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PRINT December 1987

KANE’S WELLES: THE PHANTOM OF THE OPUS

ORSON WELLES HAD THAT ONEROUS BURDEN, an original vision. He never had a commercial success. Instead he had those rhetorical ghosts of success—controversies, sensations, prizes. He created what many consider his masterpiece at 25. The rest of his career is usually seen as one of the longest dying falls in American art, which isn’t true. But it’s too satisfying a myth to abandon. To many, the notion of Welles, prematurely posthumous, good for narrations and commercials, sitting among the shards of his ego, is satisfying. Nothing reassures us more than a failed genius. It is a particularly American status, a kind of forced democratization of the offensively exceptional.

Virtually every discussion of Welles shows an awareness of his body—parked in the vicinity of his art—all three hundred pounds of it, out of which comes the voice resonating in fleshy caverns. That body infects the body of

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