Tag Archives: Orson Welles

Chimes at Midnight (1965, Orson Welles)

Chimes at Midnight opens with Orson Welles and Alan Webb, both aged men in the Medieval Ages, bumbling (probably at least somewhat drunkenly) in for the night; they sit at a fire and gently reminisce about their youth. The scene gives a first look at screenwriter, director, star Welles in all his giantic grandeur as Shakespeare’s Falstaff (either the film’s title is Falstaff or Chimes at Midnight; the film itself isn’t sure, opening with Falstaff (Chimes at Midnight); I’m not sure what preference Welles had). There are a lot of corpulence jokes at Welles’s expense, which is just one of the many rather interesting things going on in the film. And Webb’s distinct too, even though he’s not coming back for a while.

Ralph Richardson narrates the film (after that scene), but adding another layer to it is the source of his narration. He’s narrating from a 1577 history book (so 170 years after the events in the film), but Welles’s script is adapted from Shakespeare’s Henry series, which is even later than that history book. But Welles adds yet another layer to it by playing the history straight but doing it people’s history. Yes, there’s great material stuff for the royals, but it’s really all about the plebs. Those great scenes for the guys playing the kings, princes, and knights, they end up just priming the emphasis on the reality of the age. As a filmmaker, Welles is exceptionally giving to his actors and very confident in their performances. Sure, Welles gives himself the juiciest part—one where he gets to put a target on himself for all sorts of comparisons, not to mention Welles is, amongst other things, a writer and Falstaff is a Brobdingnagian bullshit artist. But a bad one. Like, a lot of the first half of Chimes is watching people get the better of Welles, except while not getting the shit end onscreen, he’s not just making this exceptional film experience, he’s also giving his cast a lot of great material. They’re all potential Judases, basically, and at least one of them already knows he’s a Judas.

No spoilers.

After the titles, Richardson takes over explaining things. John Gielgud is a new king, one who had to fight for the throne. While he worries about maintaining rule, his son, the Prince of Wales (Keith Baxter), is off drinking and whoring, as well as committing occasional robberies, egged on by his best friend, Welles. While Welles, Baxter, and Tony Beckley (Beckley’s the noble friend who low-key hates Welles because Baxter likes Welles more than him) are sometimes literally screwing around, Gielgud’s got to deal with Norman Rodway and Fernando Rey starting a rebellion. It quickly turns into Rodway’s subplot, which is great because Rodway’s fantastic. He’s got this amazing scene with his wife, Marina Vlady. Like, adorable and cute and sexy and from out of nowhere. Just a neat detail in their character relationship. It also goes to establish that people’s history reality; Chimes is going to show private moments of historic, fictionalized characters, but certainly showing them more… potentially bawdy than in the original fictionalization. It gets really good. There are occasional scenes where Welles weaves this amazing narrative flow and then the way he shoots it, cuts it, moving the film through the dialogue… it’s gorgeous.

It’s also often just for laughs.

Welles, Baxter, Beckley? It’s slapstick. Sure, it’s handled with a firm grasp on the film’s reality, but it’s slapstick. There are gags. Welles is very ambitious with his adaptation, he’s exceptionally assured (especially with the filmmaking devices he uses to compensate for the low budget) but never overconfident. There are plenty of things could go wrong—like Baxter, who’s got the film’s most difficult character arc. But it all works. Baxter makes a shift when he needs to make a shift—the first half of the film is about Gielgud’s fight with Rodway and how it’s going to affect actual heir Baxter. The second half is set a few years later, after Baxter has gotten a little more serious and had less Welles in his life. They’re going to get back together though, only Welles is no longer the same fun loving guy he was before. Sure, he’s still constantly drunk, but he’s mopey about his age—hanging out with fellow old fogey Webb—even though young and relative hottie Jeanne Moreau really does seem to adore Welles.

In between these two very different films—it never feels awkwardly assembled either; Welles and company make it feel like a totally natural transition. Anyway, splitting the two time periods is the battle scene. It’s a phenomenal sequence; runs around nine minutes. There’s comedy (Welles is played as a complete joke during the battle, but he’s got a funny sequence before it when he’s “recruiting”), there’s terrible medieval bloodshed, there’s chivalry, there’s tragedy. Welles figures out how to do it “authentic” without a lot of money. It’s a breathtaking battle scene. Chimes has lots of moments, lots of different kinds of them, but this battle sequence is wild.

