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The creative genius of Orson Welles

  • Aug 26, 2010
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I think Orson Welles was the greatest creative genius in film who never really reached his full potential. Having said that, he remains one of the greatest creative figures in American cinema and radio!!! Welles has the unique distinction of acting in the #1 movie on the American Film Institute list, "Citizen Kane" and the British Film institute, #1 film "The Third Man, (#57 on AFI's top 100). He received the American Film Institute's 3rd Lifetime Achievement Award in 1975 from its Chairman Charlton Heston, who said of Welles in his remarks; "The first AFI award went to a director (John Ford), the second to an actor, (James Cagney). In Orson Welles, we honor both crafts." In 1984 the Directors Guild of America awarded him its highest honor, the D.W. Griffith Award. His reputation as a film maker has climbed steadily ever since.
1
Orson Welles
George Orson Welles was born 6 May 1915, Kenosha, Wisconsin, USA , died 10 October 1985, Hollywood, California, USA (heart attack, two hours after doing an interview for the "Merv Griffith show). Marriages Virginia Nicholson(14 November 1934 - 1 February 1940) (divorced) 1 child, Rita Hayworth(7 September 1943 - 1 December 1948) (divorced) 1 child, Paola Mori(8 May 1955 - 10 October 1985) (his death) 1 child. His father was a well-to-do inventor, his mother a beautiful concert pianist; Orson was gifted in many arts (magic, piano, and painting) as a child. When his mother died (he was seven) he traveled the world with his father. When his father died (he was fifteen) he became the ward of Chicago's Dr. Maurice Bernstein. In 1931 he graduated from the Todd School in Woodstock, Illinois; he turned down college offers for a sketching tour of Ireland. He tried unsuccessfully to enter the London and Broadway stages, traveling some more in Morocco and Spain (where he fought in the bullring). Recommendations by Thornton Wilder and Alexander Woollcott got him into Katherine Cornell's road company, with which he made his New York debut as Tybalt in 1934. The same year he married, directed his first short, and appeared on radio for the first time. He began working with John Houseman, who remained a life long friend and formed the Mercury Theatre with him in 1937. On 30 October 1938, he directed the Mercury Theatre On the Air in a dramatization of "War of the Worlds", based on H.G. Wells' novel. Setting the events in then-contemporary locations (The "landing spot" for the Martian invasion, Grover's Mill, New Jersey, was chosen at random with a New Jersey road map) and dramatizing it in the style of a musical program interrupted by news bulletins, complete with eye-witness accounts, it caused a nationwide panic, with many listeners fully convinced that the Earth was being invaded by Mars. The next day, Welles publicly apologized. While many lawsuits were filed against both Welles and the CBS radio network, all were dismissed. The incident is mentioned in textbook accounts of mass hysteria and the delusions of crowds. His first film to be seen by the public was Citizen Kane (1941), a commercial failure losing RKO $150,000. He directed, starred and co-wrote the screenplay with Herman Mankiewicz, it was nominated for nine Academy Awards and won for Best Screenplay. Still considered by the American Film Institute (AFI) as the greatest movie ever made!!! I do not disagree. His unique eye for cinematography in "Kane" made him forever known for his use of low camera angles, tracking shots, deep focus and elaborate crane shots in his films. Many of his next films were commercial failures and he exiled himself to Europe in 1948. In 1956 he directed, co-starred (with Charlton Heston and Marlene Dietrich), and wrote scenes for "Touch of Evil" (1958); an American crime drama that failed in the U.S. but won a prize at the 1958 Brussels World's Fair (today it is a critically acclaimed movie). The third great movie of his life, (one of my all time favorites) and considered by the British Film Institute as the greatest British film ever made (#57 on AFI's top 100) is "The Third Man" a 1949 British film noir directed by Carol Reed and starring Joseph Cotton (another life long friend of Orson's from his Mercury theatre days, "Citizen Kane", and "The Magnificent Ambersons"), Alida Valli, Orson Welles, and Trevor Howard. The screenplay was written by novelist Graham Greene, later becoming his novella of the same name. Anton Karas wrote the score, which used only the zither; its title cut topped the international music charts in 1950. Orson plays the villain in this film, he doesn't even appear until half way through the movie; however, his screen presence is captivating, he steals the show!!! Soon after he is introduced in the movie with one of the all time greatest cinematic scenes cleverly using a chiaroscuro effect reminiscent of Caravaggio's Renaissance era paintings, Wells delivers one of his greatest film soliloquies that he wrote for his character to deliver in the film. Looking down on the people below from his vantage point of being on a Ferris wheel, Harry Lime (Welles) compares them to dots. Back on the ground, he notes: "You know what the fellow said – in Italy, for thirty years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love, they had five hundred years of democracy and peace – and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock."
