By Adams P. Sitney
This compilation from Film Culture magazine―the pioneering periodical in avant-garde movie commentary―includes members like Charles Boultenhouse, Erich von Stroheim, Michael McClure, Stan Brakhage, Annette Michelson, Arthur Miller, Dylan Thomas, Andrew Sarris, Rudolph Arnheim, Jonas Mekas, and Parker Tyler. This assortment covers a number themes in 20th century cinema, from the Auteur thought to the industrial cinema, from Orson Welles to Kenneth Anger.
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Taken together, these two themes comprise the bitter irony of an American success story that ends in futile nostalgia, loneliness, and death. The fact that the personal theme is developed verbally while the materialistic theme is developed visually creates a distinctive stylistic counterpoint. Against this counterpoint, the themes unfold within the structure of a mystery story. Charles Foster Kane dies in a lonely castle. " This is the mystery of Citizen Kane. The detective is a reporter for -a news service which produces March of Time-like newsreels.
His booming voice is muffled by walls, carpets, furniture, hallways, stairs, and vast recesses of useless space. Toland's camera setups are designed to frame characters in the oblique angles of light and shadow created by their artificial environment. There are no luminous close-ups in which faces are detached from their backgrounds. When characters move across rooms, the floors and ceilings move with them, altering the points of reference but never transcending them. This technique draws attention to itself both because it is so unusual and because it tends to dehumanize characters by reducing them to fixed ornaments in a shifting architecture.
Now, whatever the technical virtues of such procedures, however mechanically clever and however much they may help weak productions of good plays and desperate productions of weak ones, the fact remains that the first law of projection exercised by a work of art is its appeal to the imagination and the sensibility. In other words, no matter what the means, the "space" ultimately created is situated subjectively; that is, it exists in the hearts and heads of the audience, and, if it doesn't, art has failed.