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Rosebud: The Story of Orson Welles [Paperback]

David Thomson
3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

2 Oct 1997

Rosebud is a riveting and powerful portrait of the rise and fall of one of Hollywood's greatest innovators - the man who brought us Citizen Kane and then lost himself to obesity, small talk and conjuring tricks on daytime television.

With humour, pace and the twists of a mystery story, acclaimed film critic and writer David Thomson probes the essential questions surrounding Welles, exploring the ferocious energy and demonic intellect behind the boy genius. Challenging, idiosyncratic, compelling: Rosebud understands Welles as no other study has, and in a way that leaves the reader breathless, amused and deeply moved by the wonder that was once Orson.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Abacus; New Ed edition (2 Oct 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0349109095
  • ISBN-13: 978-0349109091
  • Product Dimensions: 12.6 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 202,711 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

English-American writer David Thomson was educated at Dulwich College and the London School of Film Technique. After seven years at Penguin Books, he became a Director of Film Studies at Dartmouth College, New Hampshire between 1977 and 1981. Perhaps best known for his magisterial Biographical Dictionary of Film, Thomson is a prolific writer on film including biographies of David O Selznick and Orson Welles, and two books on Hollywood: Beneath Mulholland: Thoughts on Hollywood and Its Ghosts and The Whole Equation: A History of Hollywood. Thomson lives in San Fransisco with his wife and two sons.

Product Description


Hugely entertaining. (Sunday TIMES)

Marvellous...a great book. (MAIL on Sunday)

The glory of Thomson's superb book is that he never tries to resolve the questions raised; he just makes you want to rewind this bewildering newsreel back to the beginning and puzzle out those questions all over again (Guardian)

Irresistible ... Do the publishers require a shrieking blurb for Rosebud? Glad to oblige. Let them simply recycle, with due attention to the adjective's roots in "terror", the poster slogan for Citizen Kane: "It's terrific!"' (Independent on Sunday)

About the Author

David Thomson is an acclaimed film critic and author. He lives in San Fransisco with his family.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting reading, but disappointing 25 Oct 2001
By A Customer
I bought this book as I wanted to learn more about the larger than life Orson Welles. However, before you read this book you should make sure you watch as many of Orson's films as you can as they are dissected in detail and are refered to frequently.
Unfortunately I haven't seen all of his movies and it was hard going trying to identify the author's sometimes obscure points regarding Orson's filmography.
A good read, but more of a filmography than a standard biography. If this era is of interest to you I would also suggest reading The Howard Hughes Story - an excellent read!
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 3.2 out of 5 stars  24 reviews
18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting narrative structures makes it move like fiction 7 Jan 2000
By Amazon Customer - Published on
When I told a co-worker that I was reading a book on Welles, she said, "Wow, that must be interesting...he was such a mysterious man." And this book definitely is interesting. Instead of reverting to the dry, analytical narrative that most biographies use, the author uses an effervescent, almost poetical descriptive voice, as well as employing an imaginary dialogue with an inquiring editor. The dialogue technique is used sometimes to escape the pitfalls of libel suits (as someone to "suggest" that so-and-so may have homosexual, etc.) as well as to explore multidimensional interpretations of film.
This technique could be distracting, but it isn't. Instead it's compelling, and it gives voice to the reader in an interesting way.
Now, on to the content...this book was a fine portrait of Orson, detailing his early success, blazing masterpiece, debilitating failure, and strange downward slide. It examines Welles with both adoration and horror -- how could someone with so much talent burn so brightly and then burn out?
Scenic analysis of some films are an added bonus, and prove almost as illuminating as biographical details. These film crit moments aren't too heavy for the amateur, but they also won't bore a seasoned scholar. (ALthough if you haven;t seen "Citizen Kane" before you pick this up, you really should go rent it first...and even if you know it well, as I do, you might want to still rent it because the book does explore it with regards to Welles psyche, and it is very helpful to have scenes fresh in your mind.)
This talks about Welles's personal life, but refrains from idle gossip. It emphasizes the *human* struggle in Welles and illuminates the myth without diminishing the pleasant mystery.
Highly recommended for theater & film buffs as well as people with a good taste for a tragic story.
13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Masterfully written, and truly indispensible for Welles fans 10 Dec 1997
By A Customer - Published on
David Thomson and Simon Callow both released biographies of Orson Welles at about the same time, and it seems the two will be perpetually linked in reviews. Certainly Callow's book is the more deeply researched, but it is Thomson's which tries and succeeds to get into the soul of the elusive Welles. Free from the overwhelming piles of research which make Callow's book exhausting, if still fascinating, Thomson is free to pick and choose which details he wishes to emphasize, and he does a marvelous job of it. Thomson's account of Welles' final years, for example, with its use of choice anecdote and observation, is brief and heartbreaking. His insights into the films are immensely interesting as well. Even if I did not agree with them all, they did have the effect of making me go back to the films themselves to have another look, which is perhaps the ultimate compliment one can pay Thomson. "Rosebud", unlike Callow's book, is written by someone who genuinely admires Welles. Thomson doesn't fail to point out Welles' shortcomings and failures, but his critiques are free of Callow's sniping. Thomson refrains from gossip, doesn't weigh himself down with trivia, and in the end, has written the one truly indispensible biography of Welles.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting and Arresting 13 Feb 2001
By Stephen Reginald - Published on
David Thompson has written a biography that for the most part seems objective on all accounts. While acknowledging Orson Welles's great genius, he doesn't gloss over the major flaws in his character. Like the tragic figure in Citizen Kane, Welles's seemed to fall because of his own arrogance and indifference to others around him. As a young man in his twenties, Welles seemingly has the world on a string, but either because of ego and the aforementioned arrogance, never seems to learn the important game of diplomacy, whether it be with film executives or some of his talented inner circle. Like a good novel, this biography is an interesting read. It moves along at a nice pace, and the information surrounding Welles's early days in theater and radio are fascinating. The fascination only increases once Welles and Company set off for Hollywood. After inking one of the all-time sweetheart deals that a film studio ever put together, Welles just seems to take it all for granted. He's either alienating friends and executives or just plan goofing off. As a history of the entertainment industry, this book is terrific. As a history of someone who for unknown reasons squandered opportunity after opportunity it's both frustrating and sad. What would American film be today had Welles been a more disciplined individual? We'll never know, but Rosebud helps give us a glimmer of what might have been.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent job on a very difficult subject. 19 Oct 2000
By bruce horner - Published on
This is that rarest of birds, a celebrity biography that's actually a good book. Thomson is an insightful, elegant writer and a solid film (and film industry) critic, and his skills are fully at work here, as he resists both of the the strong responses that Welles usually elicits: hero worship, and the urge to debunk. Obviously long fascinated by Welles, Thomson manages to be as objective as possible (though I think he errs on the side of generosity with regard to some of Welles's post-Kane films). Thomson even manages to say something original and interesting about Citizen Kane, which alone would make the book worth a read. The real trouble with a biography of Welles is how to deal with the last two thirds of the life of someone who reached his peak at 26. That's a lot of anticlimax to deal with. Peter Guralnik faced a similar problem in his massive, two-volume Elvis Presley biography---how to write meaningfully and accurately about post-Army Elvis without boring people to death. Thomson deals rather more successfully with post-Kane Welles, mainly because he doesn't go into as much detail. Admittedly the later parts of the book become a bit of a blur; but throughout the book one gets the strong sense that Thomson has a firm grasp (as much as anyone can) of the enigmatic Welles---has his number, so to speak. Yet he is neither cruel nor fawning. This is THE Welles bio to read.
22 of 29 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Judgement day for Orson Welles 28 Jan 2005
By Babeur - Published on
David Thomson thinks he's some kind of superior being and criticizes in a pompous and condescendent manner everything Welles ever did. He's one of those people who think that Welles never achieved anything after Kane. He wonders if he was even really responsible for Kane? He states that Welles did not write any of the script (false), that Greg Toland was director of photography while Robert Wise was responsible for the editing. SO what did Welles do? He directed! Apparently, that's not enough to make Kane his movie, his masterpiece, among others. Well if movies were only based on photography, scripting and editing, then why would directors be needed?

