Borges, Film Critic?
The writer’s unknown phase shows a scathing Borges with a great sense of humor.
Poet, short-story writer, essayist, genius, librarian, Borges is known around the world for his erudition and the unmistakable style of his stories and essays. Few people know, however, that the Argentinian also wrote film reviews: incisive critiques with great sense of humor and full, as we would expect, of literary and philosophical references.
Among many films, Borges reviewed Citizen Kane (1941), Orson Welles’ masterpiece, in a strangely self-referential text. In it, the Argentinian discerned two plots: the most obvious one, which he defines as trivial and simple —the millionaire who discovers he lives in an empty and superficial world—, and the second, which, according to Borges, is a “metaphysical detective story”: where a detective slowly discovers who Kane was within the psychological and profoundly allegoric plot.
Paradoxically, the writer described the film as labyrinthine and asserted that it was one of the first cinematic works that describes, with full consciousness, the banality of a palace or a writers’ circle. Technically, he thought the film was excellent, with takes as detailed as if they were Pre-Raphaelite paintings. However, Borges established, Citizen Kane would go down in history as a film by Pudovkin or Griffith, whose historical importance is undeniable, but which nobody will want to see again: enormous, pretentious and tedious —the unintelligent work of a genius.
In a conversation he had with Welles and director Henry Jaglom 42 years later, the filmmaker defended it from Borges’ and Jean Paul Sartre’s criticism —the latter said it was a film “too much in love with itself”— asserting that both, the Argentinian and the Frenchman, hated Kane (the character) and what he represented, not the film. Welles also highlighted the irony of Borges calling the film labyrinthine, being the author of an oeuvre full of labyrinths.
King Kong (1933) got another interesting review by Borges. He described it as one of the most disastrous films of all time and claimed that King Kong was not an ape, but a rusty and clumsy 12- meter tall machine; Borges destroyed the work. Additionally, the writer claimed that it had been poorly filmed, since the cameraman should have filmed the ape from below to show his monstrosity, as opposed from above, which made the poor animal a hunched and belittled creature. Finally, he observed that what finally ruined King Kong —the creature and the film— was his love (lust, maybe?) for the actress Fay Wray.
Some other Borgean reviews include films such as Crime and Punishment (1935) by Joseph Von Sternberg, while he severely criticized films he considered where cheap Hollywood flicks, capable of creating monsters with the face of Greta Garbo and the voice of Aldonza Lorenzano.
A fervent admirer of Charlie Chaplin, whom he called one of the greatest gods of our era’s mythology, Borges’ filmic phase is, to this moment, a fairly unexplored field of his work ––one which allows us to see one of the many phases of this genius who, like a true Renaissance man, covered a great number of disciplines.
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