In 1938 Orson Welles directed Citizen Kane, which is consistently cited as the greatest movie of all time. As Roger Ebert said, not everyone agrees that Citizen Kane is the best, but the ones that don’t can’t agree on a film to replace it.

His subsequent career was a skyrocket, ie, it spent most of its trajectory going down. His later films were largely financial failures and soon stopped having finances to fail with; 1942’s The Magnificent Ambersons grossed $1 million on a $1.1 million budget, and 1948’s Macbeth was made for $800,000 but never saw wide release.

Welles spent the latter part of his life as professional box office poison, self-financing his films through residuals and bit parts. He’d become (vide Scott Walker) a man everyone wanted to know and nobody wanted to write a check to. Critical reaction to his films was also cooling: you can read contemporary critics struggling with his work, giving it shot after shot, but only because the director had made Citizen Kane.

Ebert’s review of Othello reads like a mechanic detailing a car: he explains its ins and outs and production hurdles and obscure details about the set design…and you still have no idea whether he likes it or not. Except that you do: when a critic reviews a Great Director(tm), silence means something.

Gregory: “Is there any other point to which you would wish to draw my attention?”

Holmes: “To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.”

Gregory: “The dog did nothing in the night-time.”

Holmes: “That was the curious incident.”

In 1945, Welles was given a column at the Washington Post. For $350 a week he produced freewheeling, unfocused, unreadable scandal columns containing insular Hollywood gossip, some of which were potentially libelous (“the fascist salute was invented by the Hollywood film director C.B. DeMille”). The column lasted one year, and became an early example of how the formula of famous person + massive platform simply cannot fail to fail to fail.

Orson Welles finished his career the way he’d started it: by using his voice to sell things. In 1970, an advertising agency tapped him to record ads for various consumer goods, and in case he thought he still had dignity to lose, they made him audition for the part.

“An ad agency called and asked me to do a voice over. I said I would. Then they said would I please come in and audition. ‘Audition?’ I said. ‘Surely to God there’s someone in your little agency who knows what my voice sounds like?’ Well, they said they knew my voice but it was for the client. So I went in. I wanted the money, I was trying to finish Chimes at Midnight.”

The frozen pea ad is notorious. Even to this day, it has a cringeworthy aura to rival LEAVE BRITNEY ALONE and so on.  Orson Welles is visibly irritable and quibbles with his director about his lines and how he’s to say them. It’s the sort of thing they pay satirists to come up with. The magisterial, stentorian voice that used to orate Shakespeare is reduced to selling frozen goods. For money. The peas aren’t the only thing on ice.

In the Youtube era these ads went viral yet again. “We Will Sell No Wine Before Its Time” has probably been viewed more times than any of Welles’ actual films, save Citizen Kane. Welles slurs incomprehensibly. I doubt the vineyard had any wine left: he appears to have drunk their entire stock to dull the pain.

On one level, it’s upsetting to see Welles reduced to this, like seeing bones being melted to glue and realizing they once belonged to a prize race horse. It’s also startling to see behind the curtain of the TV ad world. I don’t know, I guess on some level we still believe that Santa is real, that pro wrestling isn’t fake, and that the guys on TV mean what they say.

These are sad tapes, but they’re also happy ones. Welles was washed up at the end of his life…but is that such a bad thing? Being washed up means you were once in the water. Most of us spend our lives on the shore.

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At the risk of sounding like a dril tweet, you gotta hand it to Valerie Solanas. She saw a problem and did everything in her power to fix it. Of all the feminist theorists scribbling about society’s war on women, Solanas was one of the few who truly meant it. She’s in a class with Elliot Rodger, Fred Phelps, and Pol Pot: true believers who make you feel as small as an insect because they bled for their beliefs as you’d never do for yours. Reading SCUM Manifesto is like “reading” the shattering wall of light from a plutonium bomb explosion at ground zero: it’s hard not be blinded by the intensity of Solanas’s faith.

“To call a man an animal is to flatter him; he’s a machine, a walking dildo.”

The disease: men. The cure: no men. In SCUM Manifesto (which is not titled The SCUM Manifesto, the Scum Manifesto, or any of the internet’s misspellings) Valerie Solanas outlines the failings of male-governed society and proposes radical action: Eve needs to take her stolen rib and plunge it back into Adam’s chest, sharp end first.

You may have heard that SCUM stands for “Society for Cutting Up Men”, but Solanas doesn’t want to cut up men, precisely. She feels that men can be rationally convinced of their uselessness, at which point they’ll “go off to the nearest friendly suicide center where they will be quietly, quickly, and painlessly gassed to death.”

Is the book meant as satire? It could be read that way. The rest of Solanas’s life is a compelling argument that it isn’t. Much of the book is clearly an inversion of Freudian psychoanalysis (it proposes that men suffer from “pussy envy”, and so on). But that doesn’t necessarily mean that Solanas is insincere: serious ideas are often formulated in the shadow of their opposites (Hegelian antithesis, etc.), and it’s likely that SCUM Manifesto contains an extreme or distorted version of Solanas’s true feelings.

As an academic and one-time actress, she would have known of Antonin Artaud’s “Theater of Cruelty” method: exaggeration; cranking up the volume; overloading the senses; shoving actors and audience alike past their comfort zone.  SCUM Manifesto might be a Book of Cruelty, intended to shift the Overton window so that milder versions of SCUM would be politically viable. Or she may have been crazy. Or crazy like a fox. To be a chauvinist pig, she wasn’t a fox in any other sense.

