The five articles and one interview in this section have to do with historical revisions in quite different senses. The Hans Barkhausen and Gösta Werner pieces employ archival research to cast doubt on claims made by two filmmakers concerning their roles in history. Barkhausen's short article on Leni Riefenstahl was based on extensive research that he did in the then newly available "voluminous documentary material of the former Ministry of Propaganda and Public Enlightenment [headed by Joseph Goebbels] and . . . the former Reich Ministry of Finances." The evidence that he found overwhelmingly refuted, and exposed as a lie, Riefenstahl's longtime claim that, although her earlier film Triumph of the Will (1936) had been commissioned by the Nazi Party, Olympia (1938) was financed by her own company with no support by the Third Reich. When the same Goebbels earlier offered Fritz Lang the directorship of the film industry for the Third Reich, Lang left Berlin for Paris that night—he didn't even have time to withdraw his money from the bank. This Lang anecdote—it's the one to tell if you're telling only one—has been passed on by several generations of film teachers and film textbooks. Doing some archive work of his own, as well as consulting secondary sources, Swedish scholar Werner has come up with a more complex story.
Lincoln Perry, who took his stage name, Stepin Fetchit, from a racehorse, may well have been the most important black performer in the first forty years of American film history and was, up to that time, by far the most successful, critically and financially. Among the high points of his career were two films he made with Will Rogers: Judge Priest (1934), also featuring Hattie McDaniel, and Steamboat Round the Bend (1935), both directed by John Ford. As early as 1946, black groups objected specifically to the Stepin Fetchit screen persona, which they regarded as degrading to blacks. Hence he made only one other film—Ford's The Sun Shines Bright (1953). In an interview with Joseph McBride in 1971, Perry argued persuasively that in the course of his
event-crowded life, he had broken barrier after barrier not only for black film actors, but also for black people generally. This view was confirmed when Perry was among the first group of inductees into the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame in 1974.
The Beverle Houston, Leonard J. Leff, and David Ehrenstein articles pursue historical revisions in the realm of the criticism of films and filmmakers. Houston develops an alternative approach to and interpretation of the films of Orson Welles. Leff examines less the narrative events and visual perspectives of Citizen Kane than a number of interpretations of that film. Ehrenstein's essay on Desert Fury most certainly rereads a forgotten film and thereby restores it to public discourse, but this is only the beginning.
In her influential study of Welles, Houston notes that Charles Foster Kane is forced to leave his family too early, but that George Minafer in The Magnificent Ambersons (1942) leaves his family too late. At the center of these two films and a third—The Stranger (1946)—are family-centered narratives that focus on what Houston calls the Power Baby,
the eating, sucking, foetus-like creature who, as the lawyer at the center of The Trial , can be found baby-faced, lying swaddled in his bed and tended by his nurse; who in Touch of Evil  sucks candy and cigars in a face smoothed into featurelessness by fat as he redefines murder and justice according to desire; . . . and who, to my great delight, is figured forth explicitly in Macbeth  where, in a Wellesian addition to Shakespeare, the weird sisters at the beginning of the film reach into the cauldron, scoop out a handful of their primordial woman's muck, shape it into a baby, and crown it with the pointy golden crown of fairy tales.
Returning to the moment of Mrs. Kane's decision to send her son away—and her blaming it on her husband—Houston notes the son's running to his father until his mother stops his progress with a sharp "Charles!" She speaks of the camera's dwelling on the mother's enigmatic look at this moment as "one of the film's most powerful and puzzling images." Of the scene generally, she concludes that we "must accept the overdetermination [i.e., undecidability] of this genuinely ambiguous moment." When Isabel Amberson marries dull Wilbur Minafer rather than dashing, amusing Eugene Morgan, she lavishes her love on young George, creating for him a "state of uncontested love with the mother, secure inside a warm, dark house. . . . No reason to get a job or a profession. No reason ever to leave this nest of complete dependence and desire." When George finally ventures forth, a car hits him and both his legs are broken. This
reminds us of Kane's final years in a wheelchair and prefigures maimed legs in other Welles films: Arthur Bannister's limp and double canes in Lady from Shanghai (1948), Mr. Clay's immobility in The Immortal Story (1968), and the bullet in the leg that Hank Quinlan took for Pete in Touch of Evil —Hank later leaves his cane at the hotel where he murders Joe Grande.
Houston's discussion of women in Welles's films develops striking new perspectives. After she leaves Kane, "Susan's real return has been to her position within another social class." Lucy Morgan in Ambersons is forced into a more regressive return: life with her father, and celibacy. Especially interesting is Houston's account of The Stranger : Mary Longstreet has married a man who turns out to be a Nazi; how could a nice girl have make this bizarre choice? Nazi hunter Wilson wants Mary to be shown the kind of man she married, and he is willing to put her in danger, by using her as bait, to accomplish this. Her father and her brother agree and keep her under surveillance. This makes the control of the woman complete: "The dangers of active female sexuality and choice-making take on the resonance of a national and cultural disaster." The husband dies and deserves to do so "at the rational plot level," but the point is that "the aroused woman, the sign of difference as danger," is subject to "a struggle to force her into passivity and return, and often a lethal one."
Despite what the title "Reading Kane " might suggest, Leonard J. Leff does not provide yet another interpretation of Citizen Kane . On the contrary, his purpose is to question the assumptions and practices that scholars and critics have pursued for decades. In this bracing enterprise, he draws upon reader-response criticism, particularly the work of Stanley Fish, including his call to "slow down the reading experience so that 'events' one does not notice in normal time, but which do occur, are brought before our analytical attentions." Leff looks especially at Kane 's narrators—Thatcher, Bernstein, Leland, Susan, and Raymond—in order to see if other commentators, such as Bruce Kawin in Mindscreen , are correct in treating the sections of the film associated with each as a unified presentation of that character's perception. Leff argues that the Thatcher section does not remain within the banker's mindscreen, but deviates frequently and rapidly—sometimes within a time span of sixty seconds—to the mindscreens of others—now Mrs. Kane, now Charles, now a "supra-narrator." Reviewing various critical theories as to why Mrs. Kane sends her son away, Leff concludes, "These and other interpretations, though not unreasonable, miss the point. At this moment, the text has slipped out of our control: we may not say with any certainty why Mrs. Kane sends away her son."
"Desert Fury , Mon Amour": David Ehrenstein is the author of the article that bears this title, but the remarkable voice that we hear in it is a creation of the text itself. "A Film of No Importance : In the end it all comes down to Desert
Fury. Desert Fury ? You haven't heard of it? Of course you haven't. Why should you? . . . [T]his turgid melodrama . . . figures in no known pantheon or cult. Its director, Lewis Allen, is devoid of auteur status. [Desert Fury: ] Not good. Not bad. Mediocre. In fact, one might even go so far as to call it quintessentially mediocre."
The voice of the text is often furious, or Fury ous. Furious at theoretical critics whose bad faith deflects the auteur status of the films they choose to analyze. Furious that it is devoting so much time and attention to this resplendently blah film; but furious also at pretentious art films that critics still claim to admire, such as Hiroshima, Mon Amour , a film that, for all its merits, is devoid of humor. And while we're on the subject, humor is something in which this reading abounds: dry wit, belly laughs, and more than the seven types of irony that William Empson distinguished. All that said, the text's voice is genuinely interested in Desert Fury , at least fitfully—the strange plot, Lizabeth Scott's displacements of affect from straight Tom (Lancaster) to the dangerous and implicitly bisexual Hodiak, and the most charged relationship of all: the daughter-mother (Mary Astor) conflict that runs straight and crooked through all but the film's final pairing. Along the way, the voice also analyzes the film's running "fashion-show" of everyday sportswear; the pre-film build-up of the Scott-Lancaster romance; why a film of this kind is in color; and the character of Johnny (Wendell Corey), explicitly a homosexual, who warns Scott away from Hodiak for reasons that the text does not even try to hide.
It is possible to argue, or to recognize, that the kind of close textual reading of an individual film that began with Cahiers du Cinéma 's Young Mr. Lincoln , and includes quite a few stops along the way, comes to an end, or at least to a serious cessation, with Ehrenstein's article.
Stepin Fetchit Talks Back
Vol. 24, no. 4 (Summer 1971): 20–26.
To militant first sight, Stepin Fetchit's routines—all cringe and excessive devotion—seem racially self-destructive in the rankest way, and his very name can be a term of abuse. And yet, in looking at his performances (for instance as the white judge's sidekick and looking-glass in Ford's The Sun Shines Bright) cooler second sight must admit that Stepin Fetchit was an artist, and that his art consisted precisely in mocking and caricaturing the white man's vision of the black: his sly contortions, his surly and exaggerated subservience, can now be seen as a secret weapon in the long racial struggle. But whatever one makes of Stepin Fetchit's work, he was one of the few nonwhites to achieve status in American films, and he deserves to be remembered .
Like all American institutions, Stepin Fetchit is having a hard time these days. The legendary black comedian, now 79 years old but looking decades younger, has found himself a target of ridicule from the very people he once represented, almost alone, on the movie screen. A revolution has erupted around him, and he has been cast not in the role of liberator (as he sees himself), but as a guard in the palace of racism. The man behind the vacant-eyed, foot-shuffling image is Lincoln Perry, a proud man embittered by scorn and condescension.
Once a millionaire five times over, he now lives modestly in Chicago and takes an occasional night club gig. He hasn't acted in a movie since John Ford's The Sun Shines Bright in 1953, though he appeared in William Klein's documentary about heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali, Cassius le Grand , while acting as Ali's "secret strategist" during the Liston fights. Perry once served in a similar capacity for Jack Johnson, and Ali's gesture of kinship has given a massive boost to the comedian's self-esteem.
I encountered him in a garish bottomless joint in Madison, Wisconsin, on the night of Ali's fight with Oscar Bonavena. Before we talked, I sat down to watch his 20-minute routine, which was sandwiched on the program between Miss Heaven Lee and Miss Akiko O'Toole. Audiences at these Midwestern
nudie revues behave like hyenas in heat, but there is one very beautiful thing about a place like this, and I mean it: nowhere else in America today will you find such a truly democratic atmosphere. Class distinctions vanish as hippie and businessman, hard-hat and professor, white and black and Indian and Oriental unite in a common impulse of animal lust. Women's liberationists would object, of course, but not if they could observe the audience at close range—Heaven Lee had us enslaved.
When Step appeared, in skimmer and coonskin coat, there was a wave of uneasy tittering, and his first number, an incomprehensible boogie-woogie, stunned the audience into silence. What's this museum piece doing out there? Better he should be stored away where we can't think about him. But as he launched into his routine, a strange thing happened. Slowly, gradually, people began to dig him. Stepin Fetchit is, first and last, a funny, funky man. It isn't that his jokes are so great (a lot of them were tired-out gags about LBJ, of all people), it's the hip way he plays them. What made Step and Hattie McDaniel outclass all the other black character actors of bygone Hollywood was their subtle communication of superiority to the whole rotten game of racism. They played the game—it was the only game in town—but they were, somehow, above it: Step with his otherworldly eccentricities and Hattie McDaniel with her air of bossy hauteur . A tableful of young blacks began to parry back and forth with Step as he talked about the South. "You know how we travel in the South?" "No, how we travel in the South?" "Keep quiet an' I tell you." "That's cool. That's cool." And Step drawled: "Fast. At night. Through the woods . On top of the trees ." The irony may have been a shade too complex for the rest of the audience, but everybody understood when he laconically gave his Vietnam position—"Flat on the ground"—and explained the situation of the black voter: "Negroes vote 20 or 25 times in Chicago. They don't try to cheat or nothin' like that. They just tryin' to make up for the time they couldn't vote down in Mississippi. When you in Mississippi you have to pass a test. Nuclear physics. In Russian. And if you pass it, they say, 'Boy, you speak Russian. You must be a Communist. You can't vote.'"
Out flounced Akiko, and we went downstairs to a dusty storage area which had been hurriedly transformed into a dressing room. Stepin Fetchit may be funny, but Lincoln Perry isn't. "Strip shows are taking over everything," he lamented. "You're either at the top or you're nothing." The stage he was using, a rectangular runway, forced him to turn his back on half of the audience, and he was trying to improvise a new means of attack. (It was sad and strangely appropriate that the lighting was so bad he had to carry his own spotlight around with him.) His heart, moreover, was with Ali. "That's where I should be, with that boy," he said. Jabbing his finger and circling me like a bantamweight boxer, Perry quickly turned the interview into a monologue.
Under a single swaying light bulb, the sequins on his purple tuxedo flashing, he moved in and out of the shadows like a restless ghost. I began to get the eerie feeling that I was serving as judge and jury, hearing the self-defense of a man accused of a cultural crime. This is what the man said:
I was the first Negro militant. But I was a militant for God and country, and not controlled by foreign interests. I was the first black man to have a universal audience. When people saw me and Will Rogers together like brothers, that said something to them. I elevated the Negro. I was the first Negro to gain full American citizenship. Abraham Lincoln said that all men are created equal, but Jack Johnson and myself proved it. You understand me? I defied white supremacy and proved in defying it that I could be associated with. There was no white man's ideas of making a Negro Hollywood motion picture star, a millionaire Negro entertainer. Savvy? I was a 100% black accomplishment. Now get this—when all the Negroes was goin' around straightening their hair and bleaching theirself trying to be white, and thought improvement was white, in them days I was provin' to the world that black was beautiful. Me . I opened so many things for Negroes—I'm so proud today of the things that the Negroes is enjoying because I personally did 'em myself.
People don't understand any more what I was doing then, least of all the young generation of Negroes. They've made the character part of Stepin Fetchit stand for being lazy and stupid and being a white man's fool. I never did that, but they're all so prejudiced now that they just can't understand. Maybe because they don't really know what it was like then. Hollywood was more segregated than Georgia under the skin. A Negro couldn't do anything straight, only comedy. I did more acting as a comedian than Sidney Poitier does as an actor. I made the Negro as innocent and acceptable as the most innocent white child, but this acting had to come from the soul . They brought Willie Best out there to make him an understudy for me. And he wasn't an actor, he wasn't an entertainer or nothin' like that. I didn't need no understudy, because I had a thing going that I had built my own. And the worst thing you'll hear about Stepin Fetchit is when somebody tries to imitate what I do, the first thing they're gonna say is "Yassuh, yassuh, boss." I was way away from that.
Do I sound like an ignorant man to you? You made an image in your mind that I was lazy, good-for-nothing, from a character that you seen me doin' when I was doin' a high-class job of entertainment. Man, what I was doin' was hard work! Do you think I made a fool of myself? Maybe you might want me to. Like I can't be confined to use the word black. For a comedian, that takes the rhythm out of a lot of jokes and things. So when I use the words colored and Negro I'm not trying to be obstinate. That's what I'm going around for—to show the kids there are a lot of people that's doin' things to confuse them.
I'm just trying to get the kids today to have the diplomacy that I had to when I was doing it, and I think they'll come out first in everything. I didn't fight my way in—I eased in.
Humor is only my alibi for bein' here. Show business is a mission for me. All my breaks came from God. You see, I made God my agent. Like it's a coincidence that I'm here talking to you now. They bring a lot of people here, they pay 'em to talk to these students. They teachin' these students to go against law and order, they teachin' 'em to go against God, against their country, and they're payin ' 'em. They wouldn't pay me to come to town to talk to the students. Are you one of these college boys? No? That's good. All these college boys, the first word they think of when they write about me is Uncle Tom. I was lookin' for the word to come up but it didn't. Uncle Tom! Now there's a word that the Negro should try to wipe out and not use. Uncle Tom was a fictional character in a story that was wrote by Harriet Beecher Stowe. And Abraham Lincoln said that this thing was one of the propaganda that put one American brother against his other.
Kids is eccentric. They think they want to hear all these eccentric things. Like I see beautiful kids—I went to a place near where I'm working called the Shuffle and the reason they're using all this long hair and these whiskers, looking like apostles, that's because they're leanin' towards God, instinctively. Good kids, and a lot of old men is foolin' 'em. I want to let 'em know how I as a kid, a small Negro kid that was a Catholic too—so I had eleven strikes against me in them days—became a millionaire entertainer. Now these kids, they think that I'm unskilled and I'm uneducated, you know, and I don't have no diplomas or anything like that. But they must remember that they're listening to 79 years of experience.
I was an artist. A technician. I went in and competed among the greatest artists in the country. When I was about to make a movie with Will Rogers, Lionel Barrymore went to him and said, "This Stepin Fetchit will steal every scene from you. He'll steal a scene from anything—animal, bird, or human being." That was Lionel Barrymore , of the Barrymore family!
John Ford, the director, is one of the greatest men who ever lived. We was at the U.S. Naval Academy in 1929 making a picture called Salute , using the University of Southern California football team to do us a football sequence between the Army and the Navy. John Wayne was one of their football players. And in order to be seen by the director at all times, because Ford wanted to make him an actor, John Wayne taken the part of a prop man. That director made him a star. And on that picture, John Wayne was my dresser! John Ford, he was staying in the commandant's house during that picture, and he had me stay in the guest house. At Annapolis!
I was in Judge Priest , that Ford did with Will Rogers in 1934. Did you see that? Well, remember that line Will Rogers says to me, "I saved you from one
lynching already"? We had a lynching scene in there, where I, as an innocent Negro, got saved by Will Rogers. They cut it out because we were ahead of the time. In 1953 we did a remake of that picture, called The Sun Shines Bright . And John Ford, he did the lynching scene again. This time the Negro that gets saved was played by a young boy—I was older then. But they kept it in. That was my last picture.
I filed a $3 million lawsuit against something that Bill Cosby said about me in a show called Of Black Americans . But I didn't make Cosby a defendant. Know the reason why? Because that's not the source of where the wrong come. It's CBS, Twentieth Century–Fox, and the Xerox Corporation, the men that sponsored it, that's responsible for distortin' my image. Cosby was just a soldier. He was not a general. I know all the black comedians. Bill was the onliest one I hadn't met. I met him for the first time in Atlanta at the Cassius Clay–Jerry Quarry fight. Cassius called me and say, "Hey, Step, I want you to meet Bill." I just said hello, because I was busy, and then he said, "Bill Cosby! " I went back and I say, "Well, Cosby, I hope that you help to put a happy ending to my damages that has been
done." He says to me, "Yeah, I told my wife, I hope that you win this suit, because it was taken out of context." Cosby's a great comedian, but for the educated classes. Savvy? A few years ago he wouldn't have been able to be where he is—I was the one who made it possible for him. The worst thing in America today is not racism. It's the way the skilled classes is against the unskilled classes. You understand me?
Now, if we don't get this country straight, your next president is going to be George Wallace. They figure everybody is being turned idiot and they gonna all agree it's gonna be a man like George Wallace to help our problems if we don't straighten them out ourselves.
