Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Goodbye



Well, that's all of Orson Welles' films! 

It has been great fun doing this. I intend to do another director next. All directors will be posed here. I hope you enjoyed. As well, I hope you can understand the genius of Orson Welles. One thing I intend to do when I finish a director is find out his directorial average. I will find the average of Orson Welles by calculating the average of all the rankings I gave his films. 

Orson Welles
Directorial Average: 84%

Mr. Arkadin a.k.a Confedential Report (1955)



THE FILM:
Mr. Arkadin Poster  Mr. Arkadin is said to be partially based off the radio series "The Lives of Harry Lime" (which was based off The Third Man a film-noir masterpiece that stars Orson Welles. There is also a novel called "Mr. Arkadin" written by Orson Welles - or at least it's what is says on the cover. For the first time in my life I have a first-hand experience that you should never judge a book by it's cover. Not a single word of the novel "Mr. Arkadin was indeed written by Orson Welles. There was a ghost writer involved who did all of the writing. In fact, Orson Welles was un-aware that this novel even existed until one day he walked into a bookshop and saw the book there - or so he claims. Who truly wrote the novel? The sentences are short and written like someone who read too much Chandler and Hammett. The novel was originally written in French and later translated to English. . Perhaps someone involved in producing Mr. Arkadin, as it would make a fabulous publicity stunt.  Those were all thoughts running through peoples minds until very recently when the author's name was discovered in Louis Dolivet's old files. The author was the French actor, Maurice Bessy.

  The cast was was carefully selected. Interestingly, Mariene Dietrich turned down the lead female role, however she did later work with Orson Welles in Touch of Evil. After shooting, Orson Welles began the editing process. This was done with great difficulty. The editing process went out of hand while making Mr. Arkadin, Orson Welles surpassed the deadline Mr. Arkadin was supposed to be complete by. This left the producer, Louis Dolivet with the necessary decision to release Mr. Arkadin in several different versions. 

1. The Spanish version of Mr. Arkadin. Premiered in 1955. Contains some different actors from the English speaking versions.

2. A slightly different cut of the Spanish version.

3. Confidential Report the version that premiered in London in 1955. The editing was based off the original drafts of the script. One of the most simple cuts of the movies. 

4. The "Cornith" version. This was discovered by Peter Bogdanovich. This was a major release in 1962. Believed to be the closest to what Orson Welles wanted the film to be for the next 44 years.

5. A version that is now in public domain. Do yourself a favour... DO NOT WATCH THIS VERSION. Lots of the film is cut out. The dialogue and even the film itself does not make sense.
  
6. The greatest version of Mr. Arkadin is considered to be the 2006 Criterion Collection release. It uses all of the English speaking footage that could be found. It uses all of Orson Welles' scribbles that he wrote while making the movie. As well, when Orson Welles looked back he gave his thoughts on how this could have been better. The Criterion Collection followed those thoughts to make the greatest version of the film. That is the version I suggest you watch, as it is the version I watched.

I wish I knew more about the production of Mr. Arkadin, I've done lots of research but I can find very little. Mr. Arkadin was very hard for me to find. I bought it on Criterion for $50. I highly recommend it as it came with three disks and the novel "Mr. Arkadin".

THE PLOT:
A plane flies through the sky. A voice comes over. He explains that recently in the news a plane crashed. The following movie is a fictional accounting of that plane's crash. An old homeless man lies on the ground. He is tired and looks sick. A man runs over to the homeless man on the ground. The man who just ran in, his name is Guy Van Stratten. He worns the homeless man that he is in danger and that he most leave immediately. The old man refuses to move. Guy begins to tell his story in order to explain matters to the homeless man.

One day, Guy is working on the docks when suddenly a man runs through. He is firing his gun and being chased by another man. After a short firefight the first man lies on the ground, slowly dying. Guy hurries over to check if he is okay. The man looks up at him and explains that he will give him an a million dollar secret. He then whispers the word "Gregory Arkadin" before he passes away. After a jail sentence for smuggling cigarettes Guy returns to investigate this strange "Mr. Arkadin". After some quick research he comes up with a plan. He figures Arkadin's daughter will lead him to Mr. Arkadin himself.
   
