Thursday, October 22, 2015

Orson Welles: Beyond the Fat Man a Great Man?

It seems they're rethinking the career of Orson Welles. The War of the Worlds broadcast was one of the century's great stunts. Citizen Kane was brilliant but heartless. The greatest film ever made? A nonsense appellation. As for Welles, he was his own man. A.S. Harmah reviews three recent books:
But this year, the Welles centennial, an appreciation for Welles—even the late, bloated, talk-show-guest Welles—is gathering force. Karp’s book, along with Patrick McGilligan’s remarkable, eye-opening biography Young Orson and A. Brad Schwartz’s Broadcast Hysteria, provide a deep, nuanced portrait of the director at the start and finish of his career. By skipping his better-known and much-studied years as an actor-director in Hollywood in the heyday of the studio system, and his years in the ’50s and ’60s as a nomadic filmmaker in Europe, these studies offer a new image of Welles, one that re-radicalizes him as an artist and sets him against the backdrop of the Depression and the early days of World War II. Focusing on his work in the theater and radio in New York and elsewhere in the ’30s, then cutting, Kane-like, to the New Hollywood of the ’70s reveals an unwavering Welles, committed to a kaleidoscopic vision that was also a style of work and a way of being in the world. If he failed to find a way to direct his films with Hollywood funding and approval, he went elsewhere—a rebuke the movie industry saw as disrespectful, self-sabotaging, and grotesque.
The next paragraph gives us this gem of an observation: "The Welles of TV talk shows and wine commercials is in fact an indictment of how the second half of the twentieth century failed to live up to the promises of the first half." 

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