See the full review, "One of the greatest creative geniuses of film".
2
Citizen Kane
After creating a sensation across America with his radio rendition of H. G. Wells "War of the Worlds" on Halloween night in 1938, this twenty-four year old "wunderkind" was lured to Hollywood to make movies in 1939. His first film idea unfortunately was rejected by RKO studio; it was an adaptation of Joseph Conrad's "Heart of Darkness." He had done the story on Radio with his Mercury Theatre Players to great acclaim. I would have loved to seen Welles' make a film on this great haunting story. A loose adaptation would not come for some forty years later with the incomparable Francis Ford Coppolla film "Apocalypse Now." However, Orson's first film for RKO was "Citizen Kane" (1941). He directed, starred and co-wrote the screenplay with Herman Mankiewicz, it was nominated for nine Academy Awards and won for Best Screenplay. Still considered by the American Film Institute as the greatest movie ever made!!! I do not disagree. Here are a few interesting facts about this film. Orson had no experience in film; he was primarily a radio entertainer. He had to learn about cinematography very quickly. He got his cinematographer Gregg Toland to give him a "crash course" on how to shoot a movie, the great camera angles of the film proves that Orson was a very quick study. Film scholars and historians view "Citizen Kane" as Welles' attempt to create a new style of filmmaking by studying various forms of movie making, and combining them all into one. The most innovative technical aspect of Citizen Kane is the extended use of deep focus. In nearly every scene in the film, the foreground, background and everything in between are all in sharp focus. This was done by cinematographer Gregg Toland through his experimentation with lenses and lighting. Specifically, Toland often used telephoto lenses to shoot close-up scenes. Another unorthodox method used in the film was the way low-angle shots were used to display a point of view facing upwards, thus allowing ceilings to be shown in the background of several scenes. This technique happens to be one of my very favorite used in the movie. Since movies were primarily filmed on sound stages and not on location during the era of the Hollywood studio system, it was impossible to film at an angle that showed ceilings because the stages had none. Welles changed all that. There is one great story of how Orson wasn't satisfied with the camera angle of a particular scene, even after Toland had put the camera on the floor of the sound stage. Toland told Orson it was impossible to get a better angle. Not being satisfied, Orson took the fire axe off the wall and proceeded to hack a hole into the floor of the sound stage allowing the camera to be lowered an extra three feet; thus Orson attained his desired cinematic angle and the student surpassed his teacher!!! When execs at RKO couldn't decide on greenlight-ing "Citizen Kane" (1941), Orson asked for film equipment and a small crew released so he could spend the mid-way time doing test shots. Not wanting their New-York-import to grow cold with the RKO deal, they granted the request ... Orson proceeded to shoot actual scenes of the movie. By the time execs realized what he had done, Orson had many key scenes complete. They green-lit Citizen Kane (1941) ... Already having financed the picture, unknowingly. Finally, Welles prevented studio executives of RKO from visiting the set. He understood their desire to control projects and he knew they were expecting him to do an exciting film that would correspond to his "The War of the Worlds" radio broadcast. Welles' RKO contract had given him complete control over the production of the film when he signed on with the studio, something that he never again was allowed to exercise when making motion pictures. It is a great pity to of ham strung a creative genius like Wells. In 1975, in spite of all his box-office failures, he received the American Film Institute's 3rd Lifetime Achievement Award in 1975 from its Chairman Charlton Heston, who said of Welles in his remarks; "The first AFI award went to a director (John Ford), the second to an actor, (James Cagney). In Orson Welles, we honor both crafts." In 1984 the Directors Guild of America awarded him its highest honor, the D.W. Griffith Award. His reputation as a film maker has climbed steadily ever since. A fitting tribute to this cinematic genius.
