Tony: I take it, then, that you would call yourself, what was known when I was in school, a "New Critic." You stick with the work itself, are meticulous about details, stay with the text, etc.
Let's start with a fundamental: I know that you don't mean that your favorite charlatan is named "Thonpson." That has to be a typo. But I notice that both you and Baesen insist on misspelling his name, "David Thompson." His name is "David Thomson."
A-HA!! Take that!
Unless you want to gain him sympathy; revive that old line, "Call me anything, but spell my name right"; or give him the excuse that you must be writing about some other "David," I would put "David Thomson" down on my little "sh*t list," if I were you!
Back to textual criticism:
Now as to the substance of your reposte . . . well, there isn't much of it. Once more you obsess on homosexuality. I don't understand where that comes from. I never brought it up. My remarks are about Welles' loss of his mother, his uncertainty about his father, his love/hate of "Dadda" Bernstein, his womanizing which prevented him from sustaining a modicum of tranquility with his wives. My whole point is that these biographical details and themes are at a deep level, and often tertiary to the main thrust of his films, including CITIZEN KANE (which unless a genius manages to meld THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND together, I'm afraid, Tony, will always be seen as his greatest picture).
Is homosexualtity really at the heart of the criticism that you have of Thomson's work? Surely, not of Conrad and Higham, too? You say not, but that seems to be your main objection behind the idea that Mankiewicz might have suggested, even challenged, Welles to infuse CITIZEN KANE with biographical detail. After all, to Welles, all of this would have just been other pieces of the puzzle, their creation known as Charles Foster Kane.
Isn't saying, "Thonpson [sic] may devote only six pages, explicitly, but implicitly his book continues the tradition, as do Conrad's, Higham's, etc." -- really one of those McCarthy witch hunt phrases? I'm sure you, Baesen, certainly Welles, would condemn this statement if they were written to criticize a person's political opinion. Why should I or anyone else accept it when used to attack a work of literary biography, worse yet the biographer himself?
You seem to be saying: "All right, Glenn, a-ha, a-ha, we know what you mean when you defend your pal, Davie Thomson. Isn't it true, Little Davie and his ilk use feminine adjectives to describe our leader, Orson Welles? If he walks like a duck, Glennie-baby, and quacks like -- "
See what I mean, Tony?
I hope so.
But in principle, to accept your ploy, for academic purposes, as a hypothetical, I agree that Art must be taken on a case by case basis, judged on its merits. My understanding of Music is that it is best when it is pure, non-programatic. Popular as Rimskij-Korsakov's "Flight of the Bumble Bee" once was (may yet be?), it will not stand up against a Bach's "Brandenburg Concerto, #5. But if the composer does not name his piece programatically, how can we really tell?
That's why, as you yourself point out, Bach is not a good example, nor is Will Shakespeare in Literature, because we do not know enough about the motivations of the one, nor much at all about the specific emotional life of the other. Much of what is said about "Will" is silly speculation, and, except in the Sonnets, doesn't have any thing to do with the work.
Music, like most Art really, deals primarily with emotion. As you say, we don't know if Bach is gay or not, or if his Concerto #5 is for or about homosexuals. In fact, we can't tell if Rimskij-Korsakov is gay (at least, I can't, nor do I care), or if it is "The Flight of the [Gay] Bumble Bee" or "The Flight of the [Macho] Bumble Bee." We don't know if Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture" concerns heterosexual armies or homosexual armies. If Fydor had not given a name to his overture, we would say that it is about turbulence, passion, triumph.
And after listening to a lot of Tchaikovsky's music, we could guess what his orientation was. Right? Right. And we would generally be wrong.
Dance. Poetry in motion. The emotion of gesture. Despite popular opinion, it is very hard to look at dancers, and determine their sexuality. And what is a gay ballet?
Painting. Emotion in line and color. How do you tell a gay painting from a "normal" one?
Dealing with words becomes more difficult, but literary art at its purest is again about emotion.
I was struck by an earlier remark you made, Tony, which I did not respond to:
"I remember someone once saying 'The further removed an artist's work from their perrsonality [sic], the more pure the art.' Personally, I might not go that far, but I believe that the relations of the work to the artist are totally unimportant to the value of the work itself, and can never be proved in any case."
If you believe that, why say anything about a work? Once there was something of a prohibition here about discussing the political ramifications of Welles' work. Then, Callow, evidently on the wellesnet approved list, came along with Hello Americans, and everybody discovered that Welles spent his whole adult life passionately involved in political matters. The prohibition was relaxed to some extent.
Several months ago, maybe last year, I floated a theory that THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS was really primarily about American women, as CITIZEN KANE had been about American men. That notion was greeted with cool indiffernce, to put it gently, or cold rejection to put as I took it. Why? Could Welles have been an early feminist, for all his difficulty with women individually, in the flesh? [Not speaking of going to bed with them necessarily, mind.] Perhaps, a study of Welles' attitudes toward what would now be called "women's liberation," reflected in his works, should also be rejected as "nonsense," "rubbish."
Why did Welles work so many Black people into his productions (as in his Harlem Macbeth) and stress Black Themes in his interpretations (as in OTHELO)? Why did he champion Black women like Eartha Kitt? Perhaps we should reject any mention of those matters because they might reflect the fibers of Welles' life.
The list is endless.
Now, unfortunately, Tony, back to your hobby horse of homosexuality, the example you pick is not a very good one. First, you say that homosexuality is just "a convenient example of how the private biography has no real bearing on the work, at least any bearing which can tell us anything of worth about the work . . . ." Then, you ask:
"Let's hypothesize Tennessee wasn't [gay]: would it change the value of his work? Could he not have an understanding of the feminine without being gay?"
Well, of course, he could and did have an understanding of the feminine, and his sexuality wouldn't change the value of his works, but the significance of the works would be different in the eyes of critics, possibly in his attaraction to his public. In fact, his works would probably have been very different.
Given his upbringing and the attitudes of the time, a hetrosexual Tennessee Williams might not have had the same sympathy and compassion for his sister Rose that the gay Tennessee did. She would have been his crazy Fanny. Rose probably would not have been central to, arguably, his two greatest plays: The Glass Menagerie and A Streetcar Named Desire. A hetrosexual Tennessee might well have regarded his sister's schizophrenia, as Welles saw his schizoid brother Richard's condition, as a shame, an embarrassment, as a lurking fear in his psyche. There was probably some of that as it was, and Williams' ability to rise above that, for all his fear and compassion, suggests what kind of human being he was.
And a hetrosexual writer of Tennessee's ambition, power and skills, all things being equal (and they never are), would probably not have spent the years 1930 to 1944 writing twenty unsuccessful plays, trying to turn himself inside out to get something produced on Broadway.
The biographical themes and details of Orson Welles' life, marvelously sublimated in his rich works, should not dominate our appreciation of the works themselves, but their place as a level in the discussion of his films should not be ignored either.
Writers like David Thomson and Peter Conrad are simply redressing a balance neglected by others.
I rest my case.
May I go now, sir?
I have to prepare to meet the evil "Man Mountain" Baesen for the WWF Literary Division Title over in the next arena. He's the huge guy with the horned Balaclava Helmet, right?
BTW, I have a good friend here, Peter Delacorte, a writer of one of the great Hollywood Sci-Fi novels, Time on My Hands, and a consultant on the 1998 film, All I Wanna Do, who goes with his wife, Bonnie, to the Toronto Film Festival every year. You guys should get together.
Uhh! Not another Rabbit Punch!