4/16/21: Magician: The Astonishing Life and Work of Orson Welles (2014) — The Redefinition of Success #poetry

4/16/21: Magician: The Astonishing Life and Work of Orson Welles (2014) — The Redefinition of Success #poetry

I woke up thinking of sweet times. I was a little boy and there were two elite movie houses in Rochester, the Monroe and the Riviera. We usually went to the Monroe. The elite houses played the big movies, the wide screen Technicolor epics and the grand musicals. “Lawrence of Arabia”, “How the West Was Won”. “My Fair Lady” and the rest of them. We saw all of them. We was my mother and father and brother and my Aunt Dee, known to me and my brother as “La”, my Aunt Clara (“Geek”) and my Uncle Nello (“Nunc”). My aunts and uncle were nicknamed for the sounds my brother created for them as a little baby. The Monroe and Riviera were special places. The seats were bigger than at the other theaters. The seat cushions were plumper and softer and covered in red velour. The auditorium smelled great. The whole place was so clean. The curtains opened at the start of the movie. They were heavy and long and gold braids adorned their tops and bottoms. Everything was so special. The theaters were special, the movies were special, we were special and I was special. Everyone went to a lot of trouble to make a good time — the filmmakers, the theater owners and my family. The family dressed up for the good movie. We were really nice to each other. We got warm feelings when we saw the others smile and laugh. We had patience for all of each other’s questions. We were very happy, but we weren’t thinking about being happy.

There are things that I’d rather do than write this morning. (I’d write later.) I wish I was doing happy work without thinking of the work as happy, teaching my class to people who are worth it, in a school administered by people who appreciate what I do and would never interfere. I wish I was creating and being social with a community of artists. We would support each other in our respective genius, and we would welcome audiences who were worth it.

Once you have known love, in yourself and in other people, once you have known love when you are at rest and when you are doing something special, you are wrecked for life. Rosebud.

I don’t have the work and the community that I love at the moment, so I write. (I’d write under any circumstances, but a writer always wants more.) An artist can feel like an exile futilely trying to remind the world of the existence of love. An artist isn’t an exile. Orson Welles wasn’t an exile. Welles loved the world and saw it for what it was. He courageously embodied love anyway. Sure part of the world opposed him — the rich and powerful part. But the humble people, artists and other simple people loved him back. Love is not what you do. Love is what you are, and that colors all that you do. First you accept your identity and then you commit to it.

Young Orson Welles was a prodigy, so young Orson Welles did works of pure love, no questions asked. The genius Welles was incapable of self betrayal. That natural immovable integrity was his genius. He wasn’t looking for an argument with the money men. He knew about everything except the full meanness of the world when he made Citizen Kane — and he knew a lot about the world’s meanness — just watch Kane. The world came down on Welles with two feet. William Randolph Hearst fought a war against the movie which was so honest about what Hearst was. Hearst used his newspaper chain to keep audiences away from Kane. RKO had given Welles full creative control of the picture. But they frustrated him when it counted most. Hearst was threatening movie houses with refusing their advertising if they screened Kane. The movie couldn’t get full distribution. Welles wanted RKO to put up circus tents in cities and towns and get the film to its audience that way. RKO was afraid of Hearst too. They refused Welles’ innovative distribution strategy. This was the first time of many that the institutional power structure thwarted Welles in his creation of a Hollywood made of love. The money men knew Welles was great, and they knew that they were whores. So they shamed love, and made false claims about the value of prostitution. Welles was labeled difficult for the honorable act of making a good movie. Welles was labeled a commercial failure because the commercial men wouldn’t allow his picture to make money. Kane never would have been a huge commercial success, but it would have done well enough to not be condemned as an impractical waste of money.

A writer can do without the money men. He or she can write love letters, put his or her messages in bottles and wait for a response. A great Hollywood film director of Welles’ era was destined to be a failure in the conventional sense. Welles was the first great Hollywood film director. The first always fails in the conventional sense. The first betrays the conventional sense. By the 1960s and 1970s many fine directors almost routinely made Hollywood movies that were also works of art. Welles not only inspired those directors’ art, he also liberated their careers.

