11 Feb

As a teenager he was directing theatre. Before, he was the leader of a successful theatre company, its director and writer. He’d plunged America into a war panic with his adaptation of HG Welles’ famous story about a Martian invasion and co-written and directed his first feature film. This was a personal project he’d cultivated since boyhood, one of explicitly Shakespearian ambitions. (This lad put Macbeth on Broadway with an African-American cast set in the Caribbean. ) The movie is now compulsory whenever the question of the Greatest Ever comes up. Often it scores #1 (tho’ I haven’t checked lately).
To appreciate the chutzpah making this flick took, imagine if today a hotshot young director fresh from music clips or something decided to make a movie portraying Rupert Murdoch as a man who’d lost his soul. Nay! more: as the symbol for the spiritual void at the centre of modern civilization. It not only condemns the man as an amoral failure despite his success but makes a coded reference to Murdoch’s private name for his lovers’ vulva the Macguffin of the picture.

He wouldn’t get very far these days.

In fact to do so would be impossible. Mr Murdoch has been married three times and I imagine that the ancient aristocratic notion of marriage as political alliance’s at play there. How much of all that is actually ‘ love’ is not my business. Mr Hearst, about who’s life, Citizen Kane is a kind of parody, had a mistress. The much younger Marion Davies, a starlet with a talent for comedy whose career went nowhere ’cause Hearst insisted on her taking serious, dignified roles in haughty respectable literary type stuff. She remained with him the rest of his days well into her middle-age. They never married. Hearst’s first wife would not grant him a divorce. It wasn’t so easy back then to crack a marriage.

People aren’t so interested in the private life of the Murdochs. But when Mr Hearst was at his peak, in that first great era of the American century, the 1920s, his affairs were public knowledge and fascinating. Back then the rich and the famous were normally two discreet sets. The yellow journalism that gave Mr Hearst his power (and now gives Mr Murdoch his) fed on the sexual escapades of both of them. Same shit, different century. However at this time there were many more newspapers and larger number of proprietors. And they hated each other! So Mr Hearst would have all his ScribeBots spruik Davies’ stuffy pictures and his rivals would have a blast pegging turds at ’em.

Citizen Kane plays this as a power trip Kane puts his mistress thru. She’s a nightclub singer and he tries to turn her into an opera star. She’s hopeless. The training’s sadistic, the Grand Failure (some grand Wagnerian schmalzfest) infinitely more so. Kane expresses his love by subjecting his woman to a brutal, humiliating ordeal all because her status does not befit a man of his ego. It’s Wagner, so of course the when she tanks it’s an ordeal that lasts hours. For everyone.

The critics give her a universal caning, she breaks down (funny that). But Kane is determined to fight on insisting that she actually perseveres with her operatic career! Her streaked, wet eyes soften him and he lets her off, drops it. And (of course) she’s grateful! But it’s the last time his voice will ever be gentle, the last true kindness she will receive.

Because Davies was Hollywood, people knew all about her and Hearst etc. And unlike American Old Money (Hearst) Hollywood kids hadn’t exactly been brought up to be, ahem, discreet. Not at all the type people Gatsby aspires to be. Aristocrats, like wise guys, bring their kids up to keep their mouth shut. But intimate details of people in intimate circumstances was an entire industry in LA, it had not yet turned into a global weather pattern.

So Hearst was unprepared. He probably never even considered the possibility that the word ‘rosebud’ – his pet name for Marion Davies’ pussy – would be deployed as the unanswered question of a much ballyhooed motion picture. Ironically, the exact same kind of highbrow flick he’d wanted Davies to star in. Kane opened in ’41. Davies and Hearst had by then been together since the silent era. Kane’s second marriage ends as a long goodbye; a miserable woman entrapped in a dark Corinthian void by a rich, powerful, bitter, and truly twisted old man. Welles was giving Hearst his very own Dorian Grey portrait.

It couldn’t happen these days. Mr. Murdoch would have the power to make anything like a Citizen Kane very, very, very difficult to make. At least as a mainstream feature film. It couldn’t be done anyway. You’d need impossibly superb intelligence in order to even know that about him. No-one would talk. And if it were somehow known the protocols set up in the corporate conglomerate’d kill it. The department of unwritten rules would be alerted. No-one would run it, exhibit it, work on it, etc. It wouldn’t happen. The Apparatus is too strong.

There’s another reason it wouldn’t happen, there’s no-one alive that has a mind that’s capable. Some hotshot video director? Some famous kid in the theatre world? C’arn… This is the jaded 21st century man where everyone gets 15 minutes and none of it is any more memorable than a Happy Meal Deal.

The Age of Genius has passed. Time to clean up the mess.


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