A special sort of Christmas essay from the Chicago Reader (December 23, 1994). — J.R.
Over the past year we’ve been hearing a lot about the theme of redemption in current movies. Actually the seeds of this trend were probably sown back in 1980, when Raging Bull came out, but now “redemption” is becoming something of a buzzword. I recall being taken slightly aback when I heard Harvey Keitel, speaking at the 1992 Toronto film festival, employ the term without any trace of irony in regard to Reservoir Dogs. And since then I’ve been hearing it more and more, mainly in relation to movies associated with Quentin Tarantino (not only Reservoir Dogs but also True Romance, Natural Born Killers, Killing Zoe, and Pulp Fiction) and such varied films as Cape Fear, Cliffhanger, Forrest Gump, The Professional, and even Heavenly Creatures.
What’s surprising is not only the odd assortment of movies in this new canon but those that are automatically excluded. Looking over last year’s releases, one might logically conclude that movies dealing with the spiritual redemption of their lead characters would include, say, Schindler’s List, Little Buddha, Savage Nights, The Shawshank Redemption, Bill Forsyth’s grossly neglected Being Human, and Krzysztof Kieslowski’s Blue, White, and Red.… Read more »
From Cineaste 22, no. 3, 1996; reprinted with further comments in Discovering Orson Welles. — J.R.
Biographies of Orson Welles reviewed in this article:
Orson Welles: The Road to Xanadu, by Simon Callow (New York: Viking, 1995). 640 pp.
Rosebud: The Story of Orson Welles, by David Thomson (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1996). 461 pp.
Orson Welles, revised and expanded edition, by Joseph McBride (New York: Da Capo, 1996). 243 pp.
Two prevailing and diametrically opposed attitudes seem to dictate the way most people currently think about Orson Welles. One attitude, predominantly American, sees his life and career chiefly in terms of failure and regards the key question to be why he never lived up to his promise — “his promise” almost invariably being tied up with the achievement of Citizen Kane. Broadly speaking, this position can be compared to that of the investigative reporter Thompson’s editor in Citizen Kane, bent on finding a single formula for explaining a man’s life. The other attitude — less monolithic and less tied to any particular nationality, or to the expectations aroused by any single work — views his life and career more sympathetically as well as inquisitively; this position corresponds more closely to Thompson’s near the end of kane when he says, “I don’t think any word can explain a man’s life.”
The first attitude can be found in relatively undiluted form in six extended works by four authors — Charles Higham’s The Films of Orson Welles (1970) and Orson Welles: The Rise and Fall of an American Genius (1985), Robert L.… Read more »