See the full review, "Hey kid, wanna make a movie?".
3
The Magnificent Ambersons
Orson Welles' 1942 Romance Drama "The Magnificent Ambersons" is one of Welles' great achievements as a director. He also wrote the screenplay, but did not act in it. His second feature film, it is based on the 1918 novel of the same title by Booth Tarkington who won the Pulitzer Prize for this book. Welles lost control of the editing of The Magnificent Ambersons to RKO, and the final version released to audiences differed significantly from his vision for the film. More than an hour of footage was cut by the studio, and a new, happier ending was shot and tacked on. The film has always received positive reviews from critics. Even in its radically altered form, the 1942 film is often regarded as among the best American films ever made, a distinction it shares with Welles's first film, "Citizen Kane." It and "Citizen Kane" were his only films to be nominated for Best Picture. Plot Summary: The young, handsome, but somewhat wild Eugene Morgan (Joseph Cotton, a life long friend of Welles from the Mercury Theater days) wants to marry Isabel Amberson (Delores Costello), daughter of a rich upper-class family, but she instead marries dull and steady Wilbur Minafer. Their only child, George (Tim Holt), 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 (Agnes Moorehead a life long friend of Welles from the Mercury Theater days), manage to sabotage the romance. A series of disasters befall the Ambersons and George, and gets his come-uppance in the end.
See the full review, "One of Welles' great films as a director".
4
The Stranger
Orson Welles' 1946 film-noir "The Stranger" is one of Welles's greatest works. Besides directing, he co-stared in this great suspense thriller. This movie has a top notch cast, especially with Edward G. Robinson and Loretta Young. "The Stranger" was the only film made by Welles to have been a bona fide box office success on its first release (Citizen Kane had made back its budget and marketing, but not enough to make a profit). It earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay. "Prior to the production of The Stranger, Welles had shown an interest in the nature of Fascism and, especially, the documentary footage of the liberation of the concentration camps; writing in his column for The New York Post, Welles stated that this documentary footage 'must be seen' as an index of the 'putrefaction of the soul, a perfect spiritual garbage' associated with what 'we have been calling […] Fascism. The stench is unendurable'' Plot Summary: In 1946, Mr. Wilson (Edward G. Robinson) of the War Crimes Commissionis hunting for Nazi fugitive Franz Kindler (Orson Welles), who has effectively concealed all evidence which might positively identify him. He has secretly assumed a new identity, Charles Rankin a professor in a respectable Connecticut town he marries Mary Longstreet (Loretta Young), the daughter of a U.S. Supreme Court justice. Wilsonreleases Kindler's former associate Meinike (Konstantin Shayne), hoping the man will lead him to Kindler. Wilson follows Meinike to the town of Harper, Connecticut, but loses him before he meets with Rankin. When Rankin and Meinike do meet, Rankin realizes that his secret is threatened by Meinike's presence and strangles him and buries his body in the forest. Eventually, Wilson deduces that Rankin is Kindler, but without having witnessed the meeting with Meinike, he has no proof. Mrs. Rankin is the only person who knows that Meinike had come to meet with her husband. To get her to admit what she knows, Wilson must convince her that her husband is a war criminal — before Rankin decides to do her in to eliminate the last remaining threat to him. One of the great lines delivered by Welles in the movie: "Murder can be a chain, Mary, one link leading to another until it circles your neck."
See the full review, "One of Welles's greatest suspense thrillers".