A film director’s art, even when a film is modestly produced, costs a lot of money. Welles had contempt for money. Money was a nuisance for Welles. It was a pressure to get money to make movies, and a pressure to earn money once they were made. Orson Welles was the first director to see the artistic possibilities of Hollywood. There were prior directors who saw film as art. Welles saw the large commercial film as the stuff of art. He saw the comings and goings of life in the world as art. He did not envision his art to be anything different than the stuff of life itself. Welles’ first allegiance as a filmmaker was not to film, but rather to being a human being. He wanted to do right by his fellow man and woman.

I have written in the past that art is an elite experience. I was wrong. Everyone is an artist. Our lives are our art. Love is the elite experience — love is higher and better than all other possible experiences. When we love we are art, and when we love what we make of our lives is art.

What do we do with our every day lives — how do we convert them into these works of loving art? I have never gotten on with people in positions of authority, not because I envied their power, but rather because they unfailingly attempted to force me to betray my love. There is no owner’s manual for love. A dictionary can’t define love. All worthwhile art provides the defintion. I can’t describe the state of being in love in an abstract way. I just know how it feels. Love moves a person. And that movement is how you convert your everyday life into a work of art. I, and no one else, can tell you anymore than that. The beauty of the world, its infinite variety, both in nature and in what is worth a damn in civilization, is the product of the infinite impulses of love. How can anyone tell you how to do it? How can you compromise it in order to sell something or placate a tyrant? No boss, or current state of public opinion or gossip in the neighborhood, can deter one who loves from doing what he or she has to do.

Welles’ conventional failure as a Hollywood movie director … his many frustrations, his poverty, his unfinished works, his masterpieces which seemed to shame the rest of his body of only promised work … is ironically his great success as a human being, and therefore as an artist. Welles showed anyone with eyes to see what Hollywood could be. Hollywood’s rejection is evidence of Orson Welles’ success.

Hollywood forced Orson Welles to invent independent filmmaking. Hollywood was too mean and cheap to give Orson Welles his due. So Orson Welles was a beggar or took work he could care less about to finance his personal productions that rarely came to completion.

Art is success as a human being. Nothing worth a damn was ever done for the money, the power or the fame.

Art gets an audience by dint of sheer luck. Whenever I feel sorry for myself for writing in obscurity, I’ll think of Orson Welles. I get lucky every once in awhile too.

A life of art is a simple life. One just keeps loving and working out of love.

Orson Welles reminds me of Flannery O’Connor in one important way. They both suffered many scars of love, and did so with very fine good nature. O’Connor was denied most everything that we normally associate with a successful life except great talent and a notable career. Welles was denied the pleasure of completion. He never got to fulfill his massive potential. Paradoxically, he did fulfill that potential simply by never stopping. Flannery O’Connor never knew carnal love, but in her short life she was the embodiment of love. She and her father loved each other with such beauty and purity that her life and writing testified to what love could be, and shamed all men for not wanting her.

Sweet thoughts are sad thoughts. One could curse the knowledge that love is possible, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

A life of art is love, and struggle, and conventional failure, and incredible luck, and constant mystery — art and love throw you into the unknown, and dissatisfaction — life, art and love always ask for more — they claw at you and nag you to that which has value … the scorecard of places like Hollywood don’t matter …

From the Disney movie, Pinocchio … the lyrics to the song “When You Wish Upon a Star” by Leigh Harline and Ned Washington

When you wish upon a star
Makes no difference who you are
Anything your heart desires
Will come to you

If your heart is in your dream
No request is too extreme
When you wish upon a star
As dreamers do

Fate is kind
She brings to those who love
The sweet fulfillment of
Their secret longing.

Like a bolt out of the blue
Fate steps in and sees you through
When you wish upon a star
Your dreams come true

Orson Welles fulfilled his secret longing even if it didn’t look like it, and many people knew it when he was alive, and know it now, and will know it in the sweet hereafter— knew, know and will know that he isn’t the genius that never made good on his promise, as those who advertise have advertised, he is everything that he could have been, and be — now and forever …

and for the so many people who knew, know and will know Orson Welles, and others like him (including themselves) …

Fate is kind
She brings to those who love
The sweet fulfillment of
Their secret longing.

Everyone has had at least one moment like a moment at the Monroe and the Riviera to remember …

and such memories beget life, art, a life of art, and the art of living …

Rosebud …

Copyright 2021 Richard Thomas

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