“I don’t think there’s one word that can describe a mans life.” – Charles Foster Kane in “Citizen Kane” (1941)
“We’re not filmmakers, you know? We’re just a ragtag bunch of people doing something that is technologically already almost passé. You know, that’s a great problem with movies, that they’re always old-fashioned. It takes too long to make a movie. By the time your idea’s on the screen, it’s already dead.” – Orson Welles in “Someone to Love” (1987), his final film role.
Tonight, Monday September 30th at 10:15 Central time, Turner Classic Movies presents “Citizen Kane,” widely regarded as the greatest movie ever made. “Kane” made Welles some powerful enemies, and led to a swift downfall. The remainder of his film career was spent taking paycheck roles and chasing investors to finance his films.
Wednesday night October 2nd at 7:30 p.m., Alamo Drafthouse Ritz will screen Welles’ 1973 “F for Fake,” the multi-hyphenate’s final finished film. According to the Alamo Blog, “It’s easy to think that Orson Welles peaked young with ‘Citizen Kane’ and never made anything quite that good ever again. But it’s not true. ‘F for Fake’ really is just that good. In it, self-described charlatan and amateur magician Welles gleefully explores the tenuous line between truth and lies, art and illusion, essentially inventing a new genre of filmmaking in the process…This is a movie to make you fall completely in love with the idea of movies – their inherent unreality, their amazing ability to sneak up on you and suddenly hit you with somthing deeply and profoundly true. It’s about truth and beauty and all the things in the universe that really matter. It’s formally dizzying, originating a huge number of new stylistic techniques that have become standards of avant-garde methods. It’s also about just how great it is to spend time listening to Orson Welles tell stories. What a man! There’s so much to enjoy just in the way he expresses himself. He’s a true performer and his love of stories and lies and fakes and cons is electric…Welles turns the movie itself into an elaborate illusion that speaks to Picasso’s famous saying: ‘Art is a lie that makes us realize the truth.'”
The following list, the Austin Classic Movies Examiner’s Top Ten Orson Welles Films, focuses on his directorial efforts, along with some of his best performances as an actor-for-hire.
- “Citizen Kane”
- “Touch of Evil”
- “The Magnificent Ambersons”
- “Chimes at Midnight” and “Macbeth” (Honorable Mention: “Othello”)
- “The Lady from Shanghai”
- “F is for Fake”
- “The Trial”
- “The Third Man”
- “A Man for All Seasons” and “I’ll Never Forget What’s ‘Isname”
- “The Stranger”
After making his name on Broadway and in radio with the Mercury Theater, RKO gave Welles unprecedented creative control of his first film, a virtuoso effort which he produced, directed, co-wrote (with Herman J. Mankiewicz), and stars as Charles Foster Kane. Newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst took exception to the film, which had uncomfortable parallels to his public and private life. In 1955, Welles directed and starred as “Mr. Arkadin,” an off-the-wall variation on the Kane archetype.
“Touch of Evil”
When star Charlton Heston requested demanded that Welles be allowed to direct this border town crime drama, Universal acquiesced, only to take the film away from Orson in post-production. In 1998, it was recut according to a 58-page memo that Welles had written expressing his vision for the film. The brilliant opening tracking shot is a master class in filmmaking. Welles also gives one of his most memorable performances as the irascible, unscrupulous cop Hank Quinlan.
“The Magnificent Amebersons”
Welles wrote, directed, and narrated this adaptation of the Booth Tarkington saga of the undoing of an American family. While Orson was in Brazil working on the unfinished documentary “It’s All True,” RKO took control of the film, reducing it’s running time by a third, and tacking on a lame happy ending. For Welles, his Hollywood honeymoon was over. With Joseph Cotten and Tim Holt.
Welles shot this impressionistic take on the Shakespeare play on the cheap for Republic Pictures, but it remains one of his greatest achievements as a filmmaker. Still relatively svelte, he excels in the role of Macbeth.
“Chimes at Midnight” a/k/a “Falstaff”
Released in 1965, Orson directed and starred as Falstaff in this European-made adaptation of the William Shakespeare play. Along with 1948’s “Macbeth,” 1952’s “Othello,” and his 1953 television adaptation of “King Lear,” the prime examples of Welles’s offbeat approach to the Bard.
“The Lady from Shanghai”
Classic film noir from 1949 with Welles directing and trying out an Irish brogue as a sailor who falls for a rich man’s wife. The climactic sequence in a hall of mirrors is brilliant filmmaking. Starring his then-wife Rita Hayworth, although the couple would divorce soon after.
“F is For Fake”
Welles’ last completed film is a hit and miss documentary dealing with illusion, hoaxes, and other forms of fakery. Screens Wednesday, October 2nd, 2013 at Alamo Drafthouse Ritz, downtown Austin.
Never one to shy away from tackling difficult material, Welles adapted Franz Kafka’s novel with Anthony Perkins in the lead role, and appeared in the film in the role of Albert Hatzler. Made during Welles’s European exile, the film is not entirely successful, but nonetheless rewarding. With Jeanne Moreau.
An intermittent shooting schedule, necessitated by Welles having to seek additional funding to complete the film, led to uneven results. While Orson’s direction is brilliant, and his performance (in blackface) as the Moor of Venice is quite good, the rest of the cast is not on the same level. Released in 1952.
“The Third Man”
Welles steals the show as amoral rogue Harry Lime in Sir Carol Reed’s film version of the Graham Greene novel. Despite Lime being killed at the end of the film, the character was revived for a radio series in the 1950s.
“A Man For All Seasons” and “I’ll Never Forget What’s ‘Isname”
The best performances of Orson’s ’60s-era work-for-hire can be found in 1966 Oscar-winner “A Man for All Seasons,” as Cardinal Wolsey, as Welles holds his own alongside the cream of British theater actors in the story of Sir Thomas More (Paul Scofield), and in “I’ll Never Forget What’s ‘Isname” as Jonathan Lute, Oliver Reed’s Machiavellian boss in Michael Winner’s brilliant satire of the advertising game. When Reed’s character says, “I’m going to find an honest job,” Welles replies, “Silly boy. There aren’t any.”
As Professor Charles Rankin, Orson overacts as the villain of the piece, a New England college professor who is actually a Nazi war criminal. With Loretta Young as his unsuspecting wife, and Edward G. Robinson as the Nazi-hunter on his trail.