Book Title: A History of Narrative Film. Contributors: David A. Cook - author. Publisher: W. W. Norton. Place of Publication: New York. Publication Year: 1996.
Cap.10 Orson Welles and the Modern Sound Film
At the very moment that France was being occupied by the Nazis and the rest of Europe was engulfed in war, a young American director made a film which was to substantially transform the cinema. In 1939 Orson Welles (1915-85) was brought to Hollywood by the financially troubled RKO Pictures under an unprecedented six-film contract which gave him complete control over every aspect of production. * At twenty-four, Welles' experience in radio and theater was vast. From 1933 to 1937 he directed and acted in numerous Broadway and off-Broadway plays, including a production of Macbeth with a voodoo setting and an antiFascist Julius Caesar set in contemporary Italy; in 1937, with John Houseman (1902-88), he founded the famous Mercury Theatre company; and between 1938 and 1940 he wrote, directed, and starred in the weekly radio series Mercury Theatre on the Air, whose pseudodocumentary broadcast based on H. G. Wells' War of the Worlds caused a nation- wide panic on Halloween night in 1938.
Welles had made several short films in connection with his theatrical productions (such as Too Much Johnson, 1938), but he had never been on a soundstage in his life. His first feature film was to have been an adaptation of Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, filmed with a subjective camera from the point of view of the narrator (who is also a participant in the action), but this project was abandoned indefinitely due to technical problems, cost overruns, and other difficulties, including the outbreak of war in Europe and the internment of its female lead, the German actress Dita Parlo. † Next, Welles undertook to film a script written by himself and Herman J. Mankiewicz (1898-1953) about the life
* According to Frank Brady in Citizen Welles: A Biography of Orson Welles (New York: Scribner's, 1989), the original RKO contract, signed on July 22, 1939, was actually a two‐film deal which gave Welles a remarkable degree of control over production on the set but also gave the studio the right of preproduction story refusal and postproduction "consultation" on the release print (pp. 199-200). The exaggeration of the contract's terms was probably the work of RKO's publicity department.
† Dita Parlo (1906-71) was working in the French film industry when the war began (she had played featured roles in Vigo's L'Atalante  and Renoir's La Grande illusion , among other films); military officials had her arrested as an alien and, ultimately, deported to Germany. For a full account of the Heart of Darkness project and its termina- tion, see Robert L. Carringer's The Making of Citizen Kane (Berkeley: University of Califor- nia Press, 1985), Ch. 1.
and personality of a great American entrepreneur. Originally entitled simply American, the Welles-Mankiewicz scenario ultimately became the shooting script for Citizen Kane (1941), the now-legendary cryptobioraphy of America's most powerful press lord, William Randolph Hearst (1863-1951).
Welles claimed that his only preparation for directing Citizen Kane was to watch John Ford's Stagecoach (1939) forty times. Ford's influence on the film is pronounced, but it is equally clear that Welles was steeped in the major European traditions, especially those of German Expressionism and the Kammerspielfilm * and French poetic realism. If Kane's narrative economy owes much to the example of Ford, its visual texture is heavily indebted to the chiaroscuro lighting of Lang, the fluid camera of Murnau, the baroque mise-en-scène of von Sternberg, and the deep-focus realism of Renoir. Credit is also due Welles' remarkably talented collaborators—Mankiewicz; the Mercury Theatre players; the composer Bernard Herrmann; the editor Robert Wise; and the unit art director, Perry Ferguson. †
But Welles' greatest single technical asset in the filming of Kane was his brilliant director of photography, Gregg Toland (1904-48). Toland had earned a distinguished reputation as a cinematographer in Holly-
wood in the thirties and had experimented with deep-focus photography and ceilinged sets in his three most recent films, Wuthering Heights (William Wyler, 1939), for which he had won an Academy Award, The Grapes of Wrath (John Ford, 1940), and The Long Voyage Home (John Ford, 1940). Welles (or Mankiewicz) had conceived Kane as a film which occurs largely in flashback as characters recall their acquaintance with the great man (played by Welles himself) after his death, and he wanted the narrative to flow poetically from image to image in a manner analogous to the process of human memory. Thus, Welles used straight cuts largely for shock effect and made the most of his narrative transitions through lingering, in-camera lap dissolves. More important, Welles planned to construct the film as a series of long takes, or sequence shots, scrupulously composed in-depth to eliminate the necessity for narrative cutting within major dramatic scenes.
* As John Russell Taylor has observed, "Citizen Kane may be the best American film ever made; but it just might be also the best German film ever made." (Quoted in German Film Directors in Hollywood: Catalogue of an Exhibit of the Goethe Institutes of North America [San Francisco: Goethe Institute, 19781, p. 5. ) To make the question of influence even richer, Howard Hawks claimed in a 1976 interview that Welles modeled Kane on his own His Girl Friday (1940) and had told him so in 1941 (Bruce F. Kawin, "Introduction: No Man Alone," in To Have and Have Not, ed. Bruce F. Kawin (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1980), p. 41.
† As administrative head of the RKO art department, Van Nest Polglase received official screen credit for this function, with Ferguson listed as "Associate," but the latter was art director in fact. This practice reflected the bureaucratic hierarchy of the studio system, whereby department heads were contractually entitled to screen credits (and, therefore, to awards) for work performed by their subordinates.
To accomplish this, Toland perfected for Welles a method of deep‐ focus photography capable of achieving an unprecedented depth of field.
As explained in Chapter 9, the "soft" style of photography favored by the studios during the thirties was characterized by diffused lighting and relatively shallow focus—a product of the wider lens apertures required for filming in incandescent light. By the end of the decade, technical improvements in film stocks and lighting permitted greater depth of field, but most studio cinematographers were conservative and continued to practice the "soft" style. Toland, however, was a bold experimenter whose work in-depth—especially in The Long Voyage Home—had earned him a reputation for the kind of flamboyant originality prized by Welles in his Mercury Theatre productions. Toland's self-styled "pan focus" photography for Kane was a synthesis of many techniques he had used before. It employed the newly available Eastman Super XX film stock (an ultrafast film with a very high sensitivity to light—four times faster, in fact, than its standard Super X, without a notable increase in grain) in combination with a 24mm wide-angle lens whose aperture was stopped down to f-8 or less—a radical reduction in its size (see note, p. 385). The scenes were lit by the high-intensity arc lamps recently introduced for Technicolor production, and the lenses were coated with a clear plastic substance (magnesium fluoride) to reduce glare. Finally, Toland used the Mitchell Camera Corporation's self-blimped BNC, a relatively small and portable camera first used professionally in Wuthering Heights, which greatly increased the operator's freedom and range of movement. * With these tools, Toland was able to achieve something very close to "universal" focus within the frames of Citizen Kane, and Welles was able to distribute dramatic action across a depth perspective unlike anything ever used in a sound film. Since the early sixties, improvements in lenses, lighting, and film emulsions have greatly simplified deep-focus
* Additionally, a new fine-grain stock for producing release prints had been introduced in 1939. It virtually eliminated graininess in print generation and preserved image depth in films like The Long Voyage Home and Kane. photography, but the technical principles remain much the same. Welles' use of the deep-focus sequence shot in Kane demonstrated an absolute mastery of composition in depth. Like Renoir, he used the deep-focus format functionally, to develop scenes without resorting to montage, but he also used it expressively—as Eisenstein had used montage—to create metaphors for things that the cinema cannot represent directly on the screen.
