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Rosebud: The Story of Orson Welles Hardcover – Jun 1996

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Hardcover, Jun 1996

Product details

  • Hardcover: 463 pages
  • Publisher: Alfred a Knopf; 1st Edition edition (Jun. 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679418342
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679418344
  • Product Dimensions: 3.8 x 17.1 x 24.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 5,814,225 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) --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

About the Author

David Thomson is an acclaimed film critic and author. He lives in San Fransisco with his family. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 15 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 25 Oct. 2001
Format: Paperback
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) 29 reviews
19 of 23 people found the following review helpful
Interesting narrative structures makes it move like fiction 7 Jan. 2000
By Amazon Customer - Published on
Format: Paperback
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.
25 of 32 people found the following review helpful
Judgement day for Orson Welles 28 Jan. 2005
By Babeur - Published on
Format: Paperback
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.
17 of 22 people found the following review helpful
Tries to be avant garde, ends up just pretentious 26 Feb. 2003
By Jennifer M. - Published on
Format: Paperback
I was so looking forward to reading this book, but it turned out to be not at all what I expected. Perhaps I'm too used to a more conventional style of biography, but I found "Rosebud" hard to get through. As fascinating a person as Orson Welles was, parts of this book were still slow going. The author constantly interrupts the narrative with "dialogues" between himself and...himself? The publisher? An imaginary reader? It's hard to say, and seems to be used mostly to insert his own presence into the biography, and to do an end run around any potential libel.

Other unnecessary bits include a whole chapter of this dialogue between the author and his imaginary friend as they watch the first few minutes of "Citizen Kane," and another entire chapter about how the author became a fan of Welles. This is supposed to be a biography of Orson Welles, not a book about how David Thomson feels about Orson Welles, and how Thomson has taught "Citizen Kane" in his class for years, blah blah blah. Every time Welles' own story gets interesting, Thomson pops up to remind you he's there. Ideally, a reader shouldn't be bombarded with the presence of the author in a biography.
There is some interesting information, but the book as a whole is not put together very well.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Stands on the shoulders of a Giant,& pisses on his head! 14 May 2014
By kubwell627 - Published on
Format: Paperback
The author obviously considers himself a fan of Welles, although he spends the entire book trying to take all but the slimmest credit away from Welles. War of the Worlds, Welles tries to steal credit, when he deserves no more than the other Mercury staff. Which is funny because those involved have consistently given Welles credit for the idea and not just this script but ALL of his radio scripts. Citizen Kane, the masterwork of Herman Mankewitz, and less give Gregg Toland a hunk of the credit too. Welles, really just showed up, and was rude to George Schaffer. Not at all acurite, the script controversy is easily solvable for anyone who wants to do the research. Mank wrote a fantastic screenplay, and Welles did what he does, he made it one of a kind. Now as for Toland, his credit is richly deserved, as Welles gave it to him, putting their titles on the same card( a rare move and 1 meant as a thank you to Toland) the author then accuses Welles of trying to "steal" credit for the script, now this is really interesting. Not only did Welles have the Right to take full credit, but he DID write the screenplay. Mank wrote over 200 scripts most he never got credit for, which was standard practice for Hollywood, & not only did Welles give him credit, he gave him top billing! Perhaps worst of all, Thomson, blames Welles completely for the "It's All True" fiasco, which he at most deserves, a minute amount of the blame. He then goes on to suggest that Welles planned for Ambersons to be hacked & burned so that it could be like a fabled lost city, ever sought after and Glorious. What an A-Hole, I mean just outrageous D-Bag like mentality!! This guy is so far out there and with his head firmly up his own A**, that this book is much more about Thomson believe in his writing ability(which is Fine) & his ridiculous theories which make him seem like a pretentious Wind bag. Skip this, and Read "This Is Orson Welles" by Welles and Bogdonavich. This book Stinks
13 of 17 people found the following review helpful
Masterfully written, and truly indispensible for Welles fans 10 Dec. 1997
By A Customer - Published on
Format: Paperback
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.
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