographed, an emperor of news print continued to direct his failing empire, varyingly attempted to sway as he once did the destinies of a nation that had ceased to listen to him, ceased to trust him. Then last week, as it must to all men, death came to Charles Foster Kane’

So, I bring forward this old post. There are others (search Welles).

h1

Welles Hearst Capital

October 5, 2007

In reading Capital, if anything about beginnings should be considered necessary, it might be good just to start with what is immediately at hand. There is much much discussion and theory about this, and its probably naïve to simply say that materialism might start with things themselves, but why not start with the objects, commodities, souvenirs or detritus of our lives? There surely is enough stuff of which to take account in our contemporary world. Plenty of junk. Marx himself has much to say on waste and shit, and in volume three of Capital it becomes crucial (see here)

But we are not at volume three as yet, by any means, though it is a key to the beginning of volume one, where Marx starts with a immense collection of commodities, its is also crucial that materialism as material-ism would have to take account of all this stuff from the perspective of the whole, of totality (Lukacs). This will never be easy or straightforward – an impossible accounting, which must nevertheless be our aim. Even if documentation of all this stuff is forever incomplete and that in all the varied and multiple efforts, interpretation is, or should be, always contested, to do so still betrays a totalizing ambition. We might also call this a reckoning to come. The collection is messianic, the collector divine (Benjamin).

But that is to get ahead of things a little, the task here is to start to read a text, and then to relate it to our present conjuncture.

There are many possible starts.

I want to begin with something, or even someone, who might seem the total antithesis of the celebrated critic of capitalism. Marx was not a rich man, however well bred, well married, well educated, he was in and out of the pawn shop, knew a lot, intimately, about debt, borrowing, credit, and – as is very well known – relied upon a certain moneybags called Freddy Engels very often to get by. Engels though, whatever his peculiar foibles in taking up with two sisters, riding to hounds, effecting a mourning jacket and partiality to fine liqueurs, does not deserve to be lampooned as much as the figure with which I want to begin. I choose a character from the not too far removed history of Capitalism, though glossed through a film – I have in mind the life of William Randolph Hearst. Moneybags. As portrayed by Orson Welles in the film Citizen Kane.

Kane is (stuff about snow globes… as in post here and here).


Is it possible to reclaim Citizen Kane from all the readings that have passed over it so much? What residue will need to be cleared away so as to see this film anew? Is that even possible? So many biographies of Welles, but an oblique angular take on this overburdened film can perhaps still reveal something about our perspective today.

Hearst, however, cannot be reclaimed. Conrad suggests that Hearst papers created both the gossip column and celebrity (Conrad 2OO3:145). Andre Bazin Points out that the controversy over Kane as Hearst was a consequence of the rivalry between Hearst gossip columnist Louella Parsons and her bitter enemy Hedda Hopper. (Bazin 1950/1991:57). Conrad also notes, a page earlier, that Welles had written a forward to Marion Davies posthumously published memoir of her time with Hearst at San Simeon.

Was Hearst’s hostility to Kane reason for the industry to fear exposure, through Hearst papers, of Hollywood’s foibles – sex, payola – or rather its employment of ‘aliens at the expense of American labour’ (Leaming 1985:209)? His support for the working man may well have got Hearst called communist in his youth, but it was always a misnomer.

The importance of rumour in the reception of Kane is clear, but what then of the unspoken exclusions in the Hearst story, the bits of narrative not voiced: Hearst as moneybags plundering the material culture of the world, the arrogance of his taking photos in Luxor where the flash damages the art of millennia… Hearst thought WW1 a financial venture for Wall Street tycoons and his defence of regular soldiers, even deserters, and pro-Irish anti-imperialists was impressive – for example his campaign in support of British diplomat Roger Casement who was eventually hung for seeking German military support for Irish independence. Such campaigning was however not without financial benefit to Hearst’s own purse in the form of ever growing newspaper sales to those who approved of his anti corruption stance. His position on WW2 entailed a meeting with Hitler, but an abstentionism that became a liability. He rapidly became an advocate of anti-communism in the post WW2 era and had campaigned against pro-Soviet U. S. Films from the early forties, such as ‘Mission to Moscow’ and ‘North Star’ (Pizzitola 2002:409).

