Curator’s Note: This week we’re looking at meta that puts contemporary television texts into conversation with the past through two pieces that look at the thematic and aesthetic antecedents of Hannibal and Sherlock. This piece by mid0nz explores the thematic and visual indebtedness of the Emmy award-winning “His Last Vow” to Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane (1941).
Citizen Kane is the most famous and most critically acclaimed film in all of cinema history. It’s an obviousintertext to His Last Vow. Both films feature ruthless, wealthy newspapermen named Charles who gained vast power and wealth by printing life-destroying lies. Each has three names: Charles Foster Kane and Charles Augustus Magnussen. Both are the lords of mind-blowing mansions: Kane built Xanadu and Magnussen built Appledore. Both mansions are filled to the rafters with memories. Kane fills his monstrous home with literal objects while Magnussen’s are all cleanly stored in his Appledore mind palace.
Cinematically there are parallels as well. For example, in Citizen Kane we are famously introduced to Xanadu via the estate’s gates which bear an enormous “K” for Kane. In His Last Vow, we’re shown the gates to Appledore with Magnussen’s monogram on his car’s license plate. We’re absolutely meant to link Magnussen with his mendacious cinematic forebear (who himself was based on a real newspaper magnate,William Randolph Hearst.)
There is an important difference between Citizen and Vow, however. In Citizen, Kane is both the true antagonist and protagonist while in Vow the antagonist (CAM) and the protagonist (Sherlock) are two totally different characters who share one key trait— their memory palaces.
Sherlock has something very important in common with Kane, too. What Sherlock calls Redbeard, Kane calls Rosebud.
Red Beard and Rosebud: On Childish Things in Sherlock and Citizen Kane
Citizen Kane is one of the most famous and most critically acclaimed films in cinema history. You’re not going to get a degree in film studies without having studied it throughly. (At least you shouldn’t.) It was produced, co-written by, directed by and starred the ingenious polymath Orson Welles. The subject is Charles Foster Kane (note the parallels to Charles Augustus Magnussen), a complex, mendacious, megalomaniacal newspaper mogul who was based on William Randolph Hearst:
Kane’s career in the publishing world is born of idealistic social service, but gradually evolves into a ruthless pursuit of power. Narrated principally through flashbacks, the story is revealed through the research of a newsreel reporter seeking to solve the mystery of the newspaper magnate’s dying word: “Rosebud”. (x)
Rosebud was the brand of Kane’s childhood sled.
In his waking hours, Kane had certainly forgotten the sled and the name which was painted on it.Casebooks of psychiatrists are full of these stories [of repression].
…Now, how could this sled still exist since it was built in 1880? It was necessary that my character be a collector—the kind of man who never throws anything away. I wished to use as a symbol—at the conclusion of the picture—a great expanse of objects—thousands and thousands of things—one of which is “Rosebud.” This field of inanimate theatrical properties I wished to represent the very dust heap of a man’s life. I wished the camera to show beautiful things, ugly things and useless things, too—indeed everything, which could stand for a public career and a private life. I wished objects of art, objects of sentiment, and just plain objects. There was no way for me to do this except to make my character, as I have said, a collector, and to give him a great house in which to keep his collections…. a little toy from the dead past of a great man. (x)
While Kane’s estate, Xanadu, is packed to the rafters with real objects, Magnussen’s Appledore is a mansion of a million virtual memories. “Appledore” is from the Saxon word apuldre and it means “apple tree,” in other words, the tree of knowledge. CAM’s mind’s eye roams Appledore’s corridors and shelves stuffed files, books and any number of bizarre objects- most notably remnants of somebody’s scary childhood. Creepy capitated dolls, monstrous clowns.
Rosebud, Kane’s childhood sled represents the best memories he never recalled in his conscious adulthood:
…”Rosebud” is the trade name of a cheap little sled on which Kane was playing on the day he was taken away from his home and his mother. In his subconscious it represented the simplicity, the comfort, above all the lack of responsibility in his home, and also it stood for his mother’s love which Kane never lost. (x)
So that’s Rosebud. What has that to do with Red Beard? Note that the canine, or rather what the caninerepresents, is among Sherlock’s pressure points (we’ll ignore the problem of “Hounds of the Baskerville” for this meta) (and what constitutes “normal” porn preferences.)
Sherlock’s mind palace (memory palace) contains a special corridor for his beloved Irish Setter, the dog that his family put down. Gatiss tells us that it was a case that Sherlock couldn’t solve because of sentiment. He believed it when Mycroft told him the setter was “sent to live on a farm.” (It’s due to his sentiment for John that Sherlock ignored his early observation that Mary was a liar.)
What has that to do with Citizen Kanian repression? Note the nationality of the noble beast. IRISH. As in Moriarty. (And Janine but that’s another meta.) Red Beard was Sherlock’s best friend (like John) but he was also Sherlock’s first blind spot, the hole in his logic. Oh look! Here’s another hole and an Irish sitter (sitty thing?)
It’s Moriarty who speaks Sherlock’s deepest worries (and thus desires also another meta.) Jim worries about John the most, after all… and WHAM! At the mere mention of his beloved’s name Sherlock fights to wakey wakey, to hold true to His Last Vow.
Unlike Kane, Sherlock doesn’t die. If he had, his final thoughts would be of Irish Setters, of a childhood love perverted, of pain and loss, in other words “Red Beard.”
Kane’s sled burns with the detritus of his life, the contents of his mansion. The newsreel reporter never learns its significance.
“Citizen Kane and His Last Vow” and “Red Beard and Rosebud: On Childish Things in Sherlock and Citizen Kane,” ©mid0nz, originally posted on January 18 & 21, 2014