Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Recommended!: Anything by Orson Welles, really.

And why not? Building on a young life devoted precociously to the arts, with an insanely rich resume of accomplishments in radio & theatre, Welles exploded on the scene of cinema in 1941 and, with Citizen Kane, radically transformed cinematic grammar. Welles' epic and brooding tale of the investigation into the life of a newpaper magnate (modeled, of course, on William Randolph Hearst, who was none too flattered by Welles' portrait) should have kicked off one of the grandest careers in cinema. But studios were at odds with Welles' methods, and he fell in and out of favor with Hollywood while still finding sporadic funding abroad. Welles often realized his lofty cinematic ambitions on low-budgets, shooting piecemeal across multiple countries. About a dozen features were completed, though many were interfered with or completed without Welles' supervision. And yet all of them are at the very least worth a look, including the restored edition of Tex-Mex noir Touch of Evil (with Charlton Heston) and the astonishing documentary F for Fake. (And the folks at the Citizen Welles YouTube channel have assembled a nice array of some of Welles' non-movie projects, including his wonderful Orson Welles' Sketch Book, a series of fifteen-minute proto-vlogs made for British television in the mid 50s.)

Welles' list of lost & incomplete works speaks to an often -thwarted genius. Weirdly enough, it also means that every so often a newly discovered Welles movie is released, adding to his body of work posthumously (we reported just recently on a screening of such a film, the silent film Welles shot to accompany a theatrical production of the comedy Too Much Johnson). But even if his filmography wasn't continually expanding, the cinema of Orson Wells would still be speaking to us: breathing new life into classics texts; offering welcome, familiar, and learned company; and a sense of cinema that remains ahead of its time. We still have much to learn from the cinema of Orson Welles, but whenever we study his work we are too distracted to dissect it by how absorbed we are in his stories, his worlds.

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