Hearst, an anti-communist, muck-raking, armaments and finance capital moneybags with a vendetta and a deep resentment (Rosebud)? What then of his concern about ‘alien’ labour? What of his early ‘investigative’ journalism? Despite denials by Hearst that he orchestrated it, Kane, the film, was branded communist, only saw restricted release, got bad early press, and took several years before being recognised the ‘greatest film of all time’ etc etc… the rest is cinema history. Welles was investigated by FBI agent Hoover (Pizzitola 2002:398) and his directing career never recovered, despite The Magnificent Ambersons and Touch of Evil, he was forever dogged by studio interference and funding troubles.

So lets find that image from the film that encodes it all – a hammer end Sickle on the façade of the Inquirer (see accompanying still). Then the multiple perspectives of the Kane film can be twisted to do allegorical service for a reading of Capital (“hat tip Rough Theory“). Immediately following the newsreel sequence that (re)starts the the film after Kane’s snow globe death, the camera moves through a neon sign and down through a glass window to Susan’s table and the first of five or six interviews which structure the rest of the film. These are not consecutive, temporally concurrent, and can even be contradictory, they do not add up to an explanation of the life of Kane, yet by the end, when the ice of the snow globe has turned to the fire of the furnace that consumes all that collected junk, we do perhaps know a little more than before, can examine things in a more nuanced way, and we maybe even get to know something of Hearst.

The different windows on the story of Kane also offer an allegorical way into reading Marx’s Capital – the initial newsreel section something like the commodity fetish chapter, a platform that warns, as does the very first sentence, that things are not what they appear, that the wealth of societies in which the capitalist mode of production prevails only presents itself as an immense collection of commodities

Although the film begins and ends with the No trespassing Sign, it is Welles I think who does want, and wants us, to trespass. His camera passes through the chain mesh, and again through various windows and signs to examine and inquire. This is something like the metaphoric architecture that governs the presentation of Das Kapital. The theatrical references to drawing back curtains (before the wizard of Oz, duex ex machina), the ocular, vision and camera lucida that ‘at first look’… implies always a second, and third, look, the ghost commentary so beloved of Derrida, and much more.

Bazin, Andre 1950 Orson Welles

Leaming, Barbara 1985 Orson Welles, London: Weidenfeld and Nicholson

Conrad, Peter 2003 Orson Welles: the Stories of His Life, London: Faber and Faber.

Pizzitola, Louis 2002 Hearst Over Hollywood: Power, Passion and Propaganda in the Movies, New York: Columbia University Press.

KANE – 17 Jan 2010, 6:30pm Goldsmiths

As part of the preparatory materials for the Capitalism and Cultural Studies course I’ll be screening films on mondays, starting with Orsen Welles’ Citizen Kane – at 6:30 in the RHB Cinema of Goldsmiths on Monday 17th January 2010.

Orson

Notes for lecture one:

How to start reading that rich book that is Marx’s Capital, of which an immense, even monstrous, accumulation of commentary on the Marxist mode of literary production appears to have already shaped its elementary forms?

For all the interest in Marx, in the past and renewed today, it is at least worth attempting at first to read anew. Yet this vast accumulation of commentary stands before us. While it would be possible, and even plausible, to insist on a Dead Poets’ Society moment and rip out the spurious introductions, for example that of the Secretary of the Fourth International, Trotskyite Ernest Mandel, in the Penguin Edition, there is not much to be gained from this merely theatrical gesture.

