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Wednesday, 19 September 2007


Citizen Kane is a masterpiece of enigma. It’s only with the film’s fleeting last frames, as Charles Foster Kane’s childhood sleigh is about to be tossed into a furnace, that the first-time viewer finally learns the identity of ‘Rosebud’ – his famously muttered last word. But if the film’s ending is an enigma, the opening sequence could hardly be more explicit. ‘No trespassing’, ‘Keep out!’ warn the signs on Kane’s Xanadu retreat. For the viewer, the message is unequivocal, if a little bizarre considering that they have, presumably, just forked out x amout to watch the story of Kane’s life; there are some things you cannot know, have no right to. Don’t even go there; steer clear.

But there’s something about the camera, isn’t there? It doesn’t know when to give it a rest. In the hands of masters like Welles and his cinematographer on Kane, Gregg Toland, even the barbed wire that wards off intruders from Xanadu is no guard against the steady inquisition of the lens. By and large, the world’s news media is less subtle and possesses little of the artfulness of a Welles or a Toland, but they too are able to vault the mansion wall. Scampering and clambering where Toland’s camera floats and glides, they land with a bump and begin their familiar scrummaging on the same privately owned land. Thus their cameras continue to probe the lives of Gerry and Kate McCann, whose daughter Madeleine went missing from their Portuguese holiday home in May.

Perhaps we shouldn’t be so harsh on the cameras in this instance. They were, after all, invited, not warned away by signs and spikes of wire. Welles assertion still holds true though; there is nothing for you here, don’t even go there. Steer well clear. After all, what can they possibly tell us that we don't not already know? Even as someone without kids, it’s reasonably easy to do the empathetic math. A child goes missing, stays that way for an arduously long time. She is, when you callously reduce the options down to a stark, essential binary, either dead at the hands or alive and in the keep of her abductor(s). For her parents, the latter is the only tenable reality.

And so the cameras were called in, to show and to reveal, to bear witness to the theft, the loss. And so they roll and so we watch and still the child is lost and still we learn nothing that we did not already know. All we can see on the faces of the McCann’s is what you’d expect to be there; the ashen skin, the hollowed out eyes of those who have been cast into their own private versions of hell. Whether it is of their own or another’s making, who can say?

But the camera’s don’t just point and tell, reveal and show – those signs and all that twisted, piercing wire see to that. We must frame a story around what they show us, just as Welles and Mankiewicz’s screenplay orders Toland’s immaculate monochrome into the shape of Charles Kane’s life. And the McCann’s story now appears to be unfolding in a most horrendous fashion. The story, as it was set up in the opening frames of this ghastly realist horror film, has run out of legs. No child, no body, no killer; no story. Just those two faces – ashen, sunken, waiting, hoping, praying. The cameras need a story. So do the police. And so, if we are honest, do we.

We cannot clamber up the signs and vault into their minds; cannot cut through the wire, to see behind those newly media-savvy masks. But perhaps, we think, the cameras can. The media, with its zooms and dollies and grips and slo-mo will take us where we cannot – should not – go ourselves.

And then there is poor Madeleine, the off screen presence at the heart of this drama, its Rosebud. Barely seen aside the face that gazes from a million not wanted but needed posters, eyes with one crying pupil caught in a distant, happy childhood, she is an echoing, muttered ‘Rosebud’ on all our lips. We can only hope that this enigma resolves happily and let the cameras turn elsewhere.

L.U.V. on y'all,


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  1. If someone finds a link between the death of Diana and the disappearance of Maddie, will the editor of the Daily Express wank himself to death?

  2. We can but hope, Tim. We can but hope...