As Cool As A Fruitstand

…and maybe as strange. A movie blog.

Happy Birthday Orson

Posted by Hedwig on May 6, 2008

Not too long ago, Jonathan Lapper over at Cinema Styles started a discussion about pseudonyms. I blog under my own name, though some think it’s a pen-name as it’s quite unusual, and linked both to Harry Potter and a certain transsexual rocker with an angry inch. I like writing from a personal standpoint, and as in the beginning the only people who read me were people I knew, it never made much sense to hide my identity.

I stand by it. And I’m not ashamed of anything you might find when googling my name (no, not even that). But there are times when I wonder what image the results might give of me to a potential future employer or date (come on, you’ve all done it). What they might think, for example, of a confession like this one: I have a huge crush on Orson Welles, who was born 93 years ago today (thanks to Daniel for pointing that out)

Oddly enough, maybe, Citizen Kane isn’t the reason. Oh, of course, I admire it a great deal, both for its ingenious construction and some of those incredible shots. And I literally mean incredible, as in hard to believe he pulled them off at all. But Kane, to me, is a very cold film, that fails to get to me on any basal level. I’ve been called an intellectual (usually by people who think that’s a pejorative term), but when a film gets to me only on a purely intellectual level, it’s hard to work up any enthusiasm for it.

No, I love Orson because he sometimes let things get so gloriously out of control. Take Othello, for example. It was shot over the course of several years, with Welles doing other movies in between to keep the money coming, and it shows. Much of the dialogue is unintelligible, the story is pretty much impossible to follow if you’re not already familiar with it, and as a whole, it can’t really be called succesful. But oh, the individual scenes! The shots, the lighting, the framing!

This film gets to me in a more fundamental way than Kane, even if it’s by far the better movie, cannot. And that’s exactly because it is so raw, so full of passion and yes, despair. So full of grand gestures and desperate measures.

That, and well, the voice definitely helps. That voice that made him famous long before he was a filmmaker. That voice that can boom and whisper, that seems made for Shakespearian dialogue but can also be dry and mocking, as it is in one of Welles’ best performances, as Harry Lime in the Third Man. It’s a voice that can fill a room, and it’s the voice that makes him irresistible to me, even when he’s playing a pretty evil nazi as in The Stranger.

It’s not always great, I’ll admit. Welles is pretty good in his neat little noir The Lady From Shanghai, but the same can’t be said for his Irish brogue. And in his very last performance, in Tranformers: the Movie, he is present in voice alone, and it’s so horrifically computerized and manipulated that it’s hard to even recognize, and it sounds, if anything, dreadfully bored.

Still. When I think of great voices, I think of Orson. And when I think of fascinating directors, I think of him too. He may have died when I hadn’t even spent a year on this planet, and long before I first heard his name, but I wish him a happy birthday nonetheless.

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10 Responses to “Happy Birthday Orson”

  1. Kaj said

    No mention of Touch of Evil? His best in my opinion, both in directing and acting.

  2. sarcastig said

    Unfortunately, I have not seen Touch of Evil. Only the opening sequence, actually. I really want to (obviously), but the DVD is quite expensive. There is a DVD box I almost bought for 15 euro which contains The Third Man, The Trial, and Touch of Evil, and I think I might actually buy it, even if I already have The Third Man.

  3. Merijn said

    From the trivia for Transformers: The Movie:

    “Both Nelson Shin (director) and Flint Dille (story consultant) has confirmed that, due to his failing health, Orson Welles had much difficulty recording all his dialogue for the film and all his recorded lines also included labored breathing and heavy wheezing. Shin considered all of Welles’ recorded lines to be unusable but decided to put the recordings through a voice synthesizer to give Welles’ voice a clearer, more ominous tone. According to Shin, Unicron’s onscreen voice is not the “true” Orson Welles but instead, an enhanced, synthesized version of his voice.”

    And even through all this – you can hear what Orson Wells thought of the movie:

    “‘Orson Wells’ was said to have hated the movie. When asked about his role, not only could not remember his character’s name, but he described his role as “a big toy who attacks a bunch of smaller toys”.”

  4. Kaj said

    Well, then I’m gonna have to insist that we watch it sometime soon. I’ve got the DVD as a present last year, I don’t think it was that expensive though.

  5. I love Othello. The opening scene with it’s sihouetted figures is just incredible. And all the scenes shot in the tunnels or sewers. I love pretty much all Orson Welles with few exceptions and it’s because almost all have such exquisite visual setups no matter who the cinematographer, which just shows that Welles was firmly in control of the look of his films.

    And Touch of Evil is an incredible film. I hope you get to see it soon.

  6. Alison Flynn said

    What about The Stranger? One of his best, in my opinion. 🙂

    Interesting points about his Othello. I saw it a long time ago and remembered it being fairly incoherent and out of control. But there were definitely moments.

  7. Orson was great in Touch of Evil, but he’s not exactly loveable.

    Beware of multiple verions of Touch of Evil Hedwig.

  8. sarcastig said

    I love The Stranger too… the clock tower looming over everything permanently is a great touch.

  9. That Welles description of his role in the Transformers animated movie still has me laughing, a full minute after reading it.

    Great blog, Hedwig, I’ll make it a point to visit with much greater regularity and actually post.

    Touch of Evil is great but as Craig notes, you should be careful about multiple versions of it.

  10. Kaj said

    @ Alexander Coleman & Craig Kennedy: Which version do you recommend? I only know the 1998 restored version, made in accordance with the 1958 memo Welles send to the studio after he saw what they made of his original version, which doesn’t exist anymore and was never released.

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