Saturday, 25 April 2015

Citizen Kane - Rosebud: a personal interpretation...

Citizen Kane and the meaning of Rosebud
Citizen Kane has long been acclaimed as a work of genius and endlessly dissected by critics. But a mystery still lies at the heart of this masterpiece. On the eve of Orson Welles’s centenary, Peter Bradshaw comes up with his own theory about the film’s clinching moment
 
Peter Bradshaw
Saturday 25 April 2015

Spitting Image once made a joke about Orson Welles – that he lived his life in reverse. The idea, effectively, is that Welles started life as a fat actor who got his first break doing TV commercials for wine, moved on to bigger character roles as fat men, but used his fees to help finance indie films which he directed himself; their modest, growing success gave him the energy and self-esteem to lose weight. Then the major Hollywood studios gave him the chance to direct big-budget pictures, over which he gained more and more artistic control until he made his culminating mature masterpiece: Citizen Kane, the story of the doomed press baron Charlie Kane – played by Welles himself, partly based on WR Hearst – and told in a dazzling series of fragments, shards, jigsaw pieces and reflected images.

Poor, poor Orson Welles: repeatedly talked about as a tragic disappointment, his achievements somehow held against him, as if he had culpably outlived his own genius. After all, he only created arguably the greatest Hollywood movie in history, only directed a string of brilliant films, only won the top prize at Cannes, only produced some of the most groundbreaking theatre on Broadway, only reinvented the mass medium of radio, and in his political speeches, only energised the progressive and anti-racist movement in postwar America. As the room service waiter in the five-star hotel said to George Best: “Where did it all go wrong?”

Perhaps it is the fault of Citizen Kane itself, that mysterious, almost Elizabethan fable of kingship, which so seductively posits the coexistence of greatness and failure. Martin Scorsese, in his brilliant commentary on the film, said that cinema normally generates empathy for its heroes, but the enigma of Kane frustrates this process. The audience wants to know and love Kane, but can’t – so this need to love was displaced on to Welles himself, and accounted for his immense popularity and celebrity in the 1940s. It is the same with cinema: however immersive, however sensual, however stunningly effective at igniting almost childlike sympathy and love, cinema withholds the inner life of its human characters, while exposing the externals: the faces, the bodies, the buildings, the streetscapes, the sunsets.

The story of Charles Foster Kane is a troubled one: the headstrong newspaper proprietor who makes a brilliant marriage to the niece of the US president and takes a principled democratic stand for the little guy against monopoly capitalism, but only to reinforce his own prerogatives, and only in an attempt to pre-empt the growth of trade unionism. And Kane’s own political ambitions, like those of Charles Stewart Parnell in Ireland, are destroyed by sexual transgression: an affair with a singer who is to become his second wife. Kane’s indiscretion generates precisely the kind of salacious, destructive news story that he had pioneered in his own newspapers.

Diminished by the Wall Street crash and personal catastrophe, Kane becomes a pro-appeasement isolationist, complacently unconcerned about European fascism, though in his youth cheerfully willing to indulge the idea of a short circulation-boosting war with Spain. He dies in the present day, in 1941 – Citizen Kane was released seven months before Pearl Harbor. Kane himself becomes a remote figure, enervated and paralysed by his mythic wealth, somewhere between Scott Fitzgerald’s Jay Gatsby and Adam Verver, the unimaginably rich art collector in Henry James’s The Golden Bowl.

But how about that tiny detail that Kane’s would-be biographers believe is the key to everything? The murmured word on his deathbed: “Rosebud”. It is a mystery which they fail to solve, but we do not – it relates to Kane’s last moments of childhood innocence and happiness, playing in the snow before his bank-trustee appointed guardian, the Dickensian Mr Thatcher, comes to take him away to prepare for him his lonely new life as a 20th-century American oligarch. Kane’s business manager, Mr Bernstein, played by Everett Sloane, tells us never to underestimate the importance of tiny moments, and famously remarks that never a month goes by without him thinking of a fleeting glimpse he had once of a beautiful girl in a white dress and parasol. Never a week goes by without me thinking of that scene, without me trying to imagine that woman’s beauty, and who might play her in a flashback scene (I suggest Mary Astor) and of the awful fact that Everett Sloane was to become obsessed with his own ugliness and addicted to cosmetic surgery.

For any journalist, Citizen Kane is a glorious, subversive, pessimistic film. We all know what newspaper journalists are supposed to be like in the movies: funny, smart, wisecracking, likable heroes. Not in Citizen Kane, they’re not. Journalists are nobodies. The person who counts is the owner. And Welles’s Charlie Kane is not even a self-made man. He had his wealth handed to him. He was never the underdog. Haughty, impulsive, charming and charismatic: the 25-year‑old Welles is so handsome, leonine, with an intelligent, perennially amused face, like a young Bob Hope.

