Sean Axmaker, Keyframe wrote:
When handed the raw materials from an unfinished documentary about Elmyr de Hory, an art forger whose life was being written up by biographer Clifford Irving, Orson Welles took the opportunity to make something far beyond the concept of the traditional documentary. F for Fake has been called the Orson Welles’ first essay film, a true enough statement if you limit the accounting to feature films, but he had been doing short-form non-fiction since 1955, when he made Around the World with Orson Welles (a.k.a. Around the World) for British television. Continue reading
Orson Welles‘ (“Citizen Kane”) black and white low-budget film ingenuously chronicles the life of the fictional Shakespearean character named Falstaff (Orson Welles) in the period of 1400 to 1413. It’s lifted from five Shakespearean plays and Holinshed’s chronicles. This personal reading of English history is laced with nostalgia for “old” England as a merry place (shot on location in Spain) and mostly covers the two parts of Henry IV that revolve around the changing relationship between Falstaff and Prince Hal (Keith Baxter), the future king. Sir Ralph Richardson provides the narration for the tragi-comedy that speaks in modern terms to a contemporary audience about those who become driven by power. It’s a delightfully playful rip at history and the traditional way of filming Shakespeare that wisely mixes slapstick and tragedy, as the hero is both a clownish and tragic figure with the filmmaker’s sympathies clearly lying with the brokenhearted Falstaff after rejection by his former companion who when king heartlessly tells him “I know thee not old man.” Welles accomplishes this Shakespeare treatment in his own unique style, using his trademark low angle camera shots and deep focus cinematography, but without changing a word of the bard’s dialogue. Continue reading
Want to be daring? Try watching Othello without the sound. The assembly of magnificent compositions that Welles has put together for his Othello is nothing short of astounding. Welles finds angles where they never existed before and extracts from the text, so elegant in word, a visual power unmatched by other Shakespearean movies. The heritage from Citizen Kane to Touch of Evil is evident in this stylistic tour-de-force.
Welles is an imposing Othello. Painted with shadows and light, Welles moves regally through the castle sets and strides powerfully along the beach or atop the ramparts. As Iago, Michael Mac Liammoir, the Irish stage actor, is quite creepy. His vast stage experience perhaps affects his performance in front of the camera too much, but the result is highly effective under Welles’ guiding camera and brilliant editing. Continue reading
The young, handsome, but somewhat wild Eugene Morgan wants to marry Isabel Amberson, daughter of a rich upper-class family, but she instead marries dull and steady Wilbur Minafer. Their only child, George, grows up a spoiled brat. Years later, Eugene comes back, now a mature widower and a successful automobile maker. After Wilbur dies, Eugene again asks Isabel to marry him, and she is receptive. But George resents the attentions paid to his mother, and he and his whacko aunt Fanny manage to sabotage the romance. A series of disasters befall the Ambersons and George, and he gets his come-uppance in the end. Continue reading
Roger Ebert / September 13, 1998
Come on, read my future for me. You haven’t got any. What do you mean? Your future is all used up. So speaks a fortune-telling madam, played by Marlene Dietrich, to the drunken sheriff of a border town, played by Orson Welles, in “Touch of Evil.”
Her words have a sad resonance, because Welles was never again to direct in Hollywood after making this dark, atmospheric story of crime and corruption.
It was named best film at the 1958 Brussels World Fair (Godard and Truffaut were on the jury), but in America it opened on the bottom half of a double bill, failed, and put an end to Welles’ prospects of working within the studio system. Yet the film has always been a favorite of those who enjoy visual and dramatic flamboyance. “I’d seen the film four or five times before I noticed the story,” the director Peter Bogdanovich once told his friend Orson. “That speaks well for the story,” Welles rumbled sarcastically, but Bogdanovich replied, “No, no–I mean I was looking at the direction.” Continue reading
Immortal Story was directed by Orson Welles, who also stars as a fabulously wealthy, but bitter and dictatorial, European merchant. Soured on life, Mr. Clay (Welles) decides to play games with the lives of others. He decides to make the “immortal” legend of a sailor seducing a rich man’s wife come true and even picks the sailor (Roger Coggio) himself. Through Mr. Clay’s machinations, the sailor beds a beautiful younger woman (Jeanne Moreau) whom Clay pays to pose as his own wife. There’s little more to the story than that, but Welles weaves his short tale with an economy and expertise which proves he hadn’t lost his touch by 1969. Based on a story by Isaak Dinesen, The Immortal Story was originally made for French television; it was also the only Orson Welles-directed film to be released in color. Continue reading
Around the World with Orson Welles (1955) is a series of 26-minute TV documentaries, made for British television. Five of the episodes survive, and have been collected and released on a DVD. Welles compared the series to home movies. This is a bit misleading. There are travelogue sections shot silent, edited together with narration by Welles – segments that do resemble in form the average person’s vacation films of the era. But there are also extensive synch sound interviews with people Welles meets in his travels. These parts are a bit like a talk show, although they are generally set on locations where the person lives, rather than in a studio. In general, Welles resists “voice of authority” narration here, and tries to disguise his comments as elements of conversation with another character. Welles will also frequently show the camera, microphone, and the camera crews filming. It is part of the spectacle. Continue reading