At the height of his arrogance and power, for example, Kane often looms like a giant in the foreground of the frame, dwarfing other characters in the middleground and background, and towering over the audience, often from a low camera angle. Later, Kane's self-absorbed alienation from the world and everyone in it is conveyed by the growing distance which separates him from all other characters within the frame.
In these instances, Welles' use of depth perspective involves an expressive distortion of space which creates a metaphor for something in Kane's psychology. At other times, Welles uses deep focus both to achieve narrative economy and to echelon characters dramatically within the frame. Early in the film, a brilliant deep-focus sequence shot encapsulates the story of Kane's lost childhood. We see the front room of a boardinghouse in which Charlie Kane's mother signs the agreement that will permit her son to be taken to the East and later inherit a fortune. In exchanging her son's childhood for an adult life of fantastic wealth, she is selling him, and she knows it. Welles set the shot up like this: In the foreground of the frame, Mrs. Kane and Mr. Thatcher, whose bank is the executor of the estate, sign the agreement. The middleground is occupied by Charlie's weak-willed father, whose vacillation about the agreement is rendered visible as he paces back and forth between foreground and background.
In the back of the room is a window through which, in the extreme background of the frame, we see Charlie playing unsuspectingly in the snow with his sled and shouting, "The Union forever!" while in the fore- ground of the same shot, he is being indentured to his own future. Thus,
in a single shot, Welles is able to communicate a large amount of narrative and thematic information which would require many shots in a conventionally edited scene.
Kane is a film of much fluid intraframe movement. The sequence just described, for instance, actually begins with a medium long shot of Charlie at play in the snow through the open window of the boardinghouse; then the camera pulls back rapidly to reveal the other characters and elements in the composition. But there are three virtuoso moving camera shots in the film, each of which is a tour de force of fluidity and continuity. In the first, from a shot of a poster announcing the appearance of Kane's second wife, Susan, at the El Rancho nightclub, the camera cranes up vertically to the club's flashing neon sign, then tracks horizontally through it and down onto the rain-spattered glass of a skylight. The movement continues after a quick dissolve (made invisible by flashing lightning and distracting thunder), as the camera descends to a medium shot of Susan Alexander Kane and a newsman talking together at a table in the club's interior. In another shot, midway through the film, the camera cranes up vertically from a long shot of Susan singing on the stage of the Chicago Municipal Opera House to a catwalk some four stories
above it, where a stagehand makes a vulgar but richly deserved gesture of contempt for her performance. Finally, there is the long swooping crane shot which concludes the film, as the camera tracks slowly across the vast collection of artifacts that Kane has amassed in a lifetime of collecting, coming to rest on the object of the search for "Rosebud" that gives the film its narrative impulse or motive.
Other remarkable aspects of this wholly remarkable film are its expressive chiaroscuro lighting * and frequent use of extreme low-angle photography in connection with the figure of Kane. The latter necessitated many muslin ceilinged sets, which had been used in Hollywood before, especially in the work of Toland, but never so consistently and effectively to suggest a sense of claustration and enclosure. (Filmmakers have conventionally left their interior sets roofless, first to admit the sunlight and later to facilitate artificial lighting and the free movement of the boom crane and microphone. ) Finally, and most significantly, attention must be called to Kane's innovative use of sound.
Welles' experience in radio served him well in recording the sound- track for Kane. He invented for his few montage sequences a technique he called the "lightning mix," in which shots were rapidly linked together not by the narrative logic of their images but by the continuity of the soundtrack. Kane's growth from child to adult is conveyed in a matter of seconds: a shot of his guardian giving him a sled and wishing him "a Merry Christmas" is cut together with a shot of the same man some fifteen years later, as he completes the sentence—"and a Happy New Year"—again addressing Kane, but in a different dramatic context. Another lightning mix conveys the entire progress of Kane's campaign for governor of New York State in four brief shots. First we see Kane listening to Susan Alexander sing (wretchedly) at the piano in the parlor of her boardinghouse. This dissolves into another shot of the two in the
* There are two major lighting styles in Kane—the sharp, high-contrast "daylight" style associated with Kane's youth and rise to power, and the dark, expressionistic "low-light" style which characterizes his corruption and decline.
same relative positions in a much more elegantly appointed parlor, that of an apartment in which Kane has obviously set her up. At the end of Susan's performance, Kane claps, and the shot is dovetailed with another of a friend addressing a small street rally in Kane's behalf. The applause, which has been continuous on the soundtrack since the parlor shot, grows louder and multiplies in response to the speaker's words: "I am speaking for Charles Foster Kane, the fighting liberal ... who entered upon this campaign with one purpose only—." Welles cut finally to a long shot of Kane himself addressing a huge political rally at Madison Square Garden and completing the sentence as the camera begins to track toward the speaker's platform: "—to point out and make public the dishonesty, the downright villainy of Boss Jim Gettys' political machine." The address continues, and the narrative resumes a more conventional form.
Another device introduced by Welles in Kane was the overlapping sound montage in which—as in reality—people speak not one after another (as they do on the stage) but virtually all at once, so that part of what is said is lost. Overlapping dialogue between major players in a film had been used as early as 1931 by Lewis Milestone in The Front Page, but it had not been used to produce a sense of realistic collective conversation as it was in Kane. A good example in the film (and there is an example in almost every major sequence) occurs in the screening room after the projection of the "News on the March" newsreel. So many persons are speaking on the track simultaneously that one has the distinct sense of having accidentally stumbled into the aftermath of a board meeting. Welles continued to use this technique in his later films, and it has influenced many other filmmakers—both his contemporaries, like Carol Reed, and more recent directors, like Robert Altman, who has been so firmly committed to overlapping sound montage that unknowledgeable critics once complained about the "poor quality" of his soundtracks.
A final example of Welles' subtle refinement of sound occurs in one of his best deep-focus set-ups. Kane, in a newsroom, is seated at a typewriter in the extreme foreground of the frame finishing a bad review of Susan Alexander Kane's Chicago opera debut which his ex-friend Jed Leland has written. Correspondingly, we hear the tapping of the typewriter keys on the "foreground" of the soundtrack. From a door in the background of the frame, Leland emerges—barely recognizable, so great is the distance—and begins to walk slowly toward Kane. As he moves from the background to the foreground of the frame, Leland's footsteps move from the "background" to the "foreground" of the soundtrack— from being initially inaudible to having nearly an equal volume with the keys. Similarly, in the Chicago Opera House shot, as the camera dollies up from the stage to the catwalk, Susan's voice grows ever more distant on the track, creating once more a precise correspondence of visual and aural "space."