Ain't but two things in the world today. That's good and bad, right and wrong. Now if we follow everything down to them two things, and we are either on one of them sides, it ain't no white, no colored, no Black Panthers, no Ku Klux . . . we either for good or for bad! We ought to have a National Association for the Advancement of Cre ated People and not think about each nationality that represents 50 percent of America. When God made Adam, he didn't make all these different nationalities. Man did it. There is no mules in heaven. Now let me explain this to you. Mules are man-made, made from crossing a jackass with a horse. So when man got mixed up, it wasn't the work of God, it was the work of man. Racism? Remember when there wasn't but four people on earth, Cain killed his brother Abel and started unbrotherly love. God didn't have nothin' to do with unbrotherly love.
To show you how fate works—Cassius Clay, none of these great liberals would touch him and give him a chance to fight again. And who do you think give him a chance to fight again? Senator Leroy Johnson of Georgia, a man that is associated with Lester Maddox . Without Lester Maddox, Cassius Clay wouldn't have fought today, although the image they gave to you was that Lester Maddox was against it. You get the idea? You understand me? The greatest example of Americanism was shown to Cassius Clay by a proxy, through Lester Maddox! That's the way the world is running. So let's face these things right, not like we pitchin' things, or like we want it to go. God's gonna work in a mysterious way! We have had men supposed to be great all down the line—Alexander, Moses—and we still found the world all messed up. Ain't nobody in good shape. Ain't nobody got no sense or nothin'.
It was Satchel Paige that opened the major leagues to the Negro ball players. Not Jackie Robinson. No suh! Satchel Paige did the dirty work. He used to go and play in counties where they didn't allow a Negro in the county. He did the good work—what I did—made good will and good relations. Jackie Robinson was the politician, you understand me, the skilled one that walked in and got the benefits. Satchel Paige broke down the whole deal and hasn't got credit for it yet, just because he was unskilled labor. He was 100 years ahead of his time, like I am, like Johnson was.
The reason why Cassius sent for me was because he found out that I was the last close intimate of Jack Johnson. Jack told me a lot of things. Cassius always said they wasn't but one fighter that was greater than him, and that was Jack Johnson. And so he wanted to know everything about him. He got me in and he would ask me all the different things that Jack would tell me about. I taught him the Anchor Punch that he beat Liston with—that was a punch that Jack improvised. Cassius dug up some pictures of Johnson and I told him about this out-of-sight punch that Jack Johnson said he had. He said he could use it any time he wanted on Willard. See, Willard did not knock Johnson out. Johnson sold the heavyweight champion of the world for $50,000. Johnson accepted $15,000 in Europe and told them to give his wife $35,000 at ringside. He wanted the heavyweight champion title to belong to America. They had ran Jack into a lot of things, you get the idea . . . be too long to talk about.
They promised him with the $15,000 they would wipe off this year that he's supposed to serve. But they didn't do that, so he came back and served the year himself. You get the idea? I saw that play, The Great White Hope . I think it's terrible as far as telling the truth about Jack Johnson. It's not about Jack. Jack Johnson had noble ideas. They had him beating this girl—Jack never did a thing like that. And they showed where he was defeated and knocked out, but they didn't show that he sold out the heavyweight champion and that he wanted the championship to belong to America.
We were going to do this picture of his life story, called The Fighting Stevedore . You know—from Galveston, Texas, where he used to be a stevedore. While we was waiting to write the story—we was making it just for colored theaters, in them days things weren't integrated and the big companies wouldn't want to buy it because everything had thumbs down on Jack Johnson like things tried to be with Cassius, although I'm sure Cassius is coming out of it—while we was waiting to write this thing, we sent Jack down to lead the grand parade of Negro rodeos in Texas. That was the trip he got killed on. I booked him on it.
I always call Cassius "Champ" because I used to call Jack Johnson "Champ." The way Jack and me met, we was both celebrities, and I used to sit in his corner when we was fighting. We became friends especially when he found out that the same priest had taught both of us. His name was Father J. A. St. Laurent. He taught also the Negro student that became the first Negro Catholic priest in America. Here's a picture of me preachin' to Martin Luther King. I was telling him that I was in Montgomery, Alabama, before he was born playing with white women. This priest was the head of the school I went to, St. Joseph's College. It was a Catholic boys' school. And this priest used to have the nurses come from St. Margaret's Hospital to play with us—that's where Mrs. George Wallace was a patient before she died. They had picnics, spent a
whole day on our campus with these colored boys, playing ball with us, eating in our dining room, and things like that. This priest he taught us a technical education—Tuskegee used to teach manual labor—and so he left those boys with something. We had no inferiority complex. Jack always wanted to show that all men were created equal, so he goes into Newport News society and married a white woman out of the social register, a blue-blood!
My father named me Lincoln Theodore Monroe Andrew Perry. Told me he named me after four presidents—he think I'm gonna be a great man. But I can't see how in the world he named me after Theodore Roos evelt. He wasn't even president yet! I was born in 1892—here's my birth certificate—in Key West, Florida, the last city in the United States. I'm a descendant of the West Indies. My mother was born in Nassau, my father was born in Jamaica. I had talent all my life—my father used to sing. He was a cigar maker. I got in show business in 1913 or '14. The people who had adopted me and sent me off to this school, something happened to them, and so this priest told me I could work my way through school. In summertime he let me go to St. Margaret's Hospital to work. When time to go back to school, there was a carnival that used to winter in Montgomery. Turned out to be the Royal American Shows. So I joined it, joined the "plantation show." The plantation shows started to call themselves minstels, but minstrels was white men made up. Plantation shows was black men made up.
I got my name Stepin Fetchit from a race horse. The plantation show minstrels, we went down in Texas and there was a certain horse we used to go and see at the fair. We knew these races because they went to the same fairs as we did. There was a horse that we knew would never lose, so we would go out and give the field and the odds. Well, people thought we was crazy—he would always win. But one day they entered a big bay horse on us, and he won. We went and grabbed the program, looked, and it was Stepin Fetchit, horse from Baltimore. And so I goes back to show business in Memphis, and hear "Stepin Fetchit! Stepin Fetchit!" from everyone. I wrote a dance song of it called "The Stepin Fetchit, Stepin Fetchit, Turn Around, Stop and Catch It, Chicken Scratch It to the Ground, Etc."
Me and my partner was introducing this new dance. We were Skeeter and Rastus, The Two Dancing Crows from Dixie. Jennifer Jones's father booked us in a white theater in Tulsa, Oklahoma, which was unusual. And in place of putting our names Skeeter and Rastus, he put Step and Fetchit and he made that our names. When my partner, he wouldn't show up, I would tell the manager, "No, it's not two of us, it's just one of us, the Step and Fetchit." And then I'd go out and do just as good as the two of us. I fired him, since I had wrote the song, see, and in place of The Two Dancing Crows from Dixie, I was the Stepin Fetchit. I got the lazy idea from my partner. He was so lazy, he used to call a cab to get across the street.
I was in Ripley's "Believe It or Not" as the onliest man who ever made a million dollars doing nothing. Anything money could buy, I had. I had 14 Chinese servants and all different kinds of cars. This one, a pink Rolls Royce, it had my name on the sides in neon lights. My suits cost $1,000 each. I got some of them from Rudolph Valentino's valet after he died. I showed people that just because I had a million dollars, the world wouldn't come to an end. But then I had to file a $5 million bankruptcy and didn't have but $146 assets. No, I wasn't held up by no robbers, and I wasn't in any swindling gambling games. It was all "honest" business people I trusted who took the money, all good, upstanding people. I was too busy makin' it to think about savin' it. I started with nothin' and I got nothin' left, so I've come full circle. But I'm rich. I'm a millionaire. Know the reason why? Because I go to Mass every morning. I have been a daily communicant for the last 50 years. Everything I've accomplished I've accomplished in believin' that seek ye first the kingdom of heaven and all things will be given to thee. Consider the lilies of the field . . .
Footnote to the History of Riefenstahl's Olympia
Vol. 28, no. 1 (Fall 1974): 8–12.
Leni Riefenstahl has maintained that her two 1936 Olympics films, Fest der Völker and Fest der Schönheit , were produced by her own company, commissioned by the organizing committee of the International Olympic Committee, and made over the protest of Nazi Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels. In "Olympia, the Film of the Eleventh Olympic Games in Berlin, 1936," a paper written to defend herself in 1958, she says: "The truth is that neither the Ministry of Propaganda nor other National Socialist party or government bodies had any influence on the Olympic Games or on the production or design of the Olympia films."
The voluminous documentary material of the former Ministry of Propaganda and Public Enlightenment and the materials of the former Reich Ministry of Finances, today deposited in the Federal Archives in Koblenz (the central depository of the Federal Republic of Germany), tell a different story.
These records show that the two Olympia films were financed by the Nazi government, that the Olympia Film Company was founded by that government, that the government made money by distributing the films through the Tobis-Filmkunst Company, and that the government, finally, ordered the liquidation of the Olympia Film Company, in which Leni Riefenstahl and her brother were partners.
The true story of the origin of the two Olympics films of 1936 begins with a short memo written in the Reich Finance Ministry on October 16, 1935, saying: "On the order of Herr Minister Goebbels, Ministerial Counselor Ott, on October 15, proposed the following special appropriations to me: (1) for promotion of the Olympic Games: RM 300–350,000; (2) for the Olympic film: RM 1,500,000."
Ministerial Counselor Ott was the budget expert in the Propaganda Ministry, much respected, and rather liberal by the standards of the times. A carbon of the memo was sent to him by the Finance Ministry, and he initialed it on October
17, 1935. The words "to me" evidently refer to the section chief in charge in the Finance Ministry; his name in the note is recorded only by his initial "M."
The memo continues, with reference to point (2), that is, the Olympic film:
The Ministry of Propaganda submits the draft of a contract for the production of a film of the Olympics, according to which Miss Leni Riefenstahl is commissioned to produce a film of the summer Olympics. The cost is budgeted at RM 1,500,000.
I have pointed out that this film is certain to bring revenue, so that there would be no difficulty in financing the costs by private enterprise, for example by the Film-Kredit-Bank. This method would avoid government financing. But Ministerial Counselor Ott replied that Herr Minister Goebbels requests the prefinancing with government funds.
According to information from Ministerial Counselor Ott, Herr Minister Goebbels will request the proposed funds in the cabinet meeting of October 18, 1935. [Emphasis in the original.]
This is what actually happened.
In the contract mentioned in the memo Leni Riefenstahl is commissioned to produce and direct the film of the Olympics. The contract repeats the costs of RM 1,500,000. This amount was to be disbursed in four installments:
RM 300,000 on November 15, 1935
RM 700,000 on April 1, 1936
RM 200,000 on November 1, 1936
RM 300,000 on January 1, 1937
We shall soon see that these amounts were not enough to produce the film.
Section 3 of the contract with Riefenstahl says:
"From the amount of RM 1,500,000 Miss Riefenstahl is to receive RM 250,000 for her work, which is to cover expenses for travel, automobile, and social affairs." The contract stipulated—and this turned out to be an important provision—that Leni Riefenstahl was "to account to the Reich Ministry for Propaganda and Enlightenment for the disbursement of the RM 1,500,000 by presenting receipts." The contract specifically reconfirms that "she is solely responsible for the general artistic direction and overall organization of the Olympic film."
In her 1958 defense paper she writes: "On higher orders (Dr. Goebbels), the German news cameramen, who were the most important elements in the making of documentary pictures, were removed from Leni Riefenstahl's control."
Section 6 of the contract says:
"The Reich Ministry for Propaganda and Public Enlightenment undertakes (as previously in the production of the Reich Party Day film Triumph des Willens ) to place the German weekly news shows [Wochenschauen ] of the Ufa, Fox, and Tobis at the disposal of Miss Riefenstahl and to obligate them to make accessible the material filmed by them for the Olympia film."
The amounts that Riefenstahl was to pay for this material were spelled out by the Propaganda Ministry.
I presume the Wochenschau companies were not enthusiastic about having their cameramen take orders from Riefenstahl. But Wochenschau material was in fact delivered to her, as shown by the "Itemized List for Herr Minister, April 1937." It states all costs incurred until then for the Olympia film, with a total of RM 1,509,178.09, which includes as item 11: "Raw film and Wochenschau material: RM 220,003.41." Whether Riefenstahl actually used this material in her film is a different question. But in her distribution contract with Tobis this possibility is specifically spelled out for legal reasons.
In her postwar interviews Riefenstahl consistently referred to "her own company" that produced the Olympia film. In her 1958 defense paper she also says: "Goebbels did not want Leni Riefenstahl to show the victorious black athletes in the Olympia film. When L. R. refused to comply with these requests and did not honor them later either, Goebbels ordered the Film-Kredit-Bank, which was answerable to his Ministry, to refuse all further credits to the Olympia-Film Company (a private firm)." The parenthesis is in the original. These statements, however, are products of Leni Riefenstahl's imagination. What are the facts?
When a film company was funded, it was general practice to deposit in a court of law an initial capital of RM 50,000, after entering the firm in the official Trade Register. The funds for the founding of the Olympia Film Company were provided by the Reich government. But the Reich, in this case, was parsimonious. Hence Ministerial Counselor Ott, on January 30, 1936, wrote to the Berlin-Charlottenburg Court: "The Olympia Film Company is being set up at the request of the government and financed by funds supplied by the government. The means needed by the company to produce the film are likewise supplied exclusively by the government. The company has had to be established because the government does not wish to appear publicly as the producer of this film. It is planned to liquidate the company when the production of the film is concluded."
Evidently this was still not spelled out with sufficient clarity for the Court. Therefore the Reich Film Chamber, the body responsible for the founding of film companies, wrote to the Court on February 12, 1936: "We are not talking, then, about a private enterprise, or about an enterprise with ordinary commercial aims, but about a company founded exclusively for the purpose of external organization and production of the said film. It appears unwise [untunlich ] for
the government itself to appear as the producer." Hence Leni Riefenstahl's fictitious company was required to pay no more than RM 20,000 as original capital, from the funds provided by the government. Still, the Examination Board of the Propaganda Ministry complained on October 16, 1936, that "the original capital has not been paid in up to now."
The report of the General Accounting Office which contains these words was an embarrassment for Riefenstahl which she never got over. It was probably one reason why she hated the Propaganda Ministry. Hence I will have to discuss that report further.
The auditors of the GAO, like those of any official agency, even in the Third Reich, were petty bureaucrats. The GAO had tackled audits for other agencies of the government, but presumably it had never dealt with a film production, and certainly never had to deal with such a temperamental and self-assured film artist as Riefenstahl. The auditors, however, chose to treat her strictly as the manager of the Olympia Film Company.
The auditors complain that as early as September 16, 1936, of the government-agreed RM 1,500,000 "RM 1,200,000 were requested by the Company and paid out, although by that time only RM 1,000,000 were due." They complain further that "the use of these funds contradicts the order concerning government economies to administer official funds economically and carefully." They add that there were no economies "in general expenses such as per diem payments, tips, meals, drinks, charges, and special charges." "Rarely," they say, "was there a meeting in which the company did not pay for breakfast, lunch, or dinner." The auditors take issue with the fact that the Geyer Works, where Riefenstahl edited the Olympia film and had it printed, on the occasion of its business anniversary was presented with two flower baskets and a gift, valued together at RM 117; that the firm paid RM 202.40 for a business course attended by Leni Riefenstahl's secretary; that RM 10.17 was paid without specification for the "Reich Race Research Office"; that "Miss Riefenstahl and her business manager Grosskopf were reimbursed RM 18 and 15.75 for lost fountain pens." It goes on in this way for pages—thousands of bills or receipts were examined, and where the auditors saw fit were commented on. A few passages read like comedy: those administering money are chided by the sentence: "The company has no strongbox." Business manager Grosskopf, being responsible for the safety of the cash, "was obliged to take the money home with him" and during the examination on October 3, 1936, "had produced RM 14,000 to 15,000 in various amounts from different pockets of his clothing." The outraged auditors state: "Such practices are verboten."
Incidentally, I happen to know Grosskopf and met him on occasion during the months when the Olympia film was in production. He was a solid, conscientious older businessman, visibly bothered by a situation that was beyond his control.
Goebbels treated this report, presented to him by Ministerial Counselor Hanke, chief of the Ministerial Secretariat (later Gauleiter in Breslau), far more generously than Riefenstahl will allow today. With a green pencil he wrote across the report "Let's not be petty" and ordered Hanke to talk with Riefenstahl. However, when Ministerial Counselor Ott presented Goebbels with an additional request for RM 500,000 because the RM 1,500,000 "presumably will not be sufficient," he wrote: "RM 500,000 are out of the question." But one can sense that this phrasing left the door open. At any rate, he approved an additional RM 300,000.
He refused Ott's suggestion "to include the Film-Kredit-Bank in the future, because it can factually check on the expenditures of the Olympia Film Company," but shrewd Ott has added to his suggestion: "One will have to assume, of course, that Miss Riefenstahl will fight such an order with all means at her disposal." Besides, observes Ott, "it could be undesirable for a private firm, such as the Film-Kredit-Bank, to have intimate information about a company entirely set up by the government." He suggests that perhaps the Reich Film Chamber should do the auditing.
It was undoubtedly disconcerting for Riefenstahl to have to answer the various criticisms of the auditors. Her annoyance was understandable; but there was a second reason to be annoyed. Goebbels ordered the Reich Film Chamber to make available "Judge Pfennig of the Reich Film Chamber as advisor to the Olympia Film Company." He was to ensure the "purposeful and economic use of the means of this company." The Reich Chamber, on its part, was to report to him, Goebbels, "about Judge Pfennig's activities and observations." Goebbels signed this order with his own hand.
Pfennig was the Legal Counsel of the Reich Film Chamber. Earlier he had worked for the major German film producing company, the Ufa. After Hugenberg in 1927 had taken over the Ufa and had appointed the Director General of the Sherl Publishing Company, Ludwig Klitzsch, as Director General of Ufa, economy was demonstrably practiced. As early as April 1927 Klitzsch appointed Pfennig, then a law clerk, as director of his secretariat and informed the Board of Directors accordingly (Ufa, Board of Directors protocol No. 18, April 28, 1927). Klitzsch, however, could economize only as long as Goebbels would let him. But after about 1937 Goebbels increasingly prevented economy. It must have been Leni Riefenstahl's second great grief to have Judge Pfennig appointed to supervise her, even though disguised as observer.
In her paper of 1958 Riefenstahl says that she concluded a distribution contract with Tobis, but this tells little about the ownership of the Olympia Film Company. A government-owned company needed a distribution contract just as much as a privately owned one. The contract, concluded December 4, 1936, between Olympia Film Company, represented by Leni Riefenstahl, and Tobis-
Cinema Company, represented by production chief Fritz Mainz, specifically points out that the production costs will be about RM 1,500,000. Tobis agreed to a guarantee for RM 800,000 for the first part and at least RM 200,000 for the second part of the film. What this contract did not mention, however, was the obligation by Tobis to account not only to Olympia Film Company but also to the Ministry of Propaganda. This was duly done, however; one copy of the accounting went to Olympia Film Company and two copies to the Ministry of Propaganda, one of which was routed to Ministerial Counselor Ott.
