quinta-feira, 13 de dezembro de 2012

Citzen Kane After Alphabetic Story by Tony E. Jackson


Along the course of this consideration of the novel, I have had occa­sion to mention another technologized form of storytelling: film. Indeed, to explain the novel in terms of its primary communications technology and in terms of oral story seems necessarily to imply clear and powerful implications about motion pictures, the most important of which is that, if the novel is a world-historical event in the history of story, the next such event, cinema, has already begun.As a conclusion to the present project, then, let us briefly consider film in the terms we have been using. Obvi­ously, to tackle film in general would require a separate book. Looking closely at one example may provide a model for what might be done going forward from this beginning.

My sample case will be what is perhaps the most respected and dis­cussed film in the relatively short history of motion pictures: Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane.

















I choose this film because it is, like the novels already discussed, distinctively “about” writing and story. But before turn­ing to the film itself, let me restate and further develop some preliminary ideas. I began this discussion of the novel by making the case that if we take the human body as a basis, then, literally speaking, “to show” means to make visible to the eye and “to tell” means to convey by words. There­fore, no written story can be a case of showing because, cognitively, we cannot see the story, and fiction film is usually an event of story-showing rather than storytelling. I have not yet explained, however, that to show a story must literally mean to show diachrony, since all story requires diachrony.
Diachrony means “across time.” But to think again in a foundational way, that is, in terms of human cognition, time itself (whatever that might be) is never shown. Time is not directly apprehensible by our senses. Rather, we must be shown what humans can actually see: sequential change in state or space, which inescapably involves some form of visi­ble motion (or, to use the term from which cinema is derived, kinesis). As George Lakoff and Mark Johnson have argued (137-70), we linguis­tic creatures generalize metaphorically from the experience of visual per­ception of change to a concept of temporality. With respect to kinds of story, our default kind, oral story, does involve a visible change of state, but only in the limited way possible for a performing teller. Otherwise, there are only two kinds of narrative that can literally show story: stage (or staged) performance and film. With these two genres, we should prop­erly speak of story-showing/telling rather than just storytelling. But any stage performance essentially involves material performers before a flesh- and-blood audience, and this (among others, cf. Munsterberg, 401-7; Carroll, 66-70; Bazin 1967, 76-124) separates it entirely from film (including a film of a play) as a kind of representation. In the history of story, fiction film holds a unique place as the narrative form with the capacity to show story as a representation. Gerald Mast has observed that film is a “perfect synthesis of Aristotle’s dramatic and narrative ‘modes’ ” (18). This statement is even more strictly true in relation to my particu­lar definitions of showing and telling.




Because fiction film is this kind of narrative, it follows that diegetic writing (writing internal to the story) will always necessarily be working in a special way both to show and to tell. I do not want to overstate this. The form (e.g., font type and size and color) of literally any example of writing will always be a kind of showing. But in the usual case of a written story, we look at the writing only as a means to apprehend the content. We do not attend to the visual appearance of the writing itself, unless, in an attempt to simulate showing, a text uses special fonts. But with any diegetic writing in a film, the script itself is an image in a visual narrative. As Gregory Currie writes, it functions “pictorially” (8), and therefore its visual form will be significant along with, and also apart from, its content. This becomes clear when we consider the other major uses of writing in filmic storytelling: the written intertitles that were common in silent film. These written words, typically being extradiegetic, have only one func­tion: to tell what cannot be adequately shown by the visual images alone. The more complex the story, the more necessary the intertitles. With this example in mind, we can see that fiction film only truly takes on its unique role in the history of story once there is audio, because until then, even though “showing” is intrinsic to motion pictures, the story still regularly depended on writing to communicate its content. I will bring in some other, already-visited ideas as we go forward, but for now, we turn to Cit­izen Kane.
Citizen Kane is commonly considered the finest American film ever made. Whether or not this be true, it is almost certainly the most critically dis­cussed. For example, in numerous essay-length studies the film has been considered in terms of Freudian and Lacanian psychoanalytic theory (Beja, Brinkley and Speidel, Mulvey), Aristotelian dramatic theory (Max- field), evolutionary psychology (Billy, Schwartz), its use of audio (Altman, Thomas), its use of visual space (Jaffe), and its relationship to The Great Gatsby (Carringer 1975; Mass). Film criticism luminaries such as Pauline Kael and Laura Mulvey and André Bazin (1978) have considered Kane at length. There have been at least two essay collections dedicated to Kane (Naremore 2004; Gottesman).


It is a safe bet that in the index of nearly any scholarly book on film, especially American film, Kane will have at least a handful of entries, if not an entire chapter. In nearly any college textbook on film, Kane will always be a prominent example used to illus­trate all manner of terms and ideas. If a text’s greatness may be inferred by how rich a field it continuously provides for serious critical attention, then Kane is unquestionably great.


