1 year ago
Sunday, June 24, 2012
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)