I’ve lost count of the times I’ve watched the scene in which he first shows up with what we would now call his entourage at the offices of the New York Inquirer, the little underperforming paper he seizes on as the cornerstone of his future career – rather in the way Rupert Murdoch started with the Adelaide News. He blows through that dusty office like a whirlwind. Kane derides the idea of his paper remaining closed 12 hours a day: later, he will buy an opera house for his wife to sing in and for his newspapers to promote. And so Kane, in fiction, invented the idea of rolling 24‑hour news, and a vertically integrated infotainment empire. Welles himself had a newspaper column for many years after Kane, and I suspect he thought of himself as in some ways a newspaper proprietor with other people’s money. He told Peter Bogdanovich in their celebrated interview series in 1969 that he never saw Citizen Kane again after watching a finished print in an empty Los Angeles cinema six months before it opened in 1941 – and never stayed to watch the film at the premiere. Perhaps the image of Kane’s failure became increasingly painful.

One of the main characters is Jedediah Leland, played by Joseph Cotten with his handsome, sensitive face. Kane’s college buddy, he has been kept around as a corporate courtier and is, in Leland’s own words, a “stooge”. He has given Kane an intense loyalty which never quite becomes friendship, and gets the job as the drama critic who must review the woeful professional debut of Kane’s second wife, Susan, played by Dorothy Comingore. Leland is pathetic, with neither the cunning to suppress his opinion, nor the courage to express it plainly. He slumps drunk over his typewriter and in an ecstasy of self-hate and masochistic defiance and despair, Kane completes the review himself. Critics are always implicated in the system, says Kane, and the system’s owners are exposed by their attempts to show themselves independent.

Kane has his parallels with British newspaper bosses – in fact, I’m always surprised that the comparison isn’t made more often. He is very like Lord Copper, owner of The Beast in Evelyn Waugh’s novel Scoop, who appreciated the excitement of short, sharp foreign wars. “The Beast stands for strong mutually antagonistic governments everywhere,” said Copper, and to a reporter who has just cabled that there is no war in Cuba, Kane replies: “You provide the prose-poems, I’ll provide the war.” Waugh also said that Lord Copper loved to give banquets, and “it would be an understatement to say that no one enjoyed them more than the host, for no one else enjoyed them at all.” I think of that line every time I watch the magnificent scene in Kane showing the banquet given to celebrate the Inquirer’s success – with dancing girls brought in, shouldering sparkly cardboard-cutout rifles, in honour of America’s forthcoming war with Spain. Cotten’s tense, tired face and sad smile hints at an awful truth: despite Kane’s boyish glee and the apparent general raucous excitement, it might be a terrible strain and unspoken humiliation for these salaried employees to pretend to be enjoying themselves worshipping their boss. I wonder how many newspaper bosses have watched that scene and taken it as a how-to guide for triumphalism at work.

It also reminds me of a strange moment in my life: 20 years ago, I was invited to a colossal party at the Earth Gallery in London’s Natural History Museum, hosted by Sir David English, legendary editor-in-chief of the Daily Mail. It was a lavish, but strangely tense occasion, a notionally generous send off for an editor whom English had forced into retirement. After a speech full of clenched and insincere bonhomie, the editor-in-chief brusquely asked us all to raise our champagne glasses – he did so himself, his arm extended. It was an uncomfortable moment, and quite a few people had on their faces Cotten’s strained smile from Citizen Kane.

Moments are what we are left with in Citizen Kane: a pointilliste constellation of gleaming moments from which we can never quite stand far enough back to see the bigger picture in its entirety. One of the most stomach-turning is the “picnic” that Kane offers to give Susan in a moment of drowsy ennui. Kane and Susan begin to argue in their private tent while music and dancing begin outside, becoming more abandoned and maybe even orgiastic. Welles orchestrates these sounds contrapuntally with the couple’s quarrel, they climax with a strange sound of screaming, as if Kane and Susan’s own malaise had been projected to the party outside.

The scenes of Kane and Susan together in Xanadu are eerie: an Expressionist bad dream, all darkness and weird perspectives, the couple marooned in the gigantic, sinister house, Kane prowling up to Susan while she morosely fits together a jigsaw. Kane wanders to a bizarrely huge fireplace and for a second he looks tiny, and Xanadu looks like the giant’s lair from Jack and the Beanstalk.

