The Hearts of Age
Mallarmé’s bell-ringer, the spinning world, that certain smile of Leonardo’s, “the white keys and the darkies”.
Too Much Johnson
Stroheim themes, an arranged marriage, dalliance and revenge, closing on a parody of Greed. The lover who absconds with an extension ladder all the way to a Carib isle and a ranchero...
The makings of a masterpiece, Gillette’s play, entr’actes ŕ la Lulu, 16 fps workprint with some overcranking ŕ la Clair and an awareness of Murnau, among other things. Situated visibly between The Hearts of Age and everything else amply foreseen, also Norman Foster’s Journey into Fear.
Hopper’s old New York for the rooftop pursuit (cp. Killer’s Kiss, dir. Stanley Kubrick). Richter’s Vormittagsspuk with the hats, Wyler’s The Big Country in the duel, Terence Young (Red Sun) and Beckett by way of Laurel and Hardy (and Godard vocal exercises) for the Cuban finish. Largely invented on the spot, which is frequently how silent film comedies were made (cf. Chaplin’s work reels).
A “rough guess” edit with titles added conveys the idea even without Paul Bowles’ score (not Banburying but Lounsberrying, etc.).
“Lady disappears from Brooklyn, might be murdered!”
“1941’s biggest, strangest funeral.”
“A cross-section of the American public.” Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (dir. Frank Capra) on much the same terms. “Sentimental journey,” interrupted. “Boss Jim Gettys’ political machine, now in complete control of the government of this state!”
“BRILLIANT DIVA PLANS TO DEFY OPERATIC TRUST” (San Francisco Inquirer). “He never threw anything away.” As Huckleberry Finn the movie critic would say, “you don’t know about Citizen Kane, without you have seen a G.W. Pabst film by the name of Pandora’s Box” (also Howard’s The Power and the Glory, Ford’s Stagecoach, etc.).
The best analysis is in The Immortal Story, by way of The Lady from Shanghai (cf. Crichton’s The Divided Heart).
“L’absente de tous bouquets.”
“Some leaders of the industry say privately that Orson Welles must be stopped. Whether they will join hands with William Randolph Hearst to do the job remains to be seen” (The New Republic). It woke up Bosley Crowther from head to heels, “it has more vitality than fifteen other films we could name” (New York Times). Variety, “will stimulate keener creative efforts by Hollywood’s top directors.”
Truffaut, “this film has inspired more vocations to cinema throughout the world than any other.”
Rosebud, neither the President’s niece in the one case nor a little soprano with a toothache in the other, “the Union forever!” A burlesque.
The Magnificent Ambersons
“If you need money.... go to—Blaize’s”.
“They didn’t want him back, of course.”
A full sixty minutes have been removed, which is to say forty percent of the picture.
Torso as it is, we are used to such things. Mighty aware that jot and tittle matter not a little, that abbreviating a work “lengthens it only” (Schoenberg), that Shakespeare’s last curse falls upon the mutilators of his tortured œuvre.
Sculpturally, this is an improvement on Citizen Kane, whose formal innovation was carefully reflected in the script of The Best Years of Our Lives, as it was foretold in the Garbo Anna Karenina, but here analysis of the completed work is unavailable to us, and restoration seems an unlikely proposition under the present circumstances. Poetically, the work incorporates the careful ambiguity of Kane in a painstaking study of immaturity. It is possible to imagine Resnais departing the storefront tracking shots sans Baxter & Holt.
Of course, as before, Welles takes the mickey out of the device as far as possible, Morgan’s fall into his bass viol precipitates Isabel’s marriage to Minifer, whose investments bring down the house and effect George’s enlightenment.
So much for that. The opening titles (cf. Citizen Kane) are a hallmark of style visible through Preminger’s The Court-Martial of Billy Mitchell and Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, that great Biblical epic. The famous end titles are perhaps a justification of a Radio Picture.
The quick-change act at the beginning is borrowed from Keaton, who learned his art from Méličs, who is playing at the Bijou. Similarly, the rise of the automobile is seen reflected in shop windows. Major influences are in Amarcord, Daisy Miller, Wise Blood, and Fanny and Alexander.
