Film

Director Spotlight: Aspects of Orson Welles

From Citizen Kane (1941) to his "mutilated masterpiece" follow-up The Magnificent Ambersons to The Trial (1962), the essayists in this collection will take you on a journey into the filmic realms and mind of the filmmaker whom many call genius.

No ordinary filmmaker, Orson Welles redefined the art and craft of cinema with Citizen Kane (1941), the quintessential story of a man who gains the world and loses his soul. It's the ultimate cautionary American tale for a society which risked losing its humanity in its quest for capitalist power.

Famously saying that he started at the top of the film world and worked his way down, Welles alienated the righteously powerful Hearst, whom he caricatured along with Hearst’s longtime love, Marion Davies. Welles would, perhaps unfairly, mercilessly lampoon Davies to make his point. When asked how many filmic masterpieces must a great director make Welles said, “Only one.”

While Welles alienated the American elite, that elite did what it did best: attempt to undermine Welles at every turn, eliminate his funding for future films, take away his artistic license and, yes, destroy him professionally and personally.

The path Welles chose despite these almost self-created obstacles, was one of artistic brilliance and compulsive genius. The essential great director, who was said by critics and biographers to always need to battle against a studio and always need enemies to through which to forge his best work, charted his filmic course by sheer power of personality, will and persistence. And while he may have been defeated many times, he was never destroyed.

The articles in this special Director Spotlight on Orson Welles bring critical aspects of Welles’ work as a director into view. From Citizen Kane (1941) to his "mutilated masterpiece" follow-up The Magnificent Ambersons to The Trial (1962), the essayists in this collection will take you on a journey into the filmic realms and mind of this filmmaker whom many call genius.

Jonah Raskin explores whether Welles directed the films in which he, at the time, was thought to only have performed in. Sheri Chinen Biesen completes the picture of the Film Noir world of Welles in the '40s. Andrew Grossman explores the trial something he feels to be “a study in transcendental sociology”. Guy Crucianelli delves into the world of The Magnificent Ambersons Carl Wilson considers the maestro’s masterpiece Citizen Kane, and determines whether or not this film really is a “labyrinth without a center”.

Citizen Kane came in second place to Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958) as "the best movie ever made", and Welles may be placed on the back burner, so to speak, the man and his work will never be forgotten.

Hours of interviews with Welles are available online and are enormously entertaining, as is the recently published book My Lunches with Orson: Conversations Between Henry Jaglom and Orson Welles edited and with an introduction Peter Biskind. The book presents the enormously funny, controversial, sometimes offensive, often loveable chatter that would come from the mouth of Welles. Here's an example, a discussion between Welles and Richard Burton, when the latter wants to bring Elizabeth Taylor to meet Welles.

Richard Burton: Orson, how good to see you. It’s been too long. You’re looking fine. Elizabeth is with me. She so much wants to meet you. Can I bring her over to your table?

Orson Welles: No. As you can see I am in the middle of my lunch. I’ll stop by on my way out.

(Burton exits.)

Henry Jaglom: Orson, you’re behaving like an asshole. That was so rude. He actually backed away, like a whipped puppy.

As one should already know, never get between the maestro and his meals. Or his drink. It was all fuel for his genius.

It has been said that Welles made movies the way painters approached an oil painting. They would work on it awhile, put it aside and come back to it. This is, of course, much more difficult to do with a motion picture. And especially so in the age before digital video. I often wonder what would’ve become of Welles had he lived into the digital era – never running out of film and not, necessarily, having to deal with the Hollywood studios which are all, by now, entertainment wings of international conglomerates.

Welles would no doubt do what he needed to do to get a film off the ground and to realize his vision as closely to the point of inspiration. If that meant being a spokesman for a particular wine or, perhaps canned peas, then so be it. His voice and visage could sell products. Even in this reduced medium, however, he never lost his perfectionists edge and would correct the director of, say, a frozen vegetable commercial in how to pronounce a word or a sentence.

Sometimes he got a little too involved in his side jobs. Sometimes it would happen on something the set of a wine commercial, as you’ll see in the video clip below. But he would sell product for the man in order to fuel his art. This was very much in the style of the Renaissance painters. They needed patrons. As did Welles. And he found them in many strange places.

Ultimately, though, Welles’ legend will live on for as long as there is a way to watch movies -- with or without the groceries.

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"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
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-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

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Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

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"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

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Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

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Featuring a shining collaboration with Terry Riley, the Del Sol String Quartet have produced an excellent new music recording during their 25 years as an ensemble.

Dark Queen Mantra, both the composition and the album itself, represent a collaboration between the Del Sol String Quartet and legendary composer Terry Riley. Now in their 25th year, Del Sol have consistently championed modern music through their extensive recordings (11 to date), community and educational outreach efforts, and performances stretching from concert halls and the Library of Congress to San Francisco dance clubs. Riley, a defining figure of minimalist music, has continually infused his compositions with elements of jazz and traditional Indian elements such as raga melodies and rhythms. Featuring two contributions from Riley, as well as one from former Riley collaborator Stefano Scodanibbio, Dark Queen Mantra continues Del Sol's objective of exploring new avenues for the string quartet format.

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