Orson Welles (1915--1985) was always a walking double-act in American pop culture---one part of the act was the recognition that here was a great multi-faceted star who could bend cinematic story-telling to his genius for imagery and montage and dramatic flair.
Exhibit A: Welles from his debut feature, "Citizen Kane", a film about a newspaper tycoon who had a insatiable desire for political and media power. Probably no performer, director, writer and producer came to Hollywood with more expectations than the twenty-three year old Welles did in 1939. And two years later he delivered a masterpiece, but not before arousing the ire of many powerful people and making many older professionals in the factory town that was Hollywood wish he'd fall on his butt and never get up again. Welles had a major ego, and that rubbed many powerful people the wrong way. But he could back it up with a film that no one else could have made. (Which just ticked off many of his peers and a hostile press all the more.)
The other act was Welles as a burn-out case, a guy who popped up on variety shows and did "sthick" comedy or card tricks or added a bit of cosmopolitan flavour to an ordinary documentary or a run of the mill commercial. Sure, folks must have said watching junk like this below, he had done something amazing earlier in his career, something to do with making people think Martians landed in New Jersey back in '38 and really scared people. The "War of the Worlds" radio broadcast put him on the map and he made the cover of Time Magazine, not bad for a guy that young. Here he is lampooning his own past success some thirty year later.
His first feature, "Citizen Kane", was not a successful picture when it was released in the Spring of 1941 (although many critics and fellow artists regarded it as the best film they had ever seen.) Welles carried on for the next forty years, both acting and directing films--often doing such work as he could find of any caliber to finance his projects.
Like the critics and fellow artists said above in the "Kane" clips, all of Welles eight completed directorial efforts leave one in awe of how much he could do with so little.
Here is a clip from his last completed film, "F for Fake" (1976), in which Welles used documentary techniques to get to the heart of how art forgers and other con-artists (like a magician, one of Welles' favorite public guises) fool the public and the experts with a talent for artifice. It is in the middle of this small, wonderful film that Welles gives one of the most moving soliloquies on human creativity.
How Welles carried off this double act for so long is a sort of testament to the need for creativity at whatever the cost. One thing is for certain: Orson Welles overcame adversity and is finally getting the recognition he deserved in life a quarter century after his passing. I'll examine that in my next blog.