Sunday, June 24, 2012

For Three-Word Wednesday, Magpie 123 and ABC Wednesday


One of the advantages, if there are any, of having reached an advanced age is that one was alive when great historical events took place.
I remember what a shock it was for those of us in the military when they exploded the atomic bomb in ’45.
Putting aside the moral question of whether they should or should not have done so, for me, after nearly four years’ service mostly in the south Pacific, it meant that I’d finally get to go home.
A few years earlier, in the American film industry, there was also a huge explosion, almost equaling the atomic bomb in importance.
It was titled “Citizen Kane.”
As I’m sure you know, there are those who claim that this movie was the greatest film ever made.
As a guy very interested in cinema I tried to learn all I could about Orson Welles, the young genius who made the picture. I know, “genius” is a term that should be used sparingly, but the more I learned about this wunderkind the more I thought it might be appropriate.
I mean, come on. An established, and sought-after, professional theatrical producer-director while still a teenager? Responsible for wildly innovative Shakespeare on Broadway…
Not to mention his radio production of “The War of the Worlds,” the most famous broadcast in the history of radio, which scared the bejasus out of thousands of Americans who heard it and who were convinced that very unpleasant not to mention ghastly critters from outer space had come to pulverize the general population and they had landed in Grover’s Mill, New Jersey.
But topping all this was the atomic bomb I mentioned earlier, the film about Charles Foster Kane.
I studied Welles’ career for years and I have come to a reluctant conclusion. Let me explain.
In the years after “Kane,” Orson made other films. I saw them and I was puzzled.
Movies like “Touch of Evil.” When I saw his later motion pictures, I found myself asking, Orson Welles made this? Of course, I realized Welles was hampered by film industry front-office types, but even so the difference in quality was striking.
Then I had a Eureka moment, I read about how “Kane” was made.
For his first movie, Welles found a script-writer who was writing radio plays for “The Campbell Playhouse” named Herman J Mankiewicz. The idea was to write a sort of expose of – you might even call it a taunting of - William Randolph Hearst, and Orson told Mank, as he was called, to come up with a first draft of a screen play.
Mankiewicz did and Welles worked on it.
“Citizen Kane” was not an Orson Welles film; it was an Orson Welles-Herman J Mankiewicz film. Perhaps because I was a script-writer and taught script-writing for years, I was impressed that the motion picture industry accused Orson of greatly underplaying the Mankiewicz importance to the success of the movie.
Mind you, I’m still one who claims Welles was a genius. The script aside, it was he who whose distinctive directorial style created a marvelous new, for the time, film experience.
In these days when X-rated movies are considered to be almost middle-of-the-road, it may be hard to remember a time when Orson’s film style was regarded as revolutionary. There were his unforgettable camera angles and his wildly innovative use of sound (which he had learned during his days in radio). The fact that he knew little about how to make a movie turned out to be an advantage.
He wanted a long shot with the background and foreground both in focus; he was told such a lens didn’t exist. Build it, he said; and they did.
I’m with those who believe that “Kane” is one of the greatest films ever made, but it wasn’t just Orson’s movie; it was an Orson Welles-Herman J Mankiewicz co-production.
(Also submitted to Sunday Scribblings)

46 comments:

Roger Owen Green said...

That Xplains a lot.
BTW, I really must watch Citizen Kane. I started it once on video, and fell asleep.

Jinksy said...

I agree on the camera angles, too.
(Perhaps you should try again to link to Magpie? Did you highlight the title of your post before you copy/pasted it into the Linky? Just a thought...) Good luck with a second attempt...

Tess Kincaid said...

And I was expecting his Macbeth with the coffee table crown! Nice post Mr. B...

gsb said...

I have never been a movie buff nor do I know anything about screen writing. I really enjoyed this post because it taught me something that I never knew. Thanks for a little knowledge that I can try to impress people with. Old Grizz

Bee's Blog said...

I too am a Wells fan but yes, the screenwriter should have been given major credit by way of "an Orson Welles- Hermann J Mankiewicz co-production." Thank you for this interesting piece of history.

One of the most frightening things I ever watched was Wells narrating "Nostradamus". I saw it in the 80s. I'm not so sure that I'd be that frightened if I watched it now.

kaykuala said...