And yet in all these studies, a distinctly prominent visual and thematic element of the film—writing—has received very little discussion. This is primarily for the same reason that the novel has not heretofore been seri­ously considered in terms of writing. Print is always taken as the primary, really the only, technology. As with the novel, print is unquestionably important, but much is lost by ignoring the larger category: writing. Since Citizen Kane has to do with newspaper journalism, it is hardly surpris­ing to see images of written words onscreen, but such images abound, from beginning to end. Though the onscreen title of this film is a case of extradiegetic writing, nonetheless we must begin with it because there are a number of direct visual returns to its form later in the film. The title is shown in neon white letters on a black background. The letters are rather strikingly unornate and even by writing standards are decontextualized, not relatable to any particular other kind of lettering, but they are plainly mechanically produced, as opposed to being any kind of handwriting. There is no audio, no motion. This might as well be a photograph. The image fades to black. When it fades in again, we are quickly in the realm of the moving image. We also see our first image of diegetic writing.


The camera looks at a No Trespassing sign, which, except that it is smudged with grime, would be a clear inversion of the title—mechanically pro­duced black letters on a white background. Once we know the whole of Charles Kane’s story, we know that this first image of writing is already a visual figure of the great reversals, always linked to writing, that will spoil Kane’s wealth and success. The camera moves up over a gate’s metal wire and iron bars until we stop with a low angle of a large, black letter K in ornate wrought iron. The K, which appears again in various forms throughout the film, becomes the title character’s logo. The camera looks literally through the fence and takes us, by means of a series of dissolves, to the climactic extreme close-up of the unknown lips voicing the one famous, and at this point incomprehensible, word: rosebud.


In a film with many unusual shots, none is more unusual than the speaking of “rosebud.” The image of the lips has at least three key quali­ties. First, the extreme close-up isolates the single bodily source of speech, apart from the rest of the body, that normally helps determine verbal meaning. The only way to get any closer to the physical production of the word would be to film the speaking somehow from inside the mouth. Second, the word is cut off from any other human presence. We have no other side of the verbal communicative act, no face to show us how the word should, or even might, be received. Third, though we have a mate­rial world context that necessarily gives us some information—wealth, prohibited access, a bedroom, etc.—nothing in that context has any deci­pherable relationship to the bud of a rose. Paradoxically, the sheer phys- icality of the act of verbalization gets compounded by its detachment from the usual elements of a speech-act. Here at the beginning, then, we have a maximal image of the bodily action of speaking.




After a fade to black, the film’s second sequence begins. With it, things have changed in such a way that the purely cinematic nature of what we have just been shown in the opening sequence is all the more pronounced, because we are abruptly in a very different format. We have switched from fiction film to newsreel. Because the newsreel sets off the plot of the movie as a whole, I will look at it in some detail. We first see a still shot of a paint­ing of flags and banners whose meaning is declaimed by a newscaster’s voice as “news on the march.” Then, redundantly, we see “news on the march” in white letters over the painting. Next appears an obituary announcing the death of “Xanadu’s Landlord,” which replays the visual form of the title, though this time the content of the neon white letters seems taken from a newspaper. This fades to a series of still shots and seconds-long action shots that introduce us to daytime views of the man­sion we had seen only darkly at the outset. Unlike the images of the open­ing sequence, all these images come with verbal or written explanation. In other words, in spite of the act of showing, this is not really cinematic story-showing; fully cinematic story-showing, as opposed to silent film or film of news/information, does not need an extradiegetic voice or written words to tell the viewer the meaning of what he or she sees. The news­reel, then, is distinctly not a case of filmic story-showing.

News on the March is an almost encyclopedic mixture of the techno­logical means of telling a man’s story at this time in history: picture mag­azine, photography, painting, newspaper, radio news, and film.

Its subject is Charles Foster Kane, but it comes at the actual man in an oddly oblique manner. After a sequence about the building of Xanadu, there is a fade to black and then back up to more neon lettering announcing the great man’s funeral. Over footage of the service, the announcer tells us the one bit of information that the written words and the moving images have not divulged: the name of the deceased is Charles Foster Kane. Then, finally, we see the face of the title character. We first see Kane in what appears to be a freestanding photograph, until the camera pulls back to reveal a front page newspaper headline announcing Kane’s death, followed by a series of other front page headlines over other photos of Kane. So the first actual visual image of the title character is distinctly nonfilmic; it is depen­dent on the written headlines to tell us the meaning of what we see.

We do not see an actual moving image of Kane himself until halfway through the newsreel, when we are shown footage of Kane in front of a microphone reading a written statement to a well-dressed crowd in an elaborate lobby. But this scene is immediately preceded by two other scenes of men speaking. First, we see and hear Mr. Thatcher, Kane’s orig­inal guardian, reading a statement to a congressional committee in which he calls Kane a Communist. Thatcher is being questioned about his his­tory with Charles Kane. He responds verbally until asked about the event in which young Kane attacked him with a sled. With this, he abruptly declares that he will read from a prepared statement and say nothing more. Faced with this apparently emotional memory—the other men in the room begin to laugh at him—he suddenly refuses to speak in his every­day voice and invokes the power of writing over speech. The statement is simply the written version of his own words and is only one sentence long. Why not just say it? Or, why not just hand it out to be read and say nothing more? Writing saves him from speech.


