And yet Welles’s scenes with Ruth Warrick, playing his first wife, Emily, are no less vibrant, no less meaningful, especially on their arrival home for breakfast as young marrieds, having partied all night – and contemplating going to bed, but not to sleep. It is subtle but still a sexy scene.

It circles back to Rosebud: the anti-riddle of the anti-Sphinx. Welles himself playfully claimed that the word was Hearst’s own term for his wife’s genitalia, and so naturally the mogul was annoyed. Another false trail. The murmuring of “Rosebud” is in one way the film’s teasing offer of synecdoche: the part for the whole, the one jigsaw piece that is in fact the whole puzzle. But it isn’t.

Rosebud is more probably Welles’s intuition of the illusory flashback effect of memory that will affect all of us, particularly at the very end of our lives: the awful conviction that childhood memories are better, simpler, more real than adult memories – that childhood memories are the only things which are real. The remembered details of early existence – moments, sensations and images – have an arbitrary poetic authenticity which is a by-product of being detached from the prosaic context and perspective which encumbers adult minds, the rational understanding which would rob them of their mysterious force. We all have around two or three radioactive Rosebud fragments of childhood memory in our minds, which will return on our deathbeds to mock the insubstantial dream of our lives.

This brings me to my own “Rosebud” theory of the film, the moment that may or may not explain everything. It is in fact the moment that isn’t there, a shocking, ghostly absence that Welles allows you to grasp only after the movie is over: the death of his first wife and his son in an automobile accident. We only hear of it in the newsreel about Kane that begins the film – the brief roundup that we are invited to believe does not get to the heart of the man. But that is the last we hear of it. It happens two years into his second marriage. When does Kane hear this terrible news himself? How does he react to the death of his first wife and his adored little boy? We never know. Welles leaves it out – perhaps he is saying that Kane did not react, that he is too blank, too emotionally nullified, too spiritually deracinated to respond, having made his own complete and ruinous emotional investment in himself, the same egocentricity of self‑esteem culture and image management that has now been miniaturised and democratised in the age of social media. Kane has the plutocrat’s obsession with trying to control those around him in the way that he controls his media empire, whose purpose in turn is to control the way people think. And this is the final unspoken moral of Citizen Kane: a terrible tragedy of ownership and egotism – a narcissistic drowning.

• The Essay: Being Orson series begins on Radio 3 on Monday. Peter Bradshaw’s “Why Citizen Kane Matters” will be broadcast on Wednesday.

http://www.theguardian.com/film/2015/apr/25/citizen-kane-rosebud

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Last night's set lists

At The Habit, York: -

Ron Elderly: -
Streets Of London
The Way You Look Tonight
Dead Flowers
Love Is The Drug

Da Elderly: -
Is It Only The Moonlight?
On The Way Home
Yesterday
Pocahontas

The Elderly Brothers: -
Will You Love Me Tomorrow
Medley: Sweet Caroline/Hi Ho Silver Lining
Things We Said Today
So Sad (To Watch Good Love Go Bad)

Another quiet open mic night. But everywhere was quiet apparently. Some new turns to mix with the old-stagers, made for an entertaining evening, closed out with a spirited rendition of Space Oddity.

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Jack Rieley RIP

<p>Jack Rieley</p>
I’m sad to hear about Jack Rieley passing away last Friday. Jack was our manager in the early 1970s and helped us a lot. He wrote the lyrics for “A Day in the Life of a Tree” which blew me away. I also had Jack sing the lead on that one because his voice seemed to fit the song. Jack was a real force on our “Surf’s Up” and “Holland” albums and I’ll always remember his kindness. My thoughts go out to Jack’s family and friends.

Love and Mercy

Brian



Subject: Re: Thanks, Jack!/"Tree" song question
From: Jack Rieley
To: Beach Boys list (pet-sounds@lists.primenet.com)
Date: Oct 7 1996 - 6:17pm

My first question would be: how about telling us what really went
on with that wonderful "Tree" song! I know some people on the list
have mentioned they don't like it, but some others, like me have
said they love the song and couldn't imagine anyone else singing
it and giving it the same feeling that you did. Any recollections
other than the "Brian was crying afterward -- and I don't know if
he really was moved by it or just giving me the business"
(paraphrased), would really be welcome.


Brian Wilson and I had been talking a lot about the sorry state of
the planet back then. He was filled with questions and we went on for
hours about it. Forests were dying, the air had turned brown, the
earth's future was beginning to appear hazardous to health. When
Brian first played the chords and sang the tentative melody for me,
he asked what the song should be about and I suggested a single tree
as metaphor for the earth; that single tree as metaphor for more than
ecology. I fell in love with the chords at once and loved the
swelling tension of that droned bass line; the song seemed to lend
itself to the lyrical concept. He went nuts for the lyrics when I
showed them to him. Loved 'em, memorized the first verse and was
singing around the house. Carl and I were positive that Brian had to
sing A Day In The Life Of A Tree.

