Let’s get this out of the way up front: I love Orson Welles. Along with John Cassavetes and Terrence Malick he’s part of my personal American Filmmaking Pantheon, so don’t expect this blog post to be anything but a mash note.
Let’s also get this out of the way: anyone that thinks that Orson Welles made CITIZEN KANE and then never made another great film is just plain wrong. His post-KANE career is plagued by inconsistent financing (OTHELLO, CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT, THE TRIAL) studio interference (just about all of them) and freak accidents (Laurence Harvey, star of the unfinished Welles film THE DEEP, died with just a few weeks left in shooting). But still somehow his genius comes through.
One of the first things I wanted to do when I began the plans for this year’s Summer Series was to put together a program that highlights some of the great late career works by the enigmatic Welles. Tonight we have perhaps his best known post-KANE work, the ur-noir of TOUCH OF EVIL paired with his fantastic essay/documentary film on the art of forgery, F FOR FAKE. These two films demonstrate a few important facts about Welles’ filmmaking. In TOUCH OF EVIL we see that Welles never lost the total mastery of classical form that he demonstrated from his very first picture. The opening tracking shot has been often celebrated, but it’s important to realize that this is no mere feat of technical mastery, the shot also establishes from the very first moments what the film we are about to see actually is: a work about the crossing of boundaries.
F FOR FAKE makes the case that one of the great tragedies of film is that post-1971 Welles was never able to complete another feature. Here the Welles shows a style that has more similarities to the cine-essays of Left Bank filmmaker Chris Marker than his beloved John Ford. Welles works with his more radical form of montage, but simultaneously never loses the key part of what originally made him a star. For one of the consumate artists in the form, he was always at heart a terrific showman.
Come out to the theatre tonight. There’s so much more to Orson Welles than Charles Foster Kane.