As Socrates noted with disapproval long ago, written words “seem to talk to you as though they were intelligent, but if you ask them anything about what they say... they go on telling you just the same thing forever” (Hamilton and Cairns, 521). Thatcher is pointedly using the written statement to put a stop to ques­tions and, more generally, to subordinate the unpredictable, flesh-and- blood qualities of speech to the constraints of writing. With this action, the film makes a point right at the beginning about the power of writing.
The visual image works to support this as well. When he is being asked about the sled incident, Thatcher appears in a long shot, squeezed in at the lower right of the screen, simply one face among the crowd. When he turns to read, the shot cuts to eye level, medium. Now he is shown flanked just behind on either side by the torsos, not the faces, of black- suited men, one of whom rather ominously has his hand stuffed in his coat pocket. The image is of a mob boss flanked by armed bodyguards.

Immediately following the scene with Thatcher, we see and hear his political and social opposite, a nameless speaker at a workers’ rally accus­ing Kane of being a fascist. This man’s speech is obviously impromptu, inelegant, and halting but also histrionic, passionate, and sincere. He stands alone on stage, clearly lacking the institutional power that sur­rounds Thatcher. And yet the mise en scene ensures that he not appear simply powerless. The shot is from a low angle and so in the most con­ventional sense tends visually to augment the presence of the man. In­terestingly, we do not see a microphone, the actual mechanism that would transform speech into electrical signals. Rather, we are shown only four huge horns, the “speakers” that render the signals back again into speech. Placed dramatically in the open sky above the man and trumpeting his words to the four points of the compass, they are an almost too-blatant metaphor for the raw power of spoken language. In one sense this man has a kind of power: informal, direct, emotional, kinetic. It is directly opposed to the previous image of Thatcher, in which writing was linked with institutional power. These two images establish early on an implicit struggle between the written and the spoken word, and this struggle will be essential to Kane’s life story.

The two segments of newsreel prepare us for what would seem to be a climactic moment: actual film footage of Kane telling us his opinion of himself. But just when we appear to have arrived at the cinematic “actu­ality,” we see silent film of Kane reading a statement before the micro­phone, then the neon letters appear again to tell us what he was saying: “I am, have been, and will be only one thing— an American.” The officious voice-over announcer this time never vocalizes the written words. What are the implications of this arrival at the first motion picture of Kane? After the two previous scenes, this one clearly goes back to silent-film tech­nology and therefore confers an aura of nostalgia around Kane. I will return to this later; more important now is that just previously the viewer has been given speech conjoined with writing, and then speech simply on its own. We might expect this third image to be some kind of synthe­sis of those two extremes. But the visual image of speech is conjoined with the written statement, and yet there is no audible speech at all. This time, though a microphone is plainly visible, there is no sense of the voice being recovered from its transformation into electrical signals by any “speak­ers,” mechanical or otherwise. The suggestion is that Kane is like Thatcher in the sense of being linked to, even dependent upon, writing; after all, why would anyone have to read such a simple statement? But the lack of audible voice places Kane in an uncertain category, apart from either Thatcher or the worker. It is hard to find any kind of synthesis in this, so what do we have? Where is Kane in relation to the opposition, even antag­onism between writing and orality?


The rest of the film offers us, among other things, an answer to this question.
Toward the end of the newsreel the viewer does finally get a clip of an interview with Kane, in regular film footage and with audio. In moving from still photography with newspaper headlines to silent film with inter­titles, and finally to the “talkie,” the short newsreel biopic seems to flaunt its own technological comprehensiveness, making sure that we see how easily it incorporates other, competing means of mass communica­tion. But, except for the “talkie” footage, writing has been indispensable to all the various means of getting Kane’s story told. Besides the exam­ples already considered, we also see different kinds of posters with writ­ing; more newspaper headlines; more neon intertitles; and finally, on the side of a building, a public electronic news bulletin that announces Kane’s death to the city in horizontally scrolling letters of light. So the stress on writing in the opening sequence and the News on the March sequence installs writing as, at least, a visual motif in the film. But it will become clear that motif is not really a strong enough term.

From the newsreel we abruptly switch to the newsroom scene. This scene, as Robert Carringer notes, “could easily be mistaken for some­thing out of a newspaper comedy of [Frank] Capra or [Ben] Hecht or [Howard] Hawks” (1976, 189). It is very much after the traditional movie images of newspaper reporters in a smoky pressroom, haggling over the big story. Right away there is an implied similarity between newsreel and newspaper, and just this similarity will become the problem that sets off the plot of Citizen Kane. Mr. Rawlston, the newsreel producer, tells the main reporter, Thompson, that we have seen a “good short,” but “what it needs is an end. All we saw on that screen was that Charles Foster Kane is dead. I know that. I read the papers.” And yet death is as solid an end­ing to an individual life as we can ever have. So how can this ending be unsatisfactory?