Instead, I would like to turn to cinema. And another accumulation that seems a dull dead half-life of narrative. That which surrounds the film Citizen Kane. Orson Welles might be a good choice for this illustration because he is both actor and director, at the same time working to a script and writing that script. Marx of course is famous for saying something similar in the 18th Brumaire – we make our own history but not in conditions that we have chosen (Marx 1852/202:19). Welles is also interesting as an overexamined, already known, and yet little understood, figure – famous and notorious in advance, myths and rumours abound. He is much maligned for his politics, he was often attacked for threatening bourgeois norms (or its complacency); his work a coded vehicle for other fears (Japan, Germany, Russia); and, I will argue, never more relevant than now (financial crisis, do-gooder philanthropists as alibi for business as usual). Welles of course, in advance, is already known – as dozens of biographies attest, and as the pre-publicity and staged controversy of his most famous film confirms. Perhaps the question to ask is whether it is possible to reclaim such a figure from the vast accumulations of biography and myth. Already in Citizen Kane Welles mocked such ambitions. The first image is of a sign that says “No trespassing”.

The biographers are on the march – dozens and still counting. Simon Callow begins part one of his multi volume biography (part two released 2006) with a quote that might be read as revealing as much about the anxieties of a biographer about to approach ‘the fabulist Orson Welles’ as it does about its subject’s self-consciousness:

“If you try to probe, I’ll lie to you. Seventy-five percent of what I say in interviews is false. I’m like a hen protecting her eggs. I must protect my work.Introspection is bad for me. I’m a medium not an orator. Like certain oriental and Christian mystics, I think the ‘self’ is a kind of enemy. My work is what enables me to come out of myself. I like what I do, not what I am … Do you know the best service anyone could render to art? Destroy all biographies. Only art can explain the life of a man – and not the contrary. Orson Welles to Jean Clay, 1962 (Callow 1995:xi)

Callow continually takes away Welles’ stories about his life, even the place where he was said to be conceived is labelled a fabrication – much energy devoted to undoing the Welles myth only confirms it. Welles had already anticipated these moves. Seven years earlier in Touch of Evil he had Marlene Dietrich say of his character Quinlan, who had just been found dead, that: ‘He was some kind of a man. What does it matter what you say about people?’

Welles is surrounded by myth. Among the routine retinue, it has become commonplace to sort commentators into two camps – defenders and opponents – Pauline Kael who raised the stakes of the controversy over the writing credit for Citizen Kane into an international brouhaha on the one side, Peter Bagdonovich still attempting to finish Welles’ final masterpiece, The Other Side of the Wind (caught up in legal disputes) on the other. In between, sects and factions, a host of divergent positions and jockeying for favour, and a massive publishing culture industry that has made a commodity, franchise and brand out of the good name of the citizen.

Welles himself deserves some praise for this. In cases where there is so much written, this will always be offered with some perspectival bias. Should it matter than that the following highlights are only a selection?:

- 1915 born, his mother a suffragette who once served time in prison for her radical views (Welles and Bogdanovich 1988:326), a ‘brilliant public speaker’, she was the first woman in Kenosha to be elected to political office (Callow 1995:9)

- 1936 an all black production of Macbeth– admittedly there are issues of exoticization here in the move of action from Scotland to Haiti, and where Welles contrives a voodoo withes scene (see Callow 1995: 235). Nevertheless, an important production

- 1938 campaigns for and champions various leftwing causes, including speaking against Franco at ‘Stars for Spain’ – a medical aid benefit. Welles gives a series of talks on the ‘People’s Front’ at the Workers Bookshop and writes for the Daily Worker. Plays Signmund Freud on stage, gets to know Hans Eisler, Count Bassie, Vincent Price, Lucille Ball.

- October 30th 1938 War of the Worlds radio play.

- 1941 Wells is ‘attacked as subversive and communistic by leaders of the American Legion and the Californian Sons of the Revolution in Hearst papers (Rosenbaum 1998:363). The FBI’s J.Edgar Hoover writes a memo linking Welles to various ‘communist’ organizations (Bogdanovich 1998: xxxvi)

“FBI director J. Edgar Hoover writes a “memorandum for the assistant to the attorney general Mr Mathews F. McGuire” stating: “For your information the Dies Committee has collected data indicating that Orson Welles is associated with the following organizations, which are said to be Communist in character: Negro Cultural Committee, Foster parents’ Plan for War Children, Medical Bureau and North American Committee to Aid Spanish Democracy, Theatre Arts Committee, Motion Picture Artists Committee to Lift the Embargo, Workers Bookshop, American Youth Congress, New Masses, People’s Forum, Workers Bookshop Mural Fund, League of American Writers [and] American Student Union…” (See James Naremore, “The Trial: The FBI vs. Orson Welles, “ Film Comment, January-February 1991” (Rosenbaum 1998:364).