5
The Lady from Shanghai
Orson Welles' 1947 film-noir "The Lady From Shanghai" is one of Welles's greatest works. Besides directing, he produced, wrote the screenplay and co-stared with his wife of the time, Rita Hayworth in this suspense thriller. Welles it seems never got a project in a normal way after "Citizen Kane." So, here is the interesting story of how Welles became involved in this movie. In the summer of 1946, Welles was directing a musical stage version of "Around the World in Eighty Days," with a comedic and ironic rewriting of the Jules Verne novel by Welles, incidental music and songs by Cole Porter, and production by Mike Todd, who would later produce the successful film version with David Niven. When Todd pulled out from the lavish and expensive production, Welles financed it. When he ran out of money and urgently needed $55,000 to release costumes which were being held, he convinced Columbia Pictures president Harry Cohn to send him the money to continue the show and in exchange Welles promised to write, produce, direct and star in a film for Cohn for no further fee. As Welles tells it, on the spur of the moment, he suggested the film be based on the book a girl in the theatre box office happened to be reading at the time he was calling Cohn, which Welles had never read. "The Lady from Shanghai"was filmed in late 1946, finished in early 1947 and released in the U.S. on June 9, 1948. Release was delayed due to heavy editing by Cohn's assistants at Columbia, who insisted on cutting about an hour from Welles's final cut. Welles cast his wife Rita Hayworth as Elsa and caused controversy when he made her cut her famous long red hair and bleach it blonde for the role. They divorced in December of 1948 and many people believe Welles, out of spite, made Hayworth cut and dye her hair. Welles's movie was not well received. When he saw the rushes, Cohn detested the picture; he couldn't figure out what it was about and offered $1000 to anyone who could explain it to him. Even Welles could not explain the plot to him. Reviews of the film were mixed. Varietymagazine found the script wordy and noted that the "rambling style used by Orson Welles has occasional flashes of imagination, particularly in the tricky backgrounds he uses to unfold the yarn, but effects, while good on their own, are distracting to the murder plot." Plot Summary: Michael O'Hara (Orson Welles), against his better judgment, hires on as a crew member of Arthur Bannister's yacht (Everett Sloane, a life long friend of Welles From his Mercury Theatre days that he cast in several of his movie), sailing to San Francisco. They pick up Grisby (Glenn Anders), Bannister's law partner, en route. Bannister has a wife, Rosalie (Rita Hayworth), who seems to like Michael much better than she likes her husband. After they dock in Sausalito, Michael goes along with Grisby's weird plan to fake his (Grisby's) murder so he can disappear untailed. He wants the $5000 Grisby has offered, so he can run off with Rosalie. But Grisby turns up actually murdered, and Michael gets blamed for it. Somebody set him up, but it is not clear who or how. Bannister (the actual murderer?) defends Michael in court. One of the great quotable lines from this movie is: "Personally I don't like a girlfriend to have a husband, if she'll fool a husband she'll fool me." Another is: When I start out to make a fool of myself, there's very little can stop me. If I'd known where it would end, I'd never let anything start... if I'd been in my right mind, that is. But once I'd seen her, I was not in my right mind for some time.
See the full review, "Not one of Welles's greatest works".