What’s often overlooked about this book is Solanas’s utopian visions of the future. SCUM Manifesto is nearly a misclassified science fiction novel: Solanas foresees a world containing ATMs, electronic ballots, automation, UBI, luxury communism, the end of death itself, and…Tiktok?

“[FOOTNOTE: It will be electronically possible for [a male in the future] to tune into any specific female he wants to and follow in detail her every movement. The females will kindly, obligingly consent to this, as it won’t hurt them in the slightest and it is a marvelously kind and humane way to treat their unfortunate, handicapped fellow beings.]”

That’s no way to talk about Belle Delphine’s subs. Solanas stresses that we (meaning her 1970s readers) would be enjoying all these things already if it wasn’t for men ruining everything. It reminds me of those dubious graphs on atheist message boards, where humanity’s rising progress gets bodyslammed from the top rope by the CHRISTIAN DARK AGES.  We’d be colonizing the galaxy by now, if Constantine I hadn’t gotten baptised. Although we are, when you think about it. A one-planet-sized portion of the galaxy.

SCUM Manifesto can also be read as comedy. I’m not joking: Solanas is hilarious. Her prose is a mixture of histrionic sincerity, phrasing as odd as an Achewood comic, and 1960s “groovy, man” lingo that’s impossible to imitate and impossible not to laugh at. Why didn’t anyone tell me it was this funny?

“SCUM is too impatient to wait for the de-brainwashing of millions of assholes. Why should the swinging females continue to plod dismally along with the dull male ones? Why should the fates of the groovy and the creepy be intertwined?”

“The sick, irrational men, those who attempt to defend themselves against their disgustingness, when they see SCUM barrelling down on them, will cling in terror to Big Mama with her Big Bouncy Boobies, but Boobies won’t protect them against SCUM; Big Mama will be clinging to Big Daddy, who will be in the corner shitting in his forceful, dynamic pants.”

Surely Solanas wasn’t totally serious. Nobody could write “forceful, dynamic pants” and actually mean it.

Or could they? This is the most fascinating thing about the SCUM Manifesto: it’s as forceful as an anvil to the face…and nobody’s sure what it means.  To anti-feminists, it’s a stick to beat feminists with. To feminists, it’s variously a reactionary horror from the 60s; a brilliant satire like A Modest Proposal; or a work to be approached with sympathy and compassion, containing the howl of a woman pushed to the edge and then far, far, over it.

It’s a radical document. It’s a foundational text of Second-Wave Feminism. Some want to burn it, others want to teach it. Few works mean so many things to so many people.

Solanas’s legacy is one of failure and unfulfilled dreams. SCUM Manifesto will soon be fifty years old: its promised utopia has yet to arrive: men still exist, the fates of the groovy and the creepy remain intertwined, etc. Solanas’s faith could move mountains, but the mountains all moved back. SCUM Manifesto might never have achieved notoriety at all if had hadn’t come wrapped around a metaphoric and literal bullet. It’s a final irony that her name will go down in history so indelibly linked to that of a male that she might as well have married him.

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“Paul, a folk-influenced singer-songwriter with ear-length black hair, forms a writing partnership with another man. They are wildly successful in the early 1970s, although sometimes controversial due to their socially transgressive lyrics. Paul’s ego and micromanaging ways drive a rift between the two, causing a breakup. The guitarist is arrested. However, they reconcile before death.”

(The Beatles, Simon & Garfunkel, Peter Paul & Mary, KISS)

“A female singer with black hair and acute symbols in her name is born on a cold island in the 1960s. She achieves modest fame as part of a band and greater worldwide success as a solo act. She is noted for overdubbing lots of vocal tracks, often not in English. A psychotic stalker from a Latin country falls in love with her. Events culminate in a suicide attempt.”

(Björk, Enya, Sinead O’Connor, nearly Beyoncé)

“A punk-influenced band with ties to New York features a blonde female bassist and a dark-haired male singer-songwriter. Their relationship fails, and the band splits acrimoniously.”

(White Zombie, the Talking Heads, Sonic Youth, the Smashing Pumpkins)

“A biracial guitar player in a platinum-selling heavy metal band from California is involved in a fatal automobile accident. Nobody involved was wearing a seatbelt. The respective bands have all released a self-titled album, as well as an album cover that’s all-black except for the image of an animal.”

(Metallica, Motley Crue, Deftones)

“A UK rock frontman named after a disciple of Jesus forgets to delete his internet search history. Legal problems ensue.”

(Pete Townshend, Ian Watkins, Gary Glitter, nearly Massive Attack, partially Jimmy Savile)

“A songwriter/producer is renowned for his innovative use of sound. His records thunder with Wagnerian pomposity, and could be likened to a solid wall. The producer is a troubled man, however, and is haunted by demons. As the years pass he is blown like a paper bag into paranoia, mania, and eventually murder.”

(Phil Spector, Joe Meek, Varg Vikernes)

[minor cheats: Art Garfunkel didn’t write songs until the 1990s, Peter Paul & Mary had their final #1 hit three months before 1970, a guitarist in KISS was arrested but he was not the same one that the rest applies to, I don’t think D’Arcy Wretzky and Billy Corgan dated, Vince Neil and Chi Cheng played guitar but not in their respective bands, Chi Cheng died years after his accident, it’s a stretch to call Varg Vikernes a producer dot dot dot or a songwriter el oh el]

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