One day Guy meets up with Arkadin's daughter and they start a relationship. A short amount of time passes and she invites him to a costume party being hosted by her father. It's here Guy and Arkadin first meet. Mr. Arkadin reveals to having a confidential report on Guy. It contains all of Guy's secrets. Needless to say, Guy is shocked. Mr. Arkadin then shares a secret of his own. According to Mr. Arkadin, he has amnesia from the beginning of his life. He does not know how he became a billionaire. He wants Guy to do a confidential report on Mr. Arakdin. Guy agrees, as he is getting paid. Guy investigates several people who would have been in contact with Arkadin in his younger years. 

All is well, until Guy discovers to many secrets. He learns more than Mr. Arkadin intended. This leaves Mr. Arkadin with one single choice. Can you guess what it is?

THE CRITICISM: 
Where do I start? I'll say my thoughts in the order they came to me while I was watching the movie.

First, I thought the fact that Orson Welles tied this around an event that actually happened recently in the news was very beneficial to the film. First off, it keeps you guessing how the two stories are going to intertwine. Finally, this is a fair bit of a social commentary. Nobody gave much thought to the pilot of the plane. Most people thought he was a drunken idiot. Perhaps, as cheesy as it sounds Mr. Arkadin taught us to look at both sides of the story before making any hasty desicions.

  The cinematography was very dark, shadowy and frightening at points. The film was beautiful during the night scenes. Sadly, the day scenes didn't shimmer quite the same.  I have a theory. As there was lots of contrast between blacks and whites (as the film was in black and white) I began to notice things. Perhaps this could be said for dozens of other films, but I noticed it while watching Mr. Arkadin, but in each frame whatever was shown in white was to be emphasized. The images in black represented the evil or darkness in this film. Of course, there are several exceptions.

I noticed, in lots of the shots, the camera was angled up towards the characters. What does this mean? Did Orson Welles just want some interesting angles? One thought that came to mind is that Orson Welles makes us look up at these characters, as if they're superior to us, when every character seems to be a criminal. 

  
Snappy dialogue is what makes film-noirs so very loved. Mr. Arkadin isn't considered to be a film-noir by most, but I would beg to differ. This has all the characteristics of a film-noir. The main characters who is up to no good, the femme-fatale, the villain and some of the best dialogue you'll ever hear. There's a scene when Guy intends to "get friendly" with Arkadin's daughter. Keep in mind, this is at a point where they haven't met before. The daughter is sitting with a man. He is told he there is a phone call for him. In wanders Guy over to Arkadin's daughter. He asks her to dance since it would take a while for her boyfriend to return. She refuses. Guy persists and says that the phonecall will take a long time since it's a long distance call. Arkadin's daughter refuses again. She then stops and asks Guy how he knew it was a long distance call. He smiles and explains because he placed the call himself. That's one quick example. A direct line I enjoyed was said in the film I believe by Michael Redgrave's character, here it is: "After 20,000 years murder is still a business in the hands of amateurs." No line summarizes Mr. Arkadin up than that one.

Even though I watched the best version of the movie, it was still very confusing. There are flashbacks, big names of characters to remember, the dialouge comes fast. If you can keep up you're doing great. Perhaps a re-watch would do myself better.

  Guy was played excellently by Robert Arden, an American actor who only had a large role in a movie once. That one movie was Mr. Arkadin. He did a great job playing a Fred MacMurray type character. It's tragic this was his only big role. The same can be said for Paola Mori. She was in about three movies. Mr. Arkadin, The Trial - in a role she wasn't even credited for and she also starred in Orson Welles' failure of a TV movie, Don Quixote. I have seen two of those, and I don't remember her in The Trial. She has been manipulated by two different men who love her in different ways. She is the one innocent character who deserves are sympathy.

Mr. Arkadin,
1955,
Directed by Orson Welles,
Starring: Robert Arden, Orson Welles, Paola Mori and Michael Redgrave
9/10 (A)

Ranked:
1. F for Fake
2. The Magnificent Ambersons
3. Touch of Evil
4. Mr. Arkadin
5. The Lady From Shanghai
6. Citizen Kane
7. Chimes at Midnight
8. The Trial 
9. The Stranger
10. Macbeth
11. Othello 

 

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Touch of Evil (1958)



THE FILM:
Touch of Evil PosterIt's always be considered to be one of (if not the) great film-noirs of all time. Touch of Evil is the second last movie by Orson Welles to be reviewed by me - and it's one of the best. Let's give you some facts about the production. It's not known exactly how Orson Welles ended up directing Touch of Evil, but there are two commonly known stories that give two reasonable explanations. Here is the first:

1. It is said that Universal originally wanted Welles only to star and they definitely wanted Charlton Heston to play the lead. However, Heston would only agree if there was a director involved with a good reputation. When he was told Orson Welles was in the cast he expressed more interest in starring in the film should Orson Welles direct. And so, Orson Welles did direct.


