The words “some kind of a man” are at once perfect and also inadequate to describe Orson Welles, one of the greatest and most enigmatic showmen of the 20th century. As a director and a visionary, he helped to build the art form of cinema and arguably took it to its highest peaks: Citizen Kane (1941) is regarded by many critics as the greatest picture ever made, and generations of film classes will continue to study his other films like Touch of Evil or The Trial. Welles’s flamboyant acting style and especially his unforgettable baritone voice lent gravitas to any production he appeared in. Yet his perfectionist and arguably narcissistic personality, together with his inability to play by anyone’s rules but his own, doomed him at the end of his life to ignominies like narrating fake history documentaries and appearing in ludicrous Paul Masson wine commercials. Welles’s life story as well as his work are something of a Greek tragedy writ large in Hollywood and outside of it.
Welles, his body of work, and movies made about him are the perfect subject for a blogathon. That’s why I’m hosting one, at the beginning of September 2019, to bring together movie bloggers and readers to reexamine and interrogate the amazing work, life and impact of one George Orson Welles. Scroll down for the rules and how you can participate; but first, let’s take a brief look at our subject and try to figure out how and why he had such an outsized impact on movies.
Welles was born in Kenosha, Wisconsin in 1915. Fawned upon as a boy genius with an innate Mozart-like talent at a young age, family difficulties and his impetuous nature brought Welles to Ireland in 1931 where he got his first stage acting role. It was the start of a meteoric career. Returning to the United States at the height of the Depression, a New Deal theatre project gave him his first big break, a bizarre but compelling voodoo-themed production of Macbeth with an all African-American cast. It was Welles’s audacious and manipulative Halloween eve radio play of War of the Worlds in 1938 that launched him into Hollywood’s orbit with a deal a studio (RKO) had never given anyone before, and never would again: a true blank check to make whatever he wanted. Citizen Kane was the controversial–and magnificent–result.
Welles’s career never again reached that height. The studio butchered his next picture, The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), and he got the reputation of being the worst of Hollywood epithets, “difficult.” Triumphs followed occasionally in the 1950s and 1960s, but Welles’s visions grew beyond mere Hollywood commercialism. In a way, his late career is even more interesting than his early one. A self-exiled expatriate living on the island of Ibiza with his muse and lover Oja Kodar, grossly obese and so broke at one point he was doing commercials for frozen peas, Welles continued to chip away at what he felt was his life’s ultimate project: The Other Side of the Wind. Even his death in 1985 couldn’t stop his final picture. The Other Side of the Wind finally saw completion just last year, in 2018, and its strange images and sardonic wit represent nothing less than Welles’s big-bellied baritone laugh emanating from his grave one last time.
So, movie or history bloggers, let’s get started in examining the gestalt of all things Orson Welles. From September 1 to 7, 2019, post on your own blog an article about a film somehow connected with Orson Welles. It can be a film he directed or wrote, a film he starred in, or even a movie about him; several excellent and interesting films have been made about Welles and his life, with the auteur himself being portrayed by Liev Schrieber (RKO 281, 1999), Christian McKay (Me and Orson Welles, 2009) and Vincent D’Onofrio (Ed Wood, 1994). Hell, if you wanted to write about the Paul Masson commercials, that’s fine too! Use the banners at the bottom of this article on your own social media to promote the event. I will reblog at least some (though, depending on how many there are, possibly not all) of the blog entries here on SeanMunger.com. The best articles will be analyses of the films and how Welles’s vision comes through, as opposed to simply reviews of his movies.
Selecting a movie to blog about: Welles’s credits are too lengthy to list all of them here, and even a filmography wouldn’t pick up all the movies made about him. I suggest browsing his biography article on Wikipedia for ideas. Post in the comments to this article the film you want to do and I’ll reserve it for you. You may also email me your selection at Sean@SeanMunger.com or use the contact form at the bottom of this article. Let’s try to avoid repeats if at all possible; first-come, first-served. I would like to do, on my own blog, analyses of two of Welles’s later productions, F For Fake (1973) and The Other Side of the Wind (2018). But if you’d like to to do one of those, I’ll be willing to reserve an additional spot (one each, first come first served) for those movies.
So let’s watch some movies, enhance our blogs, and find out what makes Orson Welles tick. I look forward to reading everyone’s blogs in September!
Special: Welles’s Radio Work with Mercury Theater (1938)
The Lady From Shanghai (1947)
Touch of Evil (1958)
F for Fake (1973)
Magician: The Astonishing Life and Work of Orson Welles (2014)
The Other Side of the Wind (2018)
Check back in September!