Citizen Lakin

John J. Hopkins Feb. 14, 2009, 4:29am


The American Film Institute - the nation's premier film society- ranks the greatest American films of all time in its "AFI's 100 Years-100 Movies."

Ranked number one - a close choice in a crowded field - is the 1941 masterpiece "Citizen Kane." Panned by critics due to its stinging satirical bite and unbelievably shut out from the Oscars, its stature has only grown as time goes by, growing to become the Rosetta Stone of American film studies, analyzed, dissected and poured over by movie junkies for two generations.

A technically brilliant achievement, the film is a thinly disguised biography of media magnate William Randolph Hearst, who's wrath and clout denied "Kane" its due at the time.

Suffice it to say that Orson Welles' first effort as a film maker is a multi textured, but truly cohesive vision of the corruption of absolute power. The plot - told in flashbacks - revolves around the search for meaning in Kane's last word - "Rosebud" - and how investigative reporters attempt in vain to find the answer.

The movie is a detective story tinged with the frustration of efforts spent in vain, together with a tragedy centered on destruction self-inflicted, the simple moral of money not being able to buy happiness.

The film shows Kane the happy child, the idealistic young man bent on helping the common man, the power mad tycoon obsessed with controlling all around him, and finally, having lost his power and money as the consequence of arrogance unchecked, the angry old man.

In the end, Kane was doomed because he lacked a moral barometer, lacked a sense of his own mortality, lacked a true friend who would rise up and just tell him "No," leading then to the inevitable tragedy.

If you were new to the scene in Madison County, say arriving in the last four to five years, your impression would no doubt be that one Lowell Thomas Lakin is but a one-dimensional character, evil incarnate, without any redemption allowed, at least not in this lifetime.

His well reported fall from the mountain top where the powerful sit on the right side of Presidents and Governors has been exhaustively reported. The oft termed "politically powerful" attorney - now disbarred and disgraced - presently sits in justified incarceration, a convicted felon whose plea of guilty was at the very least warranted.

Those uneducated in local history would assume the man to have been for all times nothing but a drug using, self abusing, self destructive, alleged pedophile, unworthy of pity, undeserving of compassion, uncomfortably simple in such analysis. Such would be a grave mistake.

While he now deservedly sits in federal prison for his admitted crimes, at one time, so very long ago, there was much good in Tom Lakin, much good done by him, for many people, in so many places.

For the record, I hold no fondness for Lakin, no hidden agenda of favors to repay that compels tribute. In fact, quite the contrary is true, as he and his minions have caused much pain and expense in my life, albeit recognized as a sometimes unfortunate but known price of just doing business in the Hellhole.

I seek neither pity nor revenge with this piece, just the advantage of reminding the gentle reader of the dichotomy inherent in all men. To quote Shakespeare, "The evil that men do lives long after them, but the good they do is oft interred with their bones."

Like the fictional Kane, Lakin drifted into infamy alone. For the most part, none of the scores of friends, know and unknown, powerful and obscure, came forward in an attempt to stem the tide of destruction. Perhaps it was too late. Perhaps it was too much to ask. Perhaps it would not have altered a single thing. But most certainly, attempts should have been made.

Lakin was by no means a saint, but neither was he the devil. Like all men, he had elements of both, struggling for control, struggling to possess a man's soul.

While in most recent vintage he most surely did descend into the dark side, such transgressions, horrible might they be, do not overshadow a prior life's achievements.

I hear from several sources that certain of the good citizens of Wood River no longer are comfortable with a street in town named after a felon. While perhaps understandable on one level, present embarrassment is not enough to overturn a thoughtful past decision made with ample basis.

Those seeking to re-name municipal landmarks in homage to our new but yet invalidated President should take heed and remember.

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