Olsen Welles is a genius in film making,script writing and in using Markiewitz's expertise. Managing people is a great challenge. But I appreciate most the narration and info in your posting as always. Great write Berowne!

Hank

Berowne said...

Jinksy: "Perhaps you should try again to link to Magpie?"
Well, it seems it blocked me but didn't block other people Which is good news. Thanks for the info.

Berowne said...

Tess K: "And I was expecting his Macbeth with the coffee table crown!"
"Coffee table crown" - I like it! :-) (And to think it was all pre-IKEA.)

Jinksy said...

I've put another linky in for you, at No. 36 - works fine, as far as I can tell...

robkistner said...

...this was an engaging piece, enjoyed the depth of your insight, and your obvious passion in writing it...

Linda said...

Screen writing? I always imagined what fabulous work screenwriting would be. You write persuasively, so I imagine you were good at what you did. I certainly always enjoy what you write for the Mag. Orson Welles was a great talent. Thank you for this, Berowne.

Berowne said...

Linda: "I certainly always enjoy what you write for the Mag."
Thanks so much, Linda Mujer.

Lyn said...

Millions were fooled by his Martians...today millions are still fooled by none so clever. About that lens..he said build it.. and they came...
... ever grateful for your knowledge..

zongrik said...

that was very interesting. i especially liked the part about him not knowing about film making was an advantage.

done for

Brian Miller said...

wells is def one that revolutionize the way things were done...very clever....some times the less we know the more room we have to work with...

Berowne said...

Jinksy: "I've put another linky in for you, at No. 36."
You are a true Good Samaritan, Jinks - thanks so much.

rosemary mint said...

Thanks for filling me in about what movie this is. I didn't know anything about it. :)

I do, of course, recognize the title, despite the fact that I haven't seen the movie.

chiccoreal said...

Dear Berowne: A fascinating foray into the world of directors; Orson Welles. I think he was not loved by Randolphe Hearst for Citizen Kane, and his career nose-dived after Citizen Kane. The price of being a great innovator, I suppose. Citizen Kane was "da Bomb"...(no not THAT bomb). Was this the beginning of the red scare?

Kutamun said...

Thanks cor the unique insights , Berowne ! . Impossible dor us to imagine today what it must have been like to have your life forged in the crucible of the greatest cataclysmic horrors mankind has ever known, ( or hopefully ever will know). I grew up working on the farms of some returned diggers , my hat is off to you all. Quite right, the circumstances that spawned it all and the way it ended were way betond the control of the boys and girls who were asked to see it through.

Roy Schulze said...

I recently watched "Arena - The Orson Welles Story" created in 1982 by Leslie Megahey and was impressed by the way Orson seemed entirely willing to share the credit for the works that have been attached to the boy genius. Well worth a watch. Email me directly, and I'll arrange to get it to you.

My contribution this week is here.

Karen S. said...

This was very interesting indeed!

Berowne said...

Roy S: "Orson seemed entirely willing to share the credit."
After the film industry accused Welles of downplaying Mankiewicz's contribution, Welles justified this by saying: "At the end, naturally, I was the one making the picture."

Sue said...

My husband recognized this photo right away. I didn't, and I thank you for expanding my knowledge a bit further than the hubby did.

=)

Sharp Little Pencil said...

Berowne, thanks for clearing up a detail that has puzzled me for years. I mean, Welles also cast Charlton Heston as a Mexican, so, where's the genius there? And the Manaschewitz commercials??

Just kidding. Welles is also underappreciated these days because no one sees even Kane in context, considers his innovations... and the Mank info explains SO MUCH. I'm a student of old movies, of the intersection between Hollywood and the McCarthy era (sweet old Burl Ives sang like a canary), so this was manna.

I always learn from you, Berowne. You are a wonderful teacher, historian, and man. Amy
http://sharplittlepencil.com/2012/06/25/youre-eeeeek-uh/

Berowne said...

That was a very moving comment, Amy, especially that last part. No question; you are somethin' special. Thanks so much.

manicddaily said...

