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“Things That Flew at Us” by Sarah Batcheller

Sarah is currently earning her MFA in Fiction at George Mason University, where she also serves as Social Media Manager for Phoebe Literary Journal. She tweets @Sarahhh1251. 

In the beginning, I loved hearing the cicadas sing. High in the trees, reverberating, their melodic laughter buzzed. It was like they were all in on something.

I imagined them shaking the maple leaves as they balanced on the petioles and cackled, high-fiving and dancing jigs with each inside joke. Instead of soda spraying through a nostril, a paper-thin casing would slip off, exposing a shiny, raw body surprised in its new nakedness. A pause, then an eruption of more laughter from all around. It warmed me to think of how happy they must be together.  

It was the year that special swarm of Magicicada paraded the East Coast, rising from the cold ground after seventeen years. I was in the fifth grade, and enjoyed swatting their abandoned exoskeletons off of the maple trunks. The tree where I first learned to climb usually harbored the most shells, which I imagined the fat insects were doing for me. Once, in the early days of the swarm, I stole a small Tupperware container from the Lazy Susan, and filled it with seven whole shells. When I brought it inside, my mother gasped, and in trying to snatch it from my small hand, let it fall to the ground. I hadn’t closed it tight, so the top fell off, unleashing the remains onto the carpet. My dog Falcon gobbled them up before my mom could return with the dustpan and brush. When she came from the kitchen to see him munching she laughed so hard I thought her casing would slip off too.

Then, the D.C. Sniper began terrorizing the DMV, and they locked all the children indoors. I’d wondered, now and then, if the cicadas had driven him so mad with their incessant humming and shedding and dive-bombing that he just lost it. But when I offered this explanation to my father, he waved me away from where he sat in front of the computer screen, and shut the basement door behind me as I climbed back upstairs. I meandered through the house, my mother opening her mouth to say something to me but deciding against it, and landed in my bedroom at the top level.

My tulip-print curtains hung lifelessly, with no crack in the window to let in a persuasive breeze. An alien song emanated from the other side of the glass. I peeled back one curtain and spotted the ribbed belly of a cicada. The bug was stamped to my window, its lacy wings collecting the sunset. I put my forefinger to the glass where it sat, careful not to make too much noise. Finally, I pulled up my desk chair, and remained there with my new friend until I nodded off.

I’d only just gotten used to the Dogwoods reaching out to tap on my shoulders, and the scent of fresh-cut grass dancing in my nose, when the heat settled in, and with it the masses of tree roaches soaring in from the horizon. And with them, the ammo. For three weeks I hadn’t played kickball, or Capture the Flag, or anything rapid and daring in the smiling-down sun at all. My knees ached each time I peered out of my classroom window. I couldn’t un-see the Windex streaks between me and the golden outdoors. Zombie Hunters became an indoor game, for fear that if children played outside, we’d be the hunted. I recalled the echo of rustling pines that lined the blacktop at school, and the tingle of the sun.

I’d grown so used to shuffling in and out of my mom’s Honda Civic, and in and out of the Huntsman Elementary foyer, and in and out of my cream-sided townhouse, that I had never paused to listen. I’d been sitting in our front windowsill while talking on the phone with Kendra, who stared back at me from her own front windowsill up the street, when our next-door neighbor knocked on the door to borrow a Phillip’s head. During the few moments that my mom left the door open, and Mr. Douglas grinned his dorky grin and waved his dorky wave, Kendra’s voice was drowned out by the choir of sucking and vibrating torsos in the trees. It was a harmony of lust and flight and freedom so unlike the lonely cicada on my window. While his banter warmed me, the sound of the swarm was captivating.

“Lody? Lody? Are you listening?” snapped Kendra, who had been reporting news of her boyfriend Deonte passing an adulterous note to Vanessa Greeneridge during Social Studies. But I wasn’t listening to her, or Mr. Douglas’s inquiries of my subjects, or my mother insisting I answer Mr. Douglas. I was mesmerized by the cicadas’ tribal song.

“Please, mom,” I begged for days after. “I just want to sit on the porch and listen to them.”

“Not with that sicko out there, Melody.”

“He won’t come here, he could never make it all the way through the neighborhood without someone seeing the van and calling the cops, right?”

“Not quite.”

“He hasn’t shot anyone in days. He’s probably scared of all the cicadas flying into him.”

A pause.

“Mom I just –”

“Mel, I haven’t slept at all. Let’s talk about it later.” She ran an index finger absently through a tangled strand of my hair.

My father entered the room then. “Tell you what, Melody, soon as he’s caught, we’re all taking a trip to Boom Lake. Good riddance.”

My mother forged a weak smile.

We compromised on leaving my bedroom window cracked. He was a shooter, not a climber, after all. I hadn’t seen my buzzing friend, so I also left the curtains parted slightly, just so he could see that I was still here. I scribbled away at my homework each day to the sound of his kin’s chanting.

On the news the next day, we learned that a boy my age had been killed in the next school district while he was turning around to say goodbye to his mom as she dropped him off late. No one saw him go down but her. No one saw the van.

I kept my window shut that night. Before crawling into my twin-sized bed, I left a note taped to it that read, “I’m here if you feel like talking,” and left the curtains parted an inch. Later, I woke to the familiar crash of glass on hardwood, and tiptoed to my bedroom door. The lock turned itself between my thumb and forefinger. The adjacent room, the one my mother adopted after my brother went off to college, uttered the same click from its doorknob. Downstairs, the television blazed before my father’s bloodshot eyes. Tomorrow, she would polish away rings burnt into the table by the caravan of his Heineken bottles.

That morning my window dweller woke me. In school that day, I fought against dozing off to the droning of the School Resource Officer presenting safety tips to our class.  He sent pamphlets home with us.

After that, each day when my dad picked me up from school, he’d stop every block or so to peer around the corner of an end unit, or past the brick grocery store. We’d stop so often that sky beetles would blaze past my cheeks, or ricochet off of my backpack. Once, one with orbs for eyes landed right on my butt, and he brushed it away. Later, when he made me wait at the corner by the swimming pool behind a parked car to inspect the intersection, I called to him, “Do you think if I stood in the street with my arms out like Jesus, a cicada would hit me first, or a bullet?”

“Why would you ask me that?” he said.

“Do you know the answer?”

“No one thinks like that.”

I remained still behind the car.

“But I wouldn’t let him get you, anyway,” he added.

I couldn’t sleep anymore. The cicadas’ siren blared on, interrupting my dreams. I opened the window back up, and each strum and pluck of the song suddenly rattled throughout the trees. But even with a song so clear, their pearly bodies were hidden in the shadowy maple leaves.

I tailored statistics in my head: since my mother and father slept in different rooms, then one would be less likely to wake if the other one did upon heading my footsteps, so I’d have less of a chance of being caught, and if the sniper had already attacked nearby, then my chances of getting shot were practically impossible. I slipped pajamas over my cotton panties.

The rush of their buzz mimicked my own ears’ when the cool air jumped my skin. Kendra’s window was dark. I traveled up the hard sidewalk to the maple tree, and performed the same acrobatics that got me up the very first time: A pull-up onto the lowest branch and a swing of my right leg over it, sitting upright. Then I’d use the exact same method to lift myself in between the next two highest branches, which were conjoined like a narrow wishbone, then nestle into them (pretty basic, but effective when escaping a loose black lab). Surrounded by bark and leaves, I could spot five or six cicadas resting like I was. My head fit perfectly in the cupped hands of the branches.

I originally imagined the cicadas would dance and celebrate like fireflies when they saw me, but I now saw them in their true form. They were still and sure as statues. The radiance they gave the world came all the way from within, no frills, no glitz. I massaged my shoulders deeper into the tree’s prongs. The sound of a thousand güiros pushed and pulled my breath like a tide. Plateaus in the bark pressed into my palms. Moonlight softened behind my eyelids. A hum boiled in my chest, spilling down my spine and into my knees. I thought of a movement I learned in Modern Dance class, in which the dancer is flat on their back, and lifts their torso from the ground from the center of their chest. “Like a meat hook,” my instructor would say. I thought if I did this now, I would leave my skin behind. The humming continued as I lifted my solar plexus, but I almost slipped through the branches when my shoulder blades squeezed inward. My eyes tore open when I caught myself on one branch, then I sat upright.

I caught my breath and looked down. I was barely off the ground. Other kids in the neighborhood would call me a baby for only ever going that high. Another rationalization occurred: if cicadas can do it, so can I. But before I could begin to plan a higher excursion, I spotted a white van parallel parked at the end of my court. My body grew rigid. Black tinted windows grimaced against the dirty white paint, just like the images on the news. My limbs kicked like a spider’s, dragging me back against the tree trunk. I wondered if he would shoot me just so I couldn’t tell anyone.

My ears played back the panicked breath of a little girl. Two scabby knees were tied tight to my chest by stringy arms. I was sure he’d seen me and was only waiting. If I made a run for it now, he’d shoot as soon as my thin body flailed past the parked cars toward my doorstep. A vision of my mother finding my leaking abdomen in the morning made me nauseous. So I stayed in the tree until the black sky blushed indigo, and the stars opened the curtains for the luscious morning clouds. By the time a man in khaki overalls whom I’d never seen before exited Ms. Frish’s end unit, unlocked the van with a snappy beep, and climbed in, my eyes were red as chicken blood.

It was still early enough that none of my neighbors witnessed my climb back down. Shreds of bark and leaves clung to my frizzy hair. Tears gathered in my eyelids as I pitied myself and imagined the way my parents would pity me when I entered the house. On my way up our concrete doorsteps, I picked up the day’s paper in its dewy, plastic bag. I knocked on the door and was welcomed to the sight of my father’s bewildered gaze. He looked at me like I’d brought a dead squirrel home. Then he looked past me, once to the right and once to the left, curled his grip around my small elbow, and dragged me inside.

“How long have you been out there?” he snapped, causing my mother’s footsteps above to quiet.

“I’m sorry, I was scared.”

“When did you leave the house?”

“I was in the tree all night.”

All night?”

My mother’s pitter-patter retreated back into my brother’s room.

“I thought I saw the Sniper. I didn’t want him to see me.”

“The Sniper? When did you leave the house?” His hot breath hissed.

“I don’t know…”

“You don’t know?”

My voice wavered, “It was last night. I only meant to go out for a second –”

“You snuck outside last night? With that bastard out there?”

I looked up at him, shaky in all my smallness.

“For what? To look at those bugs, Mel? Jesus. Go upstairs.”

I dropped the paper. When I passed my brother’s room in the upstairs hallway I could feel the weight of her body on the other side of the door. I tried to imagine her crying, but didn’t want to give her the benefit of the doubt. I entered my room, where an intruding buzz penetrated the walls. I grabbed a history textbook from my desk, pushed the window open, and smashed the bug.

John D. Robinson poetry

John is the author of When You Hear The Bell, There’s Nowhere To Hide (Holy&Intoxicated Publications, 2016) and Cowboy Hats & Railways (Scars Publications, 2016). He lives in the UK.




I watched as this kid of
13 or 14 rolled slowly by
me on a bmx;
I looked on as he slowed,
looking all around as if
expecting someone as he
neared a charity shop;
I saw him move in close
to the outside display,
he put a boxed-toy
under an arm and then
cycled away quite
I walked into the shop
and told the old guy
inside what had just
happened and he silently
shook his head;
“If that kid had come in
here and said ’hey
mister I would really
like that toy but I
haven’t the money to
buy it but I may get some
pocket money next week
and I could give you some’
what would you have said?”
I asked the old fellow;
“I’d have said
‘just take it kid, we’re
a charity’”
he said smiling
“’just take it’”

John Sweet poetry

John Sweet is a believer in writing as catharsis and is an optimistic pessimist who is opposed to all organized religion and political parties. He also avoids zealots and social media whenever possible. His latest collections include A Nation of Assholes W/Guns (2015, Scars Publications) and Approximate Wilderness (2016, Flutter Press). All pertinent facts about his life are buried somewhere in his writing.

how the world always ends

bones on a snow-covered roof and you

dream of reasons
but never the right ones

you wake up to

the screams of crows

stranger knows your name and

that your father is dead

a rumor of suicide

a child’s body
pulled from the river

january now for most of your life and
all you want is to apologize

turns out hatred was
always the most important thing

what matters more than anything
about power is that
you will never have any

any vote you cast ends up being
a vote for war

there is never an end to the list of
people your government
tells you must die

all hope edged w/ frost

and not warm yet and still the
scars and still the ghosts

shadows of empty buildings laid out
across the snow and frozen mud and the
song of light is only in your mind

the women weep at the river’s edge

the baby is passed from one to the next

not war and never peace and
these is nothing worth dying for in this world
but it’s always been so easy finding
reasons to kill

eagle flies up to the sun

man pulls the trigger and
brings it back down

boy sleeps in his bed of flames
while his mother drives away

nothing to do but map out all of
this hatred and pain and
hope that your own children can
find their way home

Italia Ruotolo visual art

Italia lives in Italy. Visit her official website here.

italia-the-hive-bThe Hive

italia-el-leopardo-bajo-la-cascada-de-marfil-bEl Leopardo Bajo La Cascada de Marfil


italia-ofelia-madness-bOfelia Madness

italia-red-room-bRed Room

italia-madonna-of-the-crows-bMadonna of the Crows

David Herrle interviews Todd Tarbox, author of ORSON WELLES AND ROGER HILL

Buy the book
Learn more about the author here
Visit Wellesnet, the Orson Welles Web Resource

David: I can’t tell you how delighted I was to discover Orson Welles and Roger Hill: A Friendship in Three Acts. You had me at…ahem…Hill and O. It’s mentioned in Patrick McGilligan’s astute Young Orson biography, which is quite an honor. Unlike the transcript-style This is Orson Welles and My Lunches With Orson, your book is presented in dramatic form, featuring engrossing phone calls between Welles and your grandfather, Roger “Skipper” Hill, and elevating their private discussions into art. Why did you decide to do the book this way, and how did you manage to, as you say, “tighten and, on occasion, rearrange their exchanges?” This format decision set the stage – ahem – for the planned production of a play adaptation. Did you have a future play in mind from the beginning?

Todd: Thank you for your generous appraisal of my book, which chronicles the remarkable six-decade relationship that began in 1927, when Orson enrolled at the Todd Seminary for Boys, a private boarding school in Woodstock, Illinois, where Roger Hill, was a faculty member and soon to become the headmaster.

The truth is that I’m not responsible for, as you say, “elevating their private discussions into art.” The “art” emanates from their dazzling minds and adroit tongues. To add texture to their discussions, I wove pertinent flashbacks, incorporating snippets from their letters, newspaper articles, plays and speeches. Often their conversations would lead down myriad paths with not infrequent digressions (fascinating digressions, I might add) that often led away from the central subject(s) they were discussing. My tightening involved removing a number of these asides, perhaps to be included in a second play one day. My infrequent – I emphasize infrequent – rearrangement of their exchanges occurred when a topic, such as Orson’s years at Todd, was discussed during several telephone conversations.

Yes, from the first moment my grandfather shared with me his telephone calls and voluminous correspondence with Orson over the years, I was convinced their unique relationship would translate well onto the stage and screen. [Photo below: Welles visiting the Todd School in 1948, with Skipper seated at the right]


David: This remarkable relationship began at the excellent Todd School for Boys, which, according to Simon Callow, “provided the hothouse in which Orson Welles’s exotic talents bloomed.” By the time Skipper became headmaster, Todd was an eclectic wellspring of “creative creators,” as you put it, and Skipper himself described the school as “nutty” and “unique,” adjectives that also apply to Welles. Hascy Tarbox, your father, and Skipper’s son-in-law, rather insightfully observed that Todd provided the zealous individualist with “unquestioned approval by the authority.” Beyond being an accomplished author, educator and genealogical relative to Skipper Hill, you’ve also had the privilege of attending Todd. Please share some of your recollections of that time and place. And please tell us what you think of the magnitude of Todd for the youth who would become Orson Welles. 

I attended Todd from first through fourth grade. The school was closed in 1954, and my family moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The school’s philosophy was based on the premise that every youngster is born a creator. The challenge for each student, with the assistance of the faculty, was to develop creative talents and discover how to apply them in and out of the classroom. 

This quest was vastly enhanced by providing every Todd boy with dozens of creative, intellectual and athletic avenues to explore. The school was involved in making dramatic and comic films, as well as documentaries and travelogues. Even before Orson arrived on campus, the school was involved in the theater.  As a result of Orson’s influence, Todd built a sound studio and a number of the student-written-and-directed radio programs were aired over FM stations throughout the Midwest. Athletics was another high priority at Todd. The typical student played several sports, and, given the relatively small student body, there were few bench warmers. Developing an active mind and body were twin touchstones at Todd.

My father, who enrolled at Todd several years after Orson and later joined the faculty, wrote of the school:

Pleasure was blended with responsibility…Skipper tried to put a mature, interesting and exciting face on whatever ventures the kid pursued. It worked because an awful lot of youngsters who graduated from this place named their first-born son Todd. Todd was a wonderful blend of self-directed, creative programs and a rather hard-nosed academic curriculum…Todd was an extraordinary place. It was fifty to seventy-five years ahead of itself as far as educational philosophy…The secret of life that was espoused at Todd was to do something that you wanted to do. And just about every guy who went to Todd has wound up doing just about what he wanted to do. The Todd School for Boys was an incredible moment in time.

What made the Todd School for Boys such an inviting and invigorating place and moment in time was due in large measure to Skipper. Emerson observed wisely that “An Institution is the lengthened shadow of one man.”  Though the school closed its doors in 1954, Skipper’s shadow remains vivid for those who had the great fortune of living within his umbra.

One could argue that the Todd School was the only period in Orson’s life where he enjoyed sustained and unqualified success and security. How important was Todd and the Hills to Orson the boy and man? Both were essential in encouraging him to develop and demonstrate his myriad gifts to ever expanding audiences. Todd and the Hills allowed him unfettered creative freedom permitting him to successfully soar in so many directions. Orson’s prelapsarian and prolific years at Todd came to an end after five years, but the memory this halcyon time and place remained green for the rest of his life. Most important, the wellspring of his joy at Todd, my grandparents, never left him. They became his devoted foster parents who provided him no small degree of emotional ballast and joy throughout his life. [Photo below: Young Welles as a Todd student, fourth from the left]

David: A lovely excerpt from your book:

Roger: “I’m a Goddamn bluffer and the only talent I ever had was that people, many of whom were brighter than I, liked me.”
Orson: “It’s because you’re brighter than you think you are…[Y]ou formed the idea that the cute way to get around in the world was to underplay yourself…”

Next to Todd, Skipper is probably the most essential factor in the evolution of Welles. Though 20 years his senior, Skipper maintained an enviable youthfulness and was, according to Hascy, “the adolescent’s adolescent.” While you’ve admitted that Welles was destined for excellence, you believe that his “real existence would have been greatly diminished” if the two had never met. Whether it was unconditional encouragement, exalting in a mutual love of Shakespeare or providing finances, Skipper was Welles’ main tailwind. It does seem that Welles was guilty of benign exploitation of his mentor and other loved ones in his life, including his other surrogate father, Maurice “Dadda” Bernstein, thanks to his adeptness at affection manipulation. Barbara Leaming believed that Welles “played on the rivalry between his mentors” and even caricatured the triangle in Bright Lucifer. Was there an actual rivalry between Skipper and Dadda? Do you think that your grandfather gets the lionization he deserves? Also, with Skipper comes his wife, the remarkable Hortense. What can you share about her?

Todd: There was absolutely no rivalry between my grandfather and Maurice Bernstein. Early in their relationship, when Dr. Bernstein enrolled Orson in the fall of 1927 at Todd, they respected one another, personally and professionally, and over the years that Orson attended Todd their respect grew into friendship. They both appreciated Orson’s unique mind and spirit, desiring that the young “genius” make the most of his creative talents. Upon the death of Orson’s father, Richard Welles, fifteen-year-old Orson asked my grandfather to be his guardian.  Skipper shared with me that he responded: “To do so would break Dadda’s heart. He has known and adored you since you were an infant. You must choose Dadda.” Which Orson did. However, over the years that followed, selecting Dr. Bernstein proved to be somewhat problematic for Orson. [Photo below: Young Welles, Maurice “Dadda” Bernstein, Edith Mason, Hortense Hill and Skipper Hill – October 9, 1929]


My grandfather and Dr. Bernstein provided guidance and affection to young Orson. Bernstein’s was often conditional and overbearing, while my grandfather’s support was unconditional and easygoing. In This is Orson Welles Orson tells Peter Bogdanovich: “I’d say the biggest influence was Roger Hill. He’s still a great, valued friend…I can’t imagine life without him, and I go 10 years without seeing him, but it doesn’t seem like ten years, because I think of him all the time. He was a great direct influence in my life – the biggest by all odds. I wanted to be like him. Everything he thought, I wanted to think, and that wasn’t true of Dr. Bernstein.”

My charismatic grandfather was never in want of being lionized. He possessed the mind of a serious scholar and the heart of a sprightly child, and he was adored by Todd students and faculty for more than four decades. My grandmother, Hortense was as intelligent and spry as her husband. They enjoyed sixty-six years of marriage until my grandmother died in 1982 at the age of 87. At Hortense’s memorial Orson eulogized:

Of everyone I’ve known, she was the most truly passionate. Yes, passionate in every good meaning of a word I choose with care. Other great and good souls may be described as warm or warm-hearted. That’s too tepid sounding for Hortense. Warm is a word for comfort and consolation. The word for her was Heat. Fire. The very element itself. She has gone away and left a black hole in our universe. And yet to mourn is to remember. That shining, vivid, marvelously living presence is back with us again and our hearts are stabbed with happiness. For just to think of her can never be anything but an occasion for joy.

 [Photo below: Hortense and Skipper]

David: Skipper’s conscientious wisdom certainly shaped Orson’s approach to artistic collaboration for the better. Hascy’s words at Skipper’s 1990 memorial are paramount: “You were one of the chosen if you were fortunate enough to have worked with him. For those who did, he bequeathed the greatest gift one man can bestow upon another, the capacity to make you feel important…” That rings like what Welles-protégé Gary Graver said about Welles in his memoir: “[Y]ou always felt as though you were a collaborator, no matter how small your job might have been.”
However, a contrary Hascy quotation about Orson’s precocious directorial power over a Todd production of Twelfth Night appears in your book: “[H]e left absolutely no latitude, no tolerance for self-expression.” Yes, Welles denied collectivist moviemaking and extolled directorial dictatorship, but the obstinate auteur also could be an embracive, even flattering collaborator. In his Marilyn biography Norman Mailer says that facts “always attract polar facts,” so were both Hascy and Graver correct?

Todd:  Possibly so. Orson became surer of himself as a director and actor on the stage and on radio in New York in the 1930s and early 1940s. Observe this exchange between Orson and Skipper:

Orson: There is an actor I know who doesn’t think much of me, who goes on for three pages saying, “I’ve never heard Orson Welles raise his voice or say any unkind thing to an actor in my life.”
Roger: Well, that’s a little overdoing it.
Orson: No, it’s true.
Roger: Really?
Orson: Yes, you’re thinking of my directing the Todd boys. I do all my mean talk to the people behind the camera. Anybody who has to perform in front of the public is treated with great deference. I take it out on poor assistant directors, and usually for the benefit of the actors, to show them what they could be getting.

David: Hascy Tarbox has been presented as a negative rival to Orson Welles, even by Hascy himself (in a sense): “I think that I hold the record for being the longest burr under Orson’s saddle.” Callow called him Welles’ “arch-enemy,” Leaming claimed that Welles was adamantly against her talking to him, and Welles referred to him as “that bastard.” Denying Orson-envy, Hascy believed that the envy was Orson’s, perhaps for Hascy’s remaining at the Edenic Todd School, which he guessed “was the only security that Orson ever had”. A Renaissance man in his own right (he was a rather talented painter, for one), Hascy needn’t have been envious, and this is validated by your praise of him in the book:

Like Orson, my father’s creativity knew no bounds. He could do anything with his head and hands: paint, sculpt, write, act, direct, build anything. Like Candide, he spent a considerable amount of time on life’s small stage tending his garden wisely and devotedly.

It seems that your father, like Welles, has been enigmatized by history’s combers, and I feel that he doesn’t belong among the real and perceived villains surrounding Welles. Please provide a clearer picture of the real Hascy Tarbox.

Todd: My father strode the world with grace, wit, confidence and intelligence. With an artist’s eye, he gleaned and recorded much during his seventy-three years.  Dad lived a life that was rollicking and reflective, as well as perceptive and articulate – be the medium paint, clay, wood or words. His letters, many illustrated with his clever sketches, effervesce with a vigorous toast to life. He created in myriad mediums, but, in the final analysis, he was his greatest creation.

After looking at an exhibit of Dad’s paintings, the naturalist and writer, Roger Caras, said of my father’s work: “The big difference between Mr. Tarbox and the bulk of the material I see is that Mr. Tarbox is really good. He has something to say about our natural world that people need to see and read! He is a designer, certainly, and he is an illustrator as well, but, not to put either of those fine skills down, he adds a dimension of excitement to his work that makes it art of a different kind. There is some magic here.” Dad was truly a magical presence. [Photo below: painting by Hascy Tarbox]

David: Far from being weak for adapting other writers’ material, Welles excelled at innovation, savant-like theatricality and meticulous editing. He even made Shakespeare his own, and his blunders (including the jumbled puzzle Mr. Arkadin) still dazzle. His work also has been and is incomprehensible to many people. For instance, Skipper observed that “[The Magnificent] Ambersons was just too dark and troubling for a public that wanted to be entertained and not enlightened,” which jibes with Charles Higham’s take on the same film: “[F]or intellectuals not dominated by a need to identify at a cinema performance, the film works beautifully; for the common run of people, it works far less well.” In a discussion about The Trial, Welles justified his work’s designed difficulty: “[Y]ou are supposed to have a very unpleasant time.” He also said that his “films are as black as the black hole.” In other words, Welles’ basically melancholic, fragmentary and surrealistic cinema isn’t Capra or Spielberg. How do you rate his filmography, and what might be the most profound benefits of their legacy?

Todd: What is most laudable in life and in art: quantity or quality? I opt for the latter. Leonardo da Vinci – one of the greatest minds in recorded history, a gifted scientist, engineer, mathematician, inventor, architect, writer, sculptor and painter – was the consummate embodiment of the “Renaissance man.” He is most celebrated for his art. His Last Supper, Mona Lisa and Vitruvian Man are a testament to his genius. Is he any less a genius because he wasn’t a prolific painter and fewer than twenty of his paintings are known to exist? 

Johannes Vermeer, one of the most lauded painters of the Dutch Golden Age, left the world only 34 paintings, while many of his contemporaries were far more prolific painters and whose work is far less memorable. Should the paucity of his painting damn him? Harriet Beecher Stowe, the author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, was the best-selling novelist of the 19th century. Its affecting and effecting abolitionist theme is credited with being an important catalyst in starting the Civil War. She wrote more than two dozen other books in her lifetime, including Little Pussy Willow and The Minister’s Wooing, which were modest literary shadows compared to Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Has history damned her because none of her other books achieved such universal approbation?  

Curiously, many who look at Orson’s work as a director admit his genius that is unarguably evident in Citizen Kane, but are quick to disparage him for never (in their minds) approaching the quality of his first film. Had Orson only written, directed and acted in Kane, his contribution to filmography would be considerable. Welles left the world cinematic quality, not quantity. Had he not been such a maverick or had he adequate financing, who knows how many more memorable films he would have left the world? A feckless imponderable, that. Orson’s provocative, profound, and kaleidoscopic “ribbon of dreams” is his enduring legacy. [Photo below: still from The Lady From Shanghai]

David: Welles believed that an artist’s product should speak louder than his or her own life, and he hated that “people today scrutinize an artist’s personality, crowing over his mistakes, his human failings” instead of his or her work. This is why he expressed relief that the dearth of knowledge of Shakespeare and Cervantes liberates their work from befuddlement. Regardless, deciphering artists’ Rosebuds is in our nature, and, ironically, Orson’s art and Orson (who was both Kane and Quinlan, both Lear and Falstaff) seem indivisible, so I ask: How do you sum up the man? And what do you think about the importance or non-importance of the relation between art and artist?

Todd: Summing up Orson, Marlene Dietrich reflected eloquently: “When I talk to him, I feel like a tree that has been watered. You should cross yourself when you say his name.” High praise, richly deserved. It seems to me that art and the artist are one. They are inseparable.