6
The Third Man
Carol Reed's 1949 film-noir "The Third Man" is Reed's greatest work, and probably Orson Welle's second greatest acting role of his career! This is not an idle boast considering this movie is considered the greatest British made film of all time by the British Film institute, (#57 on AFI's top 100). By the way, Welle's has the unique distinction of also acting in the #1 movie on the American Film Institute list, "Citizen Kane"!!! "The Third Man" is certainly on my all time fave top ten list for several reasons. The story was superbly written as a novella by Graham Greene who also wrote the screenplay for the film. The cinematography is absolutely stunning!!! It is considered to have two of the greatest cinematic shots in film. One is when Orson Welles character is first seen on film, which interestingly does not happen until half way through the film. The second is the ending scene. In addition the movie was actually shot in war torn Vienna soon after the war which gives this movie a very "edgy" look. Another interesting fact is that when Reed was scouting for interesting locations in Vienna to shoot scenes he did it at night so there was not so much traffic on the streets to obstruct his view. He noticed that trucks would periodically drive over the roads and hose them down to clean them of debris. He loved how the night light reflected off the wet sheen of the asphalt roads, a look that he duplicated in the masterful black and white film to great effect!!! It won the Oscar Award for cinematography. Another great "back story" to this film is how Reed settled on the film score for the movie. It has one of the most unusual, enticing and whimsical sound scores of any movie. Originally Reed was going to use a typical symphonic sound score. However, while on location, Reed went to a Viennese wine bar to relax and heard the lyrical zither sounds of Anton Karas who was a mere entertainer in the bar. Reed was captivated by the sound and selected Karas as the musical director of the movie. He was invited to London and lived with Reed. Reed treated him very well, but Karas was in a slump - then suddenly Reed rushed into Karas' room, and lay at full length on the floor. "Now I'm dead! Only your zither can bring me back to life! Karas, play such a song as to raise me from the dead." Instantly Karas realized his intention, and tried to play a song that would satisfy him. But Reed wasn't easily satisfied, Karas exerted himself for hours - the moment he almost gave it up, he played that familiar melody. The success of "The Third Man" changed Karas' life totally. He played all over the world, and won applause from the British Royal family and the Pope. He earned a lot of money from this soundtracksince its title cut topped the international music charts in 1950. Plot Summary: An out of work pulp fiction novelist, Holly Martins,(Joseph Cotton a life long friend of Orson's from his Mercury theatre days, "Citizen Kane", and "The Magnificent Ambersons"),arrives in a post war Vienna divided into sectors by the victorious allies, and where a shortage of supplies has lead to a flourishing black market. He arrives at the invitation of an ex-school friend, Harry Lime, (Orson Welles) who has offered him a job, only to discover that Lime has recently died in a peculiar traffic accident. From talking to Lime's friends and associates Martins soon notices that some of the stories are inconsistent, and determines to discover what really happened to Harry Lime. The ensuing mystery entangles him in his friend's involvement in the black market, with the multinational police, and with his Czech girlfriend. Soon after he is introduced in the movie with one of the all time greatest cinematic scenes cleverly using a "chiaroscuro" effect reminiscent of Caravaggio's Renaissance era paintings, Wells delivers one of his greatest film soliloquies that he wrote for his character to deliver in the film. Looking down on the people below from his vantage point of being on a Ferris wheel, Harry Lime (Welles) compares them to dots. Back on the ground, he notes: "You know what the fellow said – in Italy, for thirty years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love, they had five hundred years of democracy and peace – and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock." As I mentioned earlier in this review Welles doesn't even appear until half way through the movie; however, his screen presence is captivating, he steals the show!!!
See the full review, "One of the great film-noir movies of all time!!!".