We recorded the instrumental track in a few days. On the day we were
to record the lead vocal, I was with the engineer in the control room
(this was in Belair, at the Bellagio house) and Brian was in the
studio. He did a few warm-up takes and then, dramatically animated as
was in wont, tore the headphones from his ears and exclaimed that he
needed me to help him. I went out into the studio and he pleaded that
he just wasn't getting the feeling that I intended with the lyric.
"Show me what I'm supposed to do," he insisted, handing me the
headphones as he ran to the control booth.

I did about 5 takes of the song, all except for the false-setto bit
near the end. Each time I screwed up one part or another, and after
each take Brian used the talkback to inform me something like, "I see
what you mean. But how about the blah-blah part. Do another take so
I'll know just how to do the song." And dumb me: I did another take.

It was after one of those that Brian burst from the control booth to
the studio, laughing loudly, a proclamatory laugh. He rushed me like
a bear, raised both arms into the air as would a victorious high
school athletics coach and exclaimed that I had just done the final
lead vocal!

I protested. It was turing into another BW cop-out, I suspected. But
by then Carl was there too. He said Brian had told him a couple of
days previous that I had to sing Tree. It had all been cooked in
advance.

To my astonishment, the false-setto bit turned out easy. After Van
Dyke's bit, the added voice at the end is Linda Jardine.
Reports of Brian crying, with joy or otherwise, upon hearing my vocal
are bullshit.


On Dennis:

No one could have been a better friend than Dennis Wilson.

I met him in New Mexico just weeks after being signed up with the
Beach Boys. He was on location for Two Lane Blacktop, the minor opus
he did together with James Taylor. Dennis scared the sh*t out of me
upon our first meeting, greeting me with a mistrusting stare,
scowling and shouting-spitting the words, "So you're the asshole
who's supposed to save us, heh? Well guess what, ass hole: I'm
quitting the Beach Boys." Speechless, I wanted to crawl back to the
rental car and drive off. After staring me down for another long
moment Dennis' face changed abruptly to a caring, bashful smile. He
put his arms around me. "Carl says you're the best thing that has
happened to him!" I was confused, maybe even trembling slightly.

It was the odd beginning of a deep friendship.

Collaborating with Dennis meant brooding with him, being harsh with
his self-indulgence, providing encouragement to his brilliance. When
he sat down and played the piano and sang, I could not help but feel
excited.

He loved his brothers very deeply. He was in awe of Brian; always
concerned about Carl. "Gotta watch out for the quiet one," he warned
frequently with a wink.

I firmly believe Murry convinced Dennis during early childhood that
he was a dumb f***. And I am certain that Dennis worked most of his
life to live up to his father's definition.

Once, in Milwaukee when he met my father, he embraced him and said he
was "humbled" to "be in your presence."

I must once share with you the bizarre tale of a night in London,
long after I had left the group, when Dennis broke down my hotel door
because he was afraid I was dying. He was trying to save me.
Remind me as well to take time, sometime, to relate the story of
Murry's funeral.


On a visit to L.A., a year or two after the Holland album, I stayed
at Dennis' house in Malibu for a few nights. He was still with
Barbara then. I was to fly to Milwaukee in order to visit my dad
before returning to Europe. About 4 a.m. on the last night of my stay
with them, Dennis came into the guest bedroom and awoke me with a
gentleness that grips me still. He looked grim, sad beyond words.
"Your brother is on the phone," he said softly, caressing me as a
parent caresses a child. My brother had phoned to say our father had
died.

When we played a free gig at the California state prison for women, I
nearly flipped to see how many of the inmates knew Dennis personally.
Of course the Manson girls were there, hooting and cheering every
song.

His solo album may be a bit over the top, but it is filled with so
much intensity, so much raw emotion, so much musical mastery and
beauty that now, just thinking about it, I get goose pimples
everywhere.

W. C. Fields helps a lady in a jam...

Monday, 20 April 2015

Raymond Chandler - Writers in Hollywood (1945)

To the writing of his detective stories RAYMOND CHANDLER brings the experience and the skepticism of a newspaper reporter, the narrative gifts of a born storyteller, and a mastery of pungent American dialogue. His leading character, Philip Marlowe, is a professional detective who has held the spotlight thus far in four novels, all of which have been purchased by the movies. One of them, The Big Sleep, in which Lauren Bacall plays the lead, is soon to be released. In his screenplays as in his books, Mr. Chandler has scored a personal success, but he has done so without losing sight of the difficulties encountered by the creative writer in the studios. For this is the anomaly: the producers pay their authors large fees apparently for the purpose of disregarding their advice and their text.