It took Leni Riefenstahl eighteen months to complete the two films, a period of time envisioned by the contract with Tobis. The première took place on April 20, 1938, Hitler's 49th birthday, at Ufa Palace at the Zoo in Berlin in festive surroundings. There was no indication of a rift between Goebbels and Leni Riefenstahl, such as she has talked and written about.
As early as September 26, 1938, Ministerial Counselor Ott was able to report to the Ministry of finance that "a million Reichsmark of unplanned revenue have flowed into the coffers of the Reich treasury."
At that time the Rechnungshof (General Accounting Office) remembered that the understanding had been to liquidate the Olympia Film Company on the completion of its task. On November 5, 1938, the agency inquired of the Reich Minister for Propaganda and Public Enlightenment "when the liquida-
tion of the Olympia Film Company is to be expected." On November 21 the reply came, saying that "according to present developments the end of business is to be expected in fiscal year 1939."
Barely six months later, on May 17, 1940, that is, after the start of the war, the Propaganda Ministry was able to report to the Reich Finance Ministry that the RM 1,800,000, "needed for the production of the Olympia films and advanced by the government, had been repaid in full to the Reich." The liquidation of the Olympia Film Company, the report added, had been decided in a company meeting on December 6, 1939, to be effective December 31; the liquidation was to be carried out by business manager Grosskopf. Future revenues from the film would "as up to now be paid into a holding account of the Reich Treasury."
The liquidation process, in fact, took two more years. In the middle of Hitler and Goebbels' "total war," the tireless Ministerial Counselor Ott, still in the same position at the Propaganda Ministry (remarkable in view of the frequent changes in other departments of the agency), on February 1, 1943, reported to the Reich Finance Ministry that "the liquidation of the Olympia Film Company has been completed." According to the accounting submitted "the total net gain transferred to the Reich amounted to RM 114,066.45."
When a king dies another must be immediately proclaimed; hence the final paragraph states: "The further utilization and administration of the two films of the Olympics have been transferred to the Riefenstahl Film Company [my emphasis], which will report quarterly about the financial status." No inkling, indeed, of hostility between Propaganda Ministry and Riefenstahl.
Thanks to Adolf Hitler the German Reich has ceased to exist, but Leni Riefenstahl is still permitted to exploit her two Olympia films of 1936/1938. She does so now on the basis of a thirty-year contract concluded ten years ago between her and the Transit Film Company, which administers the film rights of the German Federal Republic. Of course, from time to time, she has to settle accounts.
Power and Dis-integration in the Films of Orson Welles
No movie is made by a complete adult. First of all, I don't know any complete adults.
I, señor, am not one of anything, but, like you, señor, I am unique.
The Second (Dying) Art Forger, to Picasso, in F for Fake
Vol. 35, no. 4 (Summer 1982): 2–12.
I should like to thank the UCLA film archive for its generous cooperation in providing me access to these films.
In a scene of snowfall before a small house, Charles Foster Kane is cast out of his family by his newly rich mother. As generations of moviewatchers are well aware, it is to this snow scene that he returns upon his death as the text itself returns to the "No Trespassing" sign. In Magnificent Ambersons , on the other hand, family and friends spend years trying unsuccessfully to dislodge Georgie Minafer from the family mansion and the bosom of his mother. When the infant is finally forced out, he breaks both his legs. In the same film, Lucy Morgan is forced by Georgie's refusal to enter the world of men and money to return to her father and a lifetime of celibacy. Mary Longstreet in The Stranger is forced into a similar return.
Both Citizen Kane and Magnificent Ambersons reveal a central male figure who is extremely powerful in certain ways, who can charm, force, or frighten others into doing what he wants. But the desire for control is haunted by everything that evades it. The opening of Citizen Kane , with its decayed golf course and terraces, its moss-covered gothic magnificence, reveals to us two aspects of this pattern: both the overreaching ambition and its failure—a grand life, now in ruins. Even at the height of their powers, these men are revealed to be helpless in certain realms of life, unable finally to live out their desires. Focusing on Citizen Kane, Magnificent Ambersons , and The Stranger as family-centered narratives set in the United States, with substantial reference to Touch of Evil, Immortal Story , and Chimes at Midnight for close parallels of theme and/or narrative strategies, and with passing glances at a number of other Welles films, this essay will examine the ways in which the boundless fear, anger, and desire of these figures power both narrative and image in these films.
In my own years of obsession with the Welles films, I have come to call this central figure of desire and contradiction the Power Baby, the eating, sucking, foetus-like creature who, as the lawyer at the center of The Trial , can be found baby-faced, lying swaddled in his bed and tended by his nurse; who in Touch of Evil sucks candy and cigars in a face smoothed into featurelessness by fat as
he redefines murder and justice according to desire; who in his bland and arrogant innocence brings everybody down in Lady from Shanghai; who, in the framed face of Picasso, slyly signals his power as visual magician and seducer and who is himself tricked in F for Fake; but who must die for the sake of the social order in Chimes at Midnight and who dies again for his last effort of power and control in Immortal Story; and who, to my great delight, is figured forth explicitly in Macbeth where, in a Wellesian addition to Shakespeare, the weird sisters at the beginning of the film reach into the cauldron, scoop out a handful of their primordial woman's muck, shape it into a baby, and crown it with the pointy golden crown of fairy tales.
Who are these infant kings who return to early scenes, whose narratives are deflected, and whose situations are finally reversed? What do they have, and what lack? How are they both more and less than they wish to be, sometimes never reaching, but more often losing their once-great powers in the world of men and money? And what is the pattern of possibilities for their women, who are so often denied or forced into returns, whose fates are so extreme, yet so limited?
The mother of Charles Foster Kane becomes rich and powerful in a moment of transformation. She uses this power to reject Charles utterly. He is ripped untimely from a scene where he could reach whatever combination of love, fear, acceptance, and rejection that might come from the child's living out the drama of sex and power with his parents. The untimeliness of this change is suggested perfectly by the exaggeration of size relations in the Christmas shot where Charles, with his unwanted new sled, gazes up defiantly at a huge Thatcher, the money monster, on that most familial of holidays, the one based on the birth of a perfect son into a perfect family.
In the name of what does Charles's mother commit this horribly wrenching act, for which she is so eager that she has had her son's trunk packed for a week? It is true that the father moves as if to strike Charles when he pushes Thatcher. And it is true that he says: "What that kid needs is a good thrashing," moving Mrs. Kane to reply: "That's what you think, is it; Jim? . . . that's why he's going to be brought up where you can't get at him." Apparently Mrs. Kane thinks he is "the wrong father" for little Charles. Yet we have little evidence that the father has ever harmed or frightened the child. As the four talk outside the cabin, Charles moves eagerly toward his father's arms; the mother must stop him by calling his name sharply. Thus it is one of the film's most powerful and puzzling images when, at the moment of her insistence, Mrs. Kane slowly turns her head to the side as the camera dwells on her enigmatic look. Is it one of confidence for having freed her son from a struggle he couldn't win? Or one of cruel pleasure in having triumphed over father and son for their very maleness? Is she the terrible mother of myth and nightmare? Joseph McBride suggests: "It is simply that the accident which made the Kanes suddenly rich has
its own fateful logic—Charles must 'get ahead.' What gives the brief leave-taking scene its mystery and poignancy is precisely this feeling of pre-determination." It must be emphasized, however, that the logic is not that of fate but of money and social class. Insisting that "this isn't the place for you to grow up in," the newly empowered mother pursues her son's "advantages" by removing him from an impoverished rural environment. She turns her son over to an agency—the bank—that she believes will protect and promote him better than the family. Yet we cannot fully escape the hint of a revenge and must accept the overdetermination of this genuinely ambiguous moment.
The role of the father needs to be understood in a different way as well. It is not his cruelty that is most significant. The fact that Fred Graves, the defaulting boarder who knew both Mr. and Mrs. Kane, left the fortune exclusively to Mrs. Kane, somehow brings Charlie's paternity into question. Did Graves leave it all to Mrs. Kane because he found the father wanting in some way—weak and whining, dependent on his wife, perhaps? Or is it Graves himself, in his unpredictable act of generosity, who is the right ("real") father? Even though we are made sympathetic with Mr. Kane—"I don't hold with signing my boy away. . . . Anyone'd think I hadn't been a good husband. . . ." (Why doesn't he say, "Good father "?)—still other negative qualities are revealed. He first tries to get little Charles to believe that his forced migration from country/family to city/bank is going to be a wonderful adventure: "That's the train with all the lights. . . . You're going to see Chicago and New York. . . ." But when Charles refuses to be fooled, the father threatens to thrash him. Thus even this "wrong father" has two faces: he who promises deceitfully, who promises pleasure where there is abandonment, and he who later threatens violence. For the boy, the father becomes the promise of worldly experience and the threat of danger, both exaggerated. Longing to cling to the beloved but mysteriously rejecting mother, unable to trust the weak and deceitful father, the boy Charles reacts with rage as his life is captured in this frozen moment.
And what of Georgie Minafer, who got out, not too early, but too late? Within the basic reversal, there are a number of similarities, particularly concerning the father. In this film, money also brings about the constitution of the "wrong" family. The agency of business is this time substituted, not for the family as a whole, but for the emotional participation of the father through Isabel Amberson's choice of husband. She marries Wilbur Minafer, a "steady young businessman," instead of Eugene Morgan, "a man who any woman would like a thousand times better." Though the local women opine that Isabel's "pretty sensible for such a showy girl," they prophesy correctly the return of the passions denied by Isabel's choice: "They'll have the worst spoiled lot of children this town will ever see. It'll all go to her children and she'll ruin them." An only child receiving the full adoration of a mother who married for
dollars and sense, so puny he nearly dies as an infant, young Georgie also has a father who is virtually absent. Later, when the father dies, the voice-over narrator tells us: "Wilbur Minafer. A quiet man. The town will hardly know he's gone." And Georgie hardly knew he was there. But this time the young man with the wrong father, with no father to love and hate on a regular basis, has not been sent away by the mother. Instead, we find that Georgie lives fully in a mutual state of uncontested love with the mother, secure inside a warm, dark house and a rich and fabled family. No reason to get a job or a profession. No reason ever to leave this nest of complete dependence and desire.
The theme of the wrong or displaced father is explicit in Immortal Story as well, where the primacy of money (over friendship rather than passion this time) once caused old Mr. Clay to drive away his partner, the father of Virginie. When he brings her back to her father's house (which Clay now occupies) to play out her role in his fable of seduction, he functions as a cruel "wrong father" over whom she is able to triumph. Throughout the Welles canon, fathers and mothers are doubled and tripled, offering, through displacement, the multiplications and contradictions of identity and representation. Falstaff (Chimes at Midnight)
offers one of the richest and most fluid exercises in doubling and multiplicity of father/identity. Very early in the film we are presented with Falstaff as an old man who is at the same time an innocent, the one who has been shaped by the "son" he is supposed to have corrupted. As he tells us: "Before I knew thee, Hal, I knew nothing." Later on, Falstaff puts a pot on his head and plays the role of Hal's other father, the king, chastising the boy for his bad friends and wastrel's life. Then they change roles and Hal plays his own father, the king. All the way through the film, Hal's knowledge of his impending power as future king has run concurrent with his boyish playfulness and has made all his jokes and insults to Falstaff painfully cruel, as they now are in this exchange of roles. This cruelty is, of course, prophetic of his final assumption of a fixed identity as king, which entails the rejection of Falstaff after Hal has become his own father in earnest.
The main trajectory of the plot of Citizen Kane, Magnificent Ambersons , and The Stranger turns in on itself in the pattern of a return. The child/man, unable to continue his movement toward social participation and "maturity," falls back into a childhood situation, and the woman in The Stranger is forced into a similar return. In Citizen Kane , Charlie instantly defies his substitute father and the more or less innocent energy of this rebellion carries him well into young manhood. He travels, starts to run a newspaper, behaves like an aggressive young man in the world. This phase reaches a kind of peak in his "Declaration of Principles," where he lays down the law of the sons against the corrupt fathers of the money agencies (as Thatcher had earlier laid down the law of the "Trust" to his mother), his rebellious liberalism creating a link between the youthful and the poor. But he is not content to let the words and actions of the newspaper speak for themselves. He insists on foregrounding the enunciation, as it were, revealing himself as "author" of the newspaper, unmediated by an editorial persona. This authorial gesture is merely one of the ways that young Charles reveals his huge ambition. This boy, thrown out of many elegant schools, sees himself as becoming "champion of the people." His actions reveal the exaggerated picture he has of himself and his powers, which will later be revealed in the huge poster of himself at the rally, as he sets out to win everybody's love.
Love on a personal level reveals both his overarching aspirations and his limitations. The announcement of his engagement is read in a room full of statuary he has been sending to the office—"the loot of the world"—gifts given to no one, and never enough to fill the huge empty spaces that he and the others in his life will occupy as they grow older. In his bride to be, he has acquired another high element of culture—the president's niece. But like Isabel Amberson's, Charlie's attention is only briefly engaged by his new mate. McBride suggests that Charles has a need for affection that Emily "could not gratify," but I suggest that it is Kane who will not "gratify," turning from relations within his family to activities
in which he need function only as a source of verbal or financial power, where he is never called upon to act as husband/lover/personal father. (In Immortal Story , Mr. Clay tells us that he has always avoided all personal relations and human emotions, which can "dissolve your bones.")
One night, his uncharged marriage a boring failure, his vaunting political ambitions uncertain, Charles decides to make a return to the place where his mother's goods, and his own truncated development, lie in storage. But instead, he is splashed by mud and because of this accident, the return is delayed. He comments to Susan on this deflection: "I was on my way to the Western Manhattan Warehouse—in search of my childhood."
Georgie Minafer's dream-like intimacy with his mother (as signalled by the long, slow take and dark depth of field) is suddenly threatened by a second father (the "right father?"), Eugene Morgan, who has made a return of his own. Morgan has come back to the town of his romantic defeat to try again with the soon-to-be-widowed Isabel, bringing with him a daughter (the mother is never mentioned) and a number of transformations that will be devastating for Georgie, who clings to his fixed identity as an Amberson. Trying to resist Eugene in the world of men, Georgie is ineffectual because of such misconceptions. He overestimates the power of his family identity to guarantee his superiority (or, indeed, his survival). He is wrong when he tries to ridicule Gene's invention of the automobile, and wrong again when he tries to enlist his father against the usurper by absurdly accusing him of wanting to borrow money. But he is not wrong with his mother. Oh, no. With Isabel, practically all he has to say is: "You're my mother," and she agrees to call it off with Eugene, despite his plea not to allow their romance to be ruined by "the history of your own perfect motherhood."
As in Citizen Kane , it is a sudden and unexpected change of fortune—this time a loss—that finally breaks up the family. Georgie is faced with an entirely new situation. He is alone and must support himself. His mother has died of a nameless wasting disease, having been devoured by Georgie's ravening orality. (All these Power Babies eat and eat.) Furthermore, his Aunt Fanny, who has been a kind of shadowy mother double, loving instead of being loved, seeking instead of evading, who has lived only to yearn after Eugene and to feed Georgie, is now completely dependent upon him. As he goes out in the world, one prospective employer notes that he has become "the most practical young man," but only very, very briefly. Praying at his mother's empty bed, the new Georgie begs forgiveness from the Father of Fathers, but no fathers hear, for in the next cut, Georgie has an accident. An automobile knocks him down and breaks both his legs.
Let us recall here that Kane's son was killed in an automobile accident (which also claimed his wife) and that maiming of the legs is common in the Welles
canon. Recall the extreme limp and double canes of Arthur Bannister in Lady from Shanghai , the greatly reduced mobility of Mr. Clay in Immortal Story , and perhaps most complex, the bullet in the leg that Quinlan took for his friend Pete Menzies in Touch of Evil . And if the leg wound can be taken as suggesting deflected or impeded sexuality, then we must note the role of Quinlan's cane in bringing about his downfall.
Georgie has always known where the danger lies. The first night he meets Eugene and Lucy, he denigrates the automobile and wishes her father would "forget about it." Later he scorns it as useless and, prophetically in more ways than one, says it should never have been invented. Georgie's insistent and perverse dismissal of this most powerful agent of transformation is, of course, thoughtless and superficial at the rational level; he appears foolish and self-defeating, moving his Uncle Jack to remark on how strange it is to woo a woman by insulting her father. But Georgie is reacting to the car as symbol of Gene's phallic power to take away the mother love on which Georgie sustains himself so voraciously and on which, as an untried emotional infant, he believes his life depends. While others enter into mature speculation about how the automobile will change the world—Eugene himself is most confident that it will: "There are no times but new times," he says—Georgie is terrified for his life. In his identity as a new man of the future, Eugene has benefitted from an exchange of power with the Ambersons; their great fortune is gone, their living space (the home, the woman's place) is taken away, while Eugene's fortunes rise, his factories and power transformers consuming the Amberson space and returning it as a city. To move from rural safety to urban danger, Georgie Minafer need only leave the house. In his own life and in the society at large, Georgie's world of women has given way to a world of men. This shift in economy threatens him at the deepest level. Georgie has begun to fear that he will soon take his "last walk," as the narrator puts it. In the reversal implied by his seeking a "dangerous job," Georgie signals us that his fear is becoming unbearably acute.
As the automobile accident fulfills Georgie's prophetic panic, he is returned to the state of complete dependency that marked his place in the family of origin. But this time, it is a strangely smiling Eugene Morgan upon whom he must depend. Worse than Georgie's worst fears, this outcome brings, not the death that might even be wished for, but a bitter substitute for the ecstatic plenitude of mother love. For Eugene, his rival/double, it constitutes a triumph.
As the new money and usurping father brought terror and helplessness to Georgie Minafer, they bring rage and isolation to Charles Foster Kane. Once a dirty accident has deflected him from his return and brought him together with Susan, their relationship takes a strange turn. Kane almost seems to act out the role of her mother. Susan's youth is established—"Pretty old. I'll be twenty-two
in August"—and we learn that her mother had operatic aspirations for her small, untrue voice. Immediately after this revelation, we see several of the film's few conventional, romantic close-ups as Susan declares sweetly: "You know what mothers are like," and Kane answers dreamily: "Yes, I know." The mention of the mother is linked with the sign values of shallow depth, key and back lighting, and slightly soft focus, signalling Romance even more strongly than the early scene with Emily, and suggesting that Susan has tapped into Kane's deepest desires—perhaps a fantasy of a mother staying with a child, watching over it and nurturing it, causing it to grow and flourish. Susan's reaction to this impossible program is another matter, to be spoken of later.