The formal organization of Citizen Kane is extraordinary. Like a Jorge Luis Borges story, it begins with the death of its subject. Through an elaborate series of lap-dissolved stills, we are led from a "No Tres- passing" sign on a chain link fence farther and farther into the forbidding
Kane estate of Xanadu, as if by the tracking movement of a camera, until at last we approach a lighted window high in a Gothic tower. The light is suddenly extinguished, and Welles dissolves to the interior of the room, where Charles Foster Kane dies in state, clutching a small glass globe which contains a swirling snow scene and whispering "Rosebud"—the word that motivates the film and echoes through it until the final frames. Kane drops the globe in dying; it rolls down the steps and breaks in close‐ up. Through the distorting lens of the convex broken glass (actually, a wide-angle lens focused through a diminishing glass), we watch a nurse enter the room from a door in the background in long shot; she walks to the foreground in close shot, folds Kane's arms, and pulls the covers up to his chest. After a fade to a medium shot of Kane's body silhouetted against the window, we suddenly cut to a logo projected obliquely on a screen, and the soundtrack booms the title "News on the March!"— introducing a sophisticated parody of a March of Time newsreel * on Kane's life and death. Welles is thus able to give a brief and coherent, if unsequential, overview of the major events in Kane's life before they become jumbled like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle in the succeeding narratives.
* The March of Time was a popular series of skillfully (some would say slickly) produced film news journals released monthly in the the United States between 1935 and 1951. Each issue was twenty minutes long, and, generally, focused on a single subject. These films were usually shown as preludes to features, so that Citizen Kane's original audiences might well have watched an authentic March of Time newsreel just before seeing the parodic "News on the March" in Kane. The March of Time series was politically conservative, reflecting the editorial policies of its financial backer, Time-Life, Inc., and of Time-Life's director, Henry R. Luce (1898-1967). Time-Life succeeded the Hearst empire, which was badly crippled by the Depression, to become a major shaper of public opinion during the thirties, forties, and fifties. The identification in Citizen Kane of Rawlston's news organization with the Luce press is entirely deliberate, since it extends the Kane / Hearst analogy.
In a sense, the newsreel is Citizen Kane itself in miniature. Like the larger film, it begins with Kane's death (or his funeral), covers the same events in a similar overlapping, chronological manner, and ends with the mystery of Kane's character unresolved. We learn from the newsreel that Kane was an enormously controversial figure, hated and loved by millions of Americans, whose vast wealth was inherited by fluke: a supposedly worthless deed left to his mother in payment for a boardinghouse room gave him sole ownership of the priceless Colorado Lode. We learn that in an earlier period of American history, near the turn of the century, Kane's wealth and the influence of his newspapers were incalculable. We learn that he was married twice—first to a president's niece, then to Susan Alexander, "singer," for whom he built the Chicago Municipal Opera House and Xanadu. We learn that Kane's promising and apparently nonstop political career was destroyed during a campaign for the governorship of the State of New York by a "love-nest" scandal involving Susan Alexander. We learn finally that Kane's newspaper empire was crippled by the Depression and that he subsequently exiled himself to the solitude of Xanadu, where, after many years of seclusion, he died in 1941. The newsreel ends, and the camera discovers a dimly and expressionistically lit projection room, where the contemporary media journalists (successors of the Kane/Hearst empire and identified with the Luce press) who produced the film discuss it. Rawlston, the executive in charge, thinks it needs an "angle" that will somehow explain the paradoxical figure of Kane. Someone seizes upon the man's dying words, the film's release is postponed, and a journalist named Thompson (played by William Alland) is sent out to interview all of Kane's intimate acquaintances to discover the meaning of "Rosebud" and, it is hoped, of Kane himself.
The rest of the film is contained in a series of five narratives—told in flashback by each of the people Thompson talks to—and a balancing epilogue of sorts. The narratives overlap with each other and with the "News on the March" newsreel at certain points, so that some of the events in Kane's life are presented from several different points of view within the total film. From the screening room, a shock cut takes us to a poster on a brick wall, suddenly illuminated by lightning, which announces the El Rancho nightclub appearance of the second Mrs. Kane. Through the elaborate craning movement previously described, we are brought into the interior of the club, where a drunk and hostile Susan Alexander Kane (Dorothy Comingore) refuses to talk to Thompson. He can get no information from the headwaiter either, and the screen then fades out and into a daytime sequence at the Walter P. Thatcher Memorial Library. (Thatcher, we come to understand later in the sequence, was Kane's guardian and executor of the Colorado Lode estate. ) Here, Thompson is grudgingly given access to Thatcher's memoirs, and, as he reads the words "I first encountered Mr. Kane in 1871... ," the screen dissolves from a close-up of Thatcher's longhand to a lyrical shot of a boy playing with a sled in front of Mrs. Kane's boardinghouse, somewhere in Colorado, during a snowstorm. In the long deep-focus shot described above, Mrs. Kane (Agnes Moore- head) signs the papers that make Thatcher's bank the boy's guardian and certify his inheritance. Outside, young Kane is told of his imminent departure for the East; he pushes Thatcher (George Coulouris) into the snow with his sled. We dissolve to a medium shot of the sled, some time later, covered with drifing snow, and then into the "Merry Christmas— Happy New Year" lightning mix, which places us in New York City many years later on the occasion of Kane's twenty-first birthday. * We learn that of all the holdings in "the world's sixth largest private for-tune," which Kane is about to inherit, only the financially failing daily newspaper, the New York Inquirer, interests him, because he thinks "it would be fun to run a newspaper." Next, in a brief but potent montage sequence, we see Thatcher increasingly outraged by the Inquirer's populist, muckraking (and anti-Republican) headlines, until he finally confronts Kane in the Inquirer office. Their apparent antipathy for one another—both ideological and personal—is apparent, and Thatcher warns Kane of financial disaster. As if to confirm this prophecy, the following sequence, composed in depth, shows Kane, much older, signing his now vast but bankrupt newspaper chain over to Thatcher in the midst of the Depression, and here Thatcher's narrative ends.
Thompson next visits Mr. Bernstein (Everett Sloane), once Kane's general manager and right-hand man, now the aging chairman of the board of the Kane Corporation. Bernstein's narrative begins by recalling in flashback the first day at the Inquirer office, when he, Kane, and Kane's old college buddy Jedediah Leland (Joseph Cotten) arrived to claim the paper, in what was clearly to be a lark for all three young men. But the playfulness is mitigated a few scenes later when, in the presence of Bernstein and Leland, Kane composes a "Declaration of Principles" for his first front page. † Leland asks to keep the manuscript, comparing it facetiously to the Declaration of Independence. In this sequence, the twenty‐one-year-old Kane is revealed to be the romantic idealist of the crusading populist headlines so repugnant to Thatcher, and Leland's admiration for him is unqualified. In the next sequence, Kane, Leland, and Bernstein are seen reflected in the window of the New York Chronicle Building,
* An apparent inconsistency in the continuity script, since seconds earlier in Colorado we have heard Thatcher tell Mrs. Kane that the fortune is "to be administered by the bank in trust for your son ... until he reaches his twenty-fifth birthday."