Writers in Hollywood
1 November 1945

1.

HOLLYWOOD is easy to hate, easy to sneer at, easy to lampoon. Some of the best lampooning has been done by people who have never been through a studio gate, some of the best sneering by egocentric geniuses who departed huffily - not forgetting to collect their last pay check – leaving behind them nothing but the exquisite aroma of their personalities and a botched job for the tired hacks to clean up.

Even as far away as New York, where Hollywood assumes all really intelligent people live (since they obviously do not live in Hollywood), the disease of exaggeration can be caught. The motion picture critic of one of the less dazzled intellectual weeklies, commenting recently on a certain screenplay, remarked that it showed "how dull a couple of run-of-the-mill $3000-a-week writers can be." I hope this critic will not be startled to learn that 50 per cent of the screenwriters of Hollywood made less than $10,000 last year, and that he could count on his fingers the number that made a steady income anywhere near the figure he so contemptuously mentioned. I don't know whether they could be called run-of-the-mill writers or not. To me the phrase suggests something a little easier to get hold of.

I hold no brief for Hollywood. I have worked there a little over two years, which is far from enough to make me an authority, but more than enough to make me feel pretty thoroughly bored. That should not be so. An industry with such vast resources and such magic techniques should not become dull so soon. An art which is capable of making all but the very best plays look trivial and contrived, all but the very best novels verbose and imitative, should not so quickly become wearisome to those who attempt to practice it with something else in mind than the cash drawer. The making of a picture ought surely to be a rather fascinating adventure. It is not; it is an endless contention of tawdry egos, some of them powerful, almost all of them vociferous, and almost none of them capable of anything much more creative than credit-stealing and self-promotion.

Hollywood is a showman's paradise. But showmen make nothing; they exploit what someone else has made. The publisher and the play producer are showmen too; but they exploit what is already made. The showmen of Hollywood control the making – and thereby degrade it. For the basic art of motion pictures is the screenplay; it is fundamental, without it there is nothing. Everything derives from the screenplay, and most of that which derives is an applied skill which, however adept, is artistically not in the same class with the creation of a screenplay. But in Hollywood the screenplay in written by a salaried writer under the supervision of a producer - that is to say, by an employee without power or decision over the uses of his own craft, without ownership of it, and, however extravagantly paid, almost without honor for it.

I am aware that there are colorable economic reasons for the Hollywood system of "getting out the script." But I am not much interested in them. Pictures cost a great deal of money—true. The studio spends the money; all the writer spends is his time (and incidentally his life, his hopes, and all the varied experiences, most of them painful, which finally made him into a writer) - this also is true. The producer is charged with the salability and soundness of the project - true. The director can survive few failures; the writer can stink for ten years and still make his thousand a week - true also. But entirely beside the point.

I am not interested in why the Hollywood system exists or persists, nor in learning out of what bitter struggles for prestige it arose, nor in how much money it succeeds in making out of bad pictures. I am interested only in the fact that as a result of it there is no such thing as an art of the screenplay, and there never will be as long as the system lasts, for it is the essence of this system that it seeks to exploit a talent without permitting it the right to be a talent. It cannot be done; you can only destroy the talent, which is exactly what happens - when there is any to destroy.

Granted that there isn't much. Some chatty publisher (probably Bennett Cerf) remarked once that there are writers in Hollywood making two thousand dollars a week who haven't had an idea in ten years. He exaggerated—backwards: there are writers in Hollywood making two thousand a week who never had an idea in their lives, who have never written a photographable scene, who could not make two cents a word in the pulp market if their lives depended on it. Hollywood is full of such writers, although there are few at such high salaries. They are, to put it bluntly, a pretty dreary lot of hacks, and most of them know it, and they take their kicks and their salaries and try to be reasonably grateful to an industry which permits them to live much more opulently than they could live anywhere else.