The meeting with Boss Jim Gettys, the other key encounter of Kane's life, turns upon the role of yet another father in the family and in culture. As his mother and Mr. Thatcher seemed to be in cahoots long ago against the little boy whose weak and unreliable father did nothing to help him, now another Mrs. Kane and another usurping father move to dislodge him once again from a place where he is perhaps living out all the roles of his frozen moment, but according to a new script of his archaic desires.
With inadequate experience of father and family to mediate between his infant rage and the world of signification, Kane has imagined his rival Gettys as a monster and put that monstrous image into the public realm—newspaper pictures of Gettys "in a convict suit with stripes—so his children could see. . . . Or his mother." Now Gettys must wipe out the representational power of these images. To do so, he must discredit Kane completely. Thus Gettys as powerful and successful father and son punishes Kane, not for his transgression with Susan, which stands in for the move against the father and which might have stayed a childish secret forever, but for his unbridled excess in attacking Gettys so viciously in the newspaper. Even so, Gettys is formidable but not cruel, urging Kane to do his duty and avoid family disaster by withdrawing from the race. Finally, when Kane can do nothing but scream his child-like defiance, Gettys's words are those of the elder instructing the younger: "You need more than one lesson, and you're gonna get more than one lesson." Like Georgie's, Kane's comeuppance has swept over him suddenly in a wild moment.
The image of Kane screaming down his impotent rage from the top of the steps suggests an attempt to reverse the size relations of the Christmas shot with Thatcher, and evokes similar images in a number of Welles's other films, most notably where his Macbeth, having destroyed a number of families, including that of the Kingdom itself, finally stands alone on the high wall, seeming to find a perverse ecstasy in his impotent defiance of Macduff, the outraged father (himself "untimely ripped") who has come to bring him down. In The Stranger , Charles Rankin, exposed as the Nazi Franz Kindler, screams down his defiance of Mr. Wilson, the Nazi-hunter/father figure, from the top of a clock tower.
Kane's destruction of the bedroom after Susan leaves is perhaps the most famous scene of rage in American film. Kane had tried to insert himself into the culture as a "celebrity" through public office—a space somewhere between that of a commodity and a well-known friend or family member. To the child of banks, being elected is perhaps like being loved. But his excess of anger cost him that public affirmation. Now the saving fantasy with Susan has failed, bringing on the wild rage. As he picks up the glass ball, Kane completes the return begun on that night when he started for the warehouse. We have already seen Kane in the newsreel with useless legs, swaddled in white like an old baby. The narrative will now offer no more events involving Kane before death causes him to release his frozen scene of trauma. After he passes through the hall of mirrors, the camera holds on the empty reflector; his identity is erased by its repetition. As Baudry says: "An infinite mirror would no longer be a mirror." With his smooth head, pouting lips, and single tear, Kane is almost foetus-like, back in a primordial isolation before language, before family, before self.
As Susan walks away from Kane (and from her doll, seen in the extreme foreground as they quarrel, and seen again next to Kane's sled among the final images—he longed for his; she didn't long for hers) she also walks away from the return forced upon her by Kane. As indicated by her attempt at suicide, she
doesn't wish to continue as the child, living out her mother's fantasy or Charles's desire. Perhaps punished by her "alcoholism" for her aggressiveness in leaving Kane, certainly childishly imprudent in having spent all the money, Susan's real return has been to her position within another social class. But she is surviving, capable of working, playing, and feeling deep sympathy. Lucy Morgan in Magnificent Ambersons is also forced into a return, but a far more regressive one, and certainly of a different style. Georgie wouldn't enter the world of men and money, and Lucy certainly couldn't join him in the closed world of mother love. Therefore, as she tells him, "Because we couldn't play together like good children, we shouldn't play at all." In an idyllic out-of-doors scene, paralleling the one in which Morgan tried to convince Isabel to marry him, Lucy describes her situation to her father in the story of Ven Do Nah. This Indian was hated by all his tribe, so they drove him away. But they couldn't find a replacement they liked better. "They couldn't help it." So Lucy declares her intention to stay in the garden with her father for the rest of her life: "I don't want anything but you."
In several of Welles's films, a daughter, having made the wrong sexual choice, must return to the father. Perhaps the success of the fathers represents a displacement of the Power Baby's desired return, a metonymy in which the intensely longed-for power is muted as it moves into the quiet certainty and control of imagined patriarchal authority (yet another move in the representation of the diffuse subject). The most extreme version of the daughter's situation is developed in The Stranger . Mary Longstreet has chosen as her sexual partner not a dependent infant, not a half-baked crook like the daughter (of a white slaver) in Mr. Arkadin , but the worst possible enemy of everyone in the whole world—a NAZI! And how could this perfectly nice girl make this bizarre choice, which even her brother can't believe: "Gee, Mr. Wilson, you must be wrong. Mary wouldn't fall in love with that kind of a man." But Nazi-hunting father doubles like Mr. Wilson are not wrong. "That's the way it is," he later says, because "people can't help who they fall in love with." For "people," of course, read "women." (Remember Lucy and Ven Do Nah?)
This odd choice (and the presence of a Nazi in this New England town in the first place) can perhaps be understood by recognizing Kindler as representing difference, not only because he is a German, but in another way, because he is so closely associated with Mary. She is isolated in her connection with him. Only she has chosen him; only she supports him. In a strange way, he represents her insofar as she is one who makes a sexual choice. He is Mary's difference. For fathers, and for small-town America, this difference must be contained. In this deeply conservative film, Kindler's/Mary's difference must bring about his own downfall and her return. But his difference will also be recuperated. His exotic European hobby of fixing clocks will reinvigorate rural American tradition and law, as represented by the old town clock with its scenes of justice and revenge.
Wilson neatly describes the trajectory of the film: "Mary must be shown what kind of man she married, even though she'll resist hearing anything bad about Charles." And despite this resistance, they are sure that her "subconscious" is their "ally," that deep inside her she has a strong "will to truth." This resource of unconscious health will, of course, lead her to relinquish her own willful difference and allow herself to be returned to her father. Thus family (again with no mother) and town will return to their original situation. A triumph of personal and social stasis.
Touch of Evil offers a more ambiguous answer to the question: can the continued presence of woman-as-difference be tolerated? One of the strangest features of this film is the often comical forced separation of Suzie and Vargas which results from the pervasive contradiction between power and impotence, the search for and denial of sexual difference in Quinlan's character. Quinlan's regression to murder and other acts of vengeance was apparently triggered by the transgression of his young wife (with a sailor, as in Immortal Story and Lady from Shanghai ). He now seeks to rewrite his own history by preventing Vargas (the double of his younger, potent self) from taking the risks of coupling. Having become a candy eater whose memory of sexuality draws him into Tanya's place, Quinlan now tries to hold on to his conservative power, which effaces sexual difference in his second partnership—with Pete Menzies—in his racism, and in his excessive acts of fixing the fate of all transgressors (they are all "guilty as hell"). We must remember that the entire action of the film was triggered by the murder of a father by his daughter's Mexican lover—from the point of view of the father, so to speak, surely a wrong choice and indication of the dangers of difference. Thus Suzie, the often absurd woman-as-sexual-difference, is drugged, and possibly raped (though even this sexuality is denied; she is lifted off the bed at the peak of the orgy scene, thus substantially altering the logistics of rape) and almost killed for expressing desire in the way she looks and acts. Throughout the
film, she is pressured by both her husband and Quinlan's people to give up the promise of sexuality and return across the border to the U.S., to "safety," to the known, the predictable, the place of before-her-sexuality—the place, ostensibly, of her father. Mexico itself, like Vargas the Mexican, represents the exercise of difference, which is constantly exploding and making trouble. In the end, it is only partially controlled. When Suzie is finally reunited with Vargas in the car, his first moves toward her are not sexual, but like those of a child who needs to lean on his mother's breast. Yet the fact of the reconciliation itself implies that the conservative force of return has been resisted to some extent. Difference has been allowed some play.
In The Stranger , the control of the woman is far more complete. The dangers of active female sexuality and choice-making take on the resonance of a national and cultural disaster. Mary's father is a New England Supreme Court Justice named Adam, and her brother is named Noah. To defy them is to endanger all that's best in American culture and in the Bible as well. To prevent this, to bring the daughter back into the fold, the two fathers, Justice Longstreet and Detective Wilson, are willing to take extreme risks—with Mary's life, that is. They decide that Kindler's attempt to kill her will be the best "evidence" to convince her of whom she has really married, so they decide to use her as bait. Wilson: "Naturally, we'll try to prevent murder being done. . . . He may kill her. You're shocked at my cold-bloodedness. That's quite natural. You're the father. . . ." Thus the fathers are split so that one can be conventionally horrified at the lengths to which the other is willing to go to bring her back into line. Then, since no other proof against Kindler exists, the gathering of evidence becomes a matter of watching Mary. Wilson: "From now on, we must know every move that Mrs. Rankin makes." Fathers, brother, and servant combine to watch and control her, but even so, she eludes them, rushing off through the graveyard to kill or be killed on the clock tower. In the end, at the top of the tower, the Nazi gets his comeuppance, brought about by the fathers, but executed by a female avenging angel just as deadly as the daughter in Touch of Evil . Kindler is impaled on the sword of the clockwork angel, screaming in pain during this dreadful parody of an embrace. Kindler deserves it, of course, at the rational plot level. But the point is that in these films, the aroused woman, the sign of difference as danger, evoking the threat of lack (inadequacy?), is not often so genteel as Lucy in Magnificent Ambersons . It is usually a struggle to force her into passivity and return, and often a lethal one.
The conservativism revealed in some of these narratives is often contradicted in the films' means of expression, which is also marked by a kind of excess. It is, of course, well known that in the Welles films, the conventions of classical cinema are either abandoned or exaggerated to fascinating extremes. The discreetly moving or subjective camera, the illusion of three-dimensionality through depth of field, become the bizarre angles, sweeping crane shots, and dwarfing depth and scale that mark several of these texts. Even expressionistic
features are taken further as light and shadow become patches of saturated darkness and blinding brightness. Citizen Kane particularly is marked by the excitement of what Julia Kristeva calls "an excess of visual traces useless for the sheer identification of objects." In the projection room sequence, where light is used not to illuminate, but as having sign value in itself, and in other sequences like the travelling shot up the facade and through the sign of Susan's night club, and the shot up to the stagehand "critics" at the Opera House, these visual excesses and special effects convey a pleasure taken at the point of enunciation, an exuberance in the aggressive wielding of the language of film. Like Charles with his "Declaration of Principles," this enunciation declares itself boldly.
Later on, as Kane receives his "more than one lesson," the power of youth to transform aggressiveness into exuberance seems diminished and the tone changes. In relation to the negative narrative changes that they mark in scenes like the party with the dancing girls or Susan's suicide attempt, the wide-angle lens and extreme camera positions now seem to invite reading as signals of distress, an enunciative energy somehow grown perverse. Sometimes, as in the eerie, empty space of Jed Leland's hospital, visual work and characterization would suggest that seeing has now become the mutual recognition of grotesquery. The long, slow-moving, sinuous takes in Magnificent Ambersons , particularly in the party sequence, suggest not freedom of choice in processing a simulacrum of reality, but enunciative awareness of the hopelessly desirable dream of seamless flow and oneness in the world of the mother. This movement is prefigured in the flowing overhead shots of Kane's fragmented plenitude at the end of Kane , and would have been even more pronounced in its seemingly endless withholding of expected cuts in the party sequence had the film been released as Welles intended, with reel-length shots during this portion of the film.
The excess of these images also raises the question of "evidence," which is central to a number of Welles films and which becomes dominant in all the foregrounded systems of F for Fake . In the projection room sequence of Kane , for instance, light is the elusive stuff of which delusive biography is made, no more reliable than the various embedded tales of unfulfilled desire (Leland's, Susan's, Bernstein's—remember the girl in white on the ferry boat?) that make up the film's narrative. Excessive light and shadow actually deny access to images as representations, and raise the question of how they can be used as evidence, and evidence of what, setting the act of seeing over against the structuring absence of knowledge or explanation. In The Stranger , though Wilson offers Mary filmed images of the concentration camps as evidence of her husband's evil, he does not let them stand on their own. Instead, he places himself in the image or projects the images onto himself, making his body and the field of his features into the evidence, as if asserting: "Even if the images are functional representations, trust and believe me . I who speak am the greater authority." The Stranger is one of Welles's more visually and narratively conventional films. As its "realism" is less
distressed, so the power of the law is not undermined. Wilson's authority as enunciator of diegetic truth is allowed to remain, at the partial cost of Welles's authority and presence as the film's enunciator. We observe a similar substitution of bodies (Hastler's and K's) for the "pin-screen" images of the "Law" fable where Hastler is trying to convince K of its immutability in The Trial . As Mary's body was to be watched for the invocation of evidence in The Stranger , so Virginie's sexual act will become the "final evidence" of Clay's guilt in The Immortal Story . And Pete Menzies's wiretapped body becomes the site of aural evidence in Touch of Evil , the reliability of so-called "concrete" evidence having been disposed of in the planting of the dynamite and in the history of Quinlan's entire career of manipulating "evidence." The authority of the enunciation, the aggressiveness of the intention, is substituted for the trustworthiness of the evidence itself (perhaps suggestive of the particular way in which Welles has loved to use make-up as clearly enunciated, nonrealistic masking throughout his career, combining the contradictory qualities of an identity always recognized and a disguise insisted upon with equal clarity).
The figure of the Power Baby condenses certain irreconcilable contradictions and diffusions that we have been examining in plot, character, and visual development. These can be represented through various discourses about the subversion of the unified subject. The Power Baby's constitution in doubleness is exaggerated by the failure of the family experience to mitigate the father-related excess and rage on the one hand, and the mother-related helpless dependency on the other. The family's failure, in turn, is often seen as produced not only by the woman's ability to confound the issue of paternity in a number of different ways, but also by the changing patterns of money and urbanization at different points in American history, by the ideologies that say banks are better than families for promoting children, that move Isabel to choose Wilbur Minafer, that conflate law and vengeance in border towns.
As we learn from the voice-over narrator at the beginning of Magnificent Ambersons , this ideology uses fashion, money, and media to create the only possible categories of identity into which the sexed subject must be forced. It also conflates female sexuality and lethal threats by posing difference as danger or disruption that is sometimes fully contained, sometimes a little too powerful for conservative strategies, and sometimes ironically (Immortal Story ) or fully (F for Fake ) triumphant.
In each Power Baby, we have found an imagined social self with aspirations to greatness and total love that can only be dreams, founded in misrecognitions of both self and the social world. These mistakes are perfectly expressed in Immortal Story , where the clerk, Levinsky, tells us that Mr. Clay wants "to demonstrate his omnipotence—to do the thing which cannot be done." And within the "I" together with this overreaching social self, one and the same and
yet another, is a wildly flailing infant (we see him destroy Susan's room) fixed in incomprehension, terror, and rage, who returns to undo all social work and to reduce the organism to blank helplessness: the Wellesian "I" as the extremes of power and powerlessness.
The various stories of the Power Baby can also be seen as the refusal of the subject to be constituted in continuous narrative. Both Charles and Georgie are presented through versions of the Bildung structure that typically would move the subject from childhood through young manhood to "maturity." This form carries the conventional assumption of the infant born in powerlessness, a tabula rasa who gains experience and knowledge that become integrated into the increasing wisdom and power of the mature self. Thus in the insistence on the return to earlier scenes and conditions, these narratives deny this trajectory, using the Bildung narrative no less ironically than that of the retrospective biography.
For himself, his family, and his women, the Power Baby refuses the myth of personal harmony. Sometimes struggling for conservation and stasis, sometimes, as in F for Fake , flaunting multiplicity and difference, Welles the enunciator asserts the primacy of the individual without the comfort of the unified self.
Leonard J. Leff
All this happened in much less time than it takes to tell, since I am trying to interpret for you into slow speech the instantaneous effect of visual impressions.
Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness
Vol. 39, no. 1 (Fall 1985): 10–21.
Charles Foster Kane's second wife has left him. In mute frustration, he throws down her suitcases and begins wrecking her overdecorated bedroom. When he comes to a glass paperweight, he stops. He shakes it and says, offscreen, "Rosebud." With his butler and other servants watching silently, he walks into one corridor, then another, out of his employees' range of vision, until he passes between two full-length mirrors. This last image of Charles Foster Kane is multiplied again and again into infinity, a powerful envoi to Citizen Kane 's visualization of its main character.
After Kane walks offscreen, emptying the frame of people, the camera slowly advances toward the mirror. The mirror cannot reflect Kane's servants, for they have been left behind in an adjacent corridor; but since it is a mirror and has reflected Kane's image, it must reflect something. As the camera continues its forward progress, it promises to expose—what? Raymond, the flashback's putative author? The narrator? The camera? The spectator? Here we directly confront two questions: Who is the arranger of the images? And who is watching the film? In the following essay, I wish to explore the reasons that previous answers to these questions have seemed somehow unsatisfying; I would also like to suggest a method of reading Citizen Kane that will allow us to understand our reactions to the film even if it does not permit us to speak conclusively of the "meaning" of the film and its surprisingly inconstant point of view.
Although critics Bruce Kawin, Nick Browne, Seymour Chatman, Brian Henderson, and others have at length discussed point of view as well as the relationship between point of view and the spectator, Kawin has focused specifically on Citizen Kane . (See the "Works Cited" at the conclusion of this essay.) Kane portrays its narrators in the third person, Kawin says in Mindscreen: Bergman, Godard, and First-Person Film , but accords their narratives a first-person bias. In Thatcher's story, for example, the banker's "narrating mind is offscreen. The film presents not Kane's life with Thatcher in third-person flashback
but Thatcher's tale (which is presumed to be both biased and accurate) in mindscreen" (34); consequently, we understand Thatcher's intent through his deployment of camera position, montage, etc., and recognize through "the logic of their changes" his narrative bias (14).
But are Kane 's narrators capable of generating the film's often sophisticated mise-en-scène ? In his interview with the News on the March reporter, the butler reveals an inarticulateness (Kane "did crazy things sometimes"), a limited vocabulary, a tendency to repeat himself, and a condescension toward his employer that make him, at best, a doubtful author of the "infinity of Kanes" image and its provocative coda. Thatcher's flashback presents similar problems. Through studied compositions that use deep focus, forceful images outside the banker's ken, and shots or sounds obviously from another character-narrator's sensibility, Thatcher's flashback posits the voices of other characters as well as that of a "supra-narrator," an awkward but necessary term in discussing Citizen Kane 's layered text. At some point in each of the flashbacks, not only does each narrator relate events at which he or she was not present, each also employs a visual and narrative style wholly at odds with his or her personality or state of mind. What these shifts in point of view mean , however, may ultimately matter less than what they do . To demonstrate, I turn to a stimulating if controversial methodology articulated by literary critic Stanley Fish.