It’s All True
A documentary style (“Four Men on a Raft”) instantly akin to Paul Strand or Emilio Fernandez. Fishermen hew together palm logs for a sailing craft, a fleet of these bring in the catch of the day.
Further illumination and some tantalizing footage are to be found in the 1993 Paramount treatment “based on an unfinished film by Orson Welles”, a Technicolor manner of filming the samba ahead of Black Tights (dir. Terence Young), for example, “The Story of Samba (Carnaval)”.
Bits of Norman Foster’s “My Friend Bonito” suggest Eisenstein and Bresson, Welles has Flaherty and Ford in mind...
Death of the fisherman at sea, return of his body to the shore. A masterwork to vie with anything in the world’s cinema. Voyage to the capital.
The metaphor of the desert reverses the joke in Too Much Johnson. In Brazil (“it was edited by Time-Life Books and they changed a lot of it”), Elizabeth Bishop relates one of the national jokes, “Brazil is the country of the future and always will be” or something sim’lar.
The lackey leads you to him, therefore the lackey is destroyed.
What happened to Welles at RKO in the name of common sense and the bottom line had the ring of order and truth about it, he can see with obliging moral ardor how it happens here.
Hitchcock’s Shadow of a doubt sized up the war in Europe as unthinkable at home, similarly.
The death of Meineke takes place at the end of a long crane shot (high-angle, slow dolly left, to low-angle) that occurs with great effectiveness in Huston’s The Bible twenty years later, immediately after Cain murders Abel (Huston’s shot dollies right).
There is much inspired camerawork throughout this brilliant film, often using the crane, and a really useful idea of composing a scene or a shot as a sequence of moves that edit in the camera by combining several setups, as in the scene of Kindler’s false confession at the church halfway through. Various of these aspects have been highly influential.
Welles’ evocation of a New England town with an academic component is strikingly Nabokovian, to such a degree that one might think a theoretical possibility of influence exists (they have in common Edgar Allan Poe, whose story “The Devil in the Belfry” is probably the ultimate source of The Stranger).
And of course, the released film was reportedly cut by as much as one-fourth.
Frankenheimer in The Train establishes the terms of an equation Welles cannot for reasons of personal discretion or propriety.
“People can’t help who they fall in love with.”
“... I was a student in Geneva, there was a girl...”
You will see how the technique extends from Ford’s editing in the camera to Losey’s exploration of a variously lighted set (e.g., The Sleeping Tiger). A great student of this is Satyajit Ray (e.g., The Home and the World).
The revelation comes at a screening of film footage.
The German clock strikes eleven.
Bosley Crowther of the New York Times saw the director stabbed by “a critic, no doubt,” and was convinced, he tells us, the film was “boyishly bad... highly incredible... weak... silly... farfetched... routine and mechanical... a bloodless, manufactured show.”
Variety could not be taken in, “socko melodrama... hard-hitting script... relentless pace... a uniformly excellent cast... some of their best work, [Loretta Young] being particularly effective.”
Emerson in the woods, “there is no den in the wide world to hide a rogue.” Great score by Bronislaw Kaper. The Golden Lion at Venice did not go to Richter or Sjöberg or Reed, and not to Fernandez or Zampa, either.
Dave Kehr (Chicago Reader) and Tom Milne (Time Out Film Guide) follow Variety, disappointedly. Halliwell sides with Crowther and gives Basil Wright’s unfortunate denunciation as well.
A beautiful masterpiece.
Bresson remembers Kindler’s hurried exit in Une Femme douce. “I came to kill you.”
“...I followed orders.”
“You gave the orders.”
The Lady from Shanghai
“Well,” says Mr. Michael O’Hara, remembering his time aboard the Circe, “it’s clear now oy was chasin’ a married woman,” out of New York, bound for San Francisco by way of the Canal.
It was none other than Herman J. Mankiewicz, Academy Award-winning screenwriter, who imagined “the whole world wired to Harry Cohn’s ass!” O’Hara at Acapulco, “it’s a bright, guilty world.”
After the war, even after the Spanish Civil War, a turn of events. Touch of Evil, running through the town.
