Rosebud

Maizie said airily, “You might be interested to know that I had dinner with Mr Bond last night.”

It was quite feasible.  Maizie was married to some guy high up in BBC Scotland.  She was very glamorous.  She could quite easily have been a Bond girl.  We felt that she belonged to a life infinitely wider and richer than anything we knew.  She had hinterland.  It’s a great trick to carry off, if you can, as a teacher – simultaneously to be a born pedagogue, at home in the classroom, and to exude the powerful sense that you belong to the wider world.  We knew she was a sophisticate because she came to school in a taxi.  Sometimes we got our ink exercise jotter back with a cigarette burn on the margin.  She had absolutely no discipline problems and if we never crossed her nor even felt the wish to cross her, it was through a dread of sexual humiliation.  She certainly never had recourse to corporal punishment which I think she would have regarded with distaste.  She handed out lines which we loathed even more than the strap; it was such a bore and a waste of time to write out fifty times, “I must not forget my pencil.”  She and our French teacher Pinocchio were great pals.  Pinocchio may have had a big nose, but she was sexy as hell.  Part of her allure was the fact that she was French. We were fooling around in her class one day, and she silenced us, reduced us to nothing.  “You boys, you thing you are men, bu’ you are jus’ li’lle boys.”

Anyway…

We all piped up, “What was he like?”

“Sean Connery?”  She turned down the corners of her mouth.  “Bald and taciturn.”

I checked it out.  He wasn’t bald, but he was certainly taciturn.  He was perfect.  They say that Earl Stanley Gardner watched the auditions for Perry Mason, had seen Raymond Burr, and said, “That’s him.  That’s Mason.”  This was the same.  That’s him.  Bond.  James Bond.

I wasn’t confident about the Scottish accent.  “Quuck Honey!  Doon ahent this roke!”  (I exaggerate.)  I knew Bond’s father, Andrew, was from Glencoe, and James went to school in Edinburgh.  But Fettes isnae in Fountainbridge.  James is only Scottish in the sense that Alec Douglas-Home’s Scottish.  Frankly, I was amazed that the powers-that-be didn’t dub Sean out with the voice of James Mason.  I think that if Dr No had been financed by Pinewood rather than Hollywood they probably would have.  Perhaps the Americans found the Scottish accent Celtic and romantic and strong and free, not, as we ourselves did, disenfranchised and low caste and downtrodden and cringing.  God bless America!  They were ahead of their time.

I went to see Charade with Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn.  I thought it was fantastic.  So chic.  So sophisticated and Parisian.  It seemed to me inevitable that these two, Grant and Hepburn, would play opposite one another.  They struck me as the actor and actress who, above all others, had invented themselves.  Even the accent of each of them was entirely individual.  Nobody else talked like that – unless, like Tony Curtis in Some Like it Hot, it was homage by mimicry, the sincerest form of flattery.  Grant’s metamorphosis from obscure waif, with a crazed institutionalised mother in Bristol, seemed inspirational.  Archie Leach.  How did he do it?  He joined the circus!  Could you detect that provenance behind the immaculate charm, the tanned, dimpled, handsome face, the self-deprecation and the self-mockery?  No you could not.  There was an impenetrable mystery there.  Hitchcock recognised it, recognised its potential for menace.  Everybody wanted to be Grant.  Including Grant.

If anything, Hepburn was even more mysterious.  A Belgian refugee thrown up out of the chaos of the war.  An urchin.  Une gamine.  So English and so foreign.

Grant plays – well, that’s just it – who does he play?  Is it Peter Joshua or Alexander Dyle or Adam Canfield or Brian Cruikshank?  Is he an investigator on the trail of a group of thugs or is he himself a thug?  He could be either.  We really don’t know.  Neither does Reggie Lampert.  She doesn’t know whom to trust.

Paris is the backdrop.  “Dry-cleaning-wise, things are all fouled up!”  The quest and the mystery.  “It’s here Reggie – right before our eyes.”  The lovers on the Seine, the beautiful melody, the percussive thriller theme and the stringent and menacing string music.

“Reggie I beg you!  That man is Carson Dyle!  Trust me one more time.”

The passionate yell.  “Why should I?”

“I can’t think of a reason in the world.”

So she does.

The chase in the metro reminded me of Geoffrey Household’s Rogue Male, and the anonymous silhouette who pushed his assailant on to the live rail in the Aldwych underground.  Hideous because domestic.

The Count screened Citizen Kane one night at Film Club.  It was weird, daunting, and oppressive.  It started at the end, with a long shot trying to break through layer upon layer of wrought iron and latticed stone work that had held Charles Foster Kane prisoner in his own Xanadu.  The stately pleasure dome had turned into a mausoleum.  Kane had died.  The snow-filled bauble fell from his dead fingers and the final utterance came with the last expiration.

“Rosebud!”

Then, a brief resume of the life of the newspaper magnate, the projector lights died and you realised you had been watching Pathé News.  The potted life we have just looked back on is opaque.  Maybe, reasoned the world-weary journos in the smoke-filled room, maybe “rosebud” is the key to the meaning of Kane’s life.  At any rate it’s a hook, a handle, an angle.

I thought, that’s it!  Rosebud!  What does it mean?  More specifically, what does it mean for me?  What is my rosebud?  I sat through the film and tried to decipher its ever darkening images.  The rich man who loses everything that is of any real worth.

For what shall it profit a man, if he gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?

There is a scene towards the end of Citizen Kane, a terrible scene, when Orson Welles goes into a blind rage and destroys a room.  I thought, that’s me.  That’ll be me, 40 years on, if I don’t find my rosebud.

The journalists on a quest never did find what they were looking for, and perhaps we the viewers didn’t either, though if you hung around to the bitter end and you saw all the accumulated junk of Xanadu being hurled into the incinerator you would have caught sight of Rosebud, the name of the boy Kane’s sledge, melting in the furnace.  I knew the secret of life had to be something quite simple, something quite devoid of sophistication, something available to a simple mind, something a child can have, something an adult might irrevocably lose.

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