For Fish, author of Is There a Text in This Class? The Authority of Interpretive Communities (1980), a text does not contain meaning, a reader produces it. Books are thus objects that readers translate into events . Consider the final line in Milton's "On His Blindness": "They also serve who only stand and wait." How far, we wish to know, has the speaker moved from an earlier impatience with God? To some Milton scholars, this line constitutes a profound trust in God; to others, a qualified, perhaps even forced note of affirmation. According to Fish, however, no conclusions are possible. Reading "On His Blindness" line by line, we execute a series of assumptions about the speaker and his relationship with God, each of which is undercut and no one of which is determinant. In short, the reader's experience of the uncertainty of the sonnet's last line constitutes the poem's very meaning. The parallels between literature and film are at once implicit and attractive.
Answering their detractors, reader-response critics like Fish have carefully defined "the reader." In the examination of Citizen Kane that follows, I have stipulated a composite "we" modelled after Michael Riffaterre's reader of "Les Chats," an informed "we" alert to what one of the cinema's most stimulating works does . Just as the News on the March reporter negotiates the post-Kane world, we negotiate Kane; we engage in a series of anticipations, reversals, revisions, and recoveries that forces us to examine the cognitive tasks that we as readers perform and that finally urges us to assume our role in the
work's creation. The reporter opens his investigation into the mystery of Rosebud by reading a manuscript whose "objectness" is exaggerated during its presentation. He expects the diary to "make sense," but it does not: readers make sense, not texts. Accordingly, as we make our way through a "slowed down" version of a Kane flashback, we may evaluate each shift in point of view as it occurs and thereby not extract a meaning from the sequence but, instead, locate the moments that frustrate assumptions or expectations about point of view, describe our experience of those moments, and discover in them how if not what Citizen Kane means.
"She won't talk," Thompson tells his boss after his first visit to Susan Alexander Kane. Thompson's search (really Rawlston's search, for Thompson resists going) takes the reporter from the El Rancho nightclub and its torpid singer to the Thatcher Memorial Library and the marble statue of its benefactor, Walter Parks Thatcher; thus the image of a woman who will not communicate fades to the image of a man who cannot communicate. Neither augurs well for solving the mystery of Rosebud. A litany of restrictions on hours, page numbers, and quoted matter precedes Thompson's entrance through a door that closes in our face. We read this last action as prohibiting our entrance. Almost at once, though, the image of the door dissolves to that of the library's inner sanctum. Outside Hollywood, to dissolve means to disintegrate, disunite, break up; the film's dissolve here does indeed separate us from our expectation of denied admittance, but it does not alter the experience of denied admittance. Citizen Kane continually draws us on. Will we come to know Kane or will we not? Will the film "let us in" or will it not? This and countless other moments in Citizen Kane , including the revelation of the flaming sled, suspend the answer, at last indefinitely. But even if we decide that we know something of Kane (or Rosebud or the little glass snow scene), the impediments to that knowledge remain part of our reading experience. In the conclusion of the essay, the implications of this point will be examined.
Aside from a portrait of Thatcher, the reading room qua vault houses the library's meager collection—one book, a "private diary." The setting's rigidity, formality, and containment suggest that even if Thatcher knew the secret of Rosebud, he might not divulge it. Nevertheless, the guard extracts the manuscript from the wall safe and, accompanied by a deathly cadence, bears it to Thompson. The library's pretensions are borne out in the halation of the diary, which along with the dramatic ritual of the receptionist and the guard may amuse us. Yet the presentation of the diary mirrors in reverse the door shut in our face; where the door frustrated our expectation of intimate knowledge of Kane, the diary promises it. "Thompson bends over to read the manuscript," states the shooting script. "Camera moves down over his shoulder onto page
of manuscript" (168). Thompson, his face never seen, remains in shadow throughout the film; at once there and not there, he approaches the embodiment of what the Germans call the "fiktiver Leser"—the "fictive reader." In going "over his shoulder" to reach the narrative agency, a script direction that the film heeds and replicates with each succeeding internal narrator, camera movement denotes a text reached through Thompson and explicitly read by him. We are to identify not with Thompson but with his task, reading.
We begin our reading, literally, with the section of the Thatcher manuscript entitled "Charles Foster Kane." Thompson quickly scans a prefatory note that we hardly see, much less read. (From its text, which can be read when the film is run frame by frame, one understands at once that Thatcher's diary is really a memoir, a recollection of events written well after the date of their occurrence.) Then, at a slower speed, the camera sweeps across a page, directing us to read, "I first encountered Mr. Kane in 1871." Despite the third-person title, "Charles Foster Kane," the narrative has opened in the first person. "I," stirring a nascent assumption about tellers telling their own tales, suggests that the story will center on Thatcher, rather than "Charles Foster Kane," not a hopeful sign for a reporter or a viewer in search of an intimate view of Kane. From the news short, we know that young Charles Kane assaulted Thatcher upon their first meeting; the banker's use of "encountered" connotes also the immediate adversial relationship between the two. "Mr. Kane," referring to Charles when he was a boy, reinforces "encountered" as a lexical gesture of contempt. In short, by the time the shot of the sentence begins to dissolve, we have reached an assumption about the forthcoming image, conventionally the opening of a flashback. "I," "encountered," and "Mr. Kane" have established the emotional distance and dissonance between the writer and his fractious subject. Along with the author's personality as indicated by the surroundings and the news short, the diction promises us a ponderous, self-serving narrative, wholly without sympathy for young Kane and dominated by Thatcher's jaundiced perspective.
The opening of the Thatcher section, focusing on the young Charles Kane playing in the snow, has a distinct point of view. But whose is it? Bruce Kawin argues that each of the film's narrators maintains his equivalent of "first-person discourse"; without distortion, "Thatcher's mind dominates those portions of the film that relate his part of Kane's story" (34–35). Our moment-to-moment experience of the sequence, though, suggests a disquiet overlooked in Kawin's interpretation. In The Magic World of Orson Welles , James Naremore sees what happens: "At first the black dot, against pure white [Charles against the snow] echoes the manuscript we have been looking at, but it swoops across the screen counter to the direction the camera has been moving, in conflict with the stiff, prissy, banker's handwriting, suggesting the conflict between Kane and Thatcher
that runs through the early parts of the movie" (41). During the dissolve from the library to Colorado, we experience a shift in expression, if not also perspective. The lighting, the music, and the very content of the opening shot argue against Thatcher's authorship. Music keyed to the gloom of the banker and his memorial, for example, lightens at Charles's appearance. A crisp three-note refrain, delicately percussive, becomes a satiny theme played legato on the strings; along with a glissando on the harp, it introduces not "Mr. Kane" but a carefree child, at one (Ira Jaffe says in "Film as the Narration of Space") with the natural universe (103). Charles's initial depiction and especially the romantic music accompanying it void our assumption that "Thatcher's mind" exercises sovereignty over his narrative.
As the spirited young boy continues playing his Civil War game, the camera draws back to reveal, sequentially, Charles's mother, future guardian, and father standing at the Kanes' window, through which we and—we now discover—they have been looking. The framing of the youth, walling him at once in and out, has been variously interpreted; Jaffe, for example, suggests that the camera's movement fixes Charles and renders "his physical existence suddenly . . . exceedingly fragile" (104). But what do the appearance of additional characters in the scene and the camera movement that effects it do ? At first, especially as we reflect on the contrasts in music and lighting on either side of the dissolve, we perceive the scene as narrated not by Thatcher but by a supranarrator. The moving camera's introduction of Mrs. Kane, however, causes us to revise: all along, apparently, the image of the happy child has been from his mother's perceptual point of view, one that seemingly unites the perspective and the expression. Or has it? The continued reverse tracking of the camera soon adds Thatcher to the frame. Like the weak-willed Jim Kane, he looks at Mrs. Kane, not Charles. Though she may dominate Charles ("Be careful, Charles. . . . Pull your muffler around your neck, Charles"), Thatcher dominates her. His mindscreen manifests itself not only in the room's gloomy atmosphere (which we gradually see) but in his direction of the scene's focus away from matters of the heart and toward the affairs of business: "Mrs. Kane," he says, "I think we'll have to tell him now." Mary Kane accedes. In the course of sixty seconds, the film has offered us three different points of view—a narrator's, Mary Kane's, and Thatcher's. Although we are back where we began, those moments when our assumptions about the narrative proved premature, if not false, remain part of our experience of Citizen Kane .
As Mrs. Kane turns from the window, she faces Thatcher, their profiles opposite one another in the frame. "I'll sign those papers now, Mr. Thatcher," she says, and begins to walk forward. Her fixed expression, a triumph of determination over emotion, seems to drive the camera down a path that she has willed it to travel. But when the camera comes to rest, we recognize that its
movement from the window has been constant and that it has led unfailingly toward the papers, Thatcher's papers, awaiting their signature. Thatcher concentrates on financial decisions, Kawin says, "not just because he is Kane's banker but because he is a banker" (33); the inevitability of the camera's direction, we assume, relocates the perspective and the expression in a single mindscreen, Thatcher's. A stable camera, providing us with the first of the celebrated deep-focus shots in Citizen Kane , now clearly frames four characters: Mary Kane renouncing her son, Thatcher busily pushing the papers to her, Jim Kane pacing in the middle ground, and Charles—to whom all except us seem oblivious—playing happily in the snow. Once again, though, the point of view and the voice have splintered. A banker of narrow vision, Thatcher is incapable of generating the contrasts and emotions so richly elaborated through the use of deep focus. Meticulously organized, this long-enduring shot has an "authoritarian effect," James Naremore says, "the actors and the audience under fairly rigid control" (42–43). Whose control matters less than the implications of the shift: our assumption again proves erroneous, our expectation unfulfilled. Less than a minute into the flashback, the perceptual and the "interest" points of view as well as the perspective and the expression have fused
and diverged more than three times. From whose point of view is Thatcher's story told? Our experience of the text makes any response problematic.
Having signed the papers, Mrs. Kane returns to the window. The camera, via a cut, points into the house from its position at the porch. Mrs. Kane's previous insistence on orchestrating the event ("It's going to be done exactly the way I've told Mr. Thatcher"), her resolve ("I've had [his trunk] packed for a week now"), and her expression make her the scene's dramatic center. Although deep focus is again employed, the composition offers us little of interest beyond the foreground and Mrs. Kane. Jim Kane and Thatcher stand in the middle distance where, uncharacteristically for this narrator, Thatcher hesitantly remains. Mrs. Kane's seemingly blank expression draws significance from the music, somber chords in the low register of the strings. She responds to Thatcher's comments on the practical aspects of Charles's departure, but her thoughts are obviously elsewhere. This time, the camera moves only after she does. When Mrs. Kane turns screen left to walk outside, the camera tracks left to follow her. The prevailing mindscreen seems hers. The pan across the log face of the house cuts off Thatcher in the middle of a speech: "I've arranged for a tutor to meet us in Chicago. I'd have brought him along with me. . . ." The banker chooses his words too carefully and regards himself as too important to leave any thought incomplete; the interruption of a line of his dialogue does nothing to reestablish his mindscreen. But neither does it support our assumption that Mrs. Kane narrates. We could read the incident as a representation of Mrs. Kane's selective hearing, her preoccupation with Charles obliterating the world around her. The music does suggest this continuity in point of view. The disappearance of the dialogue track, however, directly parallels only those moments when Thatcher and Mrs. Kane are out of view and thus suggests a narrating presence outside of both characters. The suspension of sound might thus signal the return of the supra-narrator or—as the camera's placement outdoors may already have anticipated—the emergence of Charles.
When Mrs. Kane exits from the door, she calls, "Charles." Her son replies from off-screen, "Lookee, Ma." Charles beckons his mother and readies us to see what he sees, perhaps as he sees. The camera, already outside, pulls back to position itself just behind Charles. Mrs. Kane, the only character inadequately dressed for the cold (a noteworthy point), says, "You better come inside, son." The camera's deference toward Mrs. Kane (though outside, it has centered on her) and the association of Charles with the natural world (he has even a snowy complexion) as well as his insistence that we see what he sees lend each character some claim to point of view. Just as we are tempted to anticipate the dominance of one or the other, Thatcher steps forward: "Well, well, well, that's quite a snowman." In this shot, which lacks multiplaned clarity and momentarily the
scene's expressive music, an ingratiating man tries to cajole a peevish child into the adult world ("Now can we shake hands . . . what do you say? Let's shake"). The camera foregrounds the action and moves only to contain it. The image of Charles's assault on the unsuspecting banker, photographed efficiently, with no musical accompaniment, seems derived from Thatcher's mindscreen. For only the second time in the scene, we have the sense that the putative narrator and the actual narrator are one.
At Jim Kane's awkward attempt to strike Charles ("what that kid needs is a good thrashing"), Mrs. Kane enfolds her son in her arms. All of the scene's conflict between mother and father and, later, guardian and child has not obscured a question that we have been formulating and that now will be answered: why is Mrs. Kane sending away her son? The film cuts to a tight close-up of her, accompanied by a musical crescendo, as she says: Charles is "going to be brought up where [his father] can't get at him." Many consider her reason inadequate, yet it supports a common assumption about the flashback. Along with Kawin, virtually every critic regards Thatcher as the scene's constant narrator. ("The point is not that Thatcher is photographed from outside his physical viewpoint," Kawin says, "but that every scene corresponds with his personal conception of Kane, and illustrates this conception rather than subjectively records 'what happened'" .) If we truly regarded Thatcher as the narrator of the moment being discussed, we would celebrate Mrs. Kane's chilly response because its very tenuousness validates Thatcher as narrator. She
translates her feelings into a pragmatic business decision that Thatcher would understand, accept, and unemphatically report. But the cut to the close-up does something that no critic has acknowledged: it compromises Thatcher's mindscreen. The transfer of guardianship represents the banker's opportunity to manage a fortune, period. He has no interest in probing for the situation's psychological dimension, the possible but unarticulated reasons underlying Mrs. Kane's decision. His sensibility calls for retention of the long shot, an appropriate distance for incorporating but not highlighting what Mrs. Kane says.
More than a division between the perspective and the expression, the close-up of Mrs. Kane and the evocative music originate with a narrator eager or prepared for her response; they focus our attention exquisitely and ready us for emotions laid bare, for intimate truth. When the dialogue frustrates that expectation, we are left with a problem that the text has raised but declined to solve. Here the critics have stepped in. "The accident which made the Kanes suddenly rich," Joseph McBride explains in Orson Welles , "has its own fateful logic—Charles must 'get ahead'" (43). In "Power and Dis-Integration in the Films of Orson Welles," Beverle Houston argues that Mrs. Kane exacts a "cruel pleasure" by defeating the prerogative of husband and son; in her action lies "the hint of a revenge" (3). These and other interpretations, though not unreasonable, miss the point. At this moment, the text has slipped out of our control: we may not say with any certainty why Mrs. Kane sends away her son. To insist upon one reason over another is to attempt to return the responsibility for meaning to the text when it belongs with the reader. Our experience of the apparent inadequacy of Mrs. Kane's response coupled with the shift in point of view is finally the meaning of this moment in Citizen Kane .
Mrs. Kane explains her reason for sending away Charles and turns toward him. Moving—not tilting—down, the camera exchanges a close-up of the mother for one of the child. Charles's scowl as he looks up initially suggests again Thatcher's mindscreen. A downward angle of the camera rather than an eye-level shot would underscore this point, but Charles's defiant expression surely squares with Thatcher's perception of him. May we be sure, however, that Charles glowers at Thatcher? The boy's glance up and right could be directed at Jim Kane, who just now verbally and (almost) physically abused him and who now stands at Thatcher's immediate left. Whether Thatcher or Kane, the object of Charles's scorn becomes an ambiguity that we expect to be resolved. Jean-Pierre Oudart and Daniel Dayan's theory of the "absent one," set forth in "The Tutor-Code of Classical Cinema," suggests that the next cut (or, alternatively, further movement of the camera) will provide the necessary reaction shot. If Jim Kane is its subject, it will support Mrs. Kane's explanation for apparently spurning Charles, a justification that Thatcher would be likely to accept at face value and duly report. If Thatcher is its subject, it will reveal
yet a different object of the hostile young Kane's wrath. Thatcher's mind-screen, of course, could project either shot.
From Charles's sullen face, the film cuts to neither Thatcher nor the father. Instead, it dissolves to the boy's sled. The sound of a train whistle far in the distance, connoting Kane and his guardian's movement east, temporally links Thatcher to the on-screen image; the insistent, hurrying whistle punctuates his earlier haste to catch the train. But even though the sound track might reflect Thatcher's aural perspective, the imagery makes his origination of the shot problematic. To Thatcher, the sled is a weapon in his "encounter" with "Mr. Kane"; he refuses even to discuss the sled when directly questioned about it during a congressional investigation (depicted in the News on the March short). The tremulous music and the long duration of the shot (actually two shots subtly joined by a dissolve) give the image an almost melancholy placidity, one whose tone conflicts with the banker's attitude toward Charles and his desire to put Colorado behind them. So the dissolve from Charles's face to the sled not only frustrates our expectation that we will discover the object of the boy's scorn but also calls into question Thatcher's mindscreen.
The image of the sled could well be Mrs. Kane's projection. Throughout the preceding scene, she has frequently appeared distant. When she watches Charles playing in the snow ("I've got his trunk all packed"), her look is fixed, contemplative. The sled tells us nothing more about why she sends away her son, but in its lingering stillness, perhaps evoking the absent boy, it seems a perfect object of her gaze. And though Thatcher has gone, the Colorado setting remains, making her a viable choice as narrator. Because it follows the shot of Charles's face, however, the image of the sled could also be his projection. Earlier we felt the imminence of his mind's eye; perhaps here we discover not who he looks at but what , in mindscreen. In the parlor car with Thatcher, listening to the plaintive whistle of the train carrying him far from home, he might be thinking of the sled. Read from his mental perspective, the image might seem to embody his loneliness. Finally, of course, a supra-narrator might generate the image of the sled. In tone, it resembles many similar shots in the film's opening scene, presumably authored by the supra-narrator; like them, it is bracketed by dissolves and accompanied by an unmelodic musical theme. In brief, the shot of the sled proceeds from an author whom we may not identify with any certainty. The shot thus doubly frustrates expectation.
In the next scene, we see paper being torn from a package. A still youthful Charles is opening his Christmas present, a new sled. "Well, Charles," Thatcher says offscreen. A pause follows this line, which concludes, "Merry Christmas." "Well, Charles," the line may mean, "here's exactly what you asked for." This scene privileges Charles: a head-on shot of him looking up at Thatcher concludes with a tilt up to a low-angle shot of Thatcher looming
over him. Thatcher's mindscreen predominates. Charles's "Merry Christmas," which connotes surly ingratitude and is photographed from Thatcher's point of view, squares with Thatcher's view of the boy as presented at the congressional investigation. The next two scenes, showing Thatcher's increasing exasperation with Charles's profligacy and his foolish belief that "it would be fun to run a newspaper," also suggest his mindscreen; the camera moves in tandem with him as he dictates a letter to urge responsibility on his charge, and when the scene concludes, Thatcher's eye directly meets the camera's lens, as if to bond the narrator and the narratee. In the succeeding montage, however, Thatcher's dyspepsia while reading issues of the Inquirer becomes the butt of a cinematic joke. The dynamic visuals, the pulsating editing rhythm, and the high-spirited music convey none of the dryness of Thatcher's prose; they lead us, in short, to conclude that in this most unstable of texts, the narrator has again changed.