This bears on The Immortal Story, but as released most closely resembles Huston’s The Maltese Falcon with a considerable influence of Hitchcock. A tale as it were of Spain, and sharks. Variety found it arty, the New York Times “sloppy”.
The scandal of its mutilation by the studio, reportedly on the scale of The Magnificent Ambersons, is unspeakable. It opens on the river and Brooklyn Bridge at night. There is the delicate cranework used expeditiously. During the voyage it anticipates L’Avventura.
O’Hara, a brilliant character in an epigrammatic script, sums up his environment with a tale of feeding frenzy. Before Winter Light, “the end of the world”. The hilly seacoast of Beat the Devil. There is the town by night from the hills, and Rita Hayworth skittering along the bottom of the image, then descending out of frame.
Again, at Sausalito, the characteristic low horizon is a small dock emanating from the right, with a small boat dancing on the bottom of the image, left. “I don’t want to be within a thousand miles of that city or any other city when they start dropping those bombs,” says lying Grisby.
Everett Sloane invents Marty Feldman, or someone very like him. An octopus falling and rising announces the celebrated aquarium sequence.
Ted de Corsia is Paul Stewart in Citizen Kane. The voice of the serpent in George Pal’s 7 Faces of Dr. Lao is heard. “Oh, Fassbender!”
An excruciatingly slow dolly-in on Sloane and Hayworth in a two-shot finally separates them at either side. The courtroom scene is a masterpiece of revelation by composition. A courtroom as small as a cineplex, where a woman is observed carefully placing a bit of rubbish under her seat.
The judge in chambers moves his chess pieces before a window on the city. O’Hara’s furious escape finally breaks free in a great release of energy to an exterior. Chinatown, Welles in the theater.
“Stand Up or Give Up” in the Crazy House. “If you were a good lawyer, you’d be flattered.”
After the war, there is enough blood for every line. On the sound stages of Republic, Welles builds the world of She (dirs. Pichel & Holden) that must have beckoned him to RKO. Cacoyannis’s Electra shows the deed a feminine rage that afterward crumbles, and the oracles are elsewhere in his line. The pivotal film, turning with the camera-editing of The Stranger and certain qualities of his Republic set to the later Welles style.
Variety was first made aware that it was watching Shakespeare, and on top of that with Scottish accents. Variety protested most vociferously, the film was hacked and re-dubbed.
The Tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice
Welles is in exile, extremely fortunate. The editing is rapid, exceedingly bold. The nature of the view is that suspended cage, drawn from Crosland’s The Beloved Rogue with John Barrymore as Villon.
Othello’s occupation’s doused, silver sail or “blanc souci”, he dies thereon.
The “lost masterpiece” was seen in the Eighties magnificently well (before the bruited restoration). “My heart is full,” says Emilia, like Welles at the AFI podium.
The king’s secret is stated in the sequence of vignettes that are the core of the film. The flea circus is the gang Arkadin belonged to. The antiques dealer symbolizes mere acquisitiveness. The Baroness marks the acquisition of taste. The heroin addict Oscar is mere craving, and Sophie is the exercise of power. Finally, Zouk is old age, pining for a goose liver.
The masked ball sequence is Goya. The waist-high upward-tilted camera fixes many a shot like Gaudí. Significant influences are in Fellini’s Amarcord, Reisz’s The Gambler, and Polanski’s Chinatown.
A film situated in every sense between Citizen Kane and The Immortal Story.
Orson Welles’ Sketch Book
An amazing Wellesian performance, he draws excellently well to illustrate his stories, here is the witch doctor that killed Percy Hammond (“a Broadway legend”), another that spiked It’s All True after a new junta took over at RKO.
False noses are his forte, he explains.
Around the World with Orson Welles
The Basque Country
Pigeons like quails, a sheepherder home from Colorado, the isolate language, something of the history, an American journalist and her son living there, modern history, the Pentecost feast, the toro de fuego, pelote, church on Sunday, champions and varieties of pelote, a late friend.
The Fountain of Youth
The extremely subtle theme is related to Vincent Sherman’s Mr. Skeffington and only revealed at the last moment.
