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George Orson Welles, known more commonly as Orson Welles was a director, producer, writer, and actor. Mr. Welles was born on May 6, 1915, in Kenosha, Wisconsin. His father was an inventor and manufacturer and his mother a talented pianist. Welles was regarded as an absolute genius from early childhood and his creative abilities were encouraged and nurtured. His early childhood was to a large extent, directed by his mother's physician and admirer, Dr. Maurice Bernstein. (Russell 9) He made a successful career for himself on stage and radio starting at an early age and when he was 19, made his Broadway debut as Tybalt in "Romeo and Juliet." He worked together on several projects with director/producer John Houseman, including a tremendously successful staging of "Macbeth" in Harlem with an all-black cast under the auspices of the Federal Theater Project. Mr. Welles and Mr. Houseman formed their own repertory company, the Mercury Theater, in 1937, and staged a highly acclaimed modern version of "Julius Caesar." (Russell 11)
Mr. Welles and the Mercury Players gained nationwide attention on CBS radio in their weekly dramatic program "Mercury Theater of the Air." The most famous show was their broadcast of the radio adaptation of H.G. Wells' "War of the Worlds" on Halloween in 1938, reporting the landing of Martians in the U.S. The fictional news coverage of the invasion on the radio program seemed so real to many listeners that the broadcast caused a panic. The next day Orson Welles woke up to be internationally famous and notorious. (Russell 37)
Welles was brought to Hollywood by RKO, and his contract included unprecedented creative freedom for an untried filmmaker. After failing to get two projects off the ground, he made his extraordinary debut in 1941, at the young age of 25, with the film "Citizen Kane," the study of a tycoon based on William Randolph Hearst, a film regarded by many as the best film ever made. Welles produced, directed, co-wrote and starred in "Citizen Kane." He and co-writer Herman J. Mankiewicz won the Academy Award for Best Writing. He also received nominations for Best Actor and Best Director, and the film was nominated for Best Picture.
Mr. Welles' second film for RKO was "The Magnificent Ambersons," an adaptation of Booth Tarkington's novel. While Mr. Welles was away in South America working on "It's All True," the studio made severe cuts in "The Magnificent Ambersons" and shot a new ending. Though highly regarded by critics, and nominated for several Academy Awards, the film did not do well in the box office, and Mr. Welles and RKO parted soon after. Mr. Welles also produced and acted in the thriller "Journey into Fear" at that time.
In 1948 Welles co-starred with his ex-wife Rita Hayworth in the film "The Lady from Shanghai," his film noir tour-de-force that ends with a famous hall-of-mirrors shootout. (Russell 86) He then moved back to his love of Shakespeare with the first film in his Shakespearean trilogy, "Macbeth." The second and third films were "Othello" which won the Grand Prix at Cannes and "Chimes at Midnight." Soon afterward he wrote, directed, and acted in "Mr. Arkadin" also known as Confidential Report, a Citizen Kane-like film about the investigation into a powerful man's past, then directed and acted in the film noir masterpiece "Touch of Evil." In 1962 in Europe, he made "The Trial," based on Frank Kafka's novel. His final completed film was "F for Fake," part documentary and part staged footage about Clifford Irving and his hoax Howard Hughes biography, as well as legendary art forger Elmyr de Hory.
Welles also worked throughout his career as an actor in several films, including such movies as "Black Magic," "Prince of Foxes," and "The Third Man," as well as performing on stage, radio, and television. In the late 1970s Mr. Welles began work on a series of documentaries about his movies, including "Filming Othello," a documentary about the filming of his movie "Othello," which has never been seen before. At the time of his death on October 9, 1985, Mr. Welles was working on "The Other Side of the Wind," a film he had begun filming in the 1970s, about a famous filmmaker and his struggle to find financing for his film.
Orson Welles' most commonly known, or celebrated work is "Citizen Kane," which is the story of the life of Charles Foster Kane. The screenplay is based loosely on the life of newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst. When it opened on May 1, 1941, at the Palace Theatre in New York, it was enthusiastically embraced and received many good reviews. Many critics made it sound high-brow, cultural, and different. In the words of Hermine Rich Isaacs (Contemporary Literary Criticism, Vol. 20),
[Citizen Kane is] an exciting work, vital and imaginative, full of the unbridled energy which Orson Welles brings to every new medium he invades. As in all Mr. Welles' ventures, it is free of the bonds of precedent, but there is always a compensating sense of what is appropriate to the medium. It is another success in this year's stream of successful 'one-man pictures'. And just as Orson Welles, producer and director, deserves credit for the excellence of Citizen Kane, Orson Welles, co-authorů, and Orson Welles, actor, must be held responsible for the fact that it falls short of greatness.
It is the same familiar tale from every angle, this story of a shallow and arrogant newspaper owner and man of wealth, whose craze for power and the admiration of the world leads him into headstrong and unscrupulous dealings with everyone about him; until at last he has lost all his friends, even the second wife whom he loved in his way, and retires to die in lonely splendor among his fabulous objets d'art, in his castle on a man-mad hill.
It is also, when it has all been told, the picture of a man who is really not worth depicting, and here is the film's weakness. Citizen Kane depends for its importance on implications which are external to the movie itself. It acquires a sort of reflected significance from the fact that it might be about a living man of whom we all know, a man who not only loves power but has it, who wields a sinister influence on millions of people through the medium of his newspapers and his money. In the picture this sway over the multitude is hinted at buy never demonstrated; and yet it is only this power which lends the man stature enough to make him a vital subject. Without his power he is an unpleasant rich man, nothing more.
Citizen Kane is a motion picture to be seen, a photoplay that is more than photographed actors. It is Mr. Welles' first picture and not a perfect one, but it is rich in film ideas, and abundant in opportunity for everyone associated with itů And above all, Citizen Kane has the kind of artistic unity which is rare in Hollywood's customary large-scale collaborations.
Mr. Isaacs' analysis of "Citizen Kane" is not very thorough, though he touches on some very good points. In the criticism Isaacs states that Welles, as a co-author and an actor has to be held responsible for the failure of the film to reach greatness. He however does not delve into the reasons that Welles' acting or writing is insufficient of such greatness. Also, Isaacs writes that the film's weakness stems from the fact that it depends for its importance implications about a living man, William Randolph Hearst, who is completely external to the picture itself. Now this can arguably be a strength, for it is difficult for a film to be important if not applicable to the external world. Going on to another critic's look on Citizen Kane, Otis Ferguson's (Contemporary Literary Criticism Vol. 20) analysis on the film is more thorough than Isaacs', and deals with a more technical aspect of the film. He writes,
"Citizen Kane" in its story uses the cut-back method-which is convenient but has its drawbacks in the constant interruption of a steady line . . . For dramatic action, it shows its one big character in for main situations, supplemented by newsreel interludes here and there. This makes a pretty weak structure dramatically, so it has to be surrounded with a great deal of stationary talk, as Kane is described, analyzed asked about, remembered, talked into existence and practically out of it . . . The mood is established or heightened by an occasional symbol: the sled and the falling-snow toy, the curtain-warning light on the stage, the bird screaming in es
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