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The Magnificent Ambersons – A Film Criticism

Written by: René Estes, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.


The Magnificent Ambersons, an Orson Wells film released 1942, is relevant today, as it highlights living in excess and the impact technological advancement has on society. How technology impacted our environment, and a global pandemic halt of all activities gives the earth a chance to repair itself. Today in 2022, amid a pandemic that we have slowed down, we live with the lack of human touch and personal connections.

Timestamp 40:00 at dinner is Major Amberson, Eugene Morgan, Isabel Amberson Minafer, Fanny Minafer, and George Amberson. The conversations moved to the new competition of automobile manufacturers in the countryside opening up and the streets widening. The automobile will become the primary mode of transportation and the impact that it will have on society. In a shot counter shot sequence, Major Amberson and Eugene Morgan contemplate the technological advancements of the automobile, consider the impact it will have on society. George Amberson makes a bold statement "Automobiles are a useless nuisance! Will never amount to anything but a nuisance and have no business being invented!" After some defense Major Amberson gives to Eugene Morgan, he agrees with George.

"I'm not so sure George is wrong about automobiles with all their speed forward. They may be a step backward in civilization. Maybe they won't add to the beauty of the world or the life of man's souls. I'm not sure. But automobiles have come. And almost all outward things are going to be different because of what they bring. They are going to alter war and they’re going to alter peace. And I think man’s minds are going to change in subtle ways because of automobiles. It maybe that George is right. Maybe in ten or twenty years from now if we can see the inward change in men by that time..I shouldn’t be able to defend the gasoline engine but would have to agree with George. That automobiles have no business being invented."

What is lost in them social contagions are associated with technological advances. Eugene's concerns are speeding up we will lose the human connections. Today in 2022, it took a pandemic to slow us down enough to crave more meaning in our lives and how we are going to develop those relationships. The new technology advancement impacting society is the internet. It is providing access for dark souls feeding upon our young.

The Magnificent Ambersons set in 1873 in Midland, the state not identified. Miss Isabel Ambersons, Major Ambersons daughter, married Wilbur Minafer. She couldn't love Eugene Morgan, so her love would all go to her children. Mrs. Walter and the gossipy women forecast Isabel and Wilbur's future children's behavior as spoiled brats in the four-shot. Three women face the camera, and the fourth is seen frame in the sewing machine. The scene cuts to the street as Well's narrates, correcting the detail of the number of children down to one child. The camera steadies the buildings framing left and right as the pony-carriage rides toward the camera in this street scene. Wells describes George Ambersons Minafer as a princely terror. The scene shows this pony carriage tearing through the streets with little regard for others. The townspeople had hoped to see the day when that boy would get his come-up-ins. In the spoiling of George, important structure to the film would eventually ruin them all. Later in life, his mother refused to stand up to her son. Claim her power and force George to create a career for himself when she could rekindle her relationship with Eugene. The impact would be their fortune is gone, and the elders in the family had died forces him to take a laborer job at a chemical factory toward the close of the film. None of the people who wanted to see George get his come-up-ins were alive or were no longer in town.

The shot of George in the pony carriage was a deep focus long shot, a cutaway to a low-angle two-shot of a couple of town's people hoping to witness the come-up-ins. Later, we see the adults addressing George about the complaint from the neighbors in a medium low angle shot with George centered with Major Ambersons on the left and Isabel and Wilbur on the right addressing George about his fight. The mise-en-scene is elaborately detailed, especially in the costumes. The tension breaks at the side door when George remarks how to handle the kid, and Major Amberson breaks down in laughter at George acknowledging the class differences. "Lamorisse had had recourse either to the illusions of montage or, failing that, to process work. The film would then be a tale told image by image-as in the story, word by word-instead of what it is, namely the picture of a story or, if you prefer, an imaginary documentary. This expression seems to me once and for all to be the one that best defines what Lamorisse was attempting, namely something like, yet different from, the film that Cocteau created in Le Sand d'un Poète, that is to say, a documentary on the imagination, in other words, on the dream.…Essential cinema, seen for once in its pure state, on the contrary, is to be found in straightforward photographic respect for the unity of space." (Bazin, 3)

The camera cuts back to the gossip than to a medium shot of three of the town's men hoping school will do the trick. The narrative turns at the last great dance when George returns from his sophomore year at college. During this dance, George reveals his lack of ambition and disinterest in his education to Lucy Morgan in a close-up two-shot, setting the stage for the remainder of the narrative. Eugene Morgan's daughter, Lucy, will not marry a man unwilling to create a career like her father. George will take control of his mother's life without the wedding once Wilbur Minafer dies. He is blocking true love from them both and wealth from George. Instead, they spend the money. All the key players die, leaving George and his aunt Fanny Minafer to pool their little resources. George, in the end, gets his come-up-ins not at a chemical plan accident but in an automobile accident that breaks both his legs. The industry he detests and criticizes throughout the film. The editing choices were in line with Orson Wells' style. Auteur theory is at play in Wells' films. His choice in mise-en-scene, interest in extreme wealth, the impact on the family and the lives of family members, the gaining of wealth, and the loosing of wealth is a subject in this film and Citizen Kane. Camera angles and long shots in-focus depth of field is standard in both Citizen Kane and The Magnificent Ambersons. "It is a montage, that abstract creator of meaning which preserves the state of unreality demanded by the spectacle. "(Bazin, 2). Along with the narrative, the Ambersons' mansion images illustrate the decline of the Ambersons' socio-economic status. The film ends with George finally working at a chemical plant, his come-up-ins.

The question to consider is how are we all living with our come-up-ins? In Eugene Morgan's words, "I'm not so sure George is wrong about automobiles with all their speed forward they maybe a step backward maybe civilization. Maybe they won't add to the beauty of the world or the life of man's souls. I'm not sure."

How is the internet a nuisance to society and taking us a step back in civilization? What beauty of the world is it destroying, and the human's souls?

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René Estes, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine Visionary, filmmaker, serial entrepreneurial with 15 years’ experience in strategic and business development. A result-orientated entrepreneurial with a strong background in the human condition, how it translates to film and the healing arts. Recognized for collaborative leadership style, proactive approach, and keen ability to translate complex operational concepts into tangible action plans effectively. A proven leader with a strong executive presence, capable of blending big-picture viewpoints with tactical considerations to inspire, build trust, and achieve record growth.



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