Welles was a big man not simply in stature, but as a looming force
to be reckoned with behind and in front of his camera.
He is considered a paramount forefather of film techniques and
production to many. Of course, his bravado too is legendary.
When you're not afraid to say it as it is, abruptly, and demand
your own way on each project, you tend to make a myriad of enemies
along the way as well as "believers." Welles managed
to alienate himself from Hollywood completely and yet still produce
some of its most memorable works. Works that to this day inspire
and amaze. His nerve and vision made him an American original
surpassed by no one, as of yet, in my opinion.
of his masterpieces are the instantly recognized Citizen Kane
(1941) and the love it or hate it Othello (1952) which
are today regarded as just a couple (of many) of his works to
study to find a personification of an artist's vision upon film.
His work has insired and driven uncountable protégés
to pursue a career in film.
Kane and Othello are quite similar and yet decidedly
different at the very same time. Just like Welles, they are a
contradiction. On one hand, the man was a professional, almost
a perfectionist bordering on militant. On the other, his antics
could be construed as wildly unprofessional and a Hollywood
no-no, risky. The man hated Hollywood but relished in its
bounty. And like
Welles himself, his films seem to have split personalities. They
are at once very dark and deep, and yet brilliantly open, inviting
and on display for all to dive into. There are many small details
left out of the spotlight for viewers to explore and discover
new pieces with each viewing.
two films are openly considered ego binges by Welles yet are still
proudly revered for their cinematic greatness. We tend to forgive
Welles' colossal ego because his work is all the better for his
totalitarian control. Genius is genius after all.
Othello, the classic tale from Shakespeare, has its ominous
lighting effects and vast obtrusive setting which directs the
mood from the very first frame. Something's wrong here, he says.
Come join us and discover what mysteries we've come to uncover.
It also happens to be very true to they original directions for
the stage. It is very hard to successfully translate a play into
film. A play loses its heart most of the time. The actors tend
to overact or the dialog seems heavy and weighted on film. It
is a very different medium switch to be sure.
is one of the first, besides O'Neill's Long Days Journey Into
Night (1962), to capture the very personal pure emotions one
experiences in a play's production on film. Othello is
a dark solemn story and so, too, is Welles' cinematography, actors,
set and wardrobe.
his infamous Citizen Kane, you'll find a preserved snapshot
of American filmmaking. He reached far, experimenting fearlessly
with various techniques of filming. None particularly new, but,
till then, never combined with such seamless execution,
logic and intelligence.
Kane, remember, was produced and co-written by a 26-year-old
Welles. Knowledge, certainly beyond his years, possessed him.
Some of Welles' special effects on Kane (or, perhaps better
phrased, his sense of new styles) were as mundane as the way director
Welles decided to resolve into the next scene, or as brave as
his skipping the traditional roll of opening credits. By placing
them only at the very end, he gave the audience the choice to
respect or walk out on the cast's marquee.
it faith in his work, his choice of actors, and maybe even a little
test of approval from the viewers. Not to mention he later explained
he felt the audience entered his movie less distracted by just
reading actors names, reminding one it's make believe before you.
He also used camera angles that made you think in each.
In Citizen Kane, it was his camera visually displaying
subtle metaphor after metaphor in the deceased Kane's life. Shot
in flashback format, Welles strung the scenes with the seamless
stitching Edith Head might use for a great costume. In Othello
his camera snuck around the castle like the players in the story;
angles from way above, spying, and obstacles strategically placed
creating half views to give the viewer another feeling of peeking
I consider both Othello and Citizen Kane a tribute
to film's ability to tickle our psyche and its visual wizardry.
Welles was obsessed with realism. Not real realism but
movie realism. He wouldn't go so far as to have real time filming
but he did want to remove his films from the sound stage; an illusion
of home, in Kane's case, castle. He was one of the first to use
ceilings without losing sound quality.
This decision could simply ruin the texture of sound from the
set. But, for the look he desired, they were necessary. Once,
again, this powerhouse from the stage and radio dared to experiment
with the abilities of film, and succeeded.
is very much in the same vain of do or die style. The scenes,
highly dramatic, could have been pathetic if not executed properly.
He used his (now signature) camera skews and angles to direct
our emotion the way Shakespeare, I'm guessing, had originally
intended; or the way Welles felt he had anyway.
both films, Welles has his composer orchestrate the soundtrack
as a perfect musical accent. Again the point being to direct his
desired emotion in any given scene. These are not just frolicking
notes oblivious to the action and dialog they accompany, and certainly
not generic chords most soundtracks thoughtlessly attach.
As highly stylized as Welles' works are, he kept himself in check.
Stopping right before he slipped over the overindulgent cliff
into mediocrity or Art House bugaboo. Particularly these two very
different story lines with one brilliant, common element: both
are displayed gloriously on film with a master's eye for detail,
dramatics and style.
Citizen Kane the best film ever? Is there really an answer
to that question. Films are individual
beings. When you dissect even the worst film you find something
at its core worth a discussion.
is an American classic. Kane had firsts, in direction techniques,
camera techniques, daring end-a-young-director's-career storyline
(based openly on oddball tycoon William Randolf Hearst) and a
soul that still has a sparkling life in it all these years later.
If calling it the finest film of all time continues to introduce
it to a new generation then so be it.
movie or not, both Citizen Kane and Othello
can be viewed many times over and each time are as fresh as the
first time you discovered them. Why? Because that's exactly what
Orson Welles had intended.