Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Preview: Late Orson Welles

"I started at the top and worked down."
-Orson Welles

Whether fair or not, Hollywood history looks at Orson Welles more as squandered opportunity rather than celebrated genius. At the time of his cinematic debut in 1941, Welles was already well-known (notorious, even) for the infamous "War of the Worlds" radio broadcast. His first film, Citizen Kane, is now debated as being one of the greatest films of all-time. Likewise, no one is apt to argue the caliber of The Magnificent Ambersons or his memorable performance in Carol Reed's The Third Man. But because of his splashy debut and early success, his lesser known work is often overlooked or outright dismissed.

And that, dear friends, is a crime. Welles consistently brought a lot of style and innovation to every film he worked on, well until the end of his days. In fact, one can argue that his talent could continue some 25 years after his death; assuming one could ever find the mythical lost original cut of The Magnificent Ambersons or complete the legendary unfinished film The Other Side of The Wind.

I must confess a life-long admiration of Orson's work. Seeing both Citizen Kane and The Third Man as a child (summers then were often spent visiting classic film on VHS) started my fascination with this man, and I found myself devouring anything I could about the man and his career. As a result, I've had countless arguments over Welles in my time. I've heard him called a genius, a liar, a charlatan, and even an overrated bloat of man. While in my youth I would have gladly defended the position of genius, I now see years later that Orson was likely delighted to be called all of the above. I can easily imagine him chuckling and playfully mocking such accusations, all with his distinctive sonorous voice that makes you feel like you're slipping into a warm bath.

F For Fake was a title that I was only familiar with in a cursory manner until several years ago, when The Criterion Collection put out the title on DVD. It's a documentary... of sorts. On one level, it is a story about a professional art forger. Soon, however, lines begin to become blurred between reality and authenticity in the film. It pulls you through a looking glass, then fractures your perceptions into broken shards. Or does it?

It's apt to make you ask, "What the hell is going on here?" But in a good way.

Touch of Evil was another I remember from summers past. I believe I first saw it some time during my junior high school years, and I was mesmerized by its sense of style. The tracking shot alone is worth the price of admission, but it's also a late specimen of Hollywood film noir, most often associated with 1940s and early 50s cinema. In addition to the leads of Charlton Heston and Vivian Leigh, keep your eyes peeled for appearances by Zsa Zsa Gabor, Dennis Weaver, Marlene Dietrich, and long-time Welles collaborator Joseph Cotton.

Of course after seeing Tim Burton's Ed Wood in 1994, whenever I visualize Charlton Heston in Touch of Evil all I think of is this scene:

Good for a punchline, but don't let that deter you. Join us at The Paramount for one night only to view these two films and appreciate the work of Orson Welles, a man that was written off by far too many as a mere wunderkind. Once you see these, you'll know he was more than a fleeting shooting star that burned fast and bright. Instead, Welles was a supernova, shining on years after he's gone.

Showtimes for the films:

Touch of Evil
Wednesday, Jun 1st

F For Fake
Wednesday, Jun 1st

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