2. Orson Welles was friends with Albert Zugsmith and they were searching for a new screenplay for Welles' next film. Orson Welles (with his renowned ego) stated that he would like to select the worst screenplay they could find in order to prove that he could transform it into a masterwork of cinema. By the end, the worst script they could find was a novel called "Badge of Evil", based off a novel next to nobody read. Orson Welles did a re-write of the script, and then production became underway. 


Both of the possible stories lead to this point, so in dosen't really matter which is correct. A great cast of big stars was chosen for Touch of Evil. Janet Leigh who at that point had yet to work alongside with any great directors was surprised by the manner in which Orson Welles managed his actors. In her more recent days she reminisced about Touch of Evil and said this: 

File:Touch of Evil restored.jpeg
                  "It started with rehearsals. We rehearsed two weeks prior to shooting, which was unusual. We rewrote most of the dialogue, all of us, which was also unusual, and Mr. Welles always wanted our input. It was a collective effort, and there was such a surge of participation, of creativity, of energy. You could feel the pulse growing as we rehearsed. You felt you were inventing something as you went along. Mr. Welles wanted to seize every moment. He didn't want one bland moment. He made you feel you were involved in a wonderful event that was happening before your eyes."

I guess that really shows how unique Orson Welles was as a director. Anyway, after two Shakespear adaptations and Mr. Arkadin (which didn't even come to America until 1962) had left Universal with a sour taste in their mouth. However, after Orson Welles presented the original rough cut of Touch of Evil they decided Orson Welles had finally returned to making great movies. None the less, Universal Studios decided they had to cut it down. This is understandable considering as I watched in approximately a year ago for the first name I was struck by some of the content that would be deemed inappropriate at the time. For example, Touch of Evil contains rape, strip clubs, blood, mild profanity and a murder scene that holds up with the intense shaky camera effects in modern movies - all of which were un-seen in most 1958 movies. 


Surprisingly, Touch of Evil was not a box-office success. However it received quality reviews, even one from Francois Truffaut, a French director who went on to become one of the greatest filmmakers of the century. Even though Touch of Evil was not a major hit in 1958, it's a major hit now as it is considered to be one of the greatest films of all time.

THE PLOT:


A Mexican police officer named Ramon is forced to put his honeymoon into a sudden stop when a American building contractor is killed, by a bomb under his car. The American is killed on the American side of the boarder, however, it's clear that the bomb was planted when he was still on the Mexican side of the boarder. Captain Quinlan is the police officer in charge of the U.S investigation suspect a Mexican named Sanchez is involved in the bombing. However, Ramon witnesses Quinlan planting evidence in Sanchez's apartment  After hiding his wife in a hotel, Ramon reviews Quinlan's older cases only to discover that he's been a corrupt cop for a long time. That's only the first of his problems. The Grandi family (a notorious crime family) has come seeking revenge on Ramon, and what better place to start than on his wife?


THE CRITICISM:
 
All my life I have wanted to see one thing: Charlton Heston... in a good performance  Finally, I saw it in Touch of Evil. Although he does not give the greatest performance of the film, he gives the greatest performance of his career - even though he was playing a Mexican and he never even attempted to do a Mexican accent. 

It's thought that Orson Welles gained weight for this movie, all though that is incorrect. He gained lots of weight around Mr. Arkadin. None the less, the character of Quinlan was horrifying. He looked like a nightmare and Orson Welles quiet evil eyes made him feel like one. Sadly, I do have a problem with the character. Here is a man, he made it into the police force long ago and slowly made his way up until he reached the position of captain. He planted evidence in practically every case he could not solve... and yet nobody noticed until now? It's hard to expand your disbelief and accept Quinlan as a man who is plain evil. But then again, most film-noirs have a character who is plain evil.

There is a seen where Quinlan sneaks up on a man and strangles him. This scene uses quick cuts, flashing lights and a shaky camera - all of which would become popular 40 years later. Therefor, you can say Orson Welles invented that kind of camera work.

