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May 06, 2011


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Mr. Gittes

Saw "It's All True" last night on Netflix Instant Watch. Beautiful work. Now I'll go back to watching three minute clips of "The Magnificent Ambersons" on youtube and reading Vanity Fair's inside piece on Ambersons for the tenth time. Can we use Navy Seal Team Six to find the lost cut of Ambersons? I suppose, however, that would be violating Brazil's sovereignty. Or Hollywood's.


A few months ago, I read Chris Welles Feder's "In My Father's Shadow: A Daughter Remembers Orson Welles," and found it very nicely done; surely the new model for this sort of thing. Gets just a tad sticky toward the end as Feder belatedly embraces becoming an active part of her father's legacy via tribute screenings and the like, but overall a heartfelt, beautifully written portrait from someone who lived both inside and outside the Orson whirlwind.


Really wish more of Welles' movies were on Region 1 DVD, particularly his Shakespeare movies.


Interestingly, also the 70th anniversary of Kane's premiere last week.

On the subject of Ambersons, I find the terribleness of the studio cut actually kind of fascinating in a "meta" way - as the family onscreen declines, so does the quality of the film itself.

Frank McDevitt

Not related to this post, but since you and I both consider PJ Harvey to be within an untouchable pantheon, what are your thoughts on Christgau calling her a "minor artist"?

Gordon Cameron

In its astounding precocity, Citizen Kane is almost a Mozartean achievement. I don't know how many "authentic geniuses" have come along within movies, but he was surely one of them.

Thanks for the dreams, Orson.

Dan Coyle

"I have summoned you here for a purpose..."


"Then it pleases me... to be the FIRST."

Kent Jones

"Well, it's not even creative, because it is an instinctive thing, like the question of pitch for a singer. Where the camera goes. If you're absolutely sure, you may be wrong but at least it's one thing you can hang on to. Because I'm filled with doubts all the time about a movie: that the whole tone is wrong, that the level of it is wrong, that all the text, the performances, the emphasis, what they say, what it should be about - I'm constantly reaching and fishing and hoping and trying and improvising and changing. But the one thing I'm rocklike about is where it's seen from, what lens and so on. That to me doesn't seem to be open for discussion. And it's something I must be grateful for: even if I'm wrong, I don't have that worry."

- randomly selected quote from THIS IS ORSON WELLES

That Fuzzy Bastard

Kent, that's a fascinating quote---thanks!

Glenn Kenny

@ Frank McDevitt: I haven't seen Bob's reference to The Peej as "minor," but since, in his 1995 piece "The Ballad of Polly Jean Harvey," he wrote that "To Bring You My Love" "marks her graduation from the College of Brilliant Newcomers. She's now a major artist," I can only conclude that "Let England Shake" musta ticked him off real bad. I'll look into it. But as Bob was my first editor of note and is an old friend and mentor, I'm not likely to pile on him for whatever he says. We disagree on Beefheart and Van Der Graaf, too, so it's not like I'm not used to having differences with him...

Grant L

I get the feeling that his use of that term is a combination of his frustration with the new album (which he details quite clearly) and his frustration with the erratic quality of her work in the last 11 years.

What are the disagreements about Beefheart? He's given him quite a few high marks over the years, as the Beefheart page on his site can attest to.

Glenn Kenny

I still have to look for the piece. I understand a few people have problems with the new record, I think she's so far ahead that it confuses people, but I'll have to read the entirety of Bob's complaint. Like I said, I'll probably have not much to say about it.

The Beefheart thing I had in mind were his uncomplimentary observations on the "Grow Fins" box set, a for-fanatics-only item in any case, which he compared unfavorably to some Ornette Coleman work, which may have been "right" but which I took to be entirely beside the point.


From what I've read, Christgau has never been a fan of anything TOO British. His essential avoidance of some pretty noteworthy Britpop artists (how can one write so little about bands as important as Blur, Super Furry Animals, or Supergrass, for example?), or going back even further, his dismissive ratings of pretty much the entire Kinks discography, etc.

It's one bias I've been pretty annoyed by.

I also love how he still manages to give the new PJ a B+, in keeping with his strict auteurism. This is a guy who raved every Michael Jackson album, and the post-sellout Liz Phair albums as well, more eye-rolling moves.

Grant L

Glenn, I can certainly understand your being bothered by that review in general and the Ornette line in particular. Lazarus, I'd agree that Christgau does get prickly around a lot of overly Brit-centric stuff (while at the same time he's perfectly OK with his own NY-centrism).

However, I think his disenchantment with the Kinks (after glowing marks for "Greatest Hits," "Face to Face" and "Kink Kronikles") had far more to do with Davies' ever-growing self-pity and alienation, and I think he was dead-on in nailing him for it. I still love the Renaissance-era stuff to death, but can barely listen to much after "Muswell Hillbillies."