† Both an allusion to a 1935 incident in which Hearst, threatened with a boycott of his newspapers, bought advertising space in rival papers to publish a statement of principles ("The Hearst Papers Stand for Americanism and Genuine Democracy," etc. ) and an hom- mage to the Mercury Theatre's "declaration of principles" published on the front page of the New York Times Sunday drama section on August 29, 1937, thanks to Welles' friendship with Times theater critic Brooks Atkinson.
gazing at a photograph of the Chronicle's top-flight staff, which, they admit, has made it the most successful newspaper in the city. The camera moves in close upon the picture and then back out to reveal the group, suddenly animated and sitting for another photograph six years later— this time to commemorate their joining the staff of the Inquirer en masse. A raucous banquet sequence follows, in which the dining table is photo- graphed in extreme depth, with ice sculptures of Leland and Bernstein in the foreground at one end, Kane in the background at the other, and the new staff members occupying the space in between. During the revelry, Leland expresses to Bernstein his concern that these new men, so fresh from the Chronicle and its policies, will change Kane, and the scene dissolves into another one of Bernstein and Leland uncrating boxes of sculpture that Kane has been collecting on a European tour. It is revealed by Bernstein that Kane may also be "collecting" something (or someone) else. A dissolve brings us to the interior of the Inquirer office some time later, on the day of Kane's return from Europe. The staff attempts to present him with an engraved loving cup, and he awkwardly leaves them a notice announcing his engagement to Miss Emily Monroe Norton, the niece of the President of the United States. The staff watches from the windows of the Inquirer Building as Kane and his fiancée drive off in a carriage; and the second narrative draws to a close with Bernstein speculating to Thompson that maybe "Rosebud" was "something he lost."
Thompson next pays a visit to Leland, who has become a somewhat senile (but still intelligent) old man confined to a nursing home. Indeed, the dissolves into the Leland narrative flashback are among the most lingering in the whole film, as if to suggest the sluggishness of his memory ; and not a little of the film's impact derives from this flashback technique of narration, which permits us to see all of the major characters in youth and age almost simultaneously. Like those of the other characters, Leland's narrative is chronological but not continuous. Initially, he relates the story of Kane's first marriage in a sequence which convincingly compresses the relationship's slow decline into a series of brief breakfast-table conversations linked by swish pans and overlapping sound—that is, a lightning mix. Next, in a much longer flashback, Leland describes Kane's first meeting with Susan Alexander and Kane's subsequent political ruin at the hands of his opponent, "Boss" Jim Gettys (and as a result of his own stubborn, egomaniacal refusal to withdraw from the race). Of particular note is the scene in which Leland confronts Kane after he has lost the election. The entire sequence is shot in depth from an extremely low angle (the camera was actually placed in a hole in the floor to make the shot), so that Kane looms above both Leland and the audience, a grotesque, inflated parody of the politically powerful figure he has so desperately tried (and failed) to become. Drunk, and disillusioned with his idol, Leland insists that he be transferred to the Chicago office, and Kane reluctantly consents. The final section of Leland's narrative concerns Kane's marriage to Susan Alexander and her singing debut at the opera house he has built for her. The lengthy vertical craning shot from Susan performing abjectly on the stage to the stagehand holding his nose occurs here, as does Leland's long, deep-focus walk from the back of the Chicago Inquirer newsroom to the extreme foreground of the frame, where an embittered Kane finishes Leland's bad review of the performance, and summarily fires him.
Here Leland's narrative ends, and Thompson returns once more to the El Rancho nightclub. Again the camera travels up from the poster of Susan Alexander, cranes through the sign, and dissolves through the skylight to a medium close shot of Thompson and Susan sitting at a table. Susan, who has finally agreed to talk, begins her story with a flashback to a session with her voice coach, Signor Matisti, which occurred shortly after her marriage to Kane. Susan, Matisti, and a pianist occupy the foreground of a deep-focus shot of a large, expensively decorated room. Susan's voice is so bad that Matisti refuses to continue the lesson, but at this point Kane emerges from a door in the back of the room and walks toward the group, becoming larger and larger as he moves toward the lens. When he reaches the foreground, he browbeats both Matisti and Susan into continuing the humiliating session, until a dissolve brings us to the second version of Susan's singing debut at the Chicago Municipal Opera House. We have already seen her performance from Leland's point of view in his narrative, and now we see virtually the same events from Susan's perspective as she looks out into the vast and terrifying void of the audience, invisible beyond the footlights. Her aria begins, and as she attempts to fill the huge theater with her frail voice, * Welles intercuts subjective shots of Matisti frantically coaching her with audience reaction shots (contempt, boredom, disbelief) and close-ups of an aging Kane peering grimly toward the stage. When the performance ends with very light applause, Kane claps loudly, as if to fill the hall with his solitary accolade. A dissolve brings us to Kane and Susan the morning after in a Chicago apartment, where Susan shrilly denounces Leland for his bad
* In 1973, at a symposium at the George Eastman House in Rochester, New York, Bernard Herrmann pointed out that Susan (or, rather, the singer dubbing her voice) actually could sing, but only modestly. The high tessitura overture to Salammbô, the fake opera Herrmann composed for her debut, was purposely designed to exceed the capacity of her voice and create "that terror-in-the-quicksand feeling" of a singer hopelessly out of her depth at the very outset of a long performance. (Quoted in Sound and the Cinema, ed. Evan William Cameron [Pleasantville, N. Y.: Redgrave Publishing, 1980], p. 128).
review—actually completed by Kane. We learn that Kane has fired Leland and sent him a check for twenty-five thousand dollars, which Leland has retruned along qith the pompoulsy idealist “Declaration of
Principles” that Kane had printed in his first issue of the New York Inquirer years before. We also learn that Susan's singing career has been imposed upon her by Kane, who insists that it continue.
There follows a rapid montage of dissolves, overlaid on the soundtrack by Susan's voice, in which Inquirer healines from cities around the country acclaiming Susan Alexander's meteoric rise to stardom are lapdissolved alternately with shots of flashing call lights, Susan onstage, increasing rate until a klieg light suddenly fizzles and goes out, cutting off Susan's voice and leaving us in total darkness. Moments later, we slowly fade in on a deep-focus shot of a darkened room: in the extreme foreground is a near-empty galss of liquid and a spoon (this particular foreground object is reproduced not through deep focus but in-camera matte shot); in the middleground Susan tosses in bed, breathing heavily; in the background a door flies open and Kane bursts into the room, barely foiling her suicide attempt. Susan is treated by a discreet doctor, and Kane promises that she needn't sing again. Now we fade to Xanadu, some time later, where the final portion of Susan's narrative takes place. Here, in deep-focus shots that grotesquely distance them from one another across the breadth of a palatial chamber, Kane and Susan pursue a series of conversations that show them to be utterly at odds. Kane has become a cynical domestic tyrant and Susan a virtual prisoner of the estate; she passes the time endlessly working and reworking jigsax puzzles—a metaphor for the mystery of identity in the film. Against Susan's will, Kane arranges a spectacular:y extravagant weekend “picnic” in the Everglades, where the two break openly and he slaps her. The next day at Xanadu, Susan announces to Kane that she is leaving him for good; he begs her to stay, but, realizing Kane's nearly constitutional inability to return love, she refuses and walks out the door. Susan concludes her narrative by advising Thompson to talk to Raymond the butler, who "knows where all the bodies are buried," when he visits Xanadu. The camera moves back and up, dissolves through the skylight, and pulls back through the El Rancho sign, reversing the movement of its entry.