- May 1st 1941 – Citizen Kane. In a scene edited out of the film, Kane’s first wife’s son was to have been killed ‘when he and other members of a fascist organization try to seize an armory in Washington’, with the son’s body shown interred in a mausoleum where a wall inscription from the 1001 Nights begins ‘The drunkenness of youth has passed like a fever’ (Carringer 1996:148).

- 1946 Welles gives protest speeches against the nuclear tests on Bikini Atol (Rosenbaum 1998: 397) and uses his ABC program Orson Welles Commentaries to campaign to bring charges against a policeman who had beaten and blinded black war veteran Isaac Woodward. With heavyweight boxing champion Joe Louis, Welles draws 20,000 people to a benefit for Woodward. The culpable policeman is finally identified in mid August (Rosenbaum 1998:398-9).

- 1955 on a television program Welles speaks out against passport control and immigration bureaucracy, a subject later dramatised in Welles’ film Touch of Evil.

‘the bureaucrat is really like a blackmailer. You can never pay him off; the more you give him, the more he’ll demand. If you fill in one form, he’ll give you ten’ (Welles and Bogdanovich 1998:262)

- 1962 Welles’ film of Kafka’s The Trial in part conceived as a commentary on Displaced Person Camps (Welles and Bogdanovich 1998:281).

- Filming Don Quixote, incomplete, but the Knight is the emblem of a quixotic politics

- 1972, Welles reports that he still wants to make a film of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, emphasizing the contemporary political associations (Rosenbaum 1998:512). Seven years later Francis Ford Coppola releases Apocalypse Now.

- 1977 ‘the original Rosebud sled turned up in a prop warehouse at Paramount that used to belong to RKO. (Custom-built in the RKO property department, it was thirty-four inches long, made entirely of balsa wood, and fastened together with wood dowels and glue … three identical sleds were built; two were burned in the filming’ (Carringer 1996:49-50)

- 1973 F is for Fake – if you have not seen this, see it now.

On the above grounds, then, after tallying the votes from the members of the Academy, we are proud to announce that the Oscar goes to Orson not only for his film on Kane – patron saint of trinkets – but because of this exchange from the book This is Orson Welles:

Bogdanovich: ‘well, do you have a theory about possessions, or just an inability to keep things from getting lost’

Welles: ‘Both. The things you own have away of owning you’

Bogdanovich: ‘How about things like letters andbooks’

Welles : ‘I’m not laying this down as a law for anybody else. It’s just that I feel I have to protect myself against things, so I’m pretty careful to lose most of them’ (Welles and Bogdanovich 1998: 183)

More to come:  where Kane is the embodiment of Money-Bags, yet curiously he himself tries to fight for the ‘common man’ and has sentimental attachment to things (Rosebud), nevertheless he is still a representative of his class, a class who – as capitalists – do not care about things, only the possibility of recouping profits (valourization of appropriated surplus value) through the exchange of things. So much fun to be had with this. And then on to The Trial, and F is for Fake. Soon…

Coleridge invents trinketization

coleridge1_2Samuel Taylor Coleridge was ahead of the game in so many ways.  His other work is of course crucial, stuff about an albatross, and the opening sequence to the newsreel section of Citizen Kane. A massive influence and to be adored. This piece is a small fragment written around 1800.

To a critic

Who extracted a passage from a poem without adding a word respecting the context, and then described it as unintelligible.

Most candid critic, what if I.
By way of joke, pull out your eye.
‘Ha! ha! that men such fools should be!
Behold this shapeless dab! – and he
Who own’ed it, fancied it could see!’
The joke were mighty analytic,
But should you like it, candid critic?

From Samuel Taylor Coleridge Selected Poems.