The montage functions as a lively curtain-raiser to Thatcher's first direct confrontation with the adult Kane. The film's second-time viewer draws an inescapable conclusion from the scene. An "emperor of newsprint," Kane galvanizes the Inquirer , a sleepy daily paper with a genteel staff. On one occasion, as Bernstein's flashback shows, he has his reporters impersonate the police, bully the husband of a presumably missing Brooklyn woman, and trump up a front-page story where no story exists. Kane calls this "the truth" and delivers it "quickly and simply and entertainingly." The montage that drives Thatcher into Kane's office mirrors Kane's philosophy of yellow journalism—it is entertaining, zestful, and inflammatory. The montage represents the pounding of Thatcher as the young Kane might imagine it, perhaps through "the field of the mind's eye."
Linked seamlessly to the montage, the scene in the Inquirer office moves Kane center screen. If, as Bruce Kawin argues, Thatcher narrates it through mindscreen, the banker chooses uncharacteristically to minimize his presence. "Bernstein appears in all the scenes he relates," Kawin tells us, "and the camera continually pays attention to him" (35); Kawin can make no such statement about Thatcher. The banker, dressed in black, appears at the periphery of the frame, almost blending in with the screen's dark border. Kane, on the other hand, appears in the center in white. Although the parallel placement of Thatcher and the camera might seem to bond these two as narrators, Kane dominates the scene and sets the tone. The "I" of the Thatcher manuscript is simply in eclipse.
Again, James Naremore describes what we see:
[Kane] is at his most charming and sympathetic during the early scene in the newspaper office, where his potential danger is underlined, but where
he is shown as a darkly handsome, confident young man, loyal to his friends and passionate about his work. This is, in fact, the point of Welles's full-scale entry into the film, and it is predictably stunning. . . . Here at last, greeted by a triumphal note of Herrmann's music, is the young Welles of Mars panic fame (79–80).
But which Welles? The celebrity? Though he may be drawing on his confrontations with naysayers in radio or the theater, Welles seems to be doing more than "playing himself." In this scene Kane assumes the role in which he has cast himself, the crusading journalist whose pleasure it is both to "look after the interests of the underprivileged" and in the process, apparently, to thwart his ex-guardian. As he will win over the Inquirer's subscribers, he wins us over by letting us experience his exuberance, his power to captivate the readers of newspapers and films. Naremore calls Kane's (Welles's) entrance "predictably stunning." What stuns us, even in a text whose inconstancy of point of view has been established, is the exchange of Thatcher's harsh perspective for a point of view so strongly indicative of Kane's mindscreen.
Countering his guardian's protest that the Inquirer will drain his capital, Kane admits that he will lose at least $3 million on the paper. "You know, Mr. Thatcher, at the rate of a million dollars a year . . ." (at this point, the film cuts from the medium shot of the two men to a close-up of Kane, his eyebrows lifted in mockery of Thatcher) ". . . I'll have to close this place in sixty years." When audiences laugh at this punch line, as they invariably do at screenings I have attended, they are responding positively to this "charming and sympathetic" man. Kawin might have argued (though he does not) that the close-up proceeds from Thatcher's mindscreen in order to demonstrate what a smart aleck Kane really is. Yet the music that punctuates Kane's line—a muted horn playing a presto version of the "newspaper theme"—snickers (as Kane does) at Thatcher's narrow conservatism. This witty, idealistic newspaper publisher conjures up an appealing persona in this scene of the film, and after taunting Thatcher throughout it, he even gives himself the last spoken word. From the driving energy of the montage to the conspiratorial intimacy of the close-up, we seem to experience through Kane's own perspective the Kane that Bernstein, Leland, Susan, and so many others fell for. The close-up, excluding Thatcher, the newspaper office, and the rest of the film's world, brings us into such close proximity to Kane that we neither desire nor expect a return to a narrative frame whose existence has all but been forgotten. A very rapid dissolve, however, exchanges Kane's smiling face for our second glimpse at Thatcher's manuscript: "In the winter of 1929 he . . ." This entry hardly gives Thatcher "the last word": it describes an event that occurred over thirty years after his confrontation at the Inquirer , when general economic conditions, not
the management of the newspaper, disabled Kane. Thatcher's cheerless control of the narrative has nonetheless returned and with it the need for our renegotiation of the text.
Some may reject the notion that Citizen Kane asserts Kane's mindscreen; after all, Kane dies in the opening scene. Yet the film's framing structure has only a superficial integrity, whose violation we experience less than sixty seconds into the first flashback. (Note, too, that although we assume that the dying man is Kane, we see only his silhouette and a fragment of his face.) Throughout Citizen Kane , we experience a divergence between perspective and expression and, moreover, between the putative narrator and the actual narrator that seems to make tenable, however unexpected or improbable, the presumably dead Kane's somehow being brought to life. Exhilarating and perplexing in the short run, what do these glimpses into Kane's world through Kane's mind's eye do? They return us to the film, again and again, to discover what we already know to be true but cannot quite accept. Each interpreter of Citizen Kane has a different slant on it: James Naremore tells us that Rosebud is important, Robert Carringer (in "Rosebud, Dead or Alive") that the glass paperweight is important, Ira Jaffe that window imagery is important. The fact that essayists continue to argue for a thematic center in Citizen Kane suggests the weaknesses of the formalists' approach: no one answer can satisfy us. Despite what these and other critics tell us, the text does not stand still; it continually challenges us not to settle on sleds, paperweights, or windows. The sporadic, ephemeral, yet insistent suggestions of the Kane mindscreen constitute a major index to the text's instability, which response-centered criticism allows us to apprehend. As Stanley Fish says, it permits us to "slow down the
reading experience so that 'events' one does not notice in normal time, but which do occur, are brought before our analytical attentions" (28). What we know of Citizen Kane , whether its symbolism or its point of view, we know only through the activity of reading, our making of assumptions, revisions, and new expectations. In a temporal interpretation of the film, based on our moment-by-moment experience of it, we finally discover all that we know of the text.
From its opening credits and first sequence, with its persistent advancing camera, Citizen Kane raises and frustrates the reader's expectation of coming to know Kane. Our consistently revised assumptions, however, permit us to experience and learn the work's very object lesson, the danger of closing on the text. This strategy of reader education continues to the end of Citizen Kane . In Xanadu's Great Hall, a frustrating search behind us, we believe with Thompson that no word can explain a man's life; as the camera retreats from Thompson and his colleagues and we see the clutter that Kane has left behind, we recognize that Rosebud is indeed "a"—not "the"—missing piece to a jigsaw puzzle. But a dissolve to the cellar changes the camera's direction, from withdrawal to advancement. Above the boxes and crates, we move forward, apparently toward something. The camera probes, the music builds, and suddenly the sled and its emblazoned name appear before us. Robert Carringer warns us against accepting the sled as "the principal insight into Kane" (185), while Joseph McBride argues that the shot of the sled "does in fact solve nothing" (43). If not "the principal insight," however, "Rosebud" is an insight. And although it may not unlock the psychology of Kane's character, it provides a referent for the film's first spoken word and grants us at least nominally what for almost two hours we have longed to know.
Irrespective of "meaning," the shot of the sled gives many viewers a rush; it does something to them. With the roll on the timpani and the swelling ritardando, we experience a long-delayed pleasure that we perhaps had assumed, especially given the film's lack of convention, would be denied us. The shot of the sled is particularly felicitous because it seems just compensation for the disappointments and frustrations that we have endured. It may not "solve" anything of major significance in Kane's life, but it gives the film—and us—a sense of closure. Indeed, the shot of the sled concludes with a fade-out, leading us to expect a title card that reads "The End." But a fade-in returns us to the exterior of the mansion, where black smoke rises from the furnace chimney. With a dissolve we are immediately before the chain link fence, and as the music becomes eerier, more somber, we follow the camera down to the "No Trespassing" sign. Draining the excitement of the shot of the sled, this anticlimactic sequence seems to introduce a more restrained voice into the narrative. Let us consider, moment
by moment, the film's proffered solutions to the Kane enigma: Thompson argues inexplicability. To formalist critics, the audience's euphoria on discovering at least the identity of Rosebud means nothing in light of the recognition that the audience is back where it began. Yet the experience of having the ostensibly conclusive answer to Kane's character superseded by the unsettling image of the sign draws attention to our wish for compact solutions to complex problems. The act of knowing, we come to realize, is a temporal process, based on assumptions ever subject to question, challenge, and revision.
Superimposed over a shot of the mansion and its massive initialled iron gate, the words "The End" appear. A trumpeting resolving chord concludes the music as the image fades out. Five seconds pass, the screen silent and dark. We do not assume, we know: the film has at last ended. Then, however, a title card fades in; The Mercury Theater, it notes, proudly introduces the cast. Outtakes have recently been used as codas to some Burt Reynolds films and, more trenchantly, to Being There (1979). The tail credits for Citizen Kane , though, contain no gaffes. On screen, the principals reprise a line of dialogue. Though each shot seems to have been lifted from the film proper, all of the footage comes from alternate takes, most of them containing less incisive readings than those in the body of the film. These visual tail credits constitute pieces of a rough draft designed by the implied author to reveal for the last time his strategy of betrayed expectations. We may infer from them the existence of not only other Kanes but other Kanes . Who is Kane? As even the music suggests, we can never know. The rhythmic theme that accompanies the tail credits resembles the spirited "chasers" used to empty theaters between screenings in the nickelodeon era; it is heard earlier, of course, as the song that attempts to build the myth of "good old Charlie Kane." Its words carry an insistent refrain: "Who is this one . . . who is this one . . . what is his name . . . what is his name?" The very opening of Citizen Kane , which teasingly heralds the name and apparently the identity of the film's central character, also introduces through its truncated credits the first frustrated expectation. Although the tail credits now fulfill one aspect of that expectation, they do not include Orson Welles/Charles Kane among the images of the "principal actors." The absence of Kane and the reprise of that rousing campaign song with its interrogative lyrics signal for one last time Kane's elusiveness. Where is Kane? Who is that man? These two implied and unanswered questions, part of our experience of the film's last moments, suspend, indefinitely, our closing on Citizen Kane .
All of us who study Citizen Kane share an intellectual pleasure in it, but do we return to the film because we seek fresh support for our theses (Rosebud is/is not significant) or because we find our theses inadequate to explain the film's hold over us? Each of the work's putative narrators claims special knowledge of Kane. Thatcher entitles his journal entry "Charles Foster Kane,"
suggesting its comprehensiveness. Leland remembers "absolutely everything" about Kane, and even after a night of drinking, Susan tells Thompson that "a lot comes into my mind about Charlie Kane." The supra-narrator descends upon the burning sled with complete confidence in its unifying symbolic value; the shot provides the visual equivalent of Raymond's assured boast, "I tell you about Rosebud." Critics of Citizen Kane close on the film with no less certainty. But how valid is their analysis? In interpreting Citizen Kane , they neglect our experience of Citizen Kane , of the cinematic techniques—the long take, moving camera, deep focus—that lead to assumptions unfulfilled, of the shifting points of view that promise and ultimately frustrate our ability to draw definite conclusions about Kane, of our impossible goal of extracting a meaning from this or any work.
Tennyson's Ulysses calls "experience . . . an arch wherethrough / Gleams that untravelled world whose margin fades / Forever and forever when I move." Ulysses' experience of life resembles our experience of this remarkable film. As we read Citizen Kane , the "meaning" seems never present but always ahead. In any reader-centered text, inexhaustible and forever potential, closure is impossible. Thompson's conclusion says as much for Citizen Kane: no "word [read 'text'] can explain a man's life." Since readers, not words, produce meaning, the reading of Kane (and Kane ) will never be finished. Nor should it be. "Coming to the point," Stanley Fish writes, "is the goal of a criticism that believes in content, in extractable meaning, in the utterance as a repository. Coming to the point fulfills a need that most literature deliberately frustrates (if we open ourselves to it), the need to simplify and close. Coming to the point should be resisted . . ." (52). Each time we watch Citizen Kane , we have at hand the answer to its ambiguities. The very activity of reading brings Kane into existence: in the making and revising of assumptions about the text, its point of view and other myriad complexities, we actualize it, and when we have concluded our reading of Kane , only our experience of Kane remains.
Browne, Nick. "The Spectator-in-the-Text: The Rhetoric of Stagecoach." Film Quarterly 29, no. 2 (1976): 26–38.
———. "Narrative Point of View: The Rhetoric of Au Hasard, Balthazar." Film Quarterly 31, no. 1 (1977): 19–31.
Carringer, Robert. "Rosebud, Dead or Alive: Narrative and Symbolic Structure in Citizen Kane." PMLA 91 (1976): 185–193.
Chatman, Seymour. Story and Discourse: Narrative Structure in Fiction and Film . Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1978.
Citizen Kane . Dir. Orson Welles. RKO, 1941.
Dayan, Daniel. "The Tutor-Code of Classical Cinema." Film Quarterly 28, no. 1 (1974): 22–31.
Fish, Stanley. Is There a Text in This Class? The Authority of Interpretive Communities . Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1980.
Henderson, Brian. "Tense, Mood, and Voice in Film (Notes After Genette)." Film Quarterly 36, no. 4 (1983): 4–17.
Houston, Beverle. "Power and Dis-Integration in the Films of Orson Welles." Film Quarterly 35, no. 4 (1982): 2–12.
Jaffe, Ira S. "Film as the Narration of Space: Citizen Kane." Literature/Film Quarterly 7 (1979): 99–111.
Kawin, Bruce. Mindscreen: Bergman, Godard, and First-Person Film . Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1978.
McBride, Joseph. Orson Welles . New York: Viking Press, 1972.
Naremore, James. The Magic World of Orson Welles . New York: Oxford University Press, 1978.
Riffaterre, Michael. "Describing Poetic Structures: Two Approaches to Baudelaire's 'Les Chats.'" Reader-Response Criticism from Formalism to Post-Structuralism . Ed. Jane P. Tompkins. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1980. 26–40.
Welles, Orson, and Herman J. Mankiewicz. Citizen Kane . In Kael, Pauline. The Citizen Kane Book . Boston: Little, Brown, 1971.
Desert Fury , Mon Amour
For Vito Russo and Richard Dyer
Vol. 41, no. 4 (Summer 1988): 2–12.
It would seem that we know something about the cinema. The past decade has witnessed no end of theoretical incursions—linguistic, psychoanalytic, technohistorical, feminist—into an audiovisual technique heretofore seen solely as the province of wild-eyed devotees less concerned with whys and wherefores than sensations and sensibilities. Reams of copy have shot from an ever-growing academic superstructure armed to the teeth with methodological weaponry designed to blast apart not merely the nature of the cinematic beast but human consciousness itself. Yet for all of the work that's been done, critical theory has failed to evolve into critical practice . The cinema today remains as essentially unexamined as it was at the inception of this analytical jamboree—a quandary, a mystery, a mess.
"Like critics, like historians, but in slightly different ways, theoreticians often help to maintain the cinema in the imaginary enclosure of a pure love," claims Christian Metz. But in truth the ways of critics, historians, and theoreticians aren't different. Theory has consistently claimed for itself a place apart—a cultural higher ground above the fray of common strife that Metz has so justly identified as the "institution" of cinema. "To be a theoretician of the cinema," Metz writes, "one should ideally no longer love the cinema and yet still love it: loved it a lot and only have detached oneself from it by taking it up again from the other end, taking it as the target for the very same scopic drive which had made one love it. Have broken with it, as certain relationships are broken, not in order to move on to something else, but in order to return to it at the next bend in the spiral. Carry the institution inside one still so that it is in a place accessible to self-analysis, but carry it there as a distinct instance which does not over-infiltrate the rest of the ego with the thousand paralyzing bonds of a tender unconditionality. Not have forgotten what the cinephile one used to be was like, in all the details of his affective inflections, in the three dimensions of his living being, and yet no longer be invaded by him: not have lost sight of him, but be keeping
an eye on him. Finally, be him and not be him, since all in these are the two conditions on which one can speak of him."
The language suggests a lover attempting to renegotiate a relationship with a mistress "needed" yet not quite "desired" as before. Metz—elegant, passionate, decorous, precise—can't help but give the impression of a writer caught up in a vast preamble to a subject whose discussion he fears elucidating fully. To speak more frankly would risk engagement with that "tender unconditionality" of the cinema's affectivity. And to do so would burst the bubble of quasi-scientific objectivity theorists hold so dear. Metz's Hamlet-like "Be and not be" is a frank admission of his awareness of this epistemological cul-de-sac—an awareness not at all apparent among others theoretically disposed. They're too busy whipping up methodological smokescreens to disguise or deny the critical proscriptiveness inherent in their projects. Yet like some low-grade cultural infection, clear critical biases continue to inhabit these discourses, wending their way through the most blandly bloodless prose—dust-dry treatises invariably opening with that most dreaded of academic invocations: "This paper . . ."
What is to be done, after all, with articles claiming to address notions of cinematic Space, Time, and History, that insist on promulgating the works of Oshima and Straub-Huillet as untouchable ideals? What gain is to be made with theories trafficking amidst the deified likes of Ford, Sternberg, or Cukor—ostensibly examining "form" yet keeping the content of auteur -based idealism intact? How is the study of narrative served by taking the terminology of the Russian formalists, then skewering it on some three decades of traditionally received wisdom regarding the evolution of Hollywood, the "New Wave," Soviet cinema in the twenties, etc.? How can feminist battles with the "male gaze" be waged by exposing Michael Snow's enthrallment to it on the one hand, then falling back to embrace the likes of Nicolas Roeg on the other? In short the Question Cinema: Is theory at base nothing more than a somewhat ostentatiously rarefied exercise in nostalgia?
No need to ask about the actual progress of the cinema amidst this academic wool-gathering round retro Hollywood "classicism." It's gone its own way, serenely indifferent, instinctively decadent. Expanding itself on the one end—thanks to increasingly expensive production procedures—it's contracted on the other, the better to squeeze itself into its new home-video format. As this grotesque cyborg bellows and wheezes its way across the culture its means and ends become increasingly difficult to gauge. It's not merely the bipartite beast of FilmVideo that must be addressed, but the hydra-headed monster of "Media" as well: network television, newspapers, magazines, tabloids, opinion polls, and computerized informational data banks. All these areas, intimately interconnected, subdivide as well into such multicellular organisms as fashion layouts, rock videos, talk shows, pop recordings, live televised news reports, and made-for-TV "Movies of the Week."