  The key problem lies in the failure of the newsreel to pro­vide something that a newspaper cannot provide. Shortly, Rawlston will bring up Kane’s “dying words,” and one of the shadowy voices in the room will ask: “What were they?” Thompson, chagrined, replies: “You don’t read the papers,” which draws an embarrassed laugh from the other news­men. Further, the sense of communicative inadequacy will be reinforced twice later in the film when the waiter at the El Rancho and then Jed Leland both inadvertently taunt Thompson by mentioning that of course they know of “rosebud” from the papers. Taking all this together, it becomes clear that the plot to come depends on a conflict between two kinds of communications technologies. And yet we have plainly seen in the newsreel itself how cinematic news overtakes and surpasses the news­paper as a means of communicating information.The simple fact is that film can include images of newspapers and all previous means of writ­ten or photographic informational narrative, but newspapers cannot include film. Still, in Rawlston’s mind the newsreel has failed to distin­guish itself from the most successful contemporaneous print medium.



















Rawlston complains that “it’s not enough to tell us what a man did. You’ve got to tell us who he was” (italics added). What most matters is outdoing the newspaper at its own game: telling. The primary aim of both newspaper and newsreel is to tell. But the newspaper is almost entirely direct telling. Able to include only the minimum possible showing—the illustration or photograph—newspapers cannot show a story. The news­reel would seem to be straightforwardly superior to the newspaper because the newsreel is most definitely a showing, although it does require the indispensable help of direct telling by voice or writing. With respect to the “who he was” problem, this newsreel has made a point of reveal­ing personal and emotional elements in Kane’s story, not just what he did. It has included as much of loves, hatreds, and emotions as it has of any­thing like hard news. However, Rawlston is dissatisfied.


Very much in the tradition of films about newspapers, he “stops the presses,” postponing the newsreel’s release in order to squeeze in the one remaining sensational scoop. The question of Kane’s true identity remains, and that can only be answered by commissioning Thompson to find the meaning of Kane’s “dying words.”
Now, “dying words” is a cliché, so standard that it gets used even when, as in Kane’s case, everyone knows there was only one such word. But con­sidered in light of writing and orality, the everyday phrase invokes a spe­cific set of qualities, some perhaps rather mythic. A person’s last words are taken to be uniquely important, spoken when the body has become so weak that the physical act of speech may be the only motor function remaining under conscious control. Therefore, no tool or technology or artifice—no writing—of any kind can come between the thought and its verbal expression. The knowledge looms that soon the voice too will be gone. The very last energy of life gets devoted to these words. In Citizen Kane the magnified lips make the sheer orality of this all the more promi­nent. Here is a plot based on the struggle for superiority between two modern communications technologies—one based in print, the other in film—and, significantly, the outcome of that struggle will depend on com­municating to the world the meaning of that most singular example of speech: a man’s dying words. Given the extreme close-up of the lips that spoke the dying word, it as if Thompson must find the secret of orality itself. But the spoken word, unlike writing (and before the invention of audio recording), vanishes as soon as it has been uttered. So Thompson has two basic means of getting at the secret. He must read writings from the past or seek out the memories of the remaining witnesses to the past.


Thompson begins his search for the secret of the mysterious word. The camera pans up to reveal what will, in being repeated twice more during the film, become the written logo for Kane’s second wife, Susan—the neon sign above the El Rancho night club. The camera passes through the words of this sign as it did the No Trespassing and the K logo of Kane’s gate, but to no avail, because Susan establishes her own “no trespassing” sign by refusing to talk. Still, this establishes a visual motif of passing through written words in order to get at the one oral word that most mat­ters. Next, Thompson visits the Thatcher Memorial Library, which houses a man whose only remains are his written words. The exaggerated secu­rity, the high marble-columned walls, and the museum-like lighting fig­ure these documents as fabulously rare and valuable. Once in the inner sanctum the guard, Jennings, brings forth the bound volume, cradled as if it were a fragile, priceless treasure; then, after he delicately places it on the table, he continues to gaze on it, as a parent would on a sleeping child. Light falls across the library table from a high skylight, as if the room were in a cathedral, and the volume itself catches the light uniquely so that it seems to glow from within.This, Thompson may read. But the comically stern librarian repeats what Thompson has already been told by the museum directors: “Under no circumstances are direct quotations from his manuscript to be used by you.” Though he is a reporter, he cannot bring pen and paper with him, cannot copy anything from the text.


