For my essay last week–which I handed in on time, thankfully–I chose Orson Welles as the subject. He’s a fascinating, but enigmatic, man. Although Citizen Kane is his best, and most coherent, work, he continued to make interesting films thereafter.
I particularly like his version of Othello, closely followed by that noir classic Touch of Evil. Even The Lady from Shanghai has it moments (despite Welles’s somewhat dodgy Oirish accent), especially that fantastic shoot out in the fun house at the end.
The problem, it seems to me, is that Hollywood never had the strength of Welles’s convictions. Whenever he presented them with another film that made the studios nervous, they would either re-cut, or re-edit the film and make it worse.
Welles had a European sensibility towards filmmaking that wasn’t popular in Hollywood in the 1940s and 1950s. Honestly, the studios didn’t seem to know what to do with him.
I won’t apply the much over-used title of “genius” upon Welles, but he was an innovator in whatever media he chose to investigate. He seemed to have an instinct for drama, be it in Theatre, Radio or Movies, and also possessed the ability to know what techniques worked for each media, and what would not transfer.
The saddest part of watching the The Battle Over Citizen Kane, a documentary about Welles taking on newspaper mogul Hearst in Citizen Kane, was a snippet from a 1982 interview with Welles in which he said, rather poignantly:
I would have been more successful if I’d left movies immediately (after Citizen Kane), stayed in the theater, gone into politics, written, anything. I have–I have wasted the greater part of my life looking for money and trying to get along, trying to make my work from this terribly expensive paintbox, which is a movie. And I’ve spent too much energy on things that have nothing to do with making a movie. It’s about two percent moviemaking and ninety-eight percent hustling. It’s no way to spend a life.
It’s got to be hard to complete a visionary piece of filmmaking at age twenty-five, and have no one acknowledge its brilliance for another twenty-five years or longer.
Being ahead of your time leaves you out of synch with the world.