And I have no doubt that most of them, also, would like to be much better writers than they are, would like to have force and integrity and imagination enough of these to earn a decent living at some art of literature that has the dignity of a free profession. It will not happen to them, and there is not much reason why it should. If it ever could have happened, it will not happen now. For even the best of them (with a few rare exceptions) devote their entire time to work which has no more possibility of distinction than a Pekinese has of becoming a Great Dane: to asinine musicals about technicolor legs and the yowling of night-club singers; to "psychological" dramas with wooden plots, stock characters, and that persistent note of fuzzy earnestness which suggests the conversation of schoolgirls in puberty; to sprightly and sophisticated comedies (we hope) in which the gags are as stale as the attitudes, in which there is always a drink in every hand, a butler in every doorway, and a telephone on the edge of every bathtub; to historical epics in which the male actors look like female impersonators, and the lovely feminine star looks just a little too starry-eyed for a babe who has spent half her life swapping husbands; and last but not least, to those pictures of deep social import in which everybody is thoughtful and grown-up and sincere and the more difficult problems of life are wordily resolved into a unanimous vote of confidence in the inviolability of the Constitution, the sanctity of the home, and the paramount importance of the streamlined kitchen.

And these, dear readers, are the million-dollar babies—the cream of the crop. Most of the boys and girls who write for the screen never get anywhere near this far. They devote their sparkling lines and their structural finesse to horse operas, cheap gun-in-the-kidney melodramas, horror items about mad scientists and cliffhangers concerned with screaming blondes and circular saws. The writers of this tripe are licked before they start. Even in a purely technical sense their work is doomed for lack of the time to do it properly. The challenge of screenwriting is to say much in little and then take half of that little out and still preserve an effect of leisure and natural movement. Such a technique requires experiment and elimination. The cheap pictures simply cannot afford it.

2

LET me not imply that there are no writers of authentic ability in Hollywood. There are not many, but there are not many anywhere. The creative gift is a scarce commodity, and patience and imitation have always done most of its work. There is no reason to expect from the anonymous toilers of the screen a quality which we are very obviously not getting from the publicized litterateurs of the best-seller list, from the compilers of fourth-rate historical novels which sell half a million copies, from the Broadway candy butchers known as playwrights, or from the sulky maestri of the little magazines.

To me the interesting point about Hollywood's writers of talent is not how few or how many they are, but how little of worth their talent is allowed to achieve. Interesting - but hardly unexpected, once you accept the premise that writers are employed to write screenplays on the theory that, being writers, they have a particular gift and training for the job, and are then prevented from doing it with any independence or finality whatsoever, on the theory that, being merely writers, they know nothing about making pictures, and of course if they don't know how to make pictures, they couldn't possibly know how to write them. It takes a producer to tell them that.

I do not wish to become unduly vitriolic on the subject of producers. My own experience does not justify it, and after all, producers too are slaves of the system. Also, the term "producer" is of very vague definition. Some producers are powerful in their own right, and some are little more than legmen for the front office; some - few, I trust - receive less money than some of the writers who work for them. It is even said that in one large Hollywood studio there are producers who are lower than writers; not merely in earning power, but in prestige, importance, and aesthetic ability. It is, of course, a very large studio where all sorts of unexplained things could happen and hardly be noticed.

For my thesis the personal qualities of a producer are rather beside the point. Some are able and humane men and some are low-grade individuals with the morals of a goat, the artistic integrity of a slot machine, and the manners of a floorwalker with delusions of grandeur. In so far as the writing of the screenplay is concerned, however, the producer is the boss; the writer either gets along with him and his ideas (if he has any) or gets out. This means both personal and artistic subordination, and no writer of quality will long accept either without surrendering that which made him a writer of quality, without dulling the fine edge of his mind, without becoming little by little a conniver rather than a creator, a supple and facile journeyman rather than a craftsman of original thought.

It makes very little difference how a writer feels towards his producer as a man; the fact that the producer can change and destroy and disregard his work can only operate to diminish that work in its conception and to make it mechanical and indifferent in execution. The impulse to perfection cannot exist where the definition of perfection is the arbitrary decision of authority. That which is born in loneliness and from the heart cannot be defended against the judgment of a committee of sycophants. The volatile essences which make literature cannot survive the clich├ęs of a long series of story conferences. There is little magic of word or emotion or situation which can remain alive after the incessant bone-scraping revisions imposed on the Hollywood writer by the process of rule by decree. That these magics do somehow, here and there, by another and even rarer magic, survive and reach the screen more or less intact is the infrequent miracle which keeps Hollywood's handful of fine writers from cutting their throats.

Hollywood has no right to expect such miracles, and it does not deserve the men who bring them to pass. Its conception of what makes a good picture is still as juvenile as its treatment of writing talent is insulting and degrading. Its idea of "production value" is spending a million dollars dressing up a story that any good writer would throw away. Its vision of the rewarding movie is a vehicle for some glamorpuss with two expressions and eighteen changes of costume, or for some male idol of the muddled millions with a permanent hangover, six worn-out acting tricks, the build of a lifeguard, and the mentality of a chicken-strangler. Pictures for such purposes as these, Hollywood lovingly and carefully makes. The good ones smack it in the rear when it isn't looking.

