This first week in September is the time for the Orson Welles Blogathon, which I’ve titled “Some Kind of a Man,” and I’m really excited about it! This is my first movie blogathon in over two years and marks my return to movie blogging, which I used to do a lot. Orson Welles is a big subject, and the bloggers who have signed on this far have done a bang-up job in exploring various parts of his indelible legacy, not just in cinema, but in radio and television too.
Here are recaps and highlights of the blogathon’s first entries. Highlights from the entries are excerpted here, but check out the full articles which are linked.
Andrew from The Stop Button is eager to talk about the visual composition, the pacing and the character dynamics of Welles’s 1947 noir entry, The Lady from Shanghai.
The Lady from Shanghai moves very quickly. It runs just under ninety minutes, with a present action of five or six months. However long it takes to sail from New York City to San Francisco, through the Panama Canal, with some extended stops in Mexico, plus a murder trial. There’s a lot of summary, always ably narrated by writer, director, producer, and star Welles. Welles is a world-traveling Irish sailor who meets Rita Hayworth one night in Central Park, while he’s waiting to find a ship out. Welles, who tries the Irish charm on Hayworth at first sight, ends up saving her from some muggers. He takes her to safety, they talk, they flirt, and wouldn’t you know it, she’d love to hire him on to sail her yacht.
Oh, and she’s married.
So Welles, in the first and last smart thing he does in Shanghai, says no. But when he gets another chance in the form of Hayworth’s much older husband, played by Everett Sloane, shows up to beg him, Welles takes it. He’s feeling way too young, strong, and virile comparing himself to Sloane, who’s a disabled person. He’s also an extremely wealthy lawyer. And he calls Hayworth “lover” in a way it makes everyone’s skin crawl and almost seems like Sloane knows he’s having that effect. Even though Welles is narrating the film, he never reveals his character’s hopes and dreams when he signs on to the yacht. He’s infatuated with Hayworth, yes, but he’s also got a sidekick along, fellow able-bodied seaman and not yacht guy Gus Schilling, and he soon finds out everyone around Sloane’s very, very weird. Like Sloane’s business partner, Glenn Anders, who’s a sweaty drunk.
We jump from Welles’s relatively early career to a point later in his life, the 1970s, when he was living on the island of Ibiza and trying to finance The Other Side of the Wind. During that tumultuous time he made this gem, highly underrated and overlooked.
I won’t spoil the central gimmick of F for Fake except to warn you, as a viewer, not to trust everything Welles says–and to check your watch when he promises to tell the truth for the next hour. In addition to playing fast and loose with facts, Welles toys with the audience’s expectations. There are unwritten rules to certain movies about when you expect to be tricked, and when you expect to be told the truth. The point Welles makes in F for Fake is the line dividing those expectations is basically arbitrary. And the point is even more meta when you realize it applies beyond movies: to the art market, for instance, or the literary world too. That Welles finds it all funny, and believes all of us are essentially gullible dupes, would be insulting if he wasn’t so charming, easy-going and up front about the only thing he says in the film that’s inviolably true: that Welles himself is just as fake as everyone else in the movie.
Admittedly, F for Fake, unconventional as it is, isn’t for everyone. When it came out in the mid-70s critics and audiences alike were baffled and disdainful, and in a sense you can’t blame them. It’s hard to pin down just what this film is. It’s not a documentary in the journalistic style: Welles’s eye is far short of impartial, and in any event too much of the movie is fictional to really qualify as a documentary. The film tries hard to make its characters, particularly Elmyr, likeable, but succeeds mostly in emphasizing how sad they are; the real Elmyr de Hory, penniless and hounded by the authorities for his forgeries and his sexuality, committed suicide in 1976. Clifford Irving doesn’t come off too well either. Irving spins his overblown theories about Elmyr while his pet spider monkey, perched on his shoulder, picks dandruff out of his scraggly 1972-era sideburns; not a good look. Almost everybody Welles shows us is cynically fraudulent. Only Kodar hovers above the fray, worshiped by Welles’s camera, like Bo Derek in “10” with furs and boots instead of a swimsuit.
Le, who blogs in English and Portuguese, chose to examine the 2014 documentary that throws a rope around Welles’s life and career, and in doing so serves as a retrospective of his entire body of work. There is some very insightful stuff here, including a view of Welles from the standpoint of personal experience.
Welles goes from being a “wonder boy” to an “outsider” to a “gypsy” to catching “the road back” until he becomes “the master”. These are the titles given to the five chapters of the documentary “Magician: the Astonishing Life and Work of Orson Welles.” I’ve written before about how I see myself in Orson Welles, and why being a child prodigy is at the same time a blessing and a curse. If my life really mirrors his, the documentary showed me what I can expect next–even if I’m 26 and haven’t made my “Citizen Kane” yet.
I was really hoping someone would choose to do Welles’s extensive work in TV and radio commercials at the end of his life. Gill stepped up to the plate and gives us a veritable smorgasbord of “Welles-splaining!”
There’s something quite nice about Orson Welles mansplaining on how to play this game from the early eighties. Welles tells us with a wee hint of glee when he tells us he won this game, which I’ve never played (and chances are he hadn’t either). But I’d definitely want to play, if he mansplained all the ins and outs of this game with that voice that could melt butter.
Of course when this advert came out in the 1980s I wouldn’t have known who this narrator was. Welles does come over as quite an avuncular – but sinister – character in this ad for this electronic game. Shortly after this game’s release, it was subject of a law case then the game was removed from the shelves with only a small number of these games sold. The original copies of these games, can be now bought for about 180 euros for the full game or 9 to 10 euros for a wee playing piece. Looking into it on the internet, it appears this game is hoping to make a return, but would you want to “return back in time to the medieval dark tower”?
I want to thank everyone who has taken part in the “Some Kind of a Man” blogathon. Hopefully there will be other articles drifting in from all corners of the blogosphere over the coming days. I’ll post links and highlights here. Now, I’m going to go have a glass of Paul Masson!