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Orson Welles: The Eye of a Poet

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ChiO
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Orson Welles: The Eye of a Poet

Postby ChiO » August 9th, 2011, 4:02 pm

Due to a groundswell of excitement, apparently connected to TCM's programming yesterday, this hereby is the official Orson Welles thread. Have at it, my friends.

A film is never really good unless the camera is an eye in the head of a poet. -- Orson Welles
Everyday people...that's what's wrong with the world. -- Morgan Morgan
I love movies. But don't get me wrong. I hate Hollywood. -- Orson Welles
Movies can only go forward in spite of the motion picture industry. -- Orson Welles

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ChiO
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Re: Orson Welles: The Eye of a Poet

Postby ChiO » August 9th, 2011, 5:45 pm

Completely unbiased and objective lists --

The Masterpieces (feature length)
1. CITIZEN KANE (1941) -- My favorite film ever made.
2. TOUCH OF EVIL (1958) -- My second favorite film noir ever made (and OUT OF THE PAST isn't #1).
3. F FOR FAKE (1974) -- My favorite fictional film essay documentary ever made.
4. THE TRIAL (1962)
5. CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT (1966)

The Near Masterpieces (feature length)
1. THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS (1942) -- Some who aid and abet the destruction of Art are prosecuted. Others go on to direct THE SOUND OF MUSIC. There may be a connection.
2. FILMING "OTHELLO" (1978)
3. MACBETH (1948)
4. OTHELLO (1952)

The Merely Great Films (feature length)
1. MR. ARKADIN (1955)
2. THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI (1948)
3. JOURNEY INTO FEAR (1943)(credited to Norman Foster)
4. THE STRANGER (1946)

Tonight's agenda -- Watching THE IMMORTAL STORY, the one feature length ("completed") Welles film that I haven't seen.
Everyday people...that's what's wrong with the world. -- Morgan Morgan
I love movies. But don't get me wrong. I hate Hollywood. -- Orson Welles
Movies can only go forward in spite of the motion picture industry. -- Orson Welles

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JackFavell
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Re: Orson Welles: The Eye of a Poet

Postby JackFavell » August 9th, 2011, 6:04 pm

Oh my gosh! Where to begin? You've already given me food for a hundred thoughts with your list.

1. Thanks for starting this thread.

2. Is there another fictional film essay documentary? :D

3. What's your favorite film noir?

4. I have horrible conflicted feelings about Robert Wise, especially since I found out he also dumped Val Lewton when the man really needed him. Yet he made a couple of my favorite movies. I'm trying to reconcile these love/hate feelings within myself. How do I do it?

5. Not knowing much about Fellini, am I right or wrong in thinking Mr. Arkadin and Welles' style in general might have influenced Fellini?

Boy I liked that movie! Such a surprise.

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pvitari
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Re: Orson Welles: The Eye of a Poet

Postby pvitari » August 9th, 2011, 6:14 pm

Hey, ChiO! Where on your list would you put that Lucy episode with Orson Welles? ;) It was on the tube the other day and although I'm definitely NOT a Lucy fan I couldn't resist watching because of Welles.

My mom grew up a couple of miles from Raymond Boulevard in Newark, NJ, where some of the aliens landed in War of the Worlds. She had turned on the radio and heard the broadcast and really believed the aliens were here -- she was a little girl at the time. She ran to a neighbor who informed her that the aliens weren't really landing, it was just a radio program. It scared the dickens out of her though.

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Re: Orson Welles: The Eye of a Poet

Postby Rita Hayworth » August 9th, 2011, 6:20 pm

pvitari wrote:Hey, ChiO! Where on your list would you put that Lucy episode with Orson Welles? ;) It was on the tube the other day and although I'm definitely NOT a Lucy fan I couldn't resist watching because of Welles.


I did not know that - that Orson Welles was on a Lucy show!

