The Magnificent Ambersons Screen 9 articles

The Magnificent Ambersons


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  • ...Welles’s wondrous adaptation of Booth Tarkington’s novel is strikingly claustrophobic. Ambersons is a work of interiority, in terms of both sets and characters—the world feels like it’s closing in on you, so that the effect of the film on the viewer is a kind of derangement, so that you feel not unlike Agnes Moorehead’s bitter, cackling Aunt Fanny by the end of the film.

  • Leave the Welles Cult aside for a moment. With its nostalgic intensity, its melancholy longing for a vanished society, its painful recognition of the frailty of order, THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS is its own Magnificent Ruin, a stillborn fragment that could hardly be otherwise. No less than England's neo-classical obsession with Greco-Roman detritus in the early nineteenth century, THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS stands as America's early twenty-first century fount of implacable myth.

  • Many other films have sought to present the past, recreating the settings and costumes and props of an era. But Ambersons is about pastness. It conveys a melancholy recognition that things are always changing, that we struggle to make sense of events only after it’s too late to affect them. It’s a film centered on missed opportunities and what might have been.

  • Unlike the glittering puzzle of “Citizen Kane,” Welles’s Booth Tarkington adaptation, “The Magnificent Ambersons” (1942), unfolds like a grave, heartrendingly luminous dream, but both films evoke a piercing nostalgia. Though “The Magnificent Ambersons” was re-edited and given a less grim ending while Welles was out of the country working on another project, what remains is still haunting in its rapt beauty.

  • [It] was famously butchered by RKO — shorn of its final reels, with a sappy happy ending slapped on. But its greatness remains evident throughout. The story takes in decades and generations, but it's told through lighthearted vignettes; its melancholy is cumulative and subtle.

  • While most critics would vote for Citizen Kane as the greatest American film, or certainly Orson Welles’ best film, The Magnificent Ambersons has always moved me more deeply. Although inarguably compromised by the fake “happy ending” imposed by RKO when they took the film out of Welles’ hands and recut it, Ambersons is still a masterpiece... with its richly-layered story of pride, loss and miscommunication, of Midwestern grandees losing their preeminence under the onslaught of industrialisation.

  • Personally speaking, my own life would be different if the world contained such an object as a complete Magnificent Ambersons. When I saw this desecrated masterpiece for the first time at the age of 13, I could actually feel where Welles' footage stopped and RKO's began: Ambersons is such a profoundly physical experience that the difference is plain.

  • "J'aime le souvenir de ces époques nues." (Baudelaire) There's no nostalgia like a modernist's nostalgia, Orson Welles on the "disappearing miasma" of Midwestern aristocracy is an ornate procession of engravings, half fondness and half dread... Welles' masterpiece, truncated torso and all, therefore the most exquisite of American pictures—the ultimate testament from a conjurer not yet thirty but already painfully conscious of the difficult art of growing old gracefully.

  • Welles’ great films all perform magic tricks: the tracking shot in Touch Of Evil, the funhouse climax from The Lady From Shanghai, the collage of Shakespeare texts in Chimes At Midnight, the misdirection of F For Fake. But Ambersons has at least two. The first is that it’s a work of terrific wit that pokes fun of the mores and fashions of a bygone era but is also deeply sensitive; I’d rank it with the similarly personal Chimes At Midnight as one of Welles’ most emotionally sincere films.

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