3

For all this too there are colorable economic reasons. The motion picture is a great industry as well as a defeated art. Its technicians are now in their third generation, its investments are world-wide, its demand for material is insatiable. Five hundred pictures a year must be made or the theaters will be dark, countless people will be thrown out of work, financial organizations will totter, and bankers will start jumping out of their office windows again. Hollywood does not possess enough real talent to make one tenth of five hundred pictures, even if it could find stories to base them on. But the rest must be made somehow, and they are made—with great effort and bitter struggle, with the hardening of many arteries and the graying of many hairs, and with the slow deadening of such real ability as could have been saved by happier tasks.

And the men who turn out this essentially dreary product are well paid by the standards of other industries. This reward is not, of course, due to any big-heartedness on the part of the financial big shots who control the working capital. The men with the money and the ultimate power can do anything they like with Hollywood - as long as they don't mind losing their investment. They can destroy any studio executive overnight, contract or no contract; any star, any producer, any director—as an individual. What they cannot destroy is the Hollywood system. It may be wasteful, absurd, even dishonest, but it is all there is, and no cold-blooded board of directors can replace it. It has been tried, but the showmen always win. They always win against mere money. What in the long run - the very long run - they can never defeat is talent, even writing talent.

It is, I am afraid, a very long run indeed. There is no present indication whatever that the Hollywood writer is on the point of acquiring any real control over his work, any right to choose what that work shall be (other than refusing jobs, which he can only do within narrow limits), or even any right to decide how the values in the producer-chosen work shall be brought out. There is no present guarantee that his best lines, best ideas, best scenes will not be changed or omitted on the set by the director or dropped on the floor during the later process of cutting - for the simple but essential reason that the best things in any picture, artistically speaking, are invariably the easiest to leave out, mechanically speaking.

There is no attempt in Hollywood to exploit the writer as an artist of meaning to the picture-buying public; there is every attempt to keep the public uninformed about his vital contribution to whatever art the movie contains. On the billboards, in the newspaper advertisements, his name will be smaller than that of the most insignificant bit-player who achieves what is known as billing; it will be the first to disappear as the size of the ad is out down toward the middle of the week; it will be the last and least to be mentioned in any word-of-mouth or radio promotion.

The first picture I worked on was nominated for an Academy award (if that means anything), but I was not even invited to the press review held right in the studio. An extremely successful picture made by another studio from a story I wrote used verbatim lines out of the story in its promotional campaign, but my name was never mentioned once in any radio, magazine, billboard, or newspaper advertising that I saw or heard - and I saw and heard a great deal. This neglect is of no consequence to me personally; to any writer of books a Hollywood by-line is trivial. To those whose whole work is in Hollywood it is not trivial, because it is part of a deliberate and successful plan to reduce the professional screenwriter to the status of an assistant picture-maker, superficially deferred to (while he is in the room), essentially ignored, and even in his most brilliant achievements carefully pushed out of the way of any possible accolade which might otherwise fall to the star, the producer, the director.

4

IF ALL this is true, why then should any writer of genuine ability continue to work in Hollywood at all? The obvious reason is not enough; few screenwriters possess homes in Bel-Air, illuminated swimming pools, wives in full-length mink coats, three servants, and that air of tired genius gone a little sour. Money buys pathetically little in Hollywood beyond the pleasure of living in an unreal world, associating with a narrow group of people who think, talk, and drink nothing but pictures, most of them bad, and the doubtful pleasure of watching famous actors and actresses guzzle in some of the rudest restaurants in the world.

I do not mean that Hollywood society is any duller or more dissipated than moneyed society anywhere: God knows it couldn't be. But it is a pretty thin reward for a lifetime devoted to the essential craft of what might be a great art. I suppose the truth is that the veterans of the Hollywood scene do not realize how little they are getting, how many dull egotists they have to smile at, how many shoddy people they have to treat as friends, how little real accomplishment is possible, how much gaudy trash their life contains. The superficial friendliness of Hollywood is pleasant - until you find out that nearly every sleeve conceals a knife. The companionship during working hours with men and women who take the business of fiction seriously gives a pale heat to the writer's lonely soul. It is so easy to forget that there is a world in which men buy their own groceries and, if they choose, think their own thoughts. In Hollywood you don't even write your own checks - and what you think is what you hope some producer or studio executive will like.

Beyond this I suppose there is hope; there are several hopes. The cold dynasty will not last forever, the dictatorial producer is already a little unsure, the top-heavy director has long since become a joke in his own studio; after a while even technicolor will not save him. There is hope that a decayed and makeshift system will pass, that somehow the flatulent moguls will learn that only writers can write screenplays and only proud and independent writers can write good screenplays, and that present methods of dealing with such men are destructive of the very force by which pictures must live.