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ChiO
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Re: Orson Welles: The Eye of a Poet

Postby ChiO » August 9th, 2011, 9:29 pm

2. Is there another fictional film essay documentary?

Certainly. YOU CAN''T GO HOME AGAIN (1975) directed by Nicholas Ray. A work of genius. Almost as good as F FOR FAKE. Oh, and I posted something on it a year or two ago ("A Nicholas Ray of Hope"?) and TCM is showing it in October. See...I have eclectic taste...just so long as the director is a poet.

3. What's your favorite film noir?

Where have you been? Go sit in the back row. Class? All together now...GUN CRAZY!

4. I have horrible conflicted feelings about Robert Wise, especially since I found out he also dumped Val Lewton when the man really needed him. Yet he made a couple of my favorite movies. I'm trying to reconcile these love/hate feelings within myself. How do I do it?


I know...I know.... THE SET-UP. THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL. WEST SIDE STORY. Well, as we say down home, even a blind pig will find an acorn now and then.

5. Not knowing much about Fellini, am I right or wrong in thinking Mr. Arkadin and Welles' style in general might have influenced Fellini?

Well, can we just take as the ol' res ipsa loquitur that every filmmaker who made a film after 1941 was influenced by Welles? Then watch THE TRIAL (1962). Who was influencing whom? Just sit back and enjoy.

Where on your list would you put that Lucy episode with Orson Welles?

And that's why I limited by lists to feature length films that He directed and "completed" (no IT'S ALL TRUE, DON QUIXOTE and THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND; no HEARTS OF AGE; no etc.). I'm assuming (I've seen it, but it's been awhile) He didn't direct that I Love Lucy episode. Was Karl Freund the director of photography? Welles and Freund...now there's the match-up. In terms of Welles on TV, I'm partial to the Basque segment of Around the World with Orson Welles and Fountain of Youth. And, of course, The Dick Cavett Show.
Everyday people...that's what's wrong with the world. -- Morgan Morgan
I love movies. But don't get me wrong. I hate Hollywood. -- Orson Welles
Movies can only go forward in spite of the motion picture industry. -- Orson Welles

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Re: Orson Welles: The Eye of a Poet

Postby Mr. Arkadin » August 9th, 2011, 10:37 pm

JackFavell wrote:Oh my gosh! Where to begin?


It's always best to begin at the beginning, and in the case of Welles that means a trip to Xanadu, where you'll find the loot of the world, which pollinates the rest of his work.

I am dealing with a screaming 1 yr-old whose back molars are coming in right now, so I don't have much time to post, but here are a few of my older posts that deal with the contrasts between Citizen Kane and How Green was my Valley, as well as my general thoughts on Orson's debut feature:

How Green Was My Valley is a great film. Unfortunately, it is not as well known these days as the film that didn't win, Citizen Kane. However, I find the two films evenly matched and if a recount was called by today's viewers (who had the opportunity to view both films) I think How Green would definitely win again. An interesting thing that Peter Bogdanovich noted, was how similar both films actually are. Both films are about the dissolution of the family unit, but use different styles to interpet what family is. Bogdanovich states "Kane is about the affluent and powerful while Green is about everybody else."

But there's also a difference in outlook. Green although tragic, has the perserverance of the human spirit behind it. In Kane, all the possessions lie waiting for the furnace. We know from Huw's experiences (learning to walk, working in the mine) that he will start over and rebuild his life. Kane (who never had to work for anything--"If I hadn't been rich I might have become a great man") leaves no heir and donates none of his fortune. Everything (his dreams, possessions, wealth, and even Rosebud) will die with him. If Green shows a family's unselfishness, Kane shows a man so desperate for love he will buy and use whatever means possible to salve his loneliness. Green like the color, gives us hope of renewal. Kane is it's fatalistic doppelganger, which suggests love once lost, can never be regained.

Although I think there are many negative elements to Kane, some of these points were beyond his control. I don't really find Kane greedy. Rather, he is an example of impoverished love. Huw, grew up with a loving family and a father who taught him about life. Charlie Kane's father was abusive and his mother a clinging, dominating woman who sent him away as a child to be raised by Thatcher, who was more interested in Charles investments than Charles Foster Kane the person. Kane is raised with the best of everything but lacking the ingredient of love. Huw is materially poor, but rich in affection. Both of these films track different styles of life, but they both deal with family love and its nurturing properties. While Huw becomes a man, Kane recedes into childishness.

