I believe there was a monument missing on my recent trip to the glorious ancient city of Rome: a great orator statue of the Orson Welles. Yes, a bronze cast of the bearded bard with a benevolent grin and his right arm would be purposefully lifted in the air. Many ancient Roman rulers, such as Marcus Aurelius, requested the sculptor to depict their right arm raised on their propaganda statues as the symbol of a great orator who has the approval of the people. Orson Welles won over audiences early on in his storied career as the booming voice on the radio programs March of Time (1935) and The Mercury Theatre on Air (1938). His mastery of storytelling achieved celebrity status, which was uncommon at the time for radio personalities.
Tag: Orson Welles
The first time I watched CITIZEN KANE I was motivated purely by a sense of obligation. After years of hearing references to “Rosebud” and seeing the film top almost every list of the best movies ever made, I took the dive and watched the story of Charles Foster Kane for the first of many times. The layers of complexity that make the film so enduring for film lovers are the same qualities that make it intimidating to write and talk about. It’s difficult to extract the heart of CITIZEN KANE from its legacy, compounded by equal parts brilliance and decades of praise. In this way, I’m tasked with a mission similar to Jerry Thompson’s, the reporter who guides us through Kane’s life story, to add a new perspective to a subject that has been, “as loved and hated and as talked about as any man in our time.”
OTHELLO is immediately involving, draws us in as swiftly as does a cobra’s eyes, hypnotizing us, avoiding the usual explication of less effective directors and boom! we are there—the dead Othello comes up at us out of the dark, a black, magnificent, marled monstrosity accompanied by giant hoods, the silhouettes of—what?—soldiers? monks? clergy? worshippers? They walk, their footsteps as dead as the dead Moor they carry. This is a FRANKENSTEIN, a DRACULA OTHELLO, the horror movie elements and psychological terrors of that genre deliberately pinned to its hem. A movie, too, of scope and close-ups, lending it a regal fright; watching it, you want to swoon, you get weak, the way you would if a great king should ever pass before you.
Shot in 1947, The Lady from Shanghai was adapted for the screen by Orson Welles, from the novel, If I Should Die Before I Wake, by author Sherwood King. Today, the film is remembered as the auteur’s classic, but upon its initial release, the film was unsuccessful at the box office. Experimental and innovative with camera techniques for the time, with combinations of fast, jumpy cuts and long tracking and crane shots, which enhanced the malice and mystery of the plot, Welles ultimately elevates film noir into another dimension. Every shot is particularly and intentionally framed as if it were a photograph. He even includes comedic moments by advantageously incorporating dark humor. Without a doubt a master of cinematic perspective, Welles could not have completed any of his works if it was not for his artistic peers, and incredibly talented fellow actors.
On the list of favorite movies my mind’s Rolodex holds, The Lady from Shanghai has always had a special place. It was a treat seeing it again after all these years, not only because it is a good movie but because the last time I saw it, I was a college student at one of the weekly film viewings our Student Union Association ran in the school cafeteria. Every Friday evening, all tables and chairs would be cleared
from the dining hall, a rickety screen was erected in front of the cafeteria kitchen and we students would be left perfectly content to belly down on the floor or sit Indian-style, sipping Boone’s Apple Farm or Blue Nun from Dixie cups. The lights would go down, leaving us in the dark with Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, Barbara Stanwyck, Rita Hayworth. I remember most the girls cuddled up against the walls or each other psyched for a night of nicotine (those were the days when you could still smoke in campus buildings), gossip and movie goddesses from the 30s and 40s. To me, they were not half-a-sleepy co-eds wrapped in blankets and pillows dragged over from their dorms but secret Rita Hayworths dreaming they were, or could some day be, as steamy and as sultry as she was, as defiant as she was, as immortal as she was. That is what movie stars do for us; they keep us alive and dreaming. Seeing a movie we have seen before in our long ago past resurrects memories not only of that movie but of who we were and where we were when we first saw it. A movie is a mirror of itself but also a mirror of Time
and of us. And so it is for me with The Lady from Shanghai...
Lady From Shanghai – 1947 – dir. Orson Welles
Orson Welles’ Lady From Shanghai bridges the cinematic landscape from drama to adventure and mystery. Led by its director (and protagonist) himself, alongside heroine Rosalie Bannister (Rita Hayworth), each character reveals layer after layer of insecurities, deception and greed throughout the story. However, the fascination lies within the depth that Welles is able to explore. Both tough guy and damsel reveal their true colors gradually, methodically, touching upon the most intimate conundrums of life, reflecting a harrowing character piece that shows the demons within oneself. The magic lies in Welles’ delivery, exposing the depths and revealing their own façade to be but a mere image they have create to shelter their true selves.
By William Benker
Touch of Evil – 1958 – dir. Orson Welles
A film’s ability to remain timeless nearly fifty years after its release constitutes a work of brilliance that only few films possess. Specifically, in relation to recent political wars of immigration and borders, Touch of Evil divides a fine line between crime and innocence. Orson Welles’ Hank Quinlan, at first sight, appears unbreakable – entirely devoid of any sort of empathy, as he strolls onto the screen, off balance from an old wound he obtained defending his friend. But as the classic noir unwinds, the director himself reveals a moral conundrum any and all face when questioned by the notion of “authority.” The overarching theme is never once mentioned, but left to the elaborate set design that the story encompasses within itself. Touch of Evil is a noir that still casts a luminescent shadow on issues that are far from outdated, signifying Welles’ keen insight into the issues of both past and present America.
By Peggy Nelson
The Magnificent Ambersons – 1942 – dir. Orson Welles
The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), based on the Booth Tarkington novel of the same name, focuses on an Indianapolis family around the turn of the century. The most important family in town, with an impressive neo-gothic mansion, horses and buggies, beautiful clothes, and perfect pedigree, the Ambersons represent “old money” at a time when there wasn’t any other kind. “Old,” at least, for Indianapolis. But times they were a-changing, horses were yielding to horseless carriages, agriculture was shifting to the new industrial economy, and the old society, in which you are born to it, was being pushed aside by the new, in which you can become what you make of it.
By Peggy Nelson
Citizen Kane – 1941 – dir. Orson Welles
“Rosebud:” possibly the most famous single word in cinema.
Orson Welles was only 25 when he made Citizen Kane (1941), consistently nominated as the greatest film ever made. Said to be based not-so-loosely on the lives of newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst and the comedienne Marion Davies, and often taken as a psychological study of Welles himself, Citizen Kane traces a classic American rags-to-riches trajectory, as it examines the true cost of getting everything you want.