The eye as trinket is excellent – it cannot see on its own. Though Bataille finds other functions.

Welles Hearst Capital

In reading Capital, if anything about beginnings should be considered necessary, it might be good just to start with what is immediately at hand. There is much much discussion and theory about this, and its probably naïve to simply say that materialism might start with things themselves, but why not start with the objects, commodities, souvenirs or detritus of our lives? There surely is enough stuff of which to take account in our contemporary world. Plenty of junk. Marx himself has much to say on waste and shit, and in volume three of Capital it becomes crucial (see here)

But we are not at volume three as yet, by any means, though it is a key to the beginning of volume one, where Marx starts with a immense collection of commodities, its is also crucial that materialism as material-ism would have to take account of all this stuff from the perspective of the whole, of totality (Lukacs). This will never be easy or straightforward – an impossible accounting, which must nevertheless be our aim. Even if documentation of all this stuff is forever incomplete and that in all the varied and multiple efforts, interpretation is, or should be, always contested, to do so still betrays a totalizing ambition. We might also call this a reckoning to come. The collection is messianic, the collector divine (Benjamin).

But that is to get ahead of things a little, the task here is to start to read a text, and then to relate it to our present conjuncture.

There are many possible starts.

I want to begin with something, or even someone, who might seem the total antithesis of the celebrated critic of capitalism. Marx was not a rich man, however well bred, well married, well educated, he was in and out of the pawn shop, knew a lot, intimately, about debt, borrowing, credit, and – as is very well known – relied upon a certain moneybags called Freddy Engels very often to get by. Engels though, whatever his peculiar foibles in taking up with two sisters, riding to hounds, effecting a mourning jacket and partiality to fine liqueurs, does not deserve to be lampooned as much as the figure with which I want to begin. I choose a character from the not too far removed history of Capitalism, though glossed through a film – I have in mind the life of William Randolph Hearst. Moneybags. As portrayed by Orson Welles in the film Citizen Kane.

Kane is (stuff about snow globes… as in post here and here).


Is it possible to reclaim Citizen Kane from all the readings that have passed over it so much? What residue will need to be cleared away so as to see this film anew? Is that even possible? So many biographies of Welles, but an oblique angular take on this overburdened film can perhaps still reveal something about our perspective today.

Hearst, however, cannot be reclaimed. Conrad suggests that Hearst papers created both the gossip column and celebrity (Conrad 2OO3:145). Andre Bazin Points out that the controversy over Kane as Hearst was a consequence of the rivalry between Hearst gossip columnist Louella Parsons and her bitter enemy Hedda Hopper. (Bazin 1950/1991:57). Conrad also notes, a page earlier, that Welles had written a forward to Marion Davies posthumously published memoir of her time with Hearst at San Simeon.

Was Hearst’s hostility to Kane reason for the industry to fear exposure, through Hearst papers, of Hollywood’s foibles – sex, payola – or rather its employment of ‘aliens at the expense of American labour’ (Leaming 1985:209)? His support for the working man may well have got Hearst called communist in his youth, but it was always a misnomer.

The importance of rumour in the reception of Kane is clear, but what then of the unspoken exclusions in the Hearst story, the bits of narrative not voiced: Hearst as moneybags plundering the material culture of the world, the arrogance of his taking photos in Luxor where the flash damages the art of millennia… Hearst thought WW1 a financial venture for Wall Street tycoons and his defence of regular soldiers, even deserters, and pro-Irish anti-imperialists was impressive – for example his campaign in support of British diplomat Roger Casement who was eventually hung for seeking German military support for Irish independence. Such campaigning was however not without financial benefit to Hearst’s own purse in the form of ever growing newspaper sales to those who approved of his anti corruption stance. His position on WW2 entailed a meeting with Hitler, but an abstentionism that became a liability. He rapidly became an advocate of anti-communism in the post WW2 era and had campaigned against pro-Soviet U. S. Films from the early forties, such as ‘Mission to Moscow’ and ‘North Star’ (Pizzitola 2002:409).