Thomson insults Welles in every paragraph; he hammers him over and over, relentlessly. He focuses on the less successful aspects of his life and exaggerates them. He ridicules him, makes fun of his weight, says he's egotistical, a liar, a misogynist, an unfaithful friend, a machiavellic mischievous man who uses people, cheats on his wives, dates married women, eats like a pig and stuffs his face with anything he could find (he talks a lot about that), a pretend genius or would be genius who thinks he's the victim of evil Hollywood moguls. What other bad things could be said about Welles? Basically, any insult or evil thought you would ever have towards your worse enemy would not match up to the way Thomson writes about Welles.

Welles is not the only target of the author's wrath towards famous people. Any dead actor that was a friend or acquaintance of welles is also treated unkindly, as for the ones who are still alive, Thomson refrains himself from making a judgement. What a coward! Dead celebrities are such easy targets to criticism aren't they?

When Thompson runs out of evil things to say, he talks about his childhood and when he went to see The Third Man with his grand mother who for some reason has a claw instead of a hand. Oh poor little David, he could not hold his grandma's hand, only a claw! Tear. Who cares! Also, he has the annoying habit of interrupting every other chapter with imaginary conversations between the writer (?) and the publisher (?). It's never quite clear and really pointless. It's a way for him to put himself in value and shows how he can also criticize his own work. What a decent man!...

I was not expecting a hagiography, I know Welles was not godlike. Thomson explains at the end of the book that he does not mean to put Welles down, but only attempts to humanize him. Well there's a difference between humanizing someone and destroying the truth. Also, a biography should include anecdotes, facts, it should be detailed and accurate. Thompson writes some kind of very superficial, selective, inaccurate story, with imaginary dialogues about what people could have said to welles or thought of him. You can't assume things in a biography.

The author is too involved with his own thoughts instead of sticking to the facts in an objective manner. If you want to learn about Welles, read "Road to Xanadu' by Simon Callow, which focuses on Welles life up to Kane. Or "This is Orson Welles" which is a series of Welles interviews conducted by Peter Bogdanovich in which Welles tells the story of his life. Sure he had a tendency of lying about his past, but only because he was a story teller. Story Tellers always add a little to the truth. Thomson has no such skill.

Unfortunately I can't give 0 star to this book, or I would. It's really just food for the shredder.
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