7
Touch of Evil
Orson Welles' 1958 film-noir "Touch of Evil" is one of Welles's greatest works. Besides directing, he wrote the screenplay and co-stared in this great suspense thriller. This movie has a top notch cast, especially with Charlton Heston in an unusually "dark" role for his screen career. I am impressed with how much Welles "stretched" Heston for this movie, it is a pleasure to see what a great director can get out of a great actor; too often big egos do not mix well! The other great facts that make this one of Welles's masterpieces is that the movie opens with a three-minute, thirty second continuous tracking shot widely considered by critics to be one of the greatest long takes in cinematic history. The suspense is built up slowly and methodically with the ticking of a time bomb in the background. In addition the film score by Henry Mancini which provides haunting tones throughout the movie add much to its ultimate success. The interesting story of how Welles was hired to direct the movie by Universal after his "exile" from Hollywood goes as follows. Welles had recently worked with producer Albert Zugsmith, known as the "King of the Bs", on a film called "Man in the Shadow" and was interested in directing something for him. Zugsmith offered him a pile of scripts, of which Welles asked for the worst to prove he could make a great film out of a bad script. At the time, the script was called "Badge of Evil," after a Whit Masterson novel on which it was based. Welles did a rewrite and took it into production. After a decade in Europe during which he completed only a few films, Welles was eager to direct for Hollywood again, so he agreed to take only an acting fee for the role of Quinlan. Welles wrapped production on time, delivered a rough cut to Universal, and was convinced that his Hollywood career was back on the rails. Sadly however, the film was then re-edited (and in part re-shot) by Universal International pictures. The editing process was protracted and disputed, and the version eventually released was not the film Universal or Welles had hoped for. It was released as a B-movie; thus, Welles's film was given little publicity despite the many stars in the cast. Though it had little commercial success in the US, it was well-received in Europe, particularly by critics like future filmmaker François Truffaut. Even as originally released, it was a film of power and impact. It was placed #64 on American Film Institute's 100 Years, 100 Thrills list. Three versions of the film have been released: The original 1958 release version A longer version, released in 1976 A 1998 restored version that attempted to follow Welles's 1958 memo as closely as possible. This is the version to see!!! Welles's rough cut as submitted to Universal no longer exists. This was worked on and trimmed down by Universal staff, and in late 1957 Universal decided to perform some reshoots. Welles claimed these were done without his knowledge, but Universal claimed that Welles ignored their requests to return and undertake further work. This was when Keller came aboard: some of his material was entirely new, some replaced Welles scenes. Welles viewed the new cut and wrote a 58-page memo to Universal's head of production, Edward Muhl, detailing what he thought needed to be done to make the film work. However, many of his suggestions went unheeded and "Touch of Evil" was eventually released in a version running 93 minutes. Plot Summary: An automobile is blown up as it crosses the Mexican border into the United States. Mike Vargas (Charlton Heston), a high ranking Mexican narcotics official on honeymoon with his bride Susie (Janet Leigh) is drawn into the investigation because a Mexican national has been accused of the crime. Vargas embroils himself in the investigation, putting his wife in harm's way. After Vargas catches The figurative and physical presence of idolized ex-alcoholic American Police Captain Hank Quinlan (Orson Welles) planting evidence against a Mexican national suspected in the bombing. Quinlan's reputation for law and order enables him to bend the law without question until Vargas confronts him. Quinlan joins forces with the Grandi family (Akim Tamiroff), to impugn Vargas's character. Local political lackeys, a hard-edged whore (Marlene Dietrich),who is a former lover of Quinlan's, and a nervous motel clerk also figure in the plot. From that point on, it's a battle of wits between Vargas and Quinlan, with an accelerating pace, that rushes to a climax.
See the full review, "Welles's greatest suspense thriller".
8
Mr. Arkadin
Orson Welles' 1955 crime thriller "Mr. Arkadin" is one of Welles's greatest works. Besides directing, he wrote the story and screen play and stared in this great suspense thriller. This film is a French-Spanish-Swiss coproduction. Its history is complicated; the story was based on several episodes of the radio series "The Lives of Harry Lime," which in turn was based on the character Welles portrayed in "The Third Man." The film was released in some parts of Europe as "Confidential Report." Like many of Welles' other films, "Mr. Arkadin" was heavily edited without his input. In fact, in 1982 Welles described it as the 'biggest disaster' of his life, due to him losing creative control of the film. The film was not released in the United States until 1962. Some compensation for Welles came in the form of Paola Mori who played the role of his daughter. In private life, Countess Paola Di Girfalco, she would become his third wife. The Criterion Collection has a 3 DVD box set which includes three separate versions of "Mr. Arkadin" including a comprehensive re-edit that combines material taken from all the known versions of the film. Plot Summary: Guy Van Stratten (Robert Arden), an American smuggler, leaves an Italian prison term with one asset, a dying man's words about wealthy, mysterious Gregory Arkadin (Orson Welles). Guy finds it most pleasant to investigate Arkadin through his lovely daughter Raina (Paola Mori), her father's idol. To get rid of Guy, Arkadin claims amnesia about his own life prior to 1927, sending Guy off to investigate Arkadin's unknown past. Guy's quest spans many countries and eccentric characters who contribute clues. But the real purpose of Guy's mission proves deadly. One of the great lines delivered by Welles in the movie: "I knew what I wanted. That's the difference between us. In this world there are those who give and those who ask. Those who do not care to give... those who do not dare to ask. You dared. But you were never quite sure what your were asking for."