Finally, I would like to say if you watch Touch of Evil prepare to be shocked.

Touch of Evil,
1958,
Directed by Orson Welles,
Starring: Charlton Heston, Janet Leigh and Orson Welles
9/10 (A)

Ranked:
1. F for Fake
2. The Magnificent Ambersons
3. Touch of Evil
4. The Lady From Shanghai
5. Citizen Kane
6. Chimes at Midnight
7. The Trial
8. The Stranger
9. Macbeth
10. Othello


Monday, 31 December 2012

The Magnificent Ambersons (1942)


THE FILM:
After Citizen Kane Orson Welles could do anything, so he did The Magnificent Ambersons, a film that is considered by several critics including myself to be highly underrated. Their budget was $850, 000  - most of which was used to build the main set, an extravagant mansion. This set was later used to shoot several low-budget horror movies. Little is known about the pre-production, most likely since it wasn't a particularly interesting pre-production. However, there is quite a story that took place in post-production.

The Magnificent Ambersons was 148 minutes long. It was previewed to an audience and the public reception wasn't extremely positive. Welles thought that the film could use a few scenes to be cut out so film editor Robert Wise (who later went on to direct some of the most successful Hollywood movies of all time) cut out several minutes. The movie was previewed once again, but sadly there was no improving in the audience's opinion. RKO was then given the film to cut it down. They cut out 40 minutes and forced Orson Welles to re-shoot such things as the ending. RKO was unsatisfied with his down-beat ending and they wanted a happier one, like the one in the novel it was based off. Orson Welles was to say the least angered. He said "They destroyed Ambersons, and 'it' destroyed me." Even though so much was cut out, this is still a masterpiece. However, one can always wonder what the original cut looked like.

THE PLOT:

Our story begins around the late 1800s or the early 1900s. There lives a young, handsome and wild man named Eugene. He falls in love with Isabel Amberson, daughter of a very wealthy family. Unfortunately for Eugene, Isabel selects Wilbur Minafter as her spouse. Together they have a child named George. Being their first child, Isabel and Wilbur are unaware how to raise George. Therefore, George is raised as selfish and spoiled. 

Time goes by. Wilbur has passed away leaving Isabel as a widow. Then one day, Eugene returns. He is now a very successful widower. When he lays his eyes upon Isabel he is immediately re-stricken with the love that had blinded him years ago. Once more, Eugene asks Isabel to marry him. Unlike the previous attempts, Isabel accepts this time. This does not meet with George's approval. With the help of his aunt, Fanny, George tries to sabotage Isabel's romance with Eugene. This begins to create a disaster in the Amberson family.

THE CRITICISM:

The Magnificent Ambersons dares to do what few modern movies would dare to do. We meet these characters  we understand their personalities. Some characters we respect, some we hate and some we can relate to. No character is evil, because from what I sense, Orson Welles did not believe in plain and sheer evil. Every character in this has something that drives them, something that makes them realistic. 

What a cast, indeed! In the main male lead role, we have Joseph Cotten. Personally  he is among my favourite actors. He is a very versatile actor, and this is the living proof. In Shadow of a Doubt, Joseph Cotten played a deranged serial killer, a completely different roll than the one in this. Let me say this, in classic Hollywood movies the characters are all so perfect - except for the evil characters who try to create problems for no apparent reason. This makes it difficult to truly relate to anyone. However, The Magnificent Ambersons allows you to sympathize with these people because they feel human. Joseph Cotten takes on the role of Eugene.

I would like to comment on Tim Holt's performance as well. He took on this role very well, even though most of the time we wanted to strangle him.

Also, although Orson Welles was never seen in the entire movie, I felt he did an excellent job refraining from showcasing himself. He took a small role as the narrator, a role that was suited for his interesting voice.

This will be something odd to discuss, but I felt that the end credits were superb. Allow we to attempt to explain my feelings. These credits don't feature any text, only the narrator and quick video clips on the screen. You can see them here. These credits are very similalr to what Orson Welles did in The Trial, however The Magnificent Ambersons does it better.

There is one last positive things left to discuss. The Amberson's towering mansion left me in awe. The set designers did a fabulous job making the Ambersons' wealth believable. 