It turns out that Thatcher is now, even (or especially) after his death, threatened by the very technology that earlier had protected him. In fact, this reveals the double nature of all writing. On the one hand, his writ­ing preserves his words so that in a way he can “speak” apart from his body —in this case, from the grave. On the other hand, he can no longer read along with his words or otherwise “authorize” them. Other people can take them and (again as Socrates worried long ago) place them into alto­gether other contexts, thereby warping their meanings in unpredictable ways. The restriction on quotation is in a way the exact opposite of the scene with Thatcher during the congressional hearing. There, his power manifested itself when he controlled his speech by limiting it to writing.
Now his estate controls his writing by rendering it effectively into the form of speech. Without written quotes, it will be as if Thompson has only lis­tened to someone talk. He will have to recall as best he can what was actu­ally “said.” Even the relatively loose precision of journalistic writing is denied him. The power of writing over speech is clearly at issue, and as before, Thatcher is the master of that power.

Thompson is finally left alone with the text. In a repetition of the camera movement through Xanadu’s fence and the neon El Rancho sign, the cam­era looks over his shoulder and down at the page. After scanning the first line of script, we look, by means of a dissolve, through Thatcher’s hand­written words directly into a flashback scene from Kane’s boyhood. Before turning to that scene, what can be said about this now well-established visual motif of “looking through” writing? In a film that makes so much of writing, this has an intriguing effect. Writing takes on its peculiar pow­ers by solidifying, by materializing the otherwise ephemeral nature of speech. But in Citizen Kane the camera, with its ability to look through writing, in a way renders that materiality itself ephemeral. Figuratively, film is taking on a certain kind of power over writing. Recognizing this is important for our understanding of the film as a whole.

For now, what matters is that the past into which we look shows the event of Mrs. Kane literally signing her son over to Thatcher. This entire scene revolves around a written contract, which in its turn depends on a previous written document: a deed in which the Colorado lode was signed over only to Mrs. Kane, not to her husband. Reading, signing, talking about, and handling of documents is the main action in this famous long take. The signing of this document begins the identity of the man who will later be important enough for a newsreel story. In a sense the boy is “born” into an entirely new identity as a function of a handwritten con­tract that effectively deprives him of his own speaking voice. At the end of this scene, the boy, who obviously does not want to leave his home, sim­ply falls silent. All he can do is “look” his resistance to Thatcher.



The flashback continues on through the young adult Kane’s con­frontation with Thatcher over the Inquirer’s Spanish war campaigns, and then we return to our position as Thompson’s eyes sliding over Thatcher’s handwriting. When we reach the date 1929, we once again look through the handwriting to a scene of legal writing. This time a typewritten legal document emerges through the dissolve to take up the entire middle of the screen. It is being read by Mr. Bernstein, and it turns the Inquirer back over to Thatcher. Having ensured that we see the form of this document, the camera then makes sure we witness first Thatcher and then Kane actu­ally writing in their signatures. So it turns out that the story of citizen Charles Kane involves an initial loss of his own speaking voice as well as a later loss of what becomes his written “voice,” the Inquirer. That first moving image of Kane in the newsreel now begins to take on more sig­nificance. Ultimately, Kane does not have the power of either Thatcher or the speaker at the workers’ rally. If there is a conflict between writing and orality, he is caught right in that conflict’s murky center.

It is hardly surprising that these two legal documents would be impor­tant in Thatcher’s written record of his encounters with Kane. But in both scenes the strong focus, not just on the content but also on the actual writ­ing itself (Kane works with the pen for nearly twenty-five seconds as he signs away his newspaper), pushes forward the film’s general attention to writing in an important way. Clearly, most people in modern society are aware of the significance of writing with respect to, for instance, legal documents. We all know that signing our names commits us to a docu­ment’s contents in a fundamentally different way than simply giving our word. But still, because of the sheer ubiquity of writing in any modern culture, the nature of writing as a technology tends to be obscured by the content of any given example of writing. The writing in a contract appears to be only a kind of final recording of the actual information, qualifica­tions, and specifications that precede the writing of the document. The writing on a birth certificate appears to be simply the verification of an already-established event. The writing on a marriage certificate appears to be only the ratification of an already-made commitment. In each case, the writing does communicate pre-existing content, but what gets lost is the fact that only with writing do any of the examples I have given become possible in the first place.




















Strictly speaking, writing does not just communicate this kind of con­tent; rather, it enables, forms, and ultimately, requires this kind of con­tent. In a modern literate culture in substantial ways neither a birth nor a marriage, not to mention a business agreement between parties, is quite real without the authentication of a written certificate. Though writing has many positive effects in human life, nonetheless a certain purely bod­ily sense of self-sufficiency gets lost when authentication becomes so broadly dependent on writing. In making the signing of these two spe­cific contracts so visually and narratively prominent—the first one liter­ally ending the idyll of Kane’s boyhood life, the second one making irrevocable the defeat of all his dreams as a young newspaperman—the film gives us a monumental image of a man who has in a sense lived by the pen and died by the pen.

Of all the possible enterprises available to the twenty-one-year-old Charles, he chooses the newspaper. And he will, at least at first, come at the newspaper in a thoroughly idealistic, reformist way, committed to helping those “who have no one to look after their interests.” Having been ripped out of the family union as a helpless child by the written contract, he seems to turn to the newspaper as a way of “writing” (we might say) that originary wrong. And at least early on in his trust-busting days, he succeeds.


