My latest column for Caiman Cuadernos de Cine, written November 16. — J.R.
En Movimiento: The Man Who Would Be King
Errol Morris: “If you could give Charles Foster Kane advice, what would you say to him?”
Donald J. Trump: “Get yourself a different woman.”
— from a 2003 interview
It isn’t surprising that Citizen Kane is Donald Trump’s favorite movie. Thanks to the input of Herman J. Mankiewicz, an unhappy cynic, Orson Welles’ first feature is the only one he ever made that views corruption from a corrupted viewpoint; all the others see corruption from a vantage point of baffled innocence. As an actor who specialized in playing corrupt authoritarian figures — tycoons (Kane, Arkadin, Charles Clay), racists (Kindler, Quinlan), conniving magicians (Cagliostro, Welles himself in Follow the Boys and F for Fake), power-mad officials (Colonel Haki in Journey into Fear, Cesare Borgia in Prince of Foxes, the Advocate in The Trial), a sly racketeer (Harry Lime), and several dissolute rulers—before achieving his best role as Falstaff, an innocently jovial jester to a prince, which failed to engage the mass audience to the same degree (as did his more innocent heroes in The Lady from Shanghai and Othello) — Welles as an anti-authoritarian writer and director only confused matters for the general public by undermining what he celebrated as a performer.… Read more »
Written for the Olive Films Blu-Ray in 2016. — J.R.
[Orson Welles’s] desire to transcend the barriers separating the classics, the avant-garde, and popular culture remains, I believe, his most enduring legacy.
– Michael Anderegg, Orson Welles, Shakespeare and Popular Culture (1999)
It seems probable that no American film director ever rattled the American mainstream more than Orson Welles, and none of his features rattled that mainstream more than his two versions of Macbeth, made successively out of the same material he shot in 1947, and released successively in the U.S. in 1948 and 1950. Welles’ fifth completed feature, it was the first of many that would come out in more than one version, and the first that decisively shifted his public status, against his own wishes, from that of commercial studio director to that of arthouse auteur — a profile that would be deviated from only by Touch of Evil a decade later, the only other studio feature he would ever make.
Welles’ approach to the material is wildly neo-primitive and so expressionistic that one can never be entirely sure whether the action is taking place in interiors or exteriors; the same ambiguity persists in the spoken text, where off-screen internal monologue and on-screen external speech often seem only a breath apart.… Read more »
Written for the 99th issue of Trafic (Fall 2016)– a revision and slight expansion of two previous essays. — J.R.
The rapidly and constantly expanding proliferation of films and videos about cinema is altering some of our notions about film history in at least two significant ways. For one thing, now that it has become impossible for any individual to keep abreast of all this work, our methodologies for assessing it as a whole have to be expanded and further developed. And secondly, insofar as one way of defining work in cinematic form and style that is truly groundbreaking is to single out work that defines new areas of content, the search for such work is one of the methodologies that might be most useful. In my case, this is a search that has led to considerations of two recent videos by Mark Rappaport: I, Dalio — or The Rules of the Game (2014, 33 minutes), and Debra Paget, For Example (2016, 37 minutes). Both are highly personal works that also define relatively new areas of on-film film analysis, forms of classification that can be described here as indexing.
Rappaport was born in New York and he lived and (mostly) worked there until he moved to Paris in 2005, although his work with found footage started over a decade earlier with Rock Hudson’s Home Movies (1992), followed by Exterior Night (made in Germany for German television in 1993), From the Journals of Jean Seberg (1995), The Silver Screen: Color Me Lavender (1997), and his 2002 short John Garfield. … Read more »