(Pictured above: Orson Welles in ‘Citizen Kane’)
Orson Welles, whose birthday is May 6, gained renewed currency when Netflix said it would help fund completion of the acclaimed director’s unfinished – and final – project, The Other Side of the Wind.
Welles shot footage for Wind, a planned satire of avant-guard directors, over the course of years. But as with other Welles’ films, funding was hard to come by and inevitable delays led to swirling rumors among cinephiles about reels of unseen celluloid. This was, of course, all in keeping with the narrative that dogged Welles for most of his adult life –tantalizing hints of meteoric greatness resulting in disappointment from the wunderkind who debuted one of the most acclaimed works in cinema history – Citizen Kane – at age 26.
Welles died in 1985, ending any hope of seeing Wind or any other of his unfinished visions making it to the screen – or so it might have been assumed. But now a subscription streaming service – not Hollywood money nor Welles’ personally crowdsourced benefactors – has stepped in to rescue Wind from oblivion. (A premiere date hasn’t been announced.)
In the spirit of this reclamation, The Savvy Screener invites readers to discover — or become reacquainted — with some of Welles’ best known – and intriguing – contributions as director, actor, raconteur, Madison Avenue pitchman, magician and TV gadabout. Today, in the first of a three-part series, we look at the masterpiece most closely associated with him, Citizen Kane, and where you can stream it.
Summary: Who was Charles Foster Kane? Reporters interview former employees, friends and ex-wife of the newspaper tycoon whose last word was “rosebud.” The film begins piecing together the jigsaw puzzle of Kane’s life in flashbacks, but does it ultimately reveal his big picture? The cast includes Welles, Joseph Cotton, Everett Sloane, Agnes Moorehead (Endora on TV’s Bewitched), Dorothy Comingore and Ray Collins.
Backstory: Co-written with Herman J. Mankiewicz, Welles’ highly anticipated directorial debut was widely known to be a thinly veiled portrait of publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst. Although there were also autobiographical allusions to Welles’ own life, Hearst, unflattered, sought to block the picture’s distribution. The film was also plagued by production delays, for which Welles became notorious, and there was a subsequent battle between him and Mankiewicz for the screenplay credit.
Kane also featured behind-the-scenes Hollywood legends just starting their careers. It was the first movie for composer/orchestrator Bernard Herrmann, whose powerful scores would animate numerous Alfred Hitchcock classics including Psycho, Marnie and Vertigo, along with Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver. Robert Wise, who would direct Hollywood films for more than 50 years, including The Sound of Music and Star Trek: The Motion Picture, was Kane’s editor. Cinematographer Gregg Toland’s innovations with deep focus and frame composition helped Welles break new ground in visual storytelling.
Tomorrow, in part two, we will look at two more Welles films — A Touch of Evil and Chimes at Midnight.
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