Hearst, an anti-communist, muck-raking, armaments and finance capital moneybags with a vendetta and a deep resentment (Rosebud)? What then of his concern about ‘alien’ labour? What of his early ‘investigative’ journalism? Despite denials by Hearst that he orchestrated it, Kane, the film, was branded communist, only saw restricted release, got bad early press, and took several years before being recognised the ‘greatest film of all time’ etc etc… the rest is cinema history. Welles was investigated by FBI agent Hoover (Pizzitola 2002:398) and his directing career never recovered, despite The Magnificent Ambersons and Touch of Evil, he was forever dogged by studio interference and funding troubles.

So lets find that image from the film that encodes it all – a hammer end Sickle on the façade of the Inquirer (see accompanying still). Then the multiple perspectives of the Kane film can be twisted to do allegorical service for a reading of Capital (“hat tip Rough Theory“). Immediately following the newsreel sequence that (re)starts the the film after Kane’s snow globe death, the camera moves through a neon sign and down through a glass window to Susan’s table and the first of five or six interviews which structure the rest of the film. These are not consecutive, temporally concurrent, and can even be contradictory, they do not add up to an explanation of the life of Kane, yet by the end, when the ice of the snow globe has turned to the fire of the furnace that consumes all that collected junk, we do perhaps know a little more than before, can examine things in a more nuanced way, and we maybe even get to know something of Hearst.

The different windows on the story of Kane also offer an allegorical way into reading Marx’s Capital – the initial newsreel section something like the commodity fetish chapter, a platform that warns, as does the very first sentence, that things are not what they appear, that the wealth of societies in which the capitalist mode of production prevails only presents itself as an immense collection of commodities

Although the film begins and ends with the No trespassing Sign, it is Welles I think who does want, and wants us, to trespass. His camera passes through the chain mesh, and again through various windows and signs to examine and inquire. This is something like the metaphoric architecture that governs the presentation of Das Kapital. The theatrical references to drawing back curtains (before the wizard of Oz, duex ex machina), the ocular, vision and camera lucida that ‘at first look’… implies always a second, and third, look, the ghost commentary so beloved of Derrida, and much more.

Bazin, Andre 1950 Orson Welles

Leaming, Barbara 1985 Orson Welles, London: Weidenfeld and Nicholson

Conrad, Peter 2003 Orson Welles: the Stories of His Life, London: Faber and Faber.

Pizzitola, Louis 2002 Hearst Over Hollywood: Power, Passion and Propaganda in the Movies, New York: Columbia University Press.

Kane’s Snow Globe

An object, collected by many, contemplated, pondered, shaken. It is not always frozen, its kitsch relevance to the everyday and its souvenir quality make it both domestic and profound, familiar, but also strangely remote. Miniaturized. I am fascinated by these domes, as have been many before – beginning again with the opening scene of Citizen Kane. I want to develop this as an introduction to Capital, through a contrary incarnation in the figure of moneybags Kane, and begin to get at commodities through a focus on the kind of obscure, miniature, almost irrelevant and insignificant of objects to hand – those baubles and trinkets that mesmerize us all. When the film opens, Kane’s life is over, the story ends before it begins – the ‘No Trespassing’ sign raising questions at the beginning to flummox would-be explanations of a man’s life, or – since we know the ending – to dissuade us from thinking that Kane’s life can be referred back to the primordial snow globe scene where he is wrenched from his sled, and his mother, and catapulted into education, the news, the world… abundance and loss.

Kane is a collector – and one thing he hangs onto is the snow globe. The first sequence of the film has him dropping it as he dies, it shatters.