Yet, although as a newspaper publisher Kane is associated with print, the film also makes a strong point of associating him with handwriting. In my consideration of Bleak House, I discussed the particular nature of handwriting. In terms of writing as a technology handwriting is, on both the large historical level as well as the level of each individual human learner, always the original move out of orality. Also, in terms of a con­tinuum from the maximal bodily individuality of speech to the maximal mechanical uniformity of print, handwriting may be as close to a middle ground between the two as we can expect to find. Handwriting necessarily bears visible signs of a specific individual hand and thus, especially after the invention of mechanical print, carries a kind of authenticity unavail­able to any kind of type. Citizen Kane makes much of this.

For instance, Kane establishes his coming of age through a hand­written note to Thatcher in which he announces that he will take over the Inquirer. Later, he announces his marriage to his first wife by hand- delivering a handwritten notice ( just after which we see Kane’s workers, including Jed and Bernstein, looking through the enormous letters on the facade of the Inquirer building, as if, unlike him at this point, they have been fully subsumed by Kane’s own magnification of the print medium).

But most importantly, handwriting is featured when Kane, by writing his declaration of principles, establishes himself as a new kind of news- paperman.The unlikely blocking (the positioning of bodies on the screen) in this scene stresses, again, not just the content but also the activity of writing, for Kane is shown from a frontal and then a rear shot standing up and writing on a sheet of paper held flat against a window. (In the shooting script Kane was to be seated on the bed, which would have sig­nificantly downplayed the act of writing [Kael, 170].) Kane feels a com­mitment to provide the news honestly and to champion citizens’ rights. He distinctly does not want to operate just another newspaper, which will publish, as he says, only “pictures and print.” Rather, he wants to make the newspaper as important to the city as the gas by which it illuminates the darkness. He seems to feel that the newspaper as it currently exists fails to get at what most matters, just as Rawlston will come to feel the inadequacy of the newsreel in relation to the kind of newspaper that Kane is at this moment creating. And again, just like Rawlston, Kane stops the presses in order to get this last, most important item—his declaration of principles—in.This scene, then, directly associates his youthful idealism with handwriting, even though he is turning to newspaper print as a medium. For this moment in time Kane is achieving some kind of mid­dle ground between his lost childhood voice and his eventual assimilation to print. This point is made visually when we see his declaration on the newspaper’s front page. The statement is in print, but validated with his handwritten signature.



Jed, impressed, wants to keep the handwritten note. He calls the two- sentence statement a “historical document,” like, he says, the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution, on the one hand, or like a child’s first report card, on the other. And this statement, as the act of declaring his independence from the already-established norms of the medium, does constitute Kane as a new kind of publisher. Committing his decla­ration to writing gives material solidity to his words, and so he will in a way be bound by his statements as a nation is bound by its written self- establishing documents. A child’s first report card is the material proof of first participation in the educational system. In literate cultures, where so much of life comes to require written documentation, the actual atten­dance at school must be certified by written documentation in order to take on its full legitimacy. The first report card is also rather monumen­tal in life because, for most of us, it is the first official written documen­tation for something we have done as human beings apart from parents and family. It authenticates the first move into a truly social, and liter­ate, arena. Kane’s handwritten declaration, even more strongly than the newspaper itself, is figured as the material proof that he is now a news­paperman; and given his life story to this point, it also certifies and memo­rializes his first full step into the adult social, business, and political world.

The difference between the report card and the declaration, though, is that Kane gives himself his own written certification. In this and other ways the film makes clear that there are two sides to what he is doing. Rather portentously, he turns off the lamp just as he claims that the paper needs to be like the gas in the light. His face is in shadow as he stares down at his writing, but at the same time he looks almost worshipful and reads his own words aloud in a theatrically solemn tone, very much as if read­ing from a hallowed historical document. The moment is an ironic replay of the manner in which the guard at Thatcher’s library looked upon Thatcher’s memoir. Once again the camera features the signing of a sig­nature, with Kane, Bernstein, Jed, and the viewer all looking on.Through both this kind of visual image and Kane’s idealism about the newspaper, writing accrues a near-sacred glorification.

But where Jed tends to see the positive side of putting the declaration into writing, Mr. Bernstein sees the downside. “You don’t wanta make any promises, Mr. Kane, you don’t wanta keep,” he says, by which he means that once the spirit of the young Kane’s promise is inscribed in the letter of writing, it will act, as Jed had said, much like a constitution. It takes on the power to command what he will be legitimately able to say and do in the future. In other words, Kane is signing what he himself looks upon as a handwritten contract that will shortly appear in print on the front page, complete with a facsimile of his signature. At this point Kane is idealistic and thus unworried by Bernstein’s warning. Both liter­ally and figuratively, he begins the project of “writing” the wrong he expe­rienced as a boy.

