Friday, May 6, 2016

Orson Welles: "One Should Make Movies Innocently...."

There will never be another cinematic alchemist quite like Orson Welles. Interested in experiment and discovery in the performing arts, he was a remarkably talented actor, writer, director, producer, and more who was born this day in 1915. Before he was thirty, he had terrified the nation with his realistic Halloween presentation of H.G. Wells's War of the Worlds (1938) and awed film audiences with Citizen Kane (1941). Welles was already a rather contentious artist when he achieved almost instant fame. His creativity and drive helped label him as a difficult, if not reckless, personality and he never endeared himself to the Hollywood in-crowd. As a result his film legacy was limited to a number of noteworthy productions and a long list of unfinished projects, and "may have beens." The achievement of early fame and the fast and loose pursuit of art at almost any cost gave him a unique perspective on creativity and the entertainment industry. Although he appreciated his solitude he was never one to shy from the limelight and delighted in interviews and personal appearances where he could deliver and endless stream of anecdotes in his rich, unforgettable baritone voice. 

Welles died in 1985 but many pundits could answer the question, "Whatever happened to Orson Welles?", by saying he had left his world decades earlier. This year his masterpiece, Citizen Kane, turns 75. The film continues to appear at the very top of "best of" lists and doesn't appear to be threatened by new technologies in the industry. I suppose Welles really struck close to the pure definition of art when he created that film. The industry - what's left of it in Hollywood - will always owe him immensely for what he brought to it and for the treatment his genius received at the hands of the motion picture cartel.

Here is the master at work in film and in a personal interview.

First, the famous "crane shot" from his 1958 film, Touch of Evil.

And here is Welles in a 1960 BBC Monitor interview discussing Citizen Kane.


Photos and Illustrations:

Title quote,, Orson Welles Quotes,  Interview with Leslie Megahey for The Orson Welles Story (1982); transcribed in Mark Estrin's Orson Welles: Interviews. Jackson. Mississippi: University Press of Mississippi, 2002, page 209.

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