My friend Joanne collects snow domes. I borrow one from her each time I do this Kane lecture. I like to think of this as the cinematic scene. The snow globe shakes up conventional souveniring versions of cinema – stars and cameos – in favour of miniature worlds and mis-en-scene. A glass ball into which all manner of interpretive occult effects can be projected. The snow globe can be thought of as a miniature TV, a time machine for memory, for second sight. It records and replays the past in newsreel fashion. In her book “Film Cultures”, Janet Harbord notes Adorno’s elegant phrase for capturing Benjamin’s fascination for ‘small glass balls containing a landscape upon which snow fell when shaken’ – an example of the ‘frozen image’ (Harbord 2002:34 London: Sage). I think this glass ball occult theme also gets at what fascinates in the globe – the world miniaturized, yet pointing in other directions, evocative, aspirational, and leading us elsewhere. In her next section Harbord explores the increasing importance of ‘ephemeral’ consumption of the ‘dematerialized commodity’, she writes: ‘The experiential economy is characterized by time-based goods, simultaneously used up in the moment and extended in souvenir-like ancillary products’ (Harbord 2002:48 ). The film is ephemeral, the snow-globe souvenir you buy afterwards is the material residue (as is the DVD on the shelf).

Despite the No Trespassing sign, Kane, and I guess Welles probably, is fixated on childhood, so no doubt Freud should be called, but just in case he is busy we might look into that crystal ball, and take the the snow dome as a vision machine, not just that which Bazin describes as a ‘childish souvenir’ which Kane ‘grasps before dying’ a ‘toy that was spared during the destruction of the dolls room belonging to his wife Susan’ (Bazin 1950/1991:65 ‘Orson Welles’). He also reports that Welles had described the style of Kane as ‘bric-a-brac’ in comparison to his less famous ‘Magnificent Ambersons’ (Bazin 1950/1991:59), but Bazin also provides an excellent analysis of the single shot which presents Susan’s suicide attempt, contrasted with the six or seven cross-cut shots that ‘anyone else’ would have used (Bazin 1950/1991:78). Just after the snow globe room-trashing scene in Kane there is a beautiful painted 3-piece scene. And a printing error in the eye of a cockatoo – see DVD special edition ‘Anatomy of a classic’ – Barry Norman. I’ve more to do on this I guess, but would an ‘error’ in a film print count as a kind of parapraxis, a Freudian slip in the reel?

Melanie Klein wrote extensive notes on Kane but these were not published until 1998, not only, I think, because they were not written up, but also because the film outdoes psychoanalysis before the letter – another Wellesian prank perhaps, snooting his nose at those who’d second guess. (see Mason, A. (1998). ‘Melanie Klein’s Notes on Citizen Kane with Commentary’ Psychoanalytic Inquiry, 18:147-153).

This will continue, some of it rehearsed earlier here.

But before I go, can I note another symptom of Welles’ wit – toying with the psychoanalysts, Welles lets us in on another triangle of distraction, another ephemeral ancillary aspect of the show, a scene inside a scene, (Rozencrantz!): just in the middle scene of Susan’s opera, itself stubbornly sponsored by a now demented Kane, disgraced yet still yearning for glory, we see his old newspaper buddy (and conscience) Jeddadiah sitting in the audience, bored, he seems to have made a 1,OOO,OOO Poems out of his shredded program.

Now you can purchase your own rosebud snow globe moment to commemorate the film here for $31.95. Its from PERZY, the Original Vienna Snow Globe manufacturer! – which ushers in a whole new world of possible trinket-movie tie-ins. What a great idea for xmas – get a rosebud globe/snowsled etc etc. Other ancient movies surely can also be given the Mattel-Star Wars plastic toy movie merchandising treatment – little kiddy versions of the False Maria of Metropolis, the movie-camera from Vertov, ships from Potempkin… the plastic possibilities are endless, and what a good education it will be. Although a plastic Maria might be indistinguishable from CP3O I guess. Still, do it now, festoon your young takker’s crib with a toy puss in the shape of Holly Golightly’s cat (‘He’s all right! Aren’t you, cat? Poor cat! Poor slob! Poor slob without a name!’) and how about a teething ring made from the gun used by Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemnity? I’m riffing now, but why paint young Tamsyn’s room with elven fluff from mere fantasy when she could have wall-sized stills of the Unicorn scene in Bladerunner for her room decor. You want her to have ambition don’t you, you want her to direct? I can see a business plan forming already.

why film students babble on about Orson Welles

‘I still wonder why film students babble on about Orson Welles … Even the worst films of Russ Meyer are infinitely more interesting than Citizen Kane’ (Waters 2005:12)

I still believe we can learn a lot about the world as it appears to us today from an old movie from another time – Citizen Kane. The search for meaning is key in Kane, Welles tells us at the start there should be ‘no trespassing’ on the childhood drama that motivates Kane, yet the film of course does so trespass, tells us about Kane’s childhood, shows that not all can be explained by the sled.