Great editing from Elena Jaumandreu, Frederick Muller, and Peter Parasheles. Really good black and white photography from Edmond Richard; gorgeous production design from Mariano Erdoiza; Angelo Francesco Lavagnino’s music… is perfect for the film. It’s actually one of the film’s bigger risks, but it works out. But just as music… I’ll bet you could write a book about the film’s post-production. Because it’s exceptionally well-assembled. Chimes at Midnight works out. Every bet Welles makes with the film works out.

The biggest bet is Baxter, who’s great. It’s his story, Welles, Gielgud, Beckley, whoever… they’re just all along for the ride. He’s the rightful heir. Who else’s story could it be?

Gielgud’s amazing, Moreau’s good, Rodway, Vlady; Margaret Rutherford’s awesome as Welles’s suffering landlord.

And Welles is great. Really great. He doesn’t give himself a lot of big moments—he gives himself the comedy instead—but when he gets a big moment, wow, does he nail it.

Chimes at Midnight is peerless.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Orson Welles; screenplay by Welles, based on plays by William Shakespeare and a book by Raphael Holinshed; director of photography, Edmond Richard; edited by Elena Jaumandreu, Frederick Muller, and Peter Parasheles; music by Angelo Francesco Lavagnino; production designer, Mariano Erdoiza; produced by Ángel Escolano, Emiliano Piedra, and Harry Saltzman; released by Brepi Films.

Starring Orson Welles (Falstaff), Keith Baxter (Prince Hal), Norman Rodway (Henry Percy), John Gielgud (Henry IV), Tony Beckley (Ned Poins), Alan Webb (Shallow), Margaret Rutherford (Mistress Quickly), Marina Vlady (Kate Percy), Fernando Rey (Worcester), and Jeanne Moreau (Doll Tearsheet); narrated by Ralph Richardson.


Advertisements

The Lady from Shanghai (1947, Orson Welles)

It’s immaterial to the film overall but I want to talk about how Welles compensates for projection composites looking like projection composites. He changes up his focus, sometimes focusing on the person in the foreground, sometimes not. Is it intentional? Is he really trying to compensate?

Well, the technique does compensate a little for it. The Lady from Shanghai does have, technologically speaking, a more consistent visual look as the film goes between projection composites and location shooting.

Again, it’s immaterial. It’s just one heck of a what if.

The Lady from Shanghai moves very quickly. It runs just under ninety minutes, with a present action of five or six months. However long it takes to sail from New York City to San Francisco, through the Panama Canal, with some extended stops in Mexico, plus a murder trial. There’s a lot of summary, always ably narrated by writer, director, producer, and star Welles. Welles is a world-traveling Irish sailor who meets Rita Hayworth one night in Central Park, while he’s waiting to find a ship out. Welles, who tries the Irish charm on Hayworth at first sight, ends up saving her from some muggers. He takes her to safety, they talk, they flirt, and wouldn’t you know it, she’d love to hire him on to sail her yacht.

Oh, and she’s married.

So Welles, in the first and last smart thing he does in Shanghai, says no. But when he gets another chance in the form of Hayworth’s much older husband, played by Everett Sloane, shows up to beg him, Welles takes it. He’s feeling way too young, strong, and virile comparing himself to Sloane, who’s a disabled person. He’s also an extremely wealthy lawyer. And he calls Hayworth “lover” in a way it makes everyone’s skin crawl and almost seems like Sloane knows he’s having that effect. Even though Welles is narrating the film, he never reveals his character’s hopes and dreams when he signs on to the yacht. He’s infatuated with Hayworth, yes, but he’s also got a sidekick along, fellow able-bodied seaman and not yacht guy Gus Schilling, and he soon finds out everyone around Sloane’s very, very weird. Like Sloane’s business partner, Glenn Anders, who’s a sweaty drunk.

See, Anders figures out the Welles and Hayworth thing—even more than Sloane, who’s at least passingly aware of the attraction and uses it to humiliate both Hayworth and Welles—but Anders realizes there’s more emotion behind it than Sloane expects. Welles has the heart of a poet and the fists of a six foot three Irishman. He sees through Hayworth the pin-up to the woman; see, Sloane likes it when Hayworth wears skimpy bathing suits in front of all his pals.

Sloane’s a great villain. The film doesn’t really have villains or heroes, but Sloane’s great in the villain spot. He’s cruel, calculating, immodest. He’s a major creep in a film with a bunch of major creeps—like Anders is clearly more dangerous than Sloane, but are you just underestimating Sloane because he doesn’t have use of his legs. Because there’s something else going on besides Sloane wanting to humiliate his trophy wife for being gorgeous, someone’s planning on killing him. Actually, no one seems like they’re not planning on killing him, except Schilling, who just does his job.

