Tuesday, 30 November 2010

David Thomson Vs Orson Welles

In this month’s issue of Sight and Sound, David Thomson makes his case for why he thinks Citizen Kane shouldn't win best film of all time once again in S&S’s 10 year all time critics poll in 2012.

For those not familiar with this particular poll, it’s a far cry from your normal film magazine’s 100 best films of all time, which are written by three people in an magazine office. This is a comprehensive poll of the world’s leading film critics (and in 2002, the world’s leading filmmakers) on their choice of the top 10 films of all time. It’s only conducted once a decade, and Citizen Kane has been named Best in every poll since 1962.

David Thomson belongs to a group of people (which includes the actor and writer Simon Callow, the late critic Pauline Kael and others) dedicated to promote the idea that Orson Welles was a ‘flash in the pan’ director that peaked with Kane and then mostly created unfinished mediocre work that was a product of his ‘troubled’ personality.

On the other hand, there is a group of people (which includes director Peter Bogdanovich, critics Jonathan Rosenbaum and Joseph McBride, and of course, myself) that find Welles’ work fascinating in all its forms and decades, from his radio and theatre work in the 1930s to his ground-breaking cinematic work from Kane to F for Fake.

David Thomson, in his piece, offers no other evidence for ‘toppling’ Citizen Kane other than he thinks it’s been at the top for too long. In Thomson-esque fashion he writes a lot without saying much. What is evident from his article is that his vendetta against Orson Welles (even more perverse because it’s disguised as admiration) has not stopped, and will not stop until Kane is stripped of its title as the best film of all time.

Whatever your opinion of Orson Welles and Citizen Kane is, the poll is there as a serious, authoritative survey of critical opinion on what we call the canon. David Thomson can vote like everyone else in 2012. Why try and persuade voters to pursue a strategic vote policy? If we can’t vote with our hearts for things like films, what’s left? And what interest does Thomson have in knocking Citizen Kane?

1 comment:

  1. I have some sympathy for David Thomson's heretical point of view. Personally I have always found Citizen Kane much easier to admire than to like. For me the film has no heart, there is no one I care about in the film, so I don't really mind what happens next, and or have much interest in the Rosebud mystery. Not caring has the advantage that I don't feel let down it resolves itself in a rather standard piece of cinematic cod Freudianism. For me the movie feels more like a succession of spectacular tableaux, rather than a narrative. I admire the fireworks, but that is all they are, and they leave no trace. I am not haunted by it as I am by the best work of the directors I admire the most, among which I would number Renoir, Kurosawa, Tarkovsky, and Kubrick. Of Orson Welles's films I much prefer Touch of Evil.

    When I was young, there was a kind of snobbery that meant that, if you had any pretensions as a movie fiend, it was practically obligatory to worship at the shrines of Citizen Kane and Alfred Hitchcock, neither of which really rung my bell. I don't really understand it, because nobody bats an eye if you say you do not enjoy the plays of Shakespeare, or the novels of Thomas Hardy or indeed a whole art form such as opera or ballet. We all have artistic blind spots, which often change with time, and all we can do is be honest about our subjective response to any artwork of whatever medium. We also should not expect everyone to feel as we do.