Orson Welles

Orson Welles

Certainly one of the real, great and undisputed genies of the cinema. He was born in Kenosha in Wisconsin the 6th of May in 1915, from a businessman and inventive father and a politically incorrect pianist mother, so much that she ended in jail for her believes. Among the first interests of the enfant prodige there are both music and painting. When he was three years old he acted in theatre. After his parents’ divorce, he went to Chicago with his mother in 1919. After her death in 1924 he came back to his father and left the music career, started thanks to his mother. Between 1951 and 1960 he dedicated himself to the Theatre, with some breaks and alternating it with his favourite art, Cinema. He married Virginia Nicholson when he was 19 years old and still in 1934 he realized his first short film The hearts of age. Among the backgrounds there are Surrealism and Bunuel cinema. He moved to New York. The first medium-length film, inedited for long and rediscovered only in 2008 in Pordenone is entitled Too much Johnson. It’s a 66 minutes-long really free version of the Macbeth from William Gillette’s work, with the protagonist Johnson persecuted by two people who want to replace him. The same year he faked a Martian attack in the memorable CBS radio program inspired by the H.G. Wells’s novel War of the Worlds, and millions of terrified listeners believed him. He also filmed another movie, The Green Goddess, but it remained completely unseen. He signed a contract in 1939 with RKO for three movies and 50.000 dollars in advance. He tried to realize a cinematographic version of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and a detective movie entitled Smiler with a knife but unsuccessfully. In 1941 his first real film has been showed, his absolute masterpiece Citizen Kane, probably the only Welles’s movie realized in Hollywood that preserves his director’s cut without productive intrusions. The magnate Charles Foster Kane story became legendary as so Welles’s last words he said in the final before dying “Rosebud…Rosebud” (the name he had on his slide when he was little). During the years, hundreds of thousands of critics have analysed it from the start to the end to understand its secrets and it’s considered by many the most important film ever made in the history of the cinema. The film wasn’t able to triple the cost, as now the Hollywood producers want, to cover even the distribution and the advertising beyond the budget, but it wasn’t even a failure. The critics and the public of that period didn’t understand it because it was a thousand light years ahead. John Ford’s How green was my valley was the triumphant at the Oscars and even Jean-Paul Sartre spoke badly about it. The only Oscar it received was for the Best Original Screenplay. Besides, the magnate William Randolph Hearst, feeling insulted for the main character that seemed based on him, blocked part of the distribution and gave money to the RKO to boycott it. As a result, the RKO wanted a more traditional and remunerative movie which should be The magnificent Ambersons. The Ambersons saga appeared to Welles as a progress compared to Citizen Kane but the film director was commissioned by the government to make a documentary, It’s all true. Orson thought about directing the movie from a distance,  but the RKO didn’t trust him and, to avoid another failure, they took the Mercury Film’s material and made a drastic cut of 50 minutes to the film that came out in 1942. Even another film, Journey into Fear, this time just interpreted by Welles (in the same period of the filming of The magnificent Ambersons) and directed by Norman Foster was cut. Even the third and last movie with RKO, The stranger (1946), received a big cut of the filming in Latin America and it was underestimated by critics for its similarities with Hitchcock’s Shadow of a doubt. The public reacted well instead, and the movie collected three times the budget. The story takes place during the second postwar period, when a detective is investigating about a Nazi criminal. When the contract with RKO ended, Orson signed with Columbia and filmed The Lady from Shanghai with Rita Hayworth, wife of Orson Welles at that time. It’s the last contract film with Columbia for the actress who wouldn’t like to participate because of her break with Orson, but for the sake of her daughter she decided to film it anyway. Even this time one hour of the film was cut in comparison to Welles’s editing and was a failure for the public and critics (only in the United States, besides). During the following years, far from Hollywood, problems aren’t over for Orson, not because of movies cuts but because of budget cuts. There was always a little budget and the director had to adapt the way he could, so little masterpieces were born from Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Othello and Falstaff. He also made two noirs: Mr. Arkadin and Touch of Evil (this is considered Welles’s second great masterpiece after Citizen Kane, with large and very difficult sequence shots). Then in 1962 he filmed, in Italy, France and Yugoslavia, a very personal wide shots-reached version of the great Kafka masterpiece, Le Procès with Romy Schneider and Anthony Perkins (back from Hitchcock’s Psycho). In 1968 he filmed a medium-length film with Jeanne Moreau, Une histoire immortelle, and in 1976 the strange documentary Vérités et mensonges. Two projects remained unfinished and will be edited posthumous but incomplete: The other side of the wind and Don Chisciotte. Welles interpreted as an actor innumerable movies, among which: Carol Reed’s The third man (1949), John Huston’s Moby Dick (1956), Steno’s L’uomo, la bestia e la virtù (1953) with Totò, Pier Paolo Pasolini’s La ricotta (1963), Mike Nichols’s Catch-22 (1970), Stuart Rosemberg’s Voyage of the Damned (1976). Welles died in Hollywood the 10 th of October 1985, for a heart attack.



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