I have mentioned the sense of nostalgia that comes with the first mov­ing image of Kane in the newsreel, the silent film of him reading a writ­ten statement. Nostalgia shows up around Kane in other ways as well. Even before the meaning of “rosebud” is revealed, the way Kane thinks of the newspaper as a public service makes it clear that he is choosing this profession with a perhaps unconscious sense of nostalgia for the time before he had been victimized by writing. Added to this is a key element of Kane’s later life. For Kane is associated not only with print and hand­writing but also, very conspicuously, with orality. All the characters speak, of course, but that is hardly evidence for a distinct and significant asso­ciation with orality. But once Kane has established himself as a success­ful newspaper publisher, he turns to politics, and at this time in history that meant a turn to political oratory. We see and hear only one of Kane’s campaign speeches, but it is a spectacular example. He goes on at length, orating spontaneously in the most classic premicrophone manner—flam- boyantly bombastic, verbally and histrionically dramatic, easily filling a large auditorium with the strength of his voice. As Kane and his decla­ration of principles connected him back to the image of Thatcher in the newsreel, so this speech in both its form and its content returns to the image of the worker in the newsreel.


Furthermore, the speech places Kane directly in the grand tradition of American political oratory while directly associating his move into pol­itics with his lost boyhood in Colorado. Earlier, when his mother is sign­ing him over to Thatcher, the young boy is outside in the snow, calling out slogans that allude to Andrew Jackson’s famous second inaugural speech: “The union forever! You can’t lick Andy Jackson,” he shouts. Jackson, who is still known as the first true “people’s president,” was himself a famous orator in a golden age of political oratory (along with the likes of Daniel Webster, John Calhoun, and Henry Clay), and he dealt at length in his famous second inaugural address with the states’ rights issue as a serious threat to the union. The adult Kane, both as a crusading news­paper publisher and a populist candidate for office, follows directly in Jackson’s tradition. Given the way the story has dealt with writing as a technological power, it is as if Kane, having succeeded through the news­paper in “writing” the wrong that was originally done to him as a boy, is now able to regain the voice that was lost to him in the past. Writing and orality evidently need not be antagonistic forces in human affairs. At this point, he seems to be a positive synthesis of the opposed images from the newsreel: Thatcher and writing on the one hand, the worker and orality, on the other.

And yet even by the time of Citizen Kane, the grand Jacksonian ora­tory had become all but a relic of the political past. Fiery passion and the­atrical skill will, once there are microphones (not to mention television), come to look like the ranting and raving of a lunatic. On both the indi­vidual level of Kane’s life and the national historical level, the film at once celebrates and creates a sense of nostalgia for this golden age of the voice.

Citizen Kane

Because of this historical allusion, the nostalgia built into that first mov­ing image of Kane in the newsreel accompanies even his great moment of triumph; and in any case, speech once again cannot withstand the power of writing. No matter how great Kane is as an orator, his words cannot overcome the printed headline: “Candidate Kane Caught in Love Nest with ‘Singer.’ ”

The one word in quotes, singer, in a real sense sets the conflict that will power the second half of Kane’s life. This is especially ironic because Kane’s mistress, Susan, is not a “singer” when the headline appears. All she has done is perform in private for her lover, Kane. Indeed, the Chron­icle headline creates and destroys her (and Kane) as a “singer” at the same time. We see that quoted word three different times: twice—in the news­reel, and then again the morning after Kane refuses to give in to Gettys —in the form of newspaper headlines; and the third time as another ver­sion of the decontextualized neon lettering of the film’s title: “Kane Mar­ries ‘Singer.’ ” But this time the lettering is black on white instead of white on black, so that once again the form, the visual appearance itself, embod­ies the reversal in Kane’s fortunes. Further, Jed Leland will specifically mention the “singer” problem in his interview with Thompson. Accord­ing to Leland, Kane was “going to take the quotes off the ‘singer,’ ” and to this end set out to make Susan an opera star.




















So in a parallel to the film’s stress on not just the content but also the action of handwriting, there is now a stress on not just the content but also the form of this printed word. Once again writing is figured as playing a key role in reversing the di­rection of Kane’s life. As has been noted before, Kane, the individual, becomes emblematic of certain historical “turn-of-the-century types” in all this (Naremore 1978, 83). Ironically, the kind of writing that he him­self has made a historically new force in public affairs—the newspaper —is what now turns round to crush his political ambitions.
Citizen Kane pushes this complex of orality and writing even further when Kane commits to making Susan, and himself, an opera star. “We’re going to be a great opera star,” he declares to the press on his wedding day. Clearly, he experiences the quotes around “singer” as quotes around himself. He has displaced his failed oratory onto her singing voice. Since opera is the definitive highbrow form of musical theater, and since it has always depended on the sheer expressive power of the voice unamplified by microphones, we now have a figure of the voice as artistic power to par­allel Kane’s oratorical voice as political power.