And there is the intense and beautiful hope that the Hollywood writers themselves - such of them as are capable of it - will recognize that writing for the screen is no job for amateurs and half-writers whose problems are always solved by somebody else. It is the writers' own weakness as craftsmen that permits the superior egos to bleed them white of initiative, imagination, and integrity. If even a quarter of the highly paid screenwriters in Hollywood could produce a completely integrated and photographable screenplay under their own power, with only the amount of interference and discussion necessary to protect the studio's investment in actors and ensure a reasonable freedom from libel and censorship troubles, then the producer would assume his proper function of coordinating and conciliating the various crafts which combine to make a picture; and the director - heaven help his strutting soul -would be reduced to the ignominious task of making pictures as they are conceived and written - and not as the director would try to write them, if only he knew how to write.

Certainly there are producers and directors - although how pitifully few - who are sincere enough to want such a change, and talented enough to have no fear of its effect on their own position. Yet it is only a little over three years since the major (and only this very year the minor) studios were forced, after prolonged and bitter struggle, to agree to treat the writers according to some reasonable standard of business ethics. In this struggle the writers were not really fighting the motion picture industry at all; they were only fighting certain powerful elements in it - employees like themselves - who had hitherto glommed off all the glory and prestige and most of the money, and could only continue to do so by selling themselves to the world as the true makers of pictures.

This struggle is still going on; in a sense it will always go on, in a sense it alwaysshould go on. But so far the cards are stacked against the writer. If there is no art of the screenplay, the reason is at least partly that there exists no available body of technical theory and practice by which it can be learned. There is no available library of screenplay literature, because the screenplays belong to the studios, and they will only show them within their guarded walls. There is no body of critical opinion, because there are no critics of the screenplay; there are only critics of motion pictures as entertainment, and most of these critics know nothing whatever of the means whereby the motion picture is created and put on celluloid. There is no teaching, because there is no one to teach. If you do not know how pictures are made, you cannot speak with any authority on how they should be constructed; if you do, you are busy enough trying to do it.

There is no correlation of crafts within the studio itself; the average—and far better than average—screenwriter knows hardly anything of the technical problems of the director, and nothing at all of the superlative skill of the trained cutter. He spends his effort in writing shots that cannot be made, or which if made would be thrown away; in writing dialogue that cannot be spoken, sound effects that cannot be heard, and nuances of mood and emotion which the camera cannot reproduce. His idea of an effective scene is something that has to be shot down a stairwell or out of a gopher hole; or a conversation so static that the director, in order to impart a sense of motion to it, is compelled to photograph it from nine different angles.

In fact, no part of the vast body of technical knowledge which Hollywood contains is systematically and as a matter of course made available to the new writer in a studio. They tell him to look at pictures – which is to learn architecture by staring at a house. And then they send him back to his rabbit hutch to write little scenes which his producer, in between telephone calls to his blondes and his booze-companions, will tell him ought to have been written quite differently. The producer is probably correct; the scene ought to have been written differently. It ought to have been written right. But first it had to be written. The producer didn't do that. He wouldn't know how. Anyway he's too busy. And he's making too much money. And the atmosphere of intellectual squalor in which the salaried writer operates would offend his dignity.

I have kept the best hope of all for the last. In spite of all I have said, the writers of Hollywood are winning their battle for prestige. More and more of them are becoming showmen in their own right, producers and directors of their own screenplays. Let us be glad for their additional importance and power, and not examine the artistic result too critically. The boys make good (and some of them might even make good pictures). Let us rejoice together, for the tendency to become showmen is well in the acceptable tradition of the literary art as practiced among the cameras.

For the very nicest thing Hollywood can possibly think of to say to a writer is that he is too good to be only a writer.

http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1945/11/writers-in-hollywood/306454/

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Christophe Gowans - If albums were book covers...

Albums reimagined as book covers 

Sean O'Hagan
23 March 2013

'I'm a big fan of the pun and the double entendre and, in a way, what I do is a visual take on that kind of wordplay,' says Christophe Gowans, explaining his idea to reimagine well-known album covers as book jackets. Gowans, a graphic designer, says his series, The Record Books, evolved out of a doodle. Two years on, he now has almost 120 Record Books on his website, many of which are available as limited-edition silkscreen prints and postcards. 

'It's a game, really,' he says. 'You go digging for an image to replace the one you know. You have to try and think of them in neutral, then it becomes about what the names suggest to me.'