The hesitancy and doubt swirling about Metz's "attempt" at bringing together "Freudian psychoanalysis" and the "cinematic signifier" to produce what he, with touchingly tremulous modesty, refers to as a mere "contribution" to film theory speaks volumes. Everything remains to be said about the cinema. The problem, never really faced, is that there is no simple way to say it.
A Film of No Importance
In the end it all comes down to Desert Fury. Desert Fury ? You haven't heard of it? Of course you haven't. Why should you? A 1947 Paramount release starring Lizabeth Scott and Burt Lancaster, this turgid melodrama about a gambling casino owner's daughter infatuated with an underworld gambler suspected of murder figures in no known pantheon or cult. Its director, Lewis Allen, is devoid of auteur status. Its performances are, by and large, not of award-winning stature. Its composer, Miklos Rozsa, has surely written more interesting musical scores.
Shot in color largely on studio sets representing outdoor locales (there was some actual location shooting as well), Desert Fury 's not-quite-noir plot makes it the odd-film-out among the equally florid programmers produced during the same period (I Walk Alone, The Strange Love of Martha Ivers, The File on Thelma Jordan ). You aren't likely to find Desert Fury listed on a revival or repertory house schedule. It isn't available on home video. At best you might be able to catch it in some 3 a.m. slot on local television, or unspooled some afternoon when rain cancels a baseball game. And why not? It's "just a movie"—produced, consumed, forgotten. Not good. Not bad. Mediocre. In fact, one might even go so far as to call it quintessentially mediocre.
Of course to invoke notions of mediocrity is to evoke the specter of critical qualitativeness so dreaded by theoretical cadres, committed as they are to the promulgation of the notion of "value-free" analyses. Still, it wouldn't be going out on much of a limb to state that the diegesis of Desert Fury lacks the textual complexity found in such pantheon favorites as Young Mr. Lincoln, The Pirate, Touch of Evil, North by Northwest , or that most persistently picked of theoretical plums, Letter From an Unknown Woman .
The production of Desert Fury plainly involved choices of camera placement, focal length, lighting, sound mixing, musical scoring, and the like, perfectly commensurate with studio practices of the late forties at their most routine. The script by Robert Rossen, adapted from a Saturday Evening Post serial by Ramona Stewart, is workmanlike but formally quite undistinguished, holding as it does to a simple linear dramatic progression, unities of Time, Place, and Action, and such time-honored melodramatic conventions as "Fate" and "Ironic Coincidence" in the pulling together of otherwise unlinked aspects of plot and characterization. You've seen its like before, and all things being equal you'll doubtless see it again.
And yet something lingers over Desert Fury —hangs on, suspended in the studio indoor/outdoor air. For this writer (critic? journalist? theorist? historian? film buff?—the terms begin to slip, as well they might as the text begins to pull astride specified object of desire) cannot quite be done with Desert Fury . The heavy-lidded, smokey-voiced ambiance of Lizabeth Scott certainly plays a part in this—particularly in those scenes where she's set against the gleamingly dentalized muscularity of the young Burt Lancaster. A certain Pop Art palimpsest common to late forties product observed in retrospect is part of this picture as well—especially as Desert Fury 's color gives actors, backgrounds, and objects the polished sheen so prized by Richard Hamilton. Mary Astor's performance as Scott's mother is also there to be enjoyed, albeit in a much more straightforward way—the one element of Desert Fury whose quality is not in question. And last but not least there's the novelty of the character played by Wendell Corey—a homosexual psychopath given to dryly cynical asides and sudden violent rages. But then, we're getting ahead of ourselves.
Make no mistake, there's no avoiding the fact that critical congress with Desert Fury risks trafficking with nostalgic indulgence at its most absolute. Yet this is precisely why a Desert Fury is of such intense interest. Standing clear of the swamp of mass-media affection that forever grounds the likes of Casablanca, Gone With the Wind , and Citizen Kane, Desert Fury can be dissected with cool remove. It speaks to cinematic desires barely formed and only half-uttered—that vague itch for "a movie" answered by a compendium of images and sounds that never reach a level that could be called "memorable" yet somehow manage to "divert."
For any theorist worth his or her salt, the next step would be, of course, to scramble for a proper analytical position. All you have to do is scout a specified ground for study, then nail Desert Fury down with an appropriate abstract. Surely there's a grande syntagmatique to scrutinize here. Or perhaps a simple two-shot or two containing some quirk of psychoanalytic import. Feminist interest goes without saying. How does the figure of Lizabeth Scott "speak castration"? Let me count the ways . . .
But the simple, brutal fact of the matter is that all these techniques are very much beside the point.
Trouble in Chuckawalla
It's 1947. Let's go to the movies. What's playing? It's Desert Fury . Who's in it? Burt Lancaster and Lizabeth Scott. What's it about? Well . . .
After having been thrown out of her fifth finishing school, Paula Haller (Lizabeth Scott) has come home to the small desert town of Chuckawalla where her mother Fritzie (Mary Astor) runs the local gambling casino. Paula wants to go to work for her mother. Fritzie would prefer that Paula marry Tom Hanson (Burt Lancaster), the local deputy sherrif. Paula's attracted to Tom but isn't sure she's ready to settle down, especially as Eddie Bendix (John Hodiak) has just come to town. A gambler/gangster from the big city, Bendix and his henchman Johnny Ryan (Wendell Corey) are staying at a ranch outside of town. Years before, Bendix's wife had been killed in a mysterious auto accident on the Chuckawalla bridge, with suspicions of foul play. Paula is attracted to Eddie, and he to her, as she resembles his late wife. Fritzie is opposed to Paula's seeing Eddie, and so is a very possessive Johnny Ryan. Both (separately) plot to keep the pair apart. Eddie and Paula get together nevertheless and defiantly confront Fritzie. In a last-ditch attempt to stop them, Fritzie tells of her own past romance with Eddie. Paula leaves with Eddie nonetheless. On the way out of town the couple run into Johnny. At a roadside restaurant Johnny tells Paula the truth about Eddie—that he arranged his wife's death. Eddie shoots Johnny. Paula drives off with Eddie in pursuit. Tom joins the chase, which ends with
Eddie crashing his car into the Chuckawalla bridge—exactly where his wife died years before. Tom pronounces Eddie dead at the scene. Fritzie arrives and she and Paula make amends. She leaves, and Tom and Paula—also reconciled—walk off together into the setting sun. The end.
It goes without saying that the above summary provides only the most general overview of Desert Fury . It establishes a basis for further discussion, a point of possible entry. But it is only one point. Plot alone can't deal with the morass of images and sounds that calls itself Desert Fury . Consider, for example, the quasi-hypnotic effect created by the blindingly bright shade of blue sky behind Hodiak and Corey's heads as they stand by the bridge in the film's first scene where they enter town, or the dazed look on the face of an extra standing behind Scott in a scene in the casino. Then there's a visual frisson created by cutting between an actual outdoor locale and a studio set of the same place. Think of the picture window in Scott's bedroom—creating a picture-within-a-picture on a screen already chockablock with iconographical bric-a-brac. Then there's that framed black-and-white photo of Scott in Astor's office and the disturbing effect created when Scott stands astride it—which image is more "real"? All of these factors, naturally, come under the heading of "distractions" or "accidents"—they're not "meant" to be seen as narrative integers. But they're nonetheless there .
There too is Desert Fury 's advertising pitch. Itself a narrative, it runs parallel to whatever fragments of the film's actual story it chooses to disclose, playing on a series of alternate associations—roles played by the performers in the past, films Desert Fury hopes to recall as a possible point of appeal. And it is here that we find yet another Desert Fury : "A story that sweeps with sinister and growing menace thru sun-baked desert towns, luxurious ranches, colorful gambling houses to the greatest chase climax ever recorded by cameras."
Terms of Endearment
"Everyone went to the movies in the late forties," claims critic Andrew Sarris: "A disaster like the Gable-Garson Adventure grossed five million domestic, and musical atrocities like Holiday in Mexico and The Dolly Sisters drew lines instead of the flies they would attract today." Consequently most viewers out for an evening's entertainment weren't likely to be deterred by the almost unanimously unfavorable notices Desert Fury received when it made its debut.
"The picture as a whole makes you think of a magnificently decorated package inside which someone has forgotten to place the gift," wrote Archer Winsten in the New York Post . "If you can accept all these automobiles and clothes as a substitute for a story that makes good sense, here's your picture," noted Alton Cook in the World Telegraph . Forty years haven't altered
critical evaluations in any significant way. "Mild drama of love and mystery among gamblers, stolen by Astor in a bristling character portrayal," says the 1987 edition of Leonard Maltin's TV Movies . Audiences exiting Desert Fury in 1947 would very likely have agreed with him. But these same audiences didn't in all likelihood go in to Desert Fury for Mary Astor. Their attention was directed elsewhere—to Lancaster and Scott.
Under contract to the film's producer, Hal Wallis, Lizabeth Scott (born Emma Matzo), with her dusky voice (doubtless modeled after Lauren Bacall) and wave-encrusted hair (echoing the likes of Veronica Lake), was clearly being promoted as the latest in a long line of sultry siren types. In 1941 she made her debut in an undistinguished programmer called Frightened Lady . After a brief hiatus she returned in You Came Along (1945), followed by The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946). She next made her biggest splash opposite Humphrey Bogart in Dead Reckoning (1947). The career of Burt Lancaster was progressing even faster at the time of Desert Fury though he had only two previous films to his credit—The Killers (1946) and Brute Force (1947). Inevitably Desert Fury 's ads boasted "That Killers guy and that Dead Reckoning dame come together as a team of dynamite-and-fire."
What the ads fail to mention is that as far as the film's scenario is concerned the "dynamite-and-fire" is supposedly between Scott and John Hodiak. Hodiak, curiously, gets top billing on the film's credits—over both Scott and Lancaster. One of a number of male not-quite-leads-not-quite-stars of that era, Hodiak's most notable appearances were in Lifeboat (1943), Marriage Is a Private Affair (1944), and The Harvey Girls (1946). His Desert Fury billing bespeaks a canny agent. Yet no agent, however influential, could forestall the onslaught of Scott-Lancaster associations that accrued round Desert Fury 's ads. Couples being the coin of the cinematic realm, Desert Fury 's promotional copy could not help but create one.
But why Scott-Lancaster rather than Scott-Hodiak as the script clearly indicates? And what about those specially posed Scott-Lancaster photos that go even further in underscoring the relationship between characters who don't truly function as a couple until the film's last few shots? These ballyhoo glossies show Scott and Lancaster in a series of dramatic clinches that have no parallel within the diegesis that calls itself Desert Fury (Scott resting her head on Lancaster's chest, looking up at him rapturously—the "French seam" of her blouse slightly ripped. Lancaster struggling to wrest a gun from Scott's hand, her eyes closed shut as if in an erotic reverie). Clearly Scott-Lancaster are viewed as appealing in a way that Scott-Hodiak are not. Consider Scott's and Lancaster's comparably wavy hair. Consider Lancaster's strapping physique in comparison to Hodiak's, particularly as the latter's far less impressive chest is put on open display in a scene where Scott finds him taking the sun. What's going on here?
John Hodiak in Desert Fury offers us the spectacle of cinema at its most paradoxical. Lancaster is Hodiak's obvious superior on every level. How can Lizabeth Scott even so much as think of preferring John to Burt? One tries to imagine what the film might have been like had the contest been—for want of a better term—more evenly balanced. Imagine, for example, a Desert Fury with Kirk Douglas in the Hodiak role. It certainly would have been a logical choice. Douglas was in fact posed between Scott and Lancaster in their next film, I Walk Alone . However, the center of I Walk Alone is Lancaster's character, not Scott's, and the Douglas character in that film is a wily on-his-game ganglord, not the testy indecisive neurotic played by Hodiak in Desert Fury . Moreover Desert Fury , need we be reminded, is entirely about Lizabeth Scott.
Scott's Paula has to choose between two men—one "good," one "bad." Consequently the concise logic of Hollywood dictates the terms for this choice by making it for her. Plainly the casting of as uncharismatic an actor as John Hodiak serves Desert Fury 's ends. Though the script and dialogue indicates a veritable torrent of passion flowing between Scott and Hodiak, what emerges is an almost palpable lack of lust—particularly in the scenes in which they're required to kiss. The pair set to work with the dogged determination of would-be outdoorsmen who've suddenly had a change of heart while white-water-rafting in the Rockies.
Still, Scott's comminglings with Lancaster aren't much of an improvement. They seem to salute one another like ships passing in a fog—icons of "Male" and "Female" more aware of their individual image power than any conjoined forces that might be negotiated to some other erotic end. Only when placed next to Astor does Scott really convey some sense of the passion the film's title suggests. But as far as Desert Fury 's plot is concerned, the Scott-Astor relationship is simply an engine driving Scott's character toward the resolution Lancaster provides. Dust-dry though it may be, this Scott-Lancaster pairing is the plateau on which Desert Fury is destined to settle.
Desert Fury 's advertising is a lie. But this lie only serves to underscore a deeper truth. For like Poe's (and Lacan's and Derrida's) "Purloined Letter," the "message" of Desert Fury is always in plain sight. Even before the story begins, the discrimination of "desirable" Lancaster over "undesirable" Hodiak has been set in place. The performers' particular qualities (or in this case lack of same) are slipped into the folds of the scenario like a hand in a kidskin glove. The ads aid this effort, suggesting an atmosphere redolent with danger and intrigue—as it is in the film for Scott-Hodiak but not for Scott-Lancaster. Thus the "good" couple is iconographically intermingled with the "bad" one—safety conflating with danger the better to promote the product.
This "ideal" movie couple isn't the only cozily familiar element Desert Fury has to offer. Reassurance also figures in the narrative's echoes of other films. Here's a mother-daughter conflict right out of Mildred Pierce or Possessed .
The recurring automobile accident recalls The Postman Always Rings Twice . The criminal-out-of-his-element subplot harks back to High Sierra . The color cinematography, particularly in the scene where Scott and Lancaster go riding, recalls Leave Her to Heaven . And that's not all vis-à-vis the color.
"Luscious new colors will be introduced by Lizabeth Scott in her new film Desert Town which Hal Wallis is producing," gushes Paramount News . "Armed with a set of artists' paints, Edith Head, Paramount's chief designer, spent several week-ends in the desert near Sedona, Arizona, where the cast of Desert Town was on location, in order to study some of nature's own colors." The results of her labors were the creation of no less than "16 gowns to be worn by Miss Scott in the film, which is in Technicolor." Thus the oddity of filming a minor potboiler like this one in color is explained—it's more than a melodrama, it's a fashion show.
Not surprisingly, in keeping with this new-found sense of splendor a title like Desert Town simply won't do anymore, and as Paramount News notes,
it's changed to Desert Fury . "Producer Wallis and his associate, Joseph H. Hazen, with Paramount sales and advertising executives, decided upon the new title to underscore the strong dramatic action and emotional conflict in the story of a group of modern characters which is enacted in the colorful setting of today's desert country."
Early on in Desert Fury Paula pulls into downtown Chuckawalla and spies two of its more well-heeled female citizens. "Window shopping?" she asks them breezily. "Yes," they reply, looking pointedly at her, "but we don't like what we see. It's too cheap." Cut to Paula looking hurt. She starts up her car and drives off in a huff, nearly knocking the two women down.
The scene establishes a major plot conflict—Paula's estrangement from the town's "upper crust" substrata, an "outsider" status that she alternately resents and enjoys (when Tom in the very next shot says he should have arrested her for her conduct she replies, "It would have been worth it"). Yet at the same time the scene's meaning proceeds from another more obvious level. Like almost everything in Desert Fury , the subject of the scene is shopping .
"Come with me to Los Angeles and we'll buy some new clothes," Fritzie says to Paula, hoping to bring her out of a funk. "But I don't need any new clothes," Paula replies. "A girl always needs new clothes," says Fritzie, offering up a mother's wisdom, consumerist-Hollywood-style. And it's true, for in the world of Desert Fury women always require the new—clothes, adventures, backgrounds, romance. We don't need to go to Los Angeles to go shopping in Desert Fury , the film is already shopping. As Newsweek magazine noted, "Lizabeth Scott, impersonating a petulant daughter, changes costume so frequently that one forgets she is an actress, not a model." Obviously the film makes no distinction between these dual functions. And why should it? The scene in which Paula is sent to her room to be kept away from Eddie alone involves five complete costume changes. One wonders whether this blatant "fashion pitch" was written into the script beforehand or presented itself at some later point in the production—perhaps when it was decided that Edith Head was to play a more important role than usual in Desert Fury 's making.
With Desert Fury we're deep in the heart of that Hollywood where studio "showmanship" declares that audience interest in "the clothes" carries equal—if not greater—weight with "the stars" or "the story." The clothes put so pointedly on display in Desert Fury are just the sort of casual "sport" ensembles an average middle-class woman in the late forties would be likely to wear. They stand in sharp contrast to the glamour duds featured in such films
as The Women (1939), Woman's World (1954), Written on the Wind (1956), or Funny Face (1957). In Desert Fury "practical" purchases predominate. And so it goes with the "purchase" of men.
If all the "classical" cinema has to offer is a "male gaze" forever epoxied to an image of the female seen by definition as "inauthentic," then the audiences for which Desert Fury was expressly designed would have few means at their disposal for getting beyond the film's first scene. There's John Hodiak gazing—like so many movie males—rapturously at Lizabeth Scott as she drives up to the Chuckawalla bridge. But if his gaze is so central, why does the film continue to be in relentless pursuit of Scott irrespective of Hodiak's visual purview? Obviously someone else is looking at Lizabeth Scott—a female spectator whose ability to see with her own two eyes hasn't as yet been accounted for by a theory that would have us all crashing headlong into the Chuckawalla bridge along with Hodiak's wife.
The image of Lizabeth Scott in Desert Fury is quite plainly up on the screen for other women to gaze at. She is a model whose presence bespeaks make-up "secrets," hair-care "tips," a fashion "forecast." The actual relevance of this figure in relation to the lives of women in the postwar era is, naturally, open to question. But it is quite without question that the character of Paula means to address those women and their lives as directly as possible. Desert Fury is a "woman's picture" offering its audience the image of an homme fatal to parallel the femmes fatales of the forties film noirs .
As critic Barbara Deming has noted, the film noir is in many ways something on the order of an allegorical morality play—its heroes' trafficking in criminal activity standing in for killings on the battlefields, its femmes fatales a paranoid evocation of soldiers' fears of returning to "unfaithful" wives and sweethearts. Desert Fury , dealing as it does with the postwar Zeitgeist from "a woman's point of view," highlights these problems with fewer disguises. The war's end brought with it a pool of men for women to choose from. Picking the "good" from the "bad" is Desert Fury 's principal subject. But there is another force at play here as well—equally ideological in nature. For with the return of men came the demand for the return of women to "traditional" roles—removing them from the work force in which they had been placed of necessity during the war.
