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.