Kane, and Welles himself probably, is fixated on childhood. So no doubt Freud should be called, but just in case he is busy we might look into that crystal ball, the snow dome, which Bazin describes: Kane ‘grasps this childish souvenir before dying, this toy that was spared during the destruction of he dolls room belonging to his wife Susan’ (Bazin 1972/191:65).

Rosebud

d – I’m not giving anything away here as from the start the journalists are seeking the meaning of this enigmatic last word. The journalists never find out what the audience get to know – the ‘truth’ remains undiscovered within the contrivance of the inner plot of the movie. We achieve, however, only what Kane achieves in the end in the contemplation of the snowdome – the grand overview of the complete collection with no central or final meaning. Within the contrivance of the investigative plot, the journalists amass much about Kane through interviews and records, but they do not discover Rosebud. Listing the trinkets collected by Kane or even narrating Kane’s life as a reverse sequence of scenes, would do little more than entertain. Without analysis we get little insight – iin the film the collection is on its way to destruction in the furnace. Kane dies lonely surrounded by the detritus of a decimated European culture, plundered as Europe was destroyed by self-hatred and fascism – Kane’s nostalgia a metaphor for isolationism.

Nostalgia – the sled, the snowdome, the trinket – the memory bubble the artificial world (Olaquagia). Trinketisation is one way to read Kane – the sled, marked by the haunting vibraphone music, is this inner plot of the movie an intended distraction, something to also throw the knowing viewers – as critics, after the event – off the scent? As, of course Kane himself, has missed the point. At the end the grand overview of the futility of the collection, the amazing final tracking shot into the fire in the failed fantasy jigsaw empire of xanadu, which leaves the media tycoon paralysed and immobile.

Rosebud, ultimately, is that insignificant icon of significance – the emblem of a lost past, the fantasy of another life. The immense power of Kane is shown as impotent because of this loss – indeed, ultimately ending up in a wheelchair, alone in his pleasure palace Xanadu – Kane confusedly mistakes loss of the past as the source of his errors.

There is much in the film worth noting, its innovations, authorship, controlling genius, lighting, shots, music, structure – the slow opening scene is interrupted by the crash of the racy newsreel, which some minutes later clutters to an end and is shown as the shadowy construction of journalists in a smoky room. Frames within frames. The film variously deals with New Deal cultural content, US hegemony ‘on the march’, the ‘battle between intervention and isolationism’ (Mulvey 1992:15). Isolation – the castle museum of European trinkets – in which Kane imprisons himself. Kane modelled on William Randolph Hearst, whose holiday playground in Guantanamo Bay is now a prison camp for Afghans and Saudis, funnily enough the lease for was due the same day grandaughter Patti got out of jail (Symbionese Liberation Army has faded into obscurity) and somehow the US failed to hand it back, Castro waits – it is a restricted area.

As is well known, Patti was kidnapped by, but later voluntarily participated in the activities of, the Symbionese Liberation Army. She was later to appear in John Waters’ films Serial Mom (1994), Cecil B, Demented (2000) and A Dirty Shame (2004).

Welles denied Hearst was the model for Kane, though curiously Hearst, who approvingly meets with Hitler in 1934 (as does Kane), owns newspapers and becomes a recluse (as does Kane), has a mistress (as does Kane) – and, though I will read no significance into this, Hearst’s secret name for his mistress Marion Davies’ genitalia was Rosebud (Leaning 1985:205). There is possibly reason to dispute this glorious piece of trivia: Pizzitola reports that Rosebud was the painter and family ‘friend’ Ocrin Peck’s nickname for Hearst’s mother (Pizzitola 2002:181).

There’s more to be said here… in the lecture…
.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,720 other followers

%d bloggers like this: