White parasol

When you write a blog entry every day, things tend to get more Proustian. You start to notice all of the little crumbs of madeleines along the way, each dipped in its own lime-flower tea. These crumbs, humble as they are, become precious. Each can lead you to some inner place that connects you to someone you know and love. Or – a tea of a somewhat more bittersweet flavor – to someone you knew and loved in times past.

I tend to notice now when somebody gets that sentiment right. Recently I revisited “Citizen Kane”, and it struck me that the lovely pivotal speech which Herman Mankiewicz (the screenwriter) gives to Bernstein is one of the most perfectly Proustian moments in any Hollywood film. It’s part of the answer Bernstein gives when interviewed by the investigative reporter. At this point Berstein is already quite old, his mind circling around his own memories of Kane, whose precipitous life is now a thing of the past.

I’ll let you savor it for yourself:

“A fellow will remember things you wouldn’t think he’d remember. You take me. One day, back in 1896, I was crossing over to Jersey on a ferry and as we pulled out, there was another ferry pulling in — and on it, there was a girl waiting to get off. A white dress she had on – and she was carrying a white parasol – and I only saw her for one second and she didn’t see me at all – but I’ll bet a month hasn’t gone by since that I haven’t thought of that girl.”

Consider that these words are being spoken by a man who is near the end of a very long life, with the distinct implication that he has never before told anyone of the girl with the white parasol. In a few eloquent sentences it tells you everything you need to know about what truly matters in the film. I think it’s one of the most perfect speeches ever to appear on celluloid.

3 thoughts on “White parasol”

  1. It is a beautiful little speech, as you say. Comparable to it is the one by Jack Palance in City Slickers about the girl he saw for only a few moments when he was a young man. Yet still she was the love of his life.

    Here are two more great lines. Joey, at the end of Shane – ‘He never woulda been able to shoot you if you’da seen him.’ And Edward Ferrars with Elinor Dashwood in Sense And Sensibility. ‘Your friendship has been the most important of my life.’ ‘You will always have it.’

    Thank you, sir.

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