Reviews — April 12
Count me among the millions of film buffs deeply saddened by the death of critic Roger Ebert, whose influence on my own thinking about the movies goes all the way back to when I discovered him (and Gene Siskel) on PBS decades ago. In Ebert, one found a dignified cohabitation of the Geek with the Intellectual, beautifully illustrated by his “Great Movies” list, where you will find “Star Wars” and “Raiders of the Lost Ark” alongside the films of Bergman, Fellini and Godard.
How to honor him here? I can think of no better way than to call your attention once again to Orson Welles’ “Citizen Kane,” which I wrote about back in 2006. There are two good reasons for it: This groundbreaking film, a biopic of newspaper magnate William Randolph Hurst, was Ebert’s all-time favorite. More crucially, thanks to the magic of DVD commentary tracks, it is possible to watch Ebert’s favorite movie with him.
Ebert didn’t record many commentary tracks, but we are fortunate to have this one, because of the place “Citizen Kane” holds in the history of cinema.
To those who don’t understand this, my refrain is: Watch a few films made before 1940, and then look at what Welles (then 25 years old) wrote, directed and starred in. You will see the difference, and you will know you’ve seen a film that matters. And if you listen to Ebert talk about it as you watch, which I urge you to do, you’ll also know that there was so much more to the critic than his signature “thumbs up” or “thumbs down.”
“Citizen Kane” (1941) Directed by Orson Welles, who stars with Joseph Cotten, Dorothy Comingore, Agnes Moorehead, Ruth Warrick, Ray Collins, Erskine Sanford, Everett Sloane, William Alland and Paul Stewart. 119 minutes. Unrated.
I’ve probably thought more about “I Capture the Castle” since I finished the book than when I was actively reading it — a great sign in a novel.
Except for the prices of retail goods, Dodie Smith’s 1948 work could have been written in almost any time in the last century. It’s more about how the narrator, 17-year-old Cassandra, reacts to the world than about the world itself.
And if you’ve ever been a 17-year-old, you’ll recognize many of her reactions as being very true to life. She’s passionate, curious, funny, observant, overly emotional and sometimes overwrought — a teenager.
Cassandra and her family live in a rundown house built atop the ruins of a castle in rural England. As she deals with the poverty and romanticism of her life, she keeps a journal describing both daily events and her feelings about them.
Through her journal, we learn about her father, a celebrated writer who completed one groundbreaking book, then found himself unable to write anymore. He may be a genius; he may be insane; he may be both. Cassandra wants him to resume his work, if for no other reason than so he’ll be more like his old self.
Her older sister, Rose, is overly dramatic and shallow, but also practical. She sets out to lift the family from poverty by the only means available to her: marrying a rich man.
Her stepmother, Topaz, is a just a few years older than the girls. An interesting mixture of practicality and free spiritedness, she is a much more sympathetic character than Rose.
And there’s Heloise, the dog, a fully sketched and important character in her own right.
Cassandra vividly describes Heloise and Rose and Topaz and other characters in the castle and nearby village, Godsend. She also tells about living among the ruins, a setting that has helped her develop her imagination and play out her romantic fantasies.
Her observations will intrigue and challenge you, make you laugh or nod your head in agreement.
In one of my favorites, Cassandra describes an unrequited love — and her true love, writing. She’s wondering how best to use the precious final page of her journal.
“Should I fill it with ‘I love you, I love you, I love you’?” she wonders. “No. Even a broken heart doesn’t warrant the waste of good paper.”
“I Capture the Castle,” by Dodie Smith, published by St. Martin’s Griffin, 1948.