It's the globe with Rosebud inside (which is actually seen more than once earlier in the film) that finally brings him full circle. He finally comes to realize his nature and how it was formed. Unfortunately like Rosebud trapped in the globe, Kane, now an old man, is helpless and unable to change his life (he tries with Susan before she leaves) because he doesn't have Huw's perspective. When Thompson the reporter says: "All the same I can't help feeling sorry for Mr. Kane." Susan speaks for all of us when she replies " Don't you think I do?"


I personally love Citizen Kane, but I can understand why some people don't care for it. One thing about the film that is very off putting to viewers is the fact that the first couple of scenes are designed to take us out of our comfort zone. We are hit with three different scenes at the start of the film in a whirlwind fashion, all dealing with a man we have no knowledge or background of.

When Thompson the reporter goes calling, we never see his face. We also never meet Kane in real life. We are left with only memories from others who hold their own biased views of what he was like. In short, we are given NO ONE with which to identify. It's up to us to put the puzzle together each time we watch and decide just who Charles Foster Kane is.

This is the power of the film for those who love it and the weakness for those who do not. Kane is a film that demands much from us. Our active participation and reasoning are required to make the film work.

Depending on insights or the mood in which we see the film, Kane can become all kinds of different things to different viewers. Some see him as a spoiled child, some as a master manipulator, others as a pitiful man who never received love, or perhaps how his wealth isolated him from love. Some see him as all these things, others see him as none of them. Kane is an open ended book that requires US to fill in the final pages with our own experiences and emotional baggage. This is not a film for passive viewing. It's also not a one-watch film. Every time we see Kane we find something different about him and discover something also about ourselves.

Although the film has humor and is enjoyable, it's hard on viewers who are not willing to participate in it's game. So many see this as half a film and in a sense they are right--it's what we bring to the film that completes it and makes it personal to us. This is one of the reasons why it's considered one of the greatest films ever made.

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Re: Orson Welles: The Eye of a Poet

Postby srowley75 » August 10th, 2011, 6:31 am

ChiO wrote:
The Near Masterpieces (feature length)
3. MACBETH (1948)

The Merely Great Films (feature length)
2. THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI (1948)


I'd probably switch the two above (I don't really care for any of the film versions of Macbeth except Throne of Blood). Otherwise, based on what I've seen, I wouldn't quibble.

I count Citizen Kane as my favorite movie as well, mostly for reasons already mentioned here. I see something different every time I see it. I've always considered the scene from Kane's childhood to be one of the most interesting and cryptic in the movie. For one, I wonder exactly how audiences in 1941 would've responded to Kane's mother and father vs. audiences of today. I think the sense of an adult being abusive is much stronger in How Green especially because the punishment meted out on Huw seems so unjust.

Anyone planning to buy the Blu-Ray when it comes out? I still haven't gotten to the point that I upgrade a lot of my 1:33 films (the movies of Michael Powell might be the only exception). I'd rather spend Blu-Ray money on purchasing/upgrading widescreen titles.

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Re: Orson Welles: The Eye of a Poet

Postby JackFavell » August 10th, 2011, 11:31 am

Chio - I have a copy of The Trial and enjoy every agonizing minute of it. :D

I don't doubt that everyone was influenced by Welles after CK, and that Welles was certainly influenced by Fellini later on. I was just curious if there was any documentation of Mr. Arkadin/Confidential Report having an effect on Fellini... this movie seems so related to 8 1/2 to me. I have very little knowledge of Fellini at this point, and have only seen a couple of his movies so far. But I'm working on it.

Mr. A - I really liked your CK comparison to HGWMV. Most people fall into one or the other camp, and it's refreshing to find someone who can appreciate both films. It's even more refreshing to find someone who can see similarities in the two movies and put it into words so well.

