Saturday, August 8, 2015

The Magnificent Ambersons

Orson Welles, 1942

The terrible story is already well known of how this best of  films was stupidly subjected to two ill thought out preview showings and consequently was drastically, foolishly and haphazardly reduced from 144 to 88 minutes on the basis of the unsympathetic audience reactions.  I would prefer to concentrate here on what remains, the genius and beauty of it.  It is one of the few American films that has bothered to look at the disastrous effects that the automotive engine and vehicle have had on human culture, on its spirit and the human environment. (It even touches on the natural environment to the extent that people are a part of it.)  It shows the well meaning idiots that have shaped the world with which we now must deal, and it treats them more than fairly.  It shows the glories of the past but does not ignore those earlier injustices that made that envious luxury and sociability possible.

However, I would like to focus here on one particular moment in the film, when Major Amberson is sitting before his fireplace focusing upon his impending death, and he searches his mind and universal history for the origin of consciousness and the spirit and he hits upon a simple yet consoling answer: the sun, it must be the sun... and, as he accepts his realization for profound truth, the screen slowly fades to black on his mumbling face illuminated by the flames.

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