Dissolves bring us to the gate of Xanadu and then to the interior for Raymond's brief narrative, which begins where Susan's ended. It opens not with a dissolve but with a shocking straight cut from Raymond (Paul Stewart) and Thompson on the stairs to a close shot of a shrieking cockatoo, behind which we see Susan in the middleground emerging from the same door she has begun to walk through (from the other side) at the end of her own narrative as she leaves Kane and Xanadu. Raymond's flashback then depicts the violent tantrum Kane throws as she departs: he staggers about Susan's bedroom like some mechanized madman, smashing furniture, mirrors, cosmetic jars, and all manner of trinkets and bric-a-brac until his hand finally comes to rest on the glass globe with the snow scene that we first saw at his death in the beginning of the film and later saw in Susan's apartment when they met. We hear Kane whisper "Rosebud!" and watch him shuffle slowly out of Susan's demolished room, past a gauntlet of staring servants and guests, and down a huge hall of mirrors as Raymond's narrative concludes.
Now Thompson and Raymond move down the central staircase into the great hall of Xanadu, where we see in long shot that a multitude of reporters, photographers, and workmen have assembled in a mass effort to catalog and liquidate Kane's huge collection of objects. The camera pulls back to follow the two men as they pass through the hall, discovering as it does so newspeople photographing both the treasures and trash of the Kane collection—Renaissance sculpture, Kane's mother's pot-bellied stove, Oriental statuary, the loving cup presented to Kane by the Inquirer staff on his return from Europe, priceless paintings, a myriad of jigsaw puzzles. Thompson's colleagues ask him whether he has discov- -406-
ered the meaning of "Rosebud." He replies that he hasn't and that, in any case, he no longer believes in the quest: "I don't think any word can explain a man's life. No, I guess 'Rosebud' is just a piece in a jigsaw puzzle, a missing piece."
Thompson and the others leave to catch the train back to New York, and a lap dissolve brings us to an aerial view of the hall, with the camera shooting down over the vast collection that stretches away into the distance. Another lap dissolve brings the camera a little closer to the collection as it begins to track slowly over the entire mass of crates, statues, boxes, and belongings—the ruins and relics of Kane's loveless life— which, from our aerial perspective, resemble nothing so much as the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. The shot continues for some time until the camera reaches the humble possessions of Mrs. Kane and dollies down gracefully into an eye-level shot of her things. We see a man grab a sled and, in the next shot, throw it into a furnace at Raymond's command.
We dissolve to a close-up of the burning sled and can read on it the word
Rosebud" just before the letters melt away in flames. A dissolve brings us to an exterior long shot of Xanadu at night, as we first encountered it, with smoke billowing from its chimneys. The camera tilts up to follow the smoke, dissolves to the chain link fence surrounding the estate, and pans down slowly to the "No Trespassing" sign with which the film began.
Thus, Citizen Kane concludes with the mystery of its central figure unresolved. The identity of "Rosebud" is clearly inadequate to account for the terrible emptiness at the heart of Kane, and of America, and is
meant to be. Its power as a symbol of lost love and innocence lies in its very insufficiency, for the "missing piece" of the jigsaw puzzle of Kane's life, the "something he lost," turns out to be an inanimate object, and a regressive one at that. In its barrenness, "Rosebud" becomes a perfect symbol of Kane's inability to relate to people in human terms, or to love, and the ultimate emblem of his futile attempt to fill the void in himself with objects. In the film's two-hour running time we have seen Kane from seven separate perspectives—those of the newsreel, the five narrators, and the concluding reprise—and we probably have come to know more about the circumstances of his life than the man would have known himself. We know what he did and how he lived and died, but we can never know what he meant—perhaps, Welles seems to suggest, because, like "Rosebud," he was ultimately meaningless, or perhaps because reality itself is ambiguous and unreliable. In any case, it is the quest for meaning rather than its ultimate conclusion that makes Citizen Kane such a rich and important film.
In the year of its release, Citizen Kane was a radically experimental film—fully twenty years ahead of its time—and was widely recognized as such by American critics. But it failed at the box office less because of its experimental nature than because of an aura of fear in Hollywood created by attacks on Welles and RKO in the Hearst press. Hearst was still living, and his vassals attempted to suppress what they correctly took to be an unflattering portrait of their master. Though they were unsuccess- ful in preventing the film's release, the adverse publicity made it difficult for Kane to get bookings and advertising. * As a result, the film did poorly outside of New York City and was withdrawn from circulation until the mid-fifties, when it played the art house circuit and began to acquire a more sophisticated audience. Since then, Kane has been voted the "Best Film of All Time" in five successive international polls (Brussels, 1958;
Sight and Sound, 1962, 1972, 1982, 1992), and there is every indication that its critical reputation continues to grow.
The influence of Citizen Kane upon the cinema has been enormous and nearly universal. The film's impact did not begin to be felt until after the war, when its use of low-key lighting and wide-angle lenses to achieve greater depth of field influenced the visual style of American film noir and its flashback narrative technique began to be imitated in more conventional films like Robert Siodmak's The Killers (1946). There were also imitations of Kane's structure and / or theme: George Cukor's Keeper of the Flame (1942), Max Ophüls' Caught (1949), and, after the art house revival, José Ferrer's The Great Man (1957). Directors like Britain's Carol Reed (Odd Man Out, 1947; The Third Man, 1949; An Outcast of the Islands, 1952—all highly Wellesian films) absorbed much of the film's visual and aural textures; and, according to François Truffaut, the young French cinéastes who would later form the New Wave found in Kane's 1946 Paris premiere the ultimate justification of their reverence for American cinema.
Kane's most important and pervasive influence, however, did not begin to be felt until the mid-fifties, after the advent of the widescreen processes, when European critics—notably Bazin—discovered in it (and, less emphatically, in Renoir's films) the model for a new film aesthetic based not upon montage but upon the "long take," or sequence shot. The primary concern of the long take aesthetic is not the sequencing of images, as in montage, but the disposition of space within the frame, or mise-en‐scène. Welles is today regarded for all practical purposes as the founder and master of this aesthetic (in the same way that Eisenstein is regarded as the founder and master of montage), though its lineage can be traced as far back as Louis Feuillade. Finally, Kane was the first recognizably modern sound film; and it stood in the same relationship to its medium in 1941 as did The Birth of a Nation in 1914 and Potemkin in 1925— that is, it was an achievement in the development of narrative form, years in advance of its time, which significantly influenced most of the important films that followed it. Through deep-focus photography, Kane attempts to technically reproduce the actual field of vision of the human eye in order to structure our visual perception of screen space by means of composition in depth. Through its innovative use of sound, it attempts to reproduce the actual aural experience of the human ear and then to manipulate our aural perception of screen space by distorting and qualifying this experience. And in both respects, though the technology is not the same, Kane brilliantly anticipates the contemporary cinema of wide- screen photography and stereophonic sound.