It's the globe with Rosebud inside (which is actually seen more than once earlier in the film) that finally brings him full circle. He finally comes to realize his nature and how it was formed. Unfortunately like Rosebud trapped in the globe, Kane, now an old man, is helpless and unable to change his life (he tries with Susan before she leaves) because he doesn't have Huw's perspective. When Thompson the reporter says: "All the same I can't help feeling sorry for Mr. Kane." Susan speaks for all of us when she replies " Don't you think I do?"


I understand. I doubt he would have been able to change his life even had he been a young man with understanding, but maybe that's cynicism on my part. Perhaps it's man's fate to have the ability to change in youth, but the understanding to do so only in old age. To become aware of one's own character, but not to be able to change it.... well, that turns back to the frog and the scorpion.... Welles' Shakespearean conundrum which I think he was working out all his life. He presents a Mobius strip of his own life and of all thinking men's (and women's) lives in his films. If you are thoughtful, I think Welles movies will inspire and perhaps horrify you, but you'll keep coming back to be inspired and horrified... I keep thinking that maybe this time I will find the answer. :D

If it's any comfort, teething doesn't last long.

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Re: Orson Welles: The Eye of a Poet

Postby ChiO » August 10th, 2011, 1:56 pm

Ark quoted Kane and wrote:
"If I hadn't been rich I might have become a great man".... Depending on insights or the mood in which we see the film, Kane can become all kinds of different things to different viewers.

Wonderful analysis, Ark. The above line is haunting and your observation is certainly on target, which leads to the following question: In the above quote, what was Welles (yes, Mankiewicz might have written it, but either way it was Welles who kept it) saying?

General: A person's material goods inhibit becoming great.
Political: The rich cannot become great.
Personal admission: I could have been great, but I let wealth get in the way.
Personal victimhood: It was the wealth that kept me from being the great man that I really am.

FelliniFavell wrote:
Welles was certainly influenced by Fellini later on. I was just curious if there was any documentation of Mr. Arkadin/Confidential Report having an effect on Fellini... this movie seems so related to 8 1/2 to me.


Rummaging quickly through the Xanadu reference library here, I didn't find an answer to your real question. But I did find the following (the first two are from interviews; to save time, I've omitted the lead-in and any intervening questions and edited answers into a single response):

(After admitting he didn't care for LA STRADA and hadn't seen JULIET OF THE SPIRITS) Fellini is essentially a small-town boy who's never really come to Rome. He's still dreaming about it. And we all should be very grateful for those dreams. In a way, he's still standing outside looking in through the gates. The force of La Dolce Vita comes from its provincial innocence. It's so totally invented. (Says THE WHITE SHEIK is his favorite, followed by I VITELLONI) The good things in that film (8 1/2) are marvelous.
-- This Is Orson Welles (Orson Welles & Peter Bogdanovich, 1998)

He's as gifted as anyone making pictures today. His limitation -- which is also the source of his charm -- is that he's fundamentally very provincial. His films are a small-town boy's dream of the big city. His sophistication works because it's the creation of someone who doesn't have it. But he shows dangerous signs of being a superlative artist with little to say.
-- Playboy Interview (Orson Welles & Kenneth Tynan)

It (MR. ARKADIN) is in fact a Hollywood thriller seen from the vantage point of a European intellectual, foreshadowing the rise of "personal" art films in the early sixties. Sometimes it has the dreamlike power of a Fellini film, and sometimes the abstract, rhetorical tone of Godard's Alphaville. No wonder it was greeted with such enthusiasm by the critics of the nouvelle vague, who hailed it, in the words of Bazin, as "completely the work of Welles."
-- The Magic World of Orson Welles (James Naremore)
Everyday people...that's what's wrong with the world. -- Morgan Morgan
I love movies. But don't get me wrong. I hate Hollywood. -- Orson Welles
Movies can only go forward in spite of the motion picture industry. -- Orson Welles

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JackFavell
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Re: Orson Welles: The Eye of a Poet

Postby JackFavell » August 10th, 2011, 2:07 pm

Thanks, so much for going to the trouble of looking those references up, ChiO! I very much appreciate it.

Can you tell me if I should start reading about Welles with the Simon Callow books? Or would you start with something else?

