Streaming Saves Welles

(Above: John Huston and Orson Welles)

Orson Welles, whose birthday was May 6, gained renewed currency when Netflix last year 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.

The film stars John Huston, Peter Bogdanovich, Oja Kodar (who co-wrote the screenplay with Welles), Robert Random, Lilli Palmer, Edmond O’Brien, Cameron Mitchell, Mercedes McCambridge, Susan Strasberg, Norman Foster, Paul Stewart and Dennis Hopper.

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.

The movie, slated for release on Netflix later this year, is now in rough-cut form and already generating buzz, at least from Star Wars: The Last Jedi director Rian Johnson.

Of course, what’s an Orson Welles project without a little controversy? Netflix had planned to debut Wind at the Cannes Film Festival, which starts today. The streamer, however, withdrew the film following reinstatement of a festival rule that only films released in French theaters could compete for a Palm D’Or.

The contretemps — and Wind‘s history — are 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 had 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.

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.

Citizen Kane (1941)

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 the film also contained 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 later 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.

Stream Citizen Kane for $2.99 in SD or $3.99 in HD at Vudu and other sites.

Tomorrow, in part two, we will look at two more Welles films — A Touch of Evil and Chimes at Midnight.

(Note: The above is a revised version of a previously published article.)

About Larry Greenberg

A former local beat reporter and film critic, co-founder Lawrence Greenberg has more than 25 years’ experience as a writer and public relations executive.

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