Contrary to popular belief, Kane was anything but a financially extravagant production. The entire film—cavernous ceilinged sets and all—was made for 839,727 dollars, * with a remarkable economy of means: for many scenes Welles and Ferguson converted standing sets from other RKO pictures, and, in the Everglades sequence, they actually used jungle footage from Son of Kong (1933), complete with animated bats. Nevertheless, the financial failure of the film stigmatized Welles as a loser in Hollywood, and he was never again permitted to have total control of an industry production. †
WELLES AFTER KANE
Welles' second film, The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), is one of the great lost masterworks of the cinema. Like von Stroheim's Greed (1924) and Eisenstein's Que viva México! (1929-31), The Magnificent
Ambersons was taken out of its director's hands and radically recut to satisfy the exigencies of the new wartime economy as perceived by the Bureau of Motion Picture Affairs (see pp. 439 and 442). While Welles was in Brazil shooting footage for a semidocumentary entitled It's All True, cosponsored by RKO and the State Department, RKO cut The Magnificent Ambersons from 132 to eighty-eight minutes and provided it with a totally incongruous happy ending shot by the film's production manager, Freddie Fleck. **
Flawed though it is, The Magnificent Ambersons remains a great and powerful film. Adapted by Welles from Booth Tarkington's novel, it parallels the turn-of-the-century decline of a proud and wealthy provincial family with the rise of the modern industrial city of Indianapolis. It is an unabashedly nostalgic film whose mise-en-scène is carefully calculated to create a sense of longing for the past. Although he was no Gregg Toland, cinematographer Stanley Cortez's high-contrast lighting and deep-focus photography of the interior of the Amberson mansion produced some of the most beautiful sequence shots ever to appear on the American screen. Like Citizen Kane, the film is constructed largely of long takes, with much spectacular tracking movement of the camera, and Welles' revolutionary use of the lightning mix and sound montage exceeds even his ____________________
* This figure includes postproduction costs. Only about 7 percent of it, or 59,207 dollars, went to the construction of Kane's record number of 116 sets. By contrast, the many fewer sets of The Magnificent Ambersons cost 137,265 dollars, or about 13.5 percent of that film's total budget of 1,013,760 dollars.
** In addition, one scene was reshot by the editor, Robert Wise, and another by Mercury Theatre business manager Jack Moss. For years it was thought that the forty-five minutes of cut footage might exist somewhere in the vaults of Paramount Pictures, which had bought portions of the RKO feature library in 1958, but in The Magnificent Ambersons: A Reconstruction (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993), Robert Carringer maintains that RKO burned the negative trims and outtakes for lack of storage space—a relatively common practice at the time. There is still the possibility that an original preview print might surface someday, but in its absence Carringer provides a textual edition of The Magnificent Ambersons, using the March 12, 1942, cutting continuity to indicate what was excised from the original version of the release print, what scenes were reordered, and what new footage was shot by others and integrated into the film while Welles was in Brazil.
† Welles' notoriously difficult personality also figured in his alienation from (and of) the American film industry.
own earlier work. Though the eighty-eight-minute version which has survived can only hint at the epic sweep of the original, The Magnificent Ambersons as it stands today is a masterpiece of mood, decor, and composition in depth. It is also a remarkably intelligent and prophetic film which suggests (in 1942, and in a story set in 1905) that the quality of American life will ultimately be destroyed by the automobile and urbanization. The Magnificent Ambersons, distributed on a double bill with a Lupe Velez comedy, was a commercial disaster. So was Journey into Fear (1942; released 1943), a stylish adaptation of an Eric Ambler espionage novel set in the Middle East, starring Welles and the Mercury Players, and co-directed by Welles (uncredited) and Norman Foster (1900-1976).
With his third box-office failure behind him, Welles was recalled from Brazil and removed from It's All True, which was never completed; the Mercury Players were given forty-eight hours to clear off the RKO lot. Originally entitled Pan-American, It's All True was to have been a fourpart anthology feature shot on location in the United States, Mexico, and Brazil, with the purpose of promoting hemispheric cooperation as part of FDR's anti-Nazi "Good Neighbor Policy." (Behind the venture was Nelson Rockefeller, then Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs and a major RKO stockholder; in neither role did he lack self-interest-see note, p. 439. ) The project was terminated for various financial and political reasons, and much of the film's negative, including a Technicolor carnival sequence shot in Rio, dumped into Santa Monica Bay. * This
* In 1985, eighteen to twenty hours of Welles' Brazilian footage, including three Technicolor sequences, were found in an old RKO vault by Paramount Pictures executive Fred Chandler (Paramount having bought Desilu Studios, which had earlier acquired RKO's production facilities). This was used to produce a twenty-two-minute documentary on the film's central sequence, "Four Men in a Raft," which debuted at the Venice Film Festival in 1986 and attracted considerable attention. (In the same year, a Brazilian docudrama, Nem tudo e verdade [Not Everything Is True, directed by Rogerio Sganzerla] recounted the film's troubled production history from a Latino perspective. ) Over the next six years, an international team of production artists, archivists, and scholars led by Los Angeles-based film- maker Myron Meisel put together a ninety-minute documentary feature on the making of
was the beginning of a long-standing antagonism between Welles and those who ran the American film industry, an antagonism which was never fully resolved. Welles returned to broadcasting and the theater for the remainder of the war, though his striking performance as Rochester in Jane Eyre (directed in 1943 by Robert Stevenson, whom Welles seems to have influenced) did much to establish him as a popular film actor (a circumstance which would later permit him to finance his own productions when times got hard, as they frequently did).
In 1945, Welles returned to Hollywood to direct and star in The Stranger (1946) for the newly formed International Pictures, but was required to adhere closely to an existing script and a pre-arranged editing schedule. Welles submitted to the condition, and the resulting film is an intentional if preposterous self-parody about the tracking down of a Nazi war criminal (Welles) who is, somehow, posing as a master at a New England prep school and is married to the headmaster's daughter (Loretta Young). Technically, the film is fairly conventional, and Welles regarded it as his worst. Nevertheless, nationally distributed by RKO, its commercial success helped him to land a job at Columbia directing his brilliant and exotic essay in film noir, The Lady from Shanghai (1947; released 1948), which starred Welles and his second wife, Rita Hayworth (1918-87). This bizarre film of corruption, murder, and betrayal is cast in the form of a thriller, but its theme is the moral anarchy of the postwar world. Though its intricate, rambling plot is almost impossible to follow, * cinematically the film is one of Welles' finest achievements: the haunting sequence shots of the assignation between Welles and Hayworth in the San Francisco Aquarium, the perfectly cut chase in the Chinese theater, and, most of all, the montage of the two-way shootout in the hall of mirrors which concludes the film have become textbook examples of Welles' genius. Because of the obscurity of its narrative, The Lady from Shanghai was a financial failure, and Welles became persona non grata in Hollywood for nearly a decade.