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Re: Orson Welles: The Eye of a Poet

Postby ChiO » August 10th, 2011, 2:35 pm

It depends on what interests you most.

For a biography, I'd recommend Callow's two volumes. He's reasonably even-handed. Welles biographies seem to fall into two categories: the worshipful and the "let's-tear-this-guy-to-shreds". Callow is in-between -- generally respectful, often showing admiration, and usually avoiding falling back on most of the negative myths. Then This Is Orson Welles, the interviews that Bogdanovich conducted and that were edited by Jonathan Rosenbaum (the Welles scholar of today).

If you want an introduction to Welles' films, The Cinema of Orson Welles by Peter Cowie is good. Seen the films and want to go deeper? The Magic World of Orson Welles by James Naremore (the film noir scholar of today, and a pal of Rosenbaum's). Then follow that up with Discovering Orson Welles by Jonathan Rosenbaum.

Once you've decided that, yes, Orson Welles is not only the greatest film artist in history, but one of the greatest artists in history, and you want to get angry about anyone -- especially the Hollywood studio system -- feeling differently: Despite the System: Orson Welles versus the Hollywood Studios (Clinton Heylin).

Have at it! And, see you at the movies.
Everyday people...that's what's wrong with the world. -- Morgan Morgan
I love movies. But don't get me wrong. I hate Hollywood. -- Orson Welles
Movies can only go forward in spite of the motion picture industry. -- Orson Welles

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Re: Orson Welles: The Eye of a Poet

Postby JackFavell » August 10th, 2011, 2:58 pm

Thanks again! :D

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Re: Orson Welles: The Eye of a Poet

Postby Professional Tourist » August 10th, 2011, 8:37 pm

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Last edited by Professional Tourist on January 20th, 2012, 11:16 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Orson Welles: The Eye of a Poet

Postby kingrat » August 11th, 2011, 3:38 pm

Mr. Arkadin, thank you for your insightful essay comparing CITIZEN KANE and HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY.

Speaking of MR. ARKADIN: Other films may have coherent stories, outstanding performances, important themes, deep insights into human behavior. Usually those are the kinds of films I prefer. But when MR. ARKADIN offers a sumptuous visual feast, the relative absence of those characteristics doesn't matter too much. Even the poor quality of the dubbing, which initially was rather distracting, didn't matter too much. I liked the opening images and the music, but the film totally had me at the reverse tracking shot when Van Stratten walks up the outside staircase to Zouk's room. As the camera pulls back, he seems to be a tiny figure walking into a very dark tunnel. Indeed he is. As one marvel of visual inventiveness followed another, did I mind if I couldn't figure out whether Sophie had been a police agent or a criminal or one turned the other? Nope, not a bit.

JF, I see your comparison of MR. ARKADIN to 8 1/2. The scenes with masks and revellers in MR. ARKADIN may be influenced by Sternberg's THE DEVIL IS A WOMAN, to be shown on Aug. 31, Marlene day. It's set in Seville during carnival. The tilted angle shots recall THE THIRD MAN, which may be deliberate because the project apparently began with radio scripts concerning Harry Lime.

For those of you who've seen the slightly longer version in the Criterion Collection: are there significant differences? Is the story more coherent? The length of TCM's 99-minute version felt about right, though a few more minutes of Welles' images probably wouldn't have hurt. I kept wondering if Robert Arden's lines (as Van Stratten) had been dubbed by Van Johnson. The timbre, the regional accent, the inflections sounded similar. As for the other actors, Katina Paxinou and Suzanne Flon interested me more than the men. It was confusing early in the film that Bracco (Gregoire Aslan) and Zouk (Akim Tamiroff) either looked alike or were made up to look alike. I did find Tamiroff's goose liver scene tedious, which is probably consistent with my hating Dennis Weaver's scenes in TOUCH OF EVIL. (Hey, the resident curmudgeon of TCM City, Fred C. Dobbs, posted that "The Dennis Weaver stuff is idiotic," so apparently this kind of Wellesian humor has limited appeal to us curmudgeons.)


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