What is The New Yorker? I know it’s a great magazine and that it’s a tremendous source of pleasure in my life. But what exactly is it? This blog’s premise is that The New Yorker is a work of art, as worthy of comment and analysis as, say, Keats’s “Ode on a Grecian Urn.” Each week I review one or more aspects of the magazine’s latest issue. I suppose it’s possible to describe and analyze an entire issue, but I prefer to keep my reviews brief, and so I usually focus on just one or two pieces, to explore in each the signature style of its author. A piece by Nick Paumgarten is not like a piece by Dana Goodyear, and neither is like a piece by Ian Frazier. One could not mistake Finnegan for Friend, or Bilger for Lepore, or Collins for Khatchadourian. Each has found a style, and it is that style that I respond to as I read, and want to understand and describe.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

The Collaborative Achievement of "Citizen Kane"

Calling Citizen Kane “a one-man show,” as Richard Brody does in his capsule review ("Goings On About Town," The New Yorker, September 10, 2012), is unfair to the film’s screenwriter (Herman J. Mankiewicz) and its brilliant Expressionist cinematographer (Gregg Toland). Pauline Kael is right when she wrote, in her classic “Raising Kane” (The New Yorker, February 20 & 27, 1971), “Lacking the realistic base and the beautifully engineered structure that Mankiewicz provided, Welles has never again been able to release that charming, wicked rapport with the audience that he brought to Kane." She’s right about Toland’s contribution, too. She says, “In the case of the cinematographer, Gregg Toland, the contribution goes far beyond suggestions and technical solutions. I think he not only provided much of the visual style of Citizen Kane but was responsible for affecting the conception, and even for introducing a few elements that are not in the script.” Undoubtedly, it’s Welles’s theatrical flourish, his showmanship, that makes Kane the great, satisfying movie it is. Kael says, “Citizen Kane is a film made by a very young man of enormous spirit; he took the Mankiewicz material and he played with it, he turned it into a magic show.” But Welles needed Mankiewicz and Toland to help make his magic. Contrary to Brody’s opinion, Citizen Kane isn’t a one-man show; it’s an inspired collaboration. Mankiewicz and Toland deserve their due. 

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