With this, the implied search for the lost past continues, but it fails again. In a moment of yet more powerful irony, which builds upon the written form of the Chron­icle’s “singer” headline, we are shown an extreme close-up of typewriter keys violently striking in the letters to “weak” as Kane himself writes out Jed’s unfavorable review of Susan’s performance. The magnification of stamping in the word figuratively magnifies the reversal of the power that writing has had in, and over, Kane’s life. It is the visual counterpart in writing to the magnified lips in the opening sequence, and it dramatically removes Kane from his former association with the relative authenticity of handwriting. Now, the undoing of Kane’s attempt to “write” his past through the newspaper comes full circle, for it is his own Inquirer that will print the self-condemning review.
After this failure there cannot be a return even to the second golden age of his life, the now-lost time when, as a young, principled newspa­perman, he worked successfully to “write” the wrongs committed by news- distorting special interests. We are pointedly shown the false headlines through which Kane tries to create Susan’s success. He himself becomes the self-serving special interest. The material sign of the loss of this sec­ond golden age appears when Jed returns Kane’s original, handwritten declaration of principles. More than any of the bold, mass-circulated headlines, these words in his own hand make plain how his present is in contradiction with his past. Finally, in spite of all his efforts, Susan tries to kill herself, and Kane must admit defeat. The most thoroughly public of men takes his wife and retreats behind the No Trespassing sign at Xanadu.





That first silent motion picture image of Kane in the newsreel now takes on its full meaning. No matter that at various times in his life he has been elaborately successful in the realms of both oratory and print; no matter that he has been shown figuratively as both the extreme close-up of speaking lips and as the extreme close-up of stamping type. In the end he is left with neither the individual authenticity of the speaker at the workers’ rally nor the institutional power of Thatcher. Furthermore, he cannot achieve a workable synthesis of these polar opposites. The story of Charles Kane, then, is about a man split irreparably between writing and orality.
But this is only the end of Charles Kane’s story, not the end of Citizen
Kane.


The latter ends with a counterpart to Kane’s failure to remove the quotes from around “singer”: Thompson’s failure to remove the quotes that implicitly surround “rosebud.” For until its meaning is discovered, “rosebud” remains only a contextless piece of spoken language and can­not be accurately written as a meaningful freestanding word. I have already alluded to “dying words.” Citizen Kane offers a special case of dying words because “rosebud” remains an enigma until the end of the film. It must be conclusive, and yet no one except Kane knows what it means. The result, as the newsreel producer sees, is that some crucial, secret story must exist within Kane’s very public life, which makes the meaning of “rosebud” all the more intriguing. If Thompson can tell that story, the newsreel will have outdone the newspaper; it will, so Rawlston believes, have told the world “who” Kane really was.




















Taking all this in the context of the film as a whole, we find a stark con­trast to the representation of orality that we have already considered. Ear­lier, political oratory and opera were eclipsed simply by the power of the one written word in a newspaper headline: singer. But with rosebud it turns out that an inviolable oral core of identity remains. No newspaper can even discover the meaning of, much less somehow overcome, this dying word. Evidently, no newsreel can get at that meaning, either. After all his searching, Thompson wearily tries to cover his failure by conclud­ing: “I don’t think any word can explain a man’s life.” The newsreel never succeeds in distinguishing itself from the newspaper. Further, taking Rawlston’s earlier stress on “telling,” along with the way that showing, telling, and writing have become central to the conflict between news­reel and newspaper, then Citizen Kane implies that “telling” in general cannot by itself communicate the story of innermost identity. That story must be both shown and told. The newspaper cannot do this because it depends on writing and because, lacking motion pictures, it cannot show story. The newsreel fails because, though it shows story, it depends on written or vocal explanation to do its telling. The struggle between news­paper and newsreel was, from the start, doomed to have no winner. (This was of course prepared for early on by the figurative equations of the two, beginning with the screening room scene after the newsreel.)





















Getting at identity on the most intimate level of “dying words” requires story, not information, which always privileges telling over showing. Only fiction film, because it has the power to look through writing and to sub­sume informational film, can show/tell the story of the definitive oral core of identity. This notion is visually and thematically wrapped up by the fact that no one in the film learns what the dying word rosebud means. Finally, at the very end we are shown that the secret dying word exists not only as lost speech but also as lost writing: the brand label on the young boy’s sled. Writing is in a visual sense once more equated with the ephemerality of speech. We look through “Rosebud” as it disappears into flames. With the viewer’s privileged looks at both the one first spoken word and the one last written word, we have the final proof of what only film can do. As a storytelling art it subsumes both the oralistic and the alphabetic. In a curious way, this is another version of the event of generic change that we have found with Don Quixote, Northanger Abbey, and Madame Bovary. As, for instance, the gothic novel was to Northanger Abbey and the novel, so the newspaper and newsreel are to Citizen Kane and fiction film. Just this has been the “story” of Citizen Kane.
















In: The Technology of the Novel: Writing and Narrative in British Fiction, 2009, pp. 192-211.

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