I have a slight quibble with this. Although I said the characters were quite realistic, I don't feel that the issues these characters had to deal with are such that anyone will ever have to in real life. The tragedies that seem to be piling on these people will make you raise an eyebrow. Orson Welles' did a great job paying attention to detail however he did miss a slight portion of the main focus.

All in all, The Magnificent Ambersons is a masterpiece of period dramas that has something to say about social life and the greed, jealousy and betrayal in all humans. 

The Magnificent Ambersons,
1942,
Directed by Orson Welles,
Starring: Joseph Cotten, Anne Baxter, Tim Holt
9.5/10 (A+)

Ranked:

1. F for Fake
2. The Magnificent Ambersons
3. The Lady From Shanghai
4. Citizen Kane
5. Chimes At Midnight
6. The Trial
7. The Stranger
8. Macbeth
9. Othello


The Trial (1962)

THE FILM:

In 1925 a novel by the famous surrealist author Franz Kafka was published. This novel was called "The Trial" and since then it has been considered to be among his greatest works. In 1962, once again Orson Welles adapted a famous literary masterpiece into a film. In a interview Orson Welles claimed that The Trial was his greatest movie. Sadly, The Trial was watched by a very few amount of people. Now, the movie is in public domain. It's very difficult to find since it's never had a official home video release. This movie stars Anthony Perkins, who later claimed that his greatest pride was being able to work in a Orson Welles movie.

THE PLOT:

There's something bizarre going on. Josef K. notices this one morning when he is awakened by two police officers in his small but cozy apartment. The two officers of the law refuses to tell him what his charges are and why he is being arrested. The cops then leave, and Josef K. goes to his office where he is told off by his superior officers for having had sexual relations with his teenage cousin. After, Josef K. goes to the opera where he is arrested by an officer. This officer takes Josef K. to the court where he witnesses another man in the same predicament as Josef K. being punished in federal court. After, Josef K. meets up with his uncle who hires a lawyer to defend Josef K. The lawyer's mistress suggests that Josef K. should go visit Titorelli, a man who paints portraits of the judges in court. He feels Titorelli can put in a good word for Josef K. However, this is proved unhelpful. Then one day, Josef is apprehended by the cops once more. They take for a long trek into the desert where they throw him into a pit. SPOILER AHEAD! The cops then leave Josef as he laughs hysterically as a stick of dynamite explodes under him.

THE CRITIQUING:

The Good: Orson Welles' movie is a quality adaptation. I very much enjoyed the manner in which it was shot. It used shadows to tell the story. Much like the last Orson Welles' movie I reviewed, Othello, The Trial's most memorable moments are due to the cinematography. It's clear that the cinematographer Edmond Richard is a treasure. He worked with Orson Welles again in Chimes at Midnight. After that, it seemed Luis Bunuel took notice of him and used him in two of his movie. After that, Edmond Richard did not do any major films. It's tragic such a great cinematographer goes unnoticed.

Most of the time when somebody adapts a novel into a movie, they read the book and usually take most of the same dialogue, especially in older movies. Orson Welles did indeed take some dialogue from the novel however the order this takes place in differs greatly from the book. The order that the chapters take place in in the movie is 1,4,2,5,6,3,8,7,9,10.

Also, I liked the metaphor that was used at the start of the film. It felt as though it echoed out and surrounded the rest of movie. I won't spoil this quick sequence in the opening of the movie, since it was a delightful moment that made this movie more likable.

The Bad: Recently, the movie Cloud Atlas was released. I remember I once went on Rotten Tomatoes and it said the critical consensus was 'a beautiful mess'. Perhaps the word 'beautiful' doesn't best represent The Trial, but the word 'mess' definitely does. The Trial is a cinematic mess. Don't get me wrong, I understand that this is surrealism but I have an odd feeling the Orson Welles does not have Kafka's genius within him. Kafka could make his stories naturally bizarre. Orson Welles had to try to live up to the scattered mind of Franz Kafka, and you can tell there is something of a difference between their ideas. What I am trying to say is, unlike the novel "The Trial", Orson Welles' movie does not flow as nicely.


The Trial,
1962,
Directed by Orson Welles,
Starring: Orson Welles, Anthony Perkins, Jeanne Moreau
8/10 (A-)

Ranked:

1. F For Fake
2. The Lady From Shanghai
3. Citizen Kane
4. Chimes At Midnight
5. The Trial
6. The Stranger
7. Macbeth
8. Othello