Rick Jason describes the technique in his autobiography. “To shoot a scene, there was a slide projector sixty feet or so away from the camera that projected the still onto a huge opaque screen (which more than filled the camera lens) in front of which we worked. A few pieces of furniture, or whatever were required in the foreground to dress the set, completed the arrangement. Most scenes were in either medium or close shots and, rather than cut from one scene to the other, Welles had the actor stand in place while the opaque screen behind him dissolved to the new scene. If the actor was going from an exterior to an interior, the lights on him would go dark, leaving him in silhouette during the backscreen dissolve. As the background changed to the interior, the lights came up on his face and he removed his hat and coat as the camera pulled back revealing the new interior set.”
Lollobrigida, interviewed at home, by way of De Sica and Brazzi and Subiaco.
“The Italian public”, producers, taxes (Welles, Cocteau, and who was it, Buńuel, talking about money at a sidewalk café).
Welles the magician, Fellini’s cousin, extrapolating his “Portrait of Gina” from a hat.
Touch of Evil
“All these years you been playing me for a sucker, faking evidence.”
Death of the town’s leading citizen, prosecution of a leading drug trafficker, the action on either side of the border. There’s an awful lot of Grandes, as Vargas points out. You put one away in Mexico City, sure enough there’s one on the periphery.
The up-angle of Mr. Arkadin. Pans from tight compression to infinite expansiveness or the other way around. Two shadows on a wall (Reed’s The Third Man), oil derricks in the receding distance, Vargas in the middle scuttling away. Quinlan in a night exterior, palm tree behind him in the desert breeze waving like peacock feathers. The Stranger’s crane now fully active, acknowledged on a billboard. The border town arcade firmly ensconced in the convertible. Psycho finds a key element here, with a characteristic Hitchcockian acknowledgment. The long takes accomplishing the interrogations are intensely brilliant camera articulations, matched by a cut to an exterior (The Lady from Shanghai). W.C. Fields (played by Ralph Richardson), Edward G. Robinson (Akim Tamiroff), Leo Gorcey for “Pancho”. The very last shot replaces the cypresses at the end of The Third Man with oil wells.
The gypsy (“in a quaint caravan there’s a lady they call the gypsy”) walks in from “The Waste Land”, not to say Golden Earrings (dir. Mitchell Leisen) and more obscurely Rancho Notorious (dir. Fritz Lang). A touch of Ansel Adams on the desert. Fleischer’s Mr. Majestyk on the blind girl. Coppola and Scorsese remember the stricture, “nobody in the Grande family gets hooked.” The memory of two scenes goes very deep with Tony Richardson, the rear view of the stripper’s gams and feet (Mademoiselle) and the long wandering pursuit with a microphone (Laughter in the Dark). Raoul Lévy makes an extensive study of the Mirador in The Defector.
Godard, Ten Best Films released in France that year, with Mankiewicz, Bergman, Preminger, Becker, Astruc, Anthony Mann, Villiers, Visconti, and Carbonnaux. Truffaut, “well, you might say, what a fuss over a simple little detective story that Welles wrote in eight days, over which he didn’t even have the right to supervise the final editing, and to which was later added a half-dozen explanatory shots he’d refused to make, a film he made ‘to order’ and which he violently disavowed.”
“By this standard and many others, Touch of Evil and The Lady from Shanghai are superior to The Trial” (Andrew Sarris, The American Cinema).
Howard Thompson of the New York Times, “a brilliant but obvious bag of tricks.” Variety, “smacks of brilliance but ultimately flounders in it.” Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times), “is there a resonance between the Welles character here and the man he became?” Michael Atkinson (Village Voice), “a grimy, disreputable thing”. Leonard Maltin, “stylistic masterpiece, dazzlingly photographed”. TV Guide, “bizarre and twisted”. Brad Stevens (Sight & Sound), “an especially appropriate non-finale for a group of films chiefly concerned with the difficulty of defining borders between good and evil, hero and villain, cop and criminal, democracy and fascism, often insisting that these divisions are neither neat (good and evil being relative) nor straightforward (perhaps it is the cop rather than the criminal who is the true fascist).” Time Out, “plays havoc with moral ambiguities”. Catholic News Service Media Review Office, “stylish crime thriller”. Halliwell’s Film Guide, “hardly the most auspicious return to Hollywood for a wanderer,” citing Gerald Weales (Reporter) on “balderdash”.
