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Tribute for Orson Welles



Published: Sat, June 25, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



A retrospective of his films and career is being presented starting July 2.

By MILAN PAURICH

VINDICATOR CORRESPONDENT

To help celebrate its 20th anniversary, the Cleveland Cinematheque is hosting their first-ever Orson Welles retrospective beginning July 2.

Entitled "Hall of Mirrors: The Films of Orson Welles," the eight-week-long series includes all the usual suspects (including "Citizen Kane," "The Magnificent Ambersons" and "Touch of Evil"), as well as "Hearts of Age," a 1934 Welles short co-directed with William Vance, and three programs of tantalizing rarities including "The Fountain of Youth," a Peabody Award-winning 1958 film that Welles made for television.

Welles (1915-1985) remains one of the most venerated, if tragic, figures in motion picture history. Although "Citizen Kane," Welles' 1941 feature directing debut, is widely considered to be the greatest movie ever made -- it has topped Sight & amp; Sound magazine's list of the best films of all time for 43 consecutive years -- the consensus is that Welles' post-"Kane" career was a depressing anti-climax.

"Hall of Mirrors" is Cinematheque curator John Ewing's bid to debunk that popular theory.

"Welles is my all-time favorite filmmaker," Ewing said in a recent interview. "He took advantage of -- and expanded -- the film medium's visual and aural possibilities more than any director. He's also the classic case of the artist at odds with the money-driven Hollywood establishment. Despite serious setbacks, he made one brilliant and distinctive movie after another."

Epic achievements

Ewing promises new or good existing prints of almost every film in the retrospective.

Certainly "The Magnificent Ambersons," the elegiac 1942 Booth Tarkington adaptation that followed "Kane," belongs on every short list of the "all-time greatest" films.

Even though RKO chopped 60 minutes from Welles' original cut (and destroyed all negatives), some critics actually prefer "Ambersons" to "Kane," lauding it as the more mature, emotionally resonant work.

Welles' delirious 1958 pulp fiction "Touch of Evil" -- relegated to the bottom half of double-bills by Universal during its original run -- finally received its due thanks to a 1998 re-release.

And historians agree that Welles' daringly innovative Shakespearean adaptations ("Macbeth," "Othello" and "Chimes at Midnight") deserve to be ranked among the finest screen translations of the Bard's work. (Several Welles scholars laud 1966's "Chimes" as the director's crowning achievement.)

Fall from grace

As famous for the movies he never got to finish ("Don Quixote," "It's All True" and the legendary "The Other Side of the Wind" whose only existing footage has remained buried in a vault for more than three decades) as for his countless masterpieces, Welles' professional life ironically mirrored that of his most famous protagonist.

Charles Foster Kane and Welles were both trapped in myths of their own design.

Like many great American artists, the Kenosha, Wis., native was held in far greater esteem in Europe than in the U.S.

Welles' final decades were mostly spent globe-hopping, desperately trying to drum up financing for his various film projects. The results were largely fruitless and often demoralizing.

Unexplored Welles

On August 27th, Gary and Jillian Graver, co-founders of L.A.'s Orson Welles Archives, will be at the Cinematheque to present "Unseen Welles," a compilation of ultra-rare Welles esoterica and buried treasures from their personal collection.

Gary Graver is the cinematographer who shot such Welles films as "F for Fake," "Filming Othello" and "The Other Side of the Wind." Besides film director Peter Bogdanovich, he was probably Welles' closest friend and colleague during the last 15 years of his life.

The real deal

For those whose only memories of Welles are as the dulcet voice of Paul Masson wine, or the wheezing old fat man who huffed and puffed his way into "The Tonight Show" studio audience doing silly magic tricks, it's time to become acquainted with the genius whose films seem even more profound and revelatory today than they did at the time of their initial release.

If D.W. Griffith invented the vocabulary of cinema, and John Ford taught the fledgling artform grammar, Orson Welles was the poet visionary who made it speak in verse.




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