It's All True which premiered at the New York Film Festival in 1993. At the film's core are reconstructed versions of "Four Men in a Raft" and Technicolor sequences from two other segments—"The Story of the Samba" and "My Friend Bonito"—which show an extraordinary film artist working at the height of his creative powers.
* A fact abetted by Harry Cohn, president of Columbia Pictures, who held up the film's release by a year (it was originally completed in 1946) while it was re-edited, redubbed, and rescored under Welles' supervision.
In order to continue making films, he was forced to exile himself to Europe, but before he left, he turned out a final Mercury Theatre production—a nightmarishly expressionistic version of Macbeth (1948) shot in twenty-three days on papier-mâché and cardboard sets for the B-studio, Republic Pictures. More Welles than Shakespeare, with Welles playing Macbeth, the film still manages to convey an atmosphere of brooding evil and to create a convincing portrait of a man driven by ambition beyond the bounds of the moral universe (a characteristic theme of both Shakespeare and Welles) in a culture which has only just emerged from barbarism. Originally 112 minutes long, Macbeth was cut to eighty-six minutes by its producers after Welles had left for Europe, and the sound‐track—in which the actors spoke with Scottish burrs for verisimilitude—was rerecorded to "Americanize" the accents. This recut, redubbed version was the only one known in the United States until 1979, when a UCLA archivist discovered the original among the university's collection of NTA Film Services (Republic's distributor) nitrate prints. In 1980, Macbeth was restored to its original form through a joint endeavor of UCLA and the Folger Shakespeare Library, complete with the Scottish‐ accented soundtrack and an eight-minute overture by the film's composer, Jacques Ibert. Among the most startling discoveries within the missing footage was a ten-minute-long take of continuous dramatic action, probably the first ever attempted in a theatrical film Hitchcock's Rope went into production a few months after Welles' film was completed).
In moving to Europe, Welles lost the great technical and financial resources of the Hollywood studios, but he gained much in creative freedom. As a result, his European films tend to be technically imperfect and imaginatively unrestrained. The first of these was another Shakespeare adaptation, Othello (1952), with Welles in the title role; the film was made over a period of four years from 1948 to 1952, while Welles financed the production by acting in other people's films. With interiors shot all over Europe and exteriors shot in the ancient citadel at Mogador, Morocco, Othello is a film of light and openness—of wind, sun, and sea—as opposed to the brooding darkness of Macbeth and The Lady from Shanghai. Continuously recast, reshot, recut, and redubbed, Othello nevertheless won the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival when it was finally completed in 1952. * (Welles bequeathed the rights to Othello to his daughter Beatrice Welles-Smith, and in 1989 she embarked on a five-hundred-thousand-dollar restoration project with Chicago-based filmmakers Michael Dawson and Arne Saks. The restored Othello, based on Welles' original nitrate negative, was released to mark its fortieth anniversary in 1992; the original dialogue track was remixed
* Actually, it shared the prize with Renato Castellani's comedy Due soldi di speranza (Two Pennyworth of Hope, 1952).
with newly created sound effects and a digital rerecording of the original score. )
Welles' next film, Mr. Arkadin (British title: Confidential Report, 1955), a failed attempt to remake Citizen Kane in European terms, was shot on an extremely low budget during an eight-month period in Spain, Germany, and France. On the French Riviera, a down-at-the-heels adventurer named Van Stratten is hired by the mysterious European business tycoon Gregory Arkadin (based on the real-life war profiteer Miles Krueger, and played by Welles) to piece together the details of his buried past. Van Stratten's Kafkaesque quest takes him all over Europe as he interviews the people who possess the secrets of Arkadin's past life, only to discover at the end of the film that he is the finger-man in a murder plot whereby the tycoon is systematically destroying all who can reveal his criminal past as soon as they are identified. Poorly acted, written, and recorded, with Welles himself dubbing in the voices of most of the other characters, Mr. Arkadin is an ambitious and intermittently brilliant failure.
No such difficulties attend Touch of Evil (1958), for which Welles returned to Hollywood for the first time in ten years. Universal, still a minor studio, had signed Welles and Charlton Heston to play the leads in what was to be a conventional police melodrama, and Heston insisted that Welles also direct. Welles accepted the job and was permitted to rewrite the script, turning it into a nightmarish parable of the abuse of power in a dark and sinister world. Shot against the garish background of Venice, California, Touch of Evil is another study of a man like Kane, Macbeth, and Arkadin, whose obsession with control causes him to transgress the laws of the moral universe. Hank Quinlan (Welles), a police captain in a seamy Mexican-American border town, has spent thirty years framing murder suspects about whose guilt he had "a hunch" in order to insure their conviction. He ultimately runs afoul of an honest Mexican narcotics agent (Heston) who exposes his practices and indirectly causes his death. The grotesque, inflated, and yet somehow sympathetic Quinlan is superbly played by Welles as a man whose once strong character has been utterly corrupted by an obsession.
As a director, Welles demanded the impossible from the cinematographer Russell Metty (who also shot The Stranger) and got it. The film opens with a continuous moving crane shot (unfortunately obscured in the release print by the credits), which begins with a close-up of a time bomb and ends with the explosion of the device in a car nearly two and a half minutes later, making it one of the longest unbroken tracking shots attempted before the advent of the Steadicam (see p. 1). Later, Metty was required to track his camera from the exterior of a building through a lobby and into a crowded elevator, and then ride up five floors to shoot Heston greeting the occupants as the doors slide open from within. There is also significant use of deep-focus photography and sound montage for the first time since The Lady from Shanghai (1947). Like Welles' previous films, Touch of Evil was shot in high-contrast black and white. Ignored in every country but France (where it won the Cannes Grand Prix) in the year of its release, Touch of Evil is today considered a Welles masterpiece whose technical brilliance and thematic depth bring it close to the stature of Kane. When it was released, the film was cut from 108 to ninety-five minutes under the supervision of Universal postproduction head Ernest Nims to make its editing continuity easier for contemporary audiences to follow. * In 1976, the deleted footage was restored by Universal, and Welles' original version was released for distribution in 16mm and, subsequently, on video cassette. The restoration resolves certain obscurities of dialogue in the 1958 version and provides for a fuller characterization of the film's protagonists.
But the film's financial failure in 1958 confirmed Welles' status as a pariah in Hollywood; he returned to Europe, where French producers offered him an opportunity to direct a film based on a major literary work of his choice. He selected Kafka's novel The Trial, published in 1925. Despite budgeting problems, The Trial (1962) became the only one of his films since Kane over which Welles exercised total control. His customary visual complexity notwithstanding, the results are disappointing. Shot in black-and-white in the streets of Zagreb, Croatia (then Yugoslavia), and in the fantastic Gare d'Orsay in Paris, the film finally fails to evoke the antiseptic modern hell of Kafka's novel, perhaps because of some disparity between the world views of the two artists.
