Described by Richard Linklater as the ‘patron saint of independent filmmakers,’ Orson Welles stands as a formidable figure in the pantheon of all-time greats. As a director he changed the rules of filmmaking in a time when cinema was still a fledgling art form. In the golden era of Hollywood he was funding his own films and passionately fighting for creative control. Tragically, for many his name became synonymous only with Citizen Kane. Given the magnitude of the film this may seem like a strange statement. However, the towering status of his debut feature has overshadowed some of the other incredible films he has made. With the centenary of his birth Chapter Arts are running a season giving audiences the chance to become acquainted with the other wonderful films of the profoundly gifted Orson Welles.
Citizen Kane (Sun 06 Sep – Tue 08 Sep)
Widely recognised by many critics as the greatest film of all time, Citizen Kane requires little to no introduction. As a loosely veiled satire of media tycoon William Randolph Hearst the film was the centre of much controversy upon its initial release. Hearst endeavoured to destroy the film’s chances of success by banning any mention of it in the media outlets he owned. Despite unanimous praise from critics at the time, and nine Oscar nominations, the film failed at the box office. As a result RKO restricted Welles’ creative freedom on his next project and began a life long struggle against invasive studios. The film remains a long standing success because of its revolutionary use of visual and storytelling techniques. With Citizen Kane Welles weaved German Expressionist cinema with the work of American pioneers, such as John Ford, to create a masterpiece that changed film forever. Timeless, relevant and enthralling. If you haven’t seen it already then Chapter is the best place to introduce yourself.
The Lady from Shanghai (Sun 13 Sep – Tue 15 Sep)
As with most of his artistic endeavours, Welles’ left his stamp firmly on Film Noir with his fourth feature The Lady from Shanghai. Telling the story of a sailor (Welles) who becomes entangled in a labyrinthine murder plot, a chance encounter with a mysterious woman (Rita Hayworth) leads him to become a crew member on a yacht. Although it was well received in Europe the film was considered to be a failure in its native country. Being one of the first Hollywood films to be shot almost entirely on location it sparked another battle between Welles and the studio. As a result reshoots were crowbarred in and edits were made, much to the director’s horror. The highly influential funhouse shootout was cut from its intended length of twenty minutes to a mere three. However, regardless of such a drastic cut, the scene remains a staple of the genre and the film itself a staple of the man’s career.
Touch of Evil (Sun 20 Sep – Tue 22 Sep)
Marking a second foray into Film Noir, and the end of the genre’s classic era, Touch of Evil is another testament to the genius of Orson Welles. Beginning with one of the most remarkable long takes in cinematic history, the film displays visual flair in abundance. When a bomb explodes after crossing the American border broiling tension envelops the relationship between Mexico and the United States. Despite the bizarre casting of Charlton Heston as a Mexican the film boasts fantastic performances from an all-star cast. Janet Leigh plays Heston’s wife and strikes the perfect balance between strength and vulnerability. Welles counteracts Heston’s principled idealism as the gruff lumbering Hank Quinlan whose game-leg twitches with intuition. With a Touch of Evil Welles made an important contribution to the cannon of American cinema. Arguably his second best, essential viewing? Certainly.
The Magnificent Ambersons (Sun 27 Sep – Tue 29 Sep)
The Magnificent Ambersons encapsulates much of what was to characterise Welles’ directorial career. Whilst this includes beautiful cinematography and strong performances, regretfully it also means studio interference. After the film was poorly received in two preview screenings the studio rallied together to try and mould it into something more traditional. With this came the removal of over forty minutes of Welles’ original footage and reshoots that drastically reshaped the film. This tinkering led to the ending being changed for something more uplifting. Yet the strength of the director’s vision shines through as The Magnificent Ambersons is considered to be one of the greatest films of all time. Charting the disintegration of a wealthy family at the turn of the century Welles’ second picture is a deeply moving story with profound themes of nostalgia, decline and loss. As a symbol of a troubled and defiantly brilliant career it is the perfect way to close a season honouring one of the true cinematic auteurs.
The Mercury Theatre Live on Air (Sat 05 Sep – Sat 19 Sep)
Alongside screenings of some of his greatest films Chapter are hosting listening events for Welles’ radio work. Included is the notorious adaptation of The War of the Worlds which, disguised as an orchestral music program, created panic in unwitting listeners. Welles cut his teeth with the theatre and radio and listening to these programs provides fascinating insight into the man who would later conquer the world of cinema. Tickets are free but must be booked by contacting Chapter Arts’ box office. As well as The War of the Worlds there will also be listening events for Dracula and The Immortal Sherlock Holmes.
Chapter Arts begins its Orson Welles season with the documentary Magician: The Astonishing Life and Work of Orson Welles (Fri 28 Aug – Wed 2 Sep). Don’t miss the chance to celebrate the man and his work.