Kafka’s joke is sustained very brilliantly, a dick is in Joseph K.’s view down the bed when he awakes after a dream of the impenetrable Law.
Nothing will enlighten K. as to the nature of the case (viz. the critics). Finally, to paraphrase Archie Rice, his boiled eggs take the top off of him.
Welles’ greatest film before Chimes at Midnight, he presents you with an excruciating comedy from an author of great sensibility and refinement, who is said to have roared with laughter when reading his work aloud.
“The most hateful, the most repellent, and the most perverted film Welles ever made” (Andrew Sarris, The American Cinema).
Chimes at Midnight
The great battle between Hotspur and Hal is deeply famous, the second battle is with Falstaff. He’s Santa Claus in the American sense at first sight, some other person as gradually appears.
The fame of it meant that a restoration should be called for, Bosley Crowther having banished it from his realm.
Eight minutes on the city that is Senta Berger.
The Immortal Story
Welles filming in color begins where he began, with Citizen Kane.
Music by Satie.
The greatest treat in all the world. Fourteen years to catch up with Pabst is no mistake. Even this rough and partial cut, very pure Welles, is a work to be regarded in some awe. There is Welles taking one of his Eisenstein shots, and there is the shot.
Some of it was voiced by Welles as Sancho and the Knight of the Mournful Countenance, some by other actors. The footage is variable, from different sources. It’s Spain, and “the most perfect gentleman”, and the squire.
Television, rockets, and the moon, even a Vespa (the devil carrying off a damsel), even Saracens.
“Piss off,” the fiesta crowd tells Sancho Panza, “you’re in the way!”
“The phantom of life.”
Every note in its place, from this reading.
After The Fountain of Youth and Vienna, Welles well on his way to F for Fake.
The Other Side of the Wind
An exacerbation of film editing is visibly continued in two sequences on the Press (Citizen Kane) surrounding a famous film director and a latent Byronism (The Trial) dropping its other shoe in the rain on a speeding car while the driver stares straight ahead through the windshield.
F for Fake
The title does not appear anywhere in the finished film but in the trailer, a ten-minute featurette that fleshes out the film itself in the form of a bravura introduction or overture, bringing the total time invested in the evening to ninety-four or ninety-five minutes, if that can be arranged.
Close attention must be paid to every detail of the work, such as the magic trick at the very start, which reproduces exactly the sense of the three-way colloquy at the end re-enacted by Welles (as the art forger) and Oja Kodar (as herself and Pablo Picasso).
Clifford Irving and Elmyr de Hory portray themselves as fictionists of two sorts, the sham writer and the art swindler. What happens next is strange, Chartres, an unsigned masterpiece. And then you get the story of Oja and Pablo, who started to paint her and met her grandfather.
The television work done by Welles is perhaps too little-known even now to serve as a general preparation for such a profound study as this, which appears to have swiftly floated by its audiences and critics as a phantasm.
Welles’ second version of Othello is imparted by him at a Moviola, he gradually evokes the main themes of jealousy and envy in such a way as to make the spectator feel them impinging on his very existence, yet there is only himself and Micheál MacLiammóir and Hilton Edwards (the three on film) talking about the play, and anecdotes of the filming, and Welles taking part in a special screening for students in Boston, with interspersed bits of the film throughout.
“One hell of a picture.”
Filming The Trial
Grand minstrel show, O.W. Interlocutor, film school students. Mr. Bones wants to know this and that. Gesualdo, not Albinoni. Perkins or Pacino, a “pushing” bureaucrat, not well liked (the camera has spoken).
Different background, dilemma, die like a Jew? “After the Holocaust,” no.
Conflict with the present Administration, society in conflict with K., not vice versa.
Circumstances of filming and funding, larcenous Yugoslavians, impecunious venturesome Salkinds (grandson Ilya of Superman fame).
“I’m a magician,” at one point, “cinema mastery,” another. Being a dead loss to him, financially speaking.
The Spirit of Charles Lindbergh
The aviator to his journal, one hour from Paris.