"You look kinda nice emptying out those ashtrays," Eddie tells Paula, as she adds her "woman's touch" to clear the squalor of Eddie's living arrangements with Johnny. Shortly afterward she's seen sitting at Eddie's feet in front of a roaring fireplace, reading a romance novel. That Paula herself is in a romance novel gives the scene an exceedingly cryptic literary trompe l'oeil quality—as if Alain Robbe-Grillet had momentarily hijacked the scenario. Paula's a party to an object lesson being staged for the viewer's benefit—how to recognize, organize, and direct the process of her desires along accepted social lines.
Of course, it shouldn't be forgotten, Paula has also expressed a wish for a career. But with incredible deftness Desert Fury forecloses this wish by tying it inextricably to Fritzie's insistence on Paula's social betterment. The job at the casino would be a step down—forever barring Paula from the social approval she guiltily craves. Only marriage to Tom would set things aright. "They've accepted you," Fritzie tells him, "and in time they would accept Paula—she'd get her friends." And as with everything else in Desert Fury this process is all a matter of purchasing power—and consumer integrity.
Fritzie wants to "buy" Tom for Paula. His market "value" is clear. Moreover, she'll sweeten the deal. She promises Tom a ranch for his pains. But Tom doesn't want to be an object of exchange, particularly in a woman's eyes. Still he knows where the social cutting edge lies—who are the dealers in this world and who are the dealt. This is why he lets Eddie go in the scene where he picks him up on the highway. Paula ends up "buying" Tom, but on her own terms—after first inspecting the "brand X" of Eddie Bendix.
Still in the midst of this buyer's market there's one bit of damaged goods that stands out in sharp relief against the background of all the others bought and sold across the film's trajectory: Johnny Ryan.
No Love for Johnny
—"Why would there be some of me apart from Eddie?"
—"Two people can't fit into one life."
—"That's what you think."
—"Someday he'll leave you."
—"He'll never leave me."
A standard bit of dialogue for a late-forties melodrama, perfectly suited for a scene in which the heroine fights for "her man," forestalling the troublesome intrusion of "another woman." The only difference is that the "other" in Desert Fury is male.
There's nothing particularly novel about the presence of a homosexual character in a postwar Hollywood film—especially a crime melodrama. Think of The Maltese Falcon (1941) with its Joel Cairo (Peter Lorre), Mr. Gutman (Sydney Greenstreet), and his "gunsel" Wilbur (Elisha Cook, Jr.). Think too of the pair of inseparable hit men played by Lee Van Cleef and Earl Holliman in The Big Combo (1955). And that's not to mention George Macready in Gilda (1946), John Dall and Farley Granger in Rope (1948), Robert Walker in Strangers on a Train (1951), and many other Hollywood films in which the presence of a homosexual character adds a touch of spice to an otherwise routine scenario. The difference with Desert Fury is the remarkable degree of specificity with which sexual status is detailed.
"I was about your age or older," Eddie tells Paula, recalling how he first met Johnny. "It was in the Automat off Times Square about two o'clock in the morning on a Saturday. I was broke, he had a couple of dollars, we got to talking. He ended up paying for my ham and eggs." "And then?" Paula inquires with expectant fascination. "I went home with him that night," Eddie continues. "I was locked out. I didn't have a place to stay. His old lady ran a boarding house. There were a couple of vacant rooms. We were together from then on."
How touching this subtle integration of the notion of "a couple of vacant rooms"—like the twin beds for married couples required by the Hays Code (in force at the time of Desert Fury 's making). As the immortal Inspector Truscott in Joe Orton's Loot remarks, "Two young men who knew each other very well, spend their nights in separate beds? Asleep? It sounds highly unlikely to me." And so it is, what with Johnny snarling a terse "Getoutahere!" every time Paula so much as glances toward Eddie. Then there's his pathetic pleading to "stay" with Eddie, even after the latter has taken Johnny off his payroll. The relationship couldn't be spelled out more clearly. And it's also clear that this same relationship provides a prime source of attraction to Eddie for Paula.
Curious that such a configuration should find its way into an otherwise mundane scenario. Desert Fury cleanly establishes Eddie's unsuitability for Paula through his organized crime associations, the murder of his wife, and his past affair with Fritzie. Bisexuality, it would seem, would only serve to gild this lily. But as the subject of Desert Fury is proper sexual object-choices and social roles for American women in the postwar era, Eddie's sexual predilictions have an additional plot function. The attraction held by certain heterosexual females for bisexual males was plainly of some significance to that period's social life, otherwise a film like Desert Fury would have been inconceivable. Hollywood, particularly in the studio heyday of the late forties, was never in favor of the advancement of narrative strategies unfamiliar to the masses. Desert Fury may seem novel today, but apparently no one in the front office blinked back in 1947.
In a way Desert Fury was the Making Love of its time. Like Desert Fury, Making Love was designed largely in terms of female spectatorship. The clear speculation in 1982 was that the sight of two men physically intertwined might have the same voyeurist currency as that of the sight of two women. This in turn brings up the fact that lesbianism has always been regarded as well within the purview of the "gaze"—the eyes of men "legitimizing" what would otherwise be an "aberration." The same does not hold for men. The first words a homosexual hears indicative of his newly won pariah status are "What are you looking at?" The "you" emphasized in this rhetorical accusation serves to arrest through the sheer force of its own specification the notion that male voyeurism would even so much as conceive of a male object.
This voyeuristic threat plays no part in Desert Fury . Our views of both Hodiak and Lancaster are quite conventional in that whatever physical attractions
they may possess, their power and legitimacy as men are their true source of sexual fascination. Likewise for Wendell Corey as Johnny. He's simply the lynch-pin of the plot—the key to its mystery. As for his expression of desire, it's ever so carefully interwoven into the film's network of dramatic conflicts. In keeping with the "classical" cinema's tendency to ground desire within a force-field of point-of-view shots for purposes of spectator identification, Desert Fury is especially scrupulous about restricting Johnny's expressions of ardor toward Eddie to two-shots in which the men appear together. The only exception to this rule is the breakfast scene mentioned previously, where Johnny pleads to stay on with Eddie at no salary. The depth of Johnny's feelings are plain for all to see, but in the exchange of looks between Johnny, Eddie, and a silent, pensively smoking Paula, they are prevented from falling within the viewer's sightline. Paula, without speaking, dominates here. It is the regulation of her vision that dictates the mise-en-scène of emotions. Johnny nonetheless leaves his mark on the narrative on another level.
It is Johnny who controls Eddie. He "created" him (as Eddie's climactic confession makes clear) and introduced him to a life of crime. It was Johnny who drove Eddie to kill his wife. "I'm Eddie Bendix!" he declares moments before his death. And even after death Johnny looms across the action—his final speech is repeated on the sound track as Eddie races after Paula in his car, crashing it into the Chuckawalla bridge.
"They never fixed it," Paula says to Tom, referring to the bridge's railings, shattered in the wake of the first accident and gaping open at the moment of the second. She could, of course, be referring just as well to a sociosexual schema that allows the likes of an Eddie or a Johnny. "They will [fix it] one day," says Tom, reassuring her. But forty years later, nothing about Desert Fury , or the culture that spawned it, has been "fixed."
Prisoner of the Desert
Just how far have we come since the fall of 1947? The bulk of Desert Fury 's plot (mother-daughter conflict, woman in thrall to "unsuitable" male) has long served as the stuff of television "soap opera"—both daytime and "prime-time" variety. Fashion "pitches" have their place in this narrative schematic—recently having revived the shoulder pads common to the late forties. Women in these mainstream scenarios are presented as having the "option" of "career" or "family"—though the bias towards domestic "choices" are plain, with attendant "guilt" over "lack of fulfillment as a woman ." "Having it all" is the catch-phrase surrounding this cultural cul-de-sac.
Homosexuality has likewise found its "place" as well. Once confined to the margins of experimental cinema, it's been upgraded to the tributaries of the
mainstream—"art" and "independent" cinema, and over-the-counter hardcore pornography. Figures like Johnny Ryan no longer "work" here. And why should they? What role is there for a Johnny in an era of Bruce Weber blatancy, or the lip-smacking, towel-snapping sensuality of a Top Gun ?
Johnny Ryan belongs precisely where he is—a late forties programmer called Desert Fury . A compendium of medium-two-shots (with a handful of long shots and close-ups for spice) ceaselessly pursuing one another round a fixed locale. Here are five figures locked inside a scenario so claustrophobic that they need not move more than a few feet before slamming into one another. Here are a series of problems to be dealt with, demands to be answered: Overbearing parents, social stigma and snobbery, dangerous acquaintances, unsuitable swains, a woman not sure about what she wants to do with her life, homosexual desire. Nothing new here. Nothing "old" either. It's the world in which we live, "brought to life" by the Cinema we love. And in our working through it all, it's still possible to isolate the bases of our fascination, our frustration, our boredom, our obsession, ourselves . But ahistorical "close analysis" can't reach it alone, nor can any other theoretical framework that deals with film solely at
the level of narrative logic, or as a vast preamble to a psychoanalytic technique that can function at best only as a metaphor for cinematic interaction.
Metz seems aware of this when he writes that "the problem of the cinema is always reduplicated as a problem of the theory of the cinema and we can only extract knowledge from what we are (what we are as persons, what we are as culture and society)." But who are these persons, this culture, this society?
"Cinematic images," comments Jean-Louis Schefer, "exercise a powerful preemption over the living being, not simply because he is made to feel present at the spectacle, but because he can't see the spectacle unless he's part of it in some way, or unless he himself is the absolute reason for the spectacle, its profoundest passion. That's the real question for cinema. It's never a partial phenomenon based on a split; it's a participatory phenomenon, generalized and indeterminate, working across all the objects of the spectacle. A cinematic projection has to be diffused—across the hero, and the villain, and the animals, and the objects, and the places on the screen—over the whole world. It's with the entirety of that world on screen that the spectator participates or identifies himself, and it's there that he's most sensitive to the effects of spatial dislocation, temporal distortion, and especially emotions."
There is no set theoretical formulation, no royal road to chart this course of cinema. There are only a series of byways and backalleys—some connecting directly to the narrative at hand, others intersecting with advertising, commerce, and current events. Some of these routes connect. Others are cul-de-sacs. But it's only by following them that we can possibly see our way through this detritus, this Technicolor swamp, this two-penny fashion show, this absurd confluence of fixity and drift, this Desert Fury .
Fritz Lang and Goebbels:
Myth and Facts
Vol. 43, no. 3 (Spring 1990): 24–27.
Myths are born and grow and flourish. Those who unthinkingly pass them on end up believing that they are facts. Repetition creates a cloak of seeming veracity which confuses gullible minds so that they cannot detect the truth underneath.
Thus every knowledgeable member of the film trade believes in the story of film director Fritz Lang's precipitate flight from Germany following on the banning of his film The Testament of Dr. Mabuse . The story goes that Dr. Goebbels, who was responsible for the banning, offered Lang the post of managing director of the entire German film industry. He stuck to his offer, maintains Lang himself, even after being told by Lang that he was a Jew—in actual fact Lang was half Jewish, his mother being Jewish. The story then goes on to say that Lang was given 24 hours to reconsider Goebbels' generous offer. Before nightfall Lang fled Berlin for Paris. He did this so precipitously that he did not even have time to draw money from the bank—banks closed in those days in Germany at half-past two.
But is this the true story? Thanks to material recently made available by the Deutsche-Kinemathek in Berlin—which placed it at the disposal of the German Film Museum (Deutsches Filmmuseum ) in Frankfurt and its young and very able program director Ronny Loewe—we are now able to discover the facts. These are as follows.
The Nazi seizure of power occurred on 30 January 1933. For some time traditional German censorship continued without a break as if nothing had happened. It was not until six weeks later, on 14 March, that the Ministerium für Volkserklärung und Propaganda was set up, with Dr. Joseph Goebbels as its head. At that time the Testament des Dr. Mabuse was not quite completed, so the film had not been submitted to the censors.
No one expected the film to be banned, however, and on 21 March the official film journal Der Kinematograph was able to report that the premiere was to be on Friday 24 March at the large picture palace called Ufa-Palast am Zoo.
Two days later, i.e., 23 March, Der Kinematograph informed its readers that the premiere had had to be put off as the film only that same day would reach the censors. The day after, 24 March, the same journal wrote that the postponement of the premiere had been due to "technical reasons."
Nothing further was revealed about the film until not quite one week later. On 30 March Der Kinematograph announced that the German Board of Film Censors had banned the film on the preceding day. The decision had been reached at a meeting of the Board, "under the chairmanship of Counsellor Zimmerman." The reason given was that it constituted a threat to law and order and public safety—in accordance with a regulation to be found in the Law of Censorship.
The film was passed, however, for distribution abroad—there was both a German and a French version. The German version was first shown in Vienna on 12 May 1933, but the French version had its premiere a month earlier in Paris. The cutter of the film, Lothar Wolff, had even earlier taken the French-speaking material to Paris during the final stages of the making of the film and
had completed the editing of the French version there. This gives the lie to the story that appears from time to time about the negative of the film having been smuggled to France in suitcases filled with dirty linen.
The film had also been sold to a number of European countries (besides Austria and France). Among them was Sweden, where, however, on 26 April 1933, the German version of the film was banned by the Swedish Board of Film Censors in accordance with paragraph six of the Royal Ordinance for Cinema Productions, the paragraph against the depicting of violence on the screen.
In Germany the last week of March 1933 turned out to be an eventful and momentous one for the German film industry. Goebbels had lost no time in preparing a large-scale drive to "renew" German film production as a whole. On 28 March, the day before the banning of the Testament des Dr. Mabuse , Goebbels had invited in the entire top personnel of the German film industry to a Bierabend in the Hotel Kaiserhof. Among those present were producers, directors, and technical staff. Certain reports have it that Fritz Lang was among those present.
It was in the course of this private party that Goebbels expressed his admiration for four films: he said they had made an indelible impression on him. The four were Eisenstein's The Battleship Potemkin , the American Anna Karenina (with Greta Garbo in the lead), Fritz Lang's Die Nibelungen , and Luis Trenker's Der Rebell . The last-mentioned film, whose motif is the struggle for freedom of the Tyrolese, had been released in Berlin two months earlier and was still being shown. Goebbels professed his admiration for Eisenstein's film for the power with which a political idea permeated the film. This, he thought, should set an example for the new, ideologically conscious and politically engaged film that he expected from all German producers, directors, and manuscript writers—though of course the political overtones would have to be different!
It is very likely that Lang was present at this party. He was known to be a fierce nationalist and had at this time no intention of leaving Germany. The day before, 27 March, he had taken part in the founding of the "direction group" of the NSBO (= Die Nationalsozialistische Betriebsorganisation ). Three other major film figures were also involved: Carl Boese, an experienced and highly successful director of comedies; Viktor Jansen, a young director of comedies for whom Billy Wilder had written a number of scripts; and Trenker, an actor and director renowned for his dramatic "mountain pictures" with strongly nationalistic undertones.
Thus Lang can hardly have been surprised when, one day in April, shortly after the Kaiserhof party, he was summoned by Goebbels and offered the leadership of the entire German film production—instead of being only one of the four placed at the helm of the NSBO. It was not just a highly attractive offer. It was logical as well.
It was at this point, according to the story, that Fritz Lang, penniless and with Goebbels' offer ringing in his ears, fled headlong to Paris, only to return to Berlin and the Fatherland after the end of World War II.
Which parts of this story are facts and which are the "story"?
(A) The contact between Goebbels and Fritz Lang: Even though it is highly probable that Goebbels did offer Lang the post as head of the entire German film production, there is not a word about it in Goebbels's usually meticulous diary for the year 1933. Lang is not mentioned there at all.
(B) Lang's headlong flight to Paris: The answer is to be found in Lang's passport. The passport, numbered 66 11 53.31, was issued in Berlin on 11 September 1931, and valid until 11 September 1936. It contains a large number of stamps and Fritz Lang's name is to be found alongside nearly every one of them. There are no visas or exit
stamps for the months of February, March, and the beginning of April 1933. There is only one exit visa for Fritz Lang. It is made out by Der Polizeipräsident in Berlin and dated 23 June 1933. It is valid for exits for a period of six months. Up to that date Lang had therefore never left Germany.
The passport also contains several visas for entry into Belgium, every one issued in Berlin and at the end of June and July 1933. Further, during the same period Lang purchased foreign currency repeatedly at the Weltreisebureau Union in Unter den Linden in Berlin, totalling 1,366 Reichsmark . All these transactions are duly registered in the passport in dated stamps: 26 June, 27 June, 20 July. These days Lang must have been in Berlin.
According to the testimony of entry and exit stamps, in June and in July 1933 Lang visited England and Belgium, inter alia by air. He had a two-year visa for repeated entries into France. It was issued in London 20 June 1932 and was valid until 20 June 1934. The entry stamps for 1933 are all from June and July 1933, the first being dated 28 June, the last 31 July.
The foreign currency stamps from Berlin testify, as do the various entry and exit stamps, that between the journeys abroad in the summer of 1933 Lang returned to Berlin, which city he left finally only on 31 July 1933—four months after his legendary meeting with Goebbels and supposed dramatic escape.
Dr. Goebbels did not forget Lang and his films. When in October 1933 he celebrated his thirty-sixth birthday in his new and elegant official residence in Berlin he entertained himself and his guests in the evening by showing them the banned Testament des Dr. Mabuse . Lang, meanwhile, was in France, where he was shortly to begin filming Liliom .
Fritz Lang's passport: Deutsche Kinemathek, Berlin. Berlin in March 1933: Gerd Albrecht, Nationalsozialistische Filmpolitik (1969), pp. 12–13.
Goebbels' speech in Kaiserhof, 28 March 1933: given in extenso in Albrecht, pp. 439 ff.
Lang's part in NSBO: Cinegraph, Lexikon zum deutschsprachigen Film (1984), p. D3, also Cahiers du Cinéma , no. 99, September 1959, p.29.
Interview with Lang giving his version of the story: Movie no. 4, November 1962, pp. 4–5.
For statements made by Lang: Francis Cortade, Fritz Lang (1963), p. 21. See also P. M. Jensen, The Cinema of Fritz Lang (1969), p. 104; Lotte Eisner, Fritz Lang (1976), p. 131; Ludwig Maibohm, Fritz Lang (1981), pp. 164–169; N. Simsolo, Fritz Lang (1982), p. 46; M. Töteberg, ed., Fritz Lang in Selbstzeugnisse (1985), p. 78, p. 136.
For embellishments: Lotte Eisner, in Ich hatte einst ein schönes Vaterland (1984), relates how Lang was wont to tell with great delight about his conversation with Goebbels and how "each time he embellished it a little more." (pp. 127–28)