See the full review, "One of Welles's greatest suspense thrillers".
9
F for Fake - Criterion Collection
Orson Welles' 1973 docu-drama "F For Fake" is the last major film completed by Orson Welles, who directed, co-wrote, and starred in the film. Initially released in 1974, it focuses on Elmyr de Hory's recounting of his career as a professional art forger; de Hory's story serves as the backdrop for a fast-paced, meandering investigation of the natures of authorship and authenticity, as well as the basis of the value of art. Loosely a documentary, the film operates in several different genres and has been described as a kind of film essay. F For Fake is often considered as a masterpiece of the art of editing — a key subject of the film itself, which at many points shows Welles sitting at his editing desk as he narrates. Welles and his assistants worked on the final cut for an entire year, working seven days a week—shots are rapidly intercut almost by the second throughout, lending the film a quick-paced touch. One of the examples considered to be among the best is a series of near wordless shots of Irving and de Hory seemingly in debate as to whether de Hory ever signed his forgeries (the shots of Irving and de Hory were in fact taken at different times). Far from serving as a traditional documentary on Elmyr de Hory, the film also incorporates Welles's "companion" Oja Kodar, notorious "hoax-biographer" Clifford Irving, and Orson Welles himself, in an autobiographical role. Several narratives are woven together throughout the film, including those of de Hory, Irving, Welles, Howard Hughes and Kodar. About de Hory, we learn that he was a struggling artist who turned to forgery out of desperation, only to see the greater share of the profits from his deceptions go to doubly unscrupulous art dealers. As partial compensation for that injustice, he is maintained in a villa in Ibiza by one of his dealers. What is only hinted at in Welles's documentary is that de Hory had recently served a two-month sentence in a Spanish prison for homosexuality and consorting with criminals. (De Hory would commit suicide a few years after the release of Welles' film, on hearing that Spain had agreed to turn him over to the French authorities.) Irving's original part in "F for Fake" was as de Hory's biographer, but his part grew unexpectedly at some point during production. There has not always been agreement among commentators over just how that production unfolded, but the now-accepted story is that the director François Reichenbach shot a documentary about de Hory and Irving before giving his footage to Welles, who then shot additional footage with Reichenbach as his cinematographer. In the time between the shooting of Reichenbach's documentary and the finishing of Welles', it became known that Irving had perpetrated a hoax of his own, namely a fabricated "authorized biography" of Howard Hughes (the hoax was later fictionalized in "The Hoax"). This discovery prompted the shooting of still more footage, which then got woven into "F for Fake." Blurring the lines even more, there are several pieces of footage in the film showing Welles at a party with De Hory, and, at one point, De Hory even signs a painting with a forgery of Welles' signature. Exactly one hour before narrating Kodar's story, Welles promises that everything in the next hour of his film will be true. Exactly one hour later, the film tells a story where Kodar sits for a series of nudes for Pablo Picasso after getting him to agree to give her the finished portraits, and then selling not those very portraits but fake Picassos in their place. The story climaxes with Welles and Kodar re-enacting a tense exchange between Picasso and Kodar's grandfather, the alleged forger of the paintings, before Welles reminds the viewer that he only promised to tell the truth for an hour and that "for the last 17 minutes, I've been lying my head off."
See the full review, "With a great creative genius like Welles, how can one tell when he is lying?".

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September 06, 2010
Cool Jim.
 
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About the list creator
Michael Neulander ()
Ranked #44
Recently graduated with a Masters in Humanities degree from Old Dominion University reading in philosophy and history. I graduated from the Univ. of Miami in 1980 with a B.A. in Political Science; specializing … more
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