* As Nims would later remark: "He [Welles] was ahead of his time. He was making those quick cuts—in the middle of a scene you cut to another scene and then come back and finish the scene and then cut to the last half of the other scene" (quoted in Barbara Leaming, Orson Welles: A Biography [New York: Viking, 1985], p. 428). Specifically, Nims recut the film's first five reels to conform to conventional continuity practice, deleted certain auditory shock effects Welles had devised for the soundtrack, and added several inserts shot by Universal contract director Harry Keller (b. 1915—The Face in the Mirror, 1958). See John Belton, "A New Map of the Labyrinth: The Unretouched Touch of Evil," Movietone News,
no. 47 (January 21, 1976): 1-9, and no. 48 (February 29, 1976): 23.
Welles' next European film and his last completed feature, Chimes at Midnight (British title: Falstaff, 1966), is widely regarded as a masterpiece. Returning to an idea that he had first tried in his 1938 Theater Guild production Five Kings, Welles assembled all the Falstaff parts from Henry IV, Parts I and II, The Merry Wives of Windsor, and Henry V, and linked them together with a narration from Holinshed's Chronicles (the medieval source of Shakespeare's history plays) to create a portrait of the character as his privileged friendship with Prince Hal passes gradually from affection to bitterness, disillusionment, and decay. Like Citizen Kane, it is a film about decline and loss, and like The Magnificent Ambersons, it is full of nostalgia for a vanished past; but it is as much the work of an older man as Kane and The Magnificent Ambersons are the work of a younger one. Shot in Spain (for financial reasons) over a period of several years, Chimes at Midnight is superbly photographed and acted, with Welles at his best in the title role. Its moving crane shots have been widely praised, and the lengthy montage sequence depicting the Battle of Shrewsbury has been favorably compared to Eisenstein's Odessa Steps sequence in Potemkin (1925) and the Battle on the Ice in Alexander Nevski (1938). Yet Chimes at Midnight is anything but technically extravagant. It is rather a quiet, elegiac, and dignified film whose restrained style and austere black-and-white photography correspond perfectly with its sober themes of human frailty, mortality, and decay.
It is no longer possible—as it was, perhaps, even several years ago—to speak of Orson Welles as a director important for a single, if monumental and awe-inspiring, film. Welles produced five masterpieces—Citizen Kane, The Magnificent Ambersons, The Lady from Shanghai, Touch of Evil, and Chimes at Midnight—and his Shakespearean films, extravagant and eccentric as they sometimes are, represent major contributions to the genre. In Citizen Kane he gave us the first modern sound film and effectively pioneered the aesthetic of the long take, or composition in depth. All of his films of the forties significantly anticipated the contemporary cinema of widescreen photography and stereophonic sound. But technological wizardry notwithstanding, Welles produced a body of work which deserves to be ranked with the great narrative art of our century.
Welles was a traditional moralist whose major themes were characteristically those of classical Western literature: the corrupting nature of ambition; the disparity between social and psychological reality; the destructive power of self-delusion, appetite, and obsession; and the importance of a sense of the past. Confirming these thematic concerns was his intermittent work from 1955 until his death in 1985 on a version of Don Quixote set in modern times (a more or less complete work print of which is currently being restored by Welles' companion and collaborator Oja Kodar). Stylistically, however, Welles was always an innovator and a radical experimenter—an authentic American expressionist with a decidedly baroque sense of form which has profoundly influenced the course of Western cinema.
In his latter years, he made several attempts to become an active part of that cinema again, in collaboration with Kodar, as his principal scriptwriter and actress, and the cinematographer Gary Graver, most notably in the still unreleased The Other Side of the Wind. This three-hour color film, which Welles described as "96-percent finished" in 1979, stars John Huston as a Welles-like director contemplating his career in flashback at the end of his life. In a tribute presented to him by the American Film Institute in 1975, Welles showed some provocative footage from it in an unsuccessful attempt to raise money for its completion. Between 1978 and 1985, he worked on The Dreamers, a romantic adventure story based upon two of Isak Dinesen's Gothic Tales, but only a few scenes of it were actually shot.
When he died, Welles was working on a long-cherished project—his own adaptation of King Lear in video, with himself in the title role and Kodar as Cordelia—which also remained unfinished. Welles' death on October 10, 1985, was mourned around the world, appropriately, as the passing of a twentieth-century American genius. It is difficult to know who or what to blame for the wasteful attenuation of his later career, and it is probably better not to try. But surely Welles would have appreciated the irony in the fact that only his death would make a whole generation of Americans aware that its favorite public fat man and talk-show raconteur was the single most important architect of the modern film. As Jean-Luc Godard observed of him at the height of the French New Wave, "Everyone will always owe him everything." *
* Quoted in Michel Ciment, "Les Enfants terrible," American Film (December 1984): 42. Welles made several important films of less-than-feature length as well. The Immortal Story (Histoire immortelle, 1968), based on a novella by Isak Dinesen, was written and directed by Welles for France's nationalized television company, ORTF. Running fifty-eight minutes, it was Welles' first film in color and stars Welles, Jeanne Moreau, and Fernando Rey. The Deep (also called Dead Calm or Dead Reckoning) was written and directed by Welles, and was shot by Gary Graver off the Dalmatian coast of Yugoslavia between 1967 and 1969.
Based on the novel Dead Calm by Charles Williams, the film stars Welles, Jeanne Moreau, Laurence Harvey, Oja Kodar, and Michael Bryant. There is a plot summary of The Deep, based on an early version of the script, in James Naremore's The Magic World of Orson Welles, Revised edition (Dallas: SMU Press, 1989); The Deep was completed but remains unreleased because of continuity gaps resulting from the death of Harvey in 1973 and the undubbed part of Moreau. In 1969 Welles shot an abridged color version of The Merchant of Venice in Trogir, Yugoslavia, and Asolo, Italy, which was completed, edited, scored, and mixed, but remains unreleased due to the theft of two of its reels; Kodar is currently at work
on a reconstruction. Finally—and most significantly—Welles wrote and codirected with the French documentarist François Reichenbach F for Fake (1975; released in France as Vérités et mensonges, 1973), a hybrid documentary about the dynamic of fakery. It focuses on the famous art forger Elmyr de Hory; his biographer (and the fraudulent pseudobiographer of Howard Hughes), Clifford Irving; and Welles himself, who as director of the film, is the chief illusionist among them. According to William Johnson in his Film Quarterly review of F for Fake (Summer 1976), the film provides a "commentary on the ontology of the film medium" and that medium's "specious realism." In 1978 the documentary Filming Othello (also known as The Making of Othello) was produced for West German television by Klaus and Jeurgen Hellweg; it featured interviews with the cast and crew of the 1952 Mercury Films Production and narrated footage of the original film—all of it directed by Welles.