Also, IMO the Liz Phair albums you mention are only "sellout"s if you have a problem with excellent pop music, which I think they are. Same with Michael Jackson.


Grant, regardless of whether or not those Liz albums are excellent pop music (I don't think they are completely successful on those terms, and FWIW I consider myself a big fan of fellow pop artists Aguilera, Timberlake, and Furtado), how is it not a sellout?

Also, Christgau's view is pretty far outside the critical consensus. I'm not saying Phair's self-titled deserved the 0.0 it got from Pitchfork, but to give it the same rating as Exile In Guyville (and a better one than Whip-Smart) just comes of as reactionary to me.

Glenn Kenny

I gotta say I come down pretty much 100% with Christgau on the "Liz Phair" issue. A good record is a good record, whether in the semi-popular mode or the aspiring-to-popular mode. The critical consensus might have been a consensus, but it was hardly what you'd call legitimately critical; more like howls of outrage from people who had taken "Flower" and "Fuck and Run" at their literal word in college and now felt betrayed. (The alt-rock equivalent of Bob's ideal early '70s Billy Joel fan, the person who likes to sit in front of his or her stereo "feeling sensitive.") Good times, that skirmish was.

And as for "selling out?" That just depends, doesn't it? As I get older and older I'm more in favor of getting paid, and exorbitantly if possible. When I encounter people who are making moves to get into the more lucrative branches of the lively arts and they avow that they have "zero interest" in money I assume they're either full of shit or utter morons.


You guys are both missing the point, which is that the songs on Liz Phair's eponymous release just weren't very good outside of a few tracks. Especially compared to Whitechocolatespaceegg, which was definitely more "produced" than its predecessors and had some potential hit singles on it, but still manage to display the range of her talents.

I'd also add that an additional crime is that she barely plays any guitar on the album (a shame considering her distinct approach), something made doubly appalling by the fact that she poses with one on the front and back covers.

Grant L

I don't think that "the songs on Liz Phair's eponymous release just weren't very good" is a point at all - it's an opinion, period. And you may not believe him, but after following Xgau closely for many years I fully take him at his word when he says his grades aren't based on anything except, y'know, what he actually thinks and feels about the particular album in question. As any true critic worth their salt does.


If that's the case, Grant, then why does Christgau go out of his way to acknowledge the existing negative reception? The review is reactionary, and because it begins as defensive, I don't know how one can describe it as a purely from the gut response to the album.

Victor Morton

I was reminded about another Welles quote re his assessment of his directorial skills: “In handling a camera I feel that I have no peer. But what De Sica can do, I can't do. I ran his SHOESHINE recently and the camera disappeared, the screen disappeared; it was just life.”

Grant L

Glenn, I envy you. There's no way I'd have the patience and energy to run a blog - I'm already feeling exhausted by Mr. Lazarus here. If I try and refute I'm guessing that yet again the argument will be shifted and I'll be missing the point. Especially since this is such small potatoes and Xgau's article is entirely clear (to me anyway), I'm outta here.

Kent Jones

Victor, you'll also find that Welles was a great admirer of GOLD OF NAPLES.

Another related quote: "I think that absolutely solid camera sense is NOT a sign of a great director. It's just something you have or you don't have. I think you can be a very great director and have only a very vague notion of what the camera does at all. I happen to think I have total mastery of the camera. That may be just megalomania, but I'm absolutely certain of that area. And everything ELSE is doubtful."

Frank McDevitt

@Glenn: Oh, don't get me wrong, I wasn't looking to pile on the guy, he's my favorite rock critic. I was, frankly, a bit baffled at him calling Harvey "minor" because I knew from past reading that he had once called Harvey "the artist of the 90's' which is about as high praise as it gets. I was also aware of your relationship with him and just wanted to get your perspective on it. Anyway, for my money, "Let England Shake" still rules, but I still found Christgau's critiques interesting.

Unkle Rusty

And in I come, channeling my inner John Mendolshon, to defend the Kinks' late output. Grant, the self-pity thing I just don't get. True, the Lola etc. album is certainly, at least in part, about the perils of rock stardom, as Cristgau nailed in the 70's RG, but is, on the whole, more interested in auto-biography than self-pity. Certainly there is nothing self-pitying about that album's title cut, perhaps one of the 4-5 greatest achievements in pop music.

So Davies became increasingly interested in the rock opera form. So what? He certainly wasn't alone in that hubris. Yeah, there were mixed results (Arthur was great, the Preservation albums frequently silly for all their ambitions), but at least his attempts had the saving grace of humor.

But self-pity and alienation? Again, there are few artists as interested in the interrogation as the self than Davies, but without it there is no Waterloo Sunset, Sunny Afternoon, the aforementioned Lola, and, from later, allegedly disreputable albums, jewels like the heartbreaking (and almost painfully auto-biographical) Art Lover, the delightful Come Dancing, the excoriating Destroyer. Self-aware, yeah, but self pitying? I don't see it.

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