Dear Berowne, I enjoyed your post. I am not really such a fan of Orson Welles as it has been very hard for me to get over his ego. I know actors have to have it! And directors even more so! And he perhaps deserved it, but I find it very distracting in everything.

I really enjoyed your post though.

K.

Helena said...

I've never been an Orson Welles kinda gal but you're giving credit where it's rightly due. Singling genius isn't always fair.

Little Nell said...

I did enjoy this informative post. I’ve learned something new today, both about Welles and about you! Thank you.

Berowne said...

And I've learned something about you too, Little Nell - welcome!

Reader Wil said...

Though I have also been part of history and can tell a tale or two, I still haven't seen Citizen Kane. Or may be I have, but then it must have been in the dim and distant past.Nowadays I find it more and more difficult to watch war movies, due to my concentration camp past.
Anyway I shall try to watch C.K. if and provided it is not too shocking.
Well thank you for your participation in the ABC Wednesday meme.
Wil, ABC Team.

Hildred and Charles said...

Charles talks about the night 'War of the Worlds' was broadcast and the effect it had upon his family. No doubt Orson Wells was a genius and too bad that Markiewitz didn't receive proper recognition for his part in Citizen Kane but alas, life is not always fair.

Berowne said...

Reader Wil: "Kane" isn't a war movie and it isn't too shocking. I think you'd like it; after all, it's one of the greatest films ever made.

Sharp Little Pencil said...

Berowne, thanks for your kind words. I should add, my dad grew up in Rutherford, NJ (born in 1910) and remembered the "War of the Worlds" broadcast, which scared the pants off the entire neighborhood, since the landing site was not too far away! Forgot that part... more Welles appreciation. Peace, Amy

Berowne said...

I was a kid then, listening to the radio. However, I was listening to NBC and Edgar Bergen; "War of the Worlds" was on CBS. So I missed the whole kerfuffle. :-)

Rinkly Rimes said...

I saw the film and wasn't as impressed as some. I think the ageing of the characters irritated me. Which is rather petty I suppose. But I DO like your account, so that makes-up for it.

Berowne said...

There are other great films, but surely "Citizen Kane" is one of the great ones...

Sheilagh Lee said...

that makes perfect sense how could the movie be good without the script?Thank you for the information about Orson Wells and Herman J Mankiewicz
your link didn't work at 3word Wednesday.

Berowne said...

Sheilagh Lee: "Your link didn't work at 3word Wednesday."
Thanks. I've been having quite a bit of trouble linking. Anyone have any suggestions?

ThomG said...

To post to 3WW through Mr. Linky, first click on the headline of the post, then cut-and-paste the URL; that way, it'll go to the correct post.

ThomG

Black Jack's Carol said...

Script writing was one of my courses in creative writing (Concordia University, Montreal), so I'm really ashamed to admit I haven't seen Citizen Kane. Your fascinating post has inspired me to get hold of it as soon as I can. Thank you!

Nara Malone said...

Interesting. I only know his most famous works I admired his willingness to try something different.

Mojo Writin said...

You know, I've never watched Citizen Kane. One of my friends will firmly tell you that this is because it is hugely popular and I NEVER watch popular films (he actually does have a leg to stand on... possibly two!)but in honesty, I have never wanted to see it, just didn't appeal. Whereas I love the legend that is the radio telling of the Mars invasion *grin*
I didn't know much of what you wrote so I really enjoyed getting a new look at Mr Wells, thank you *smile*

Arthur (AmeriNZ) said...

I first saw Citizen Kane in a film study class at university. The lecturer called our attention to a scene in which Welles and others are dancing in the middle ground, Welles takes off his coat and tosses it toward the camera, Welles, the coat and the background are all in focus. Our instructor thought that scene was one of the best examples of Welles' innovative filming techniques. Trouble is, every time I've watched the film since I keep waiting for THAT scene!

Interesting post—thanks!

Berowne said...

Yes, and I always watch for certain camera angles, like shooting from a hole in the floor, and the "newsreel" sound techniques.

OJ Gonzalez-Cazares said...

team work for the win! I didn't know his other movies were not as good as Kane...thanks for sharing!

Chris said...

One of the best movies of all time. Wish they will create a gripping movie like that today.

 
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