So those two plots go on simultaneously, plus the class commentary. See, Welles doesn’t like being privy to the goings ons of these shitty rich people. But they all love being condescending to him, even Hayworth, who runs hot and cold as far as their flirtation goes.

Then there’s a murder and then there’s a trial. There’s an action-packed, hallucinatory finale. There’s a great de facto chase sequence through Chinatown, there’s a big fight scene. An Orson Welles fight scene. He’s really good at some of it, though Viola Lawrence’s editing is key. Her editing is key for everything in Shanghai because the film only exists in its shots and angles, intrusive ones. Welles pushes the camera into faces—with the exception of Hayworth, who gets cradled by the camera, Welles’s infatuation controlling the shots. Welles and Hayworth were married at the time, which doesn’t add a real layer, but is kind of fun to think about. Especially during Hayworth’s big scenes. She’s got a handful of them and they’re all awesome. Welles gives himself the showier part, with his Irish accent—which gets amplified thanks to Welles’s audio process. All the dialogue is looped. The actors performing their lines separately from speaking them in their performance. No actual diegetic sounds, just diegetic sound effects, which the characters don’t “hear.” It gives Shanghai this detached but incredibly intimate quality. Even though that intimacy with the characters’ conversations is more often than not intrusive. The film’s very intrusive. Yes, it’s a film noir about hot cheating wives, sexy Irish lugs, corrupt rich people, and boats, but it’s also this careful examination and evaluation of its characters and what they represent and what they don’t and how the disconnects affect them.

So, it’s a tad misanthropic. But deservedly.

The best performance is Sloane. No one else gets to be such an exceptional creep. Not even Anders, who’s a big creep. Or Ted de Corsia, who’s a little creep. But Sloane also gets more complex emotions and they get laid bare. It’s an outstanding, spectacular performance.

Then Welles, then Hayworth. Welles, director and screenwriter, showcases Hayworth for narrative impact and effectiveness. It means she doesn’t get as good of a part as Welles, actor. But even if her part isn’t as good overall—meaning she can’t give a better performance because he’s written and directed it so she can’t—he does give her far better shot composition than anyone else in the film. He’s not just cradling her for that infatuation angle, he’s also amplifying her deliveries. So Hayworth still manages to have a “movie star” performance in this movie without the possibility of movie star performances. Welles doesn’t compose shots for them.

Anders is great; Schilling is good, Erskine Sanford is fun as the judge. Evelyn Ellis is excellent as Sloane’s maid. She’s a Black woman with a very hard life and Sloane exploits her and brags to everyone about it. In front of her.

Because he’s an incredible creep.

Great photography from Charles Lawton Jr. There’s a lot of stuff in Lady from Shanghai. Almost everything except Shanghai. Lawton shoots it all beautifully. The end action sequence is singular, thanks to Welles, Lawton, and Lawrence. The cuts and the lights are integral to its success. And it is a success. So good.

Welles, Sloane, Hayworth, the supporting cast, the crew, they make something special. The Lady from Shanghai is fantastic.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Orson Welles; screenplay by Welles, based on a novel by Sherwood King; director of photography, Charles Lawton Jr.; edited by Viola Lawrence; music by Heinz Roemheld; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Orson Welles (Michael O’Hara), Rita Hayworth (Elsa Bannister), Everett Sloane (Arthur Bannister), Glenn Anders (George Grisby), Ted de Corsia (Sidney Broome), Evelyn Ellis (Bessie), Gus Schilling (Goldie), and Erskine Sanford (judge).



The Other Side of the Wind (2018, Orson Welles)

The Other Side of the Wind opens with two very ominous notes. Well, two and a half. The first is a text card explaining the film’s history, but not much about its resurrection. For example (and here’s the half ominous note), was it director Welles’s idea to do multiple aspect ratios? It makes sense, but he probably wasn’t going to do the CG TV screen borders they use at the start. Wind is an addition to Welles’s filmography, thirty-three years posthumous. Much has changed in those thirty-three years, including how film is edited.

But the text card and its lack of resurrectors’ intent is nowhere near as ominous as the second item. Peter Bogdanovich introducing the film. So The Other Side of the Wind opens with the text card explaining its Orson Welles’s last movie and he didn’t really finish it. Then comes Bogdanovich–in the present–introducing the film, “The Other Side of the Wind,” but not Welles’s Wind, rather lead John Huston’s Wind, because in addition to being one of the resurrectors, Bogdanovich is the costar. And he gives this obnoxious self-congratulatory voiceover Welles never would have written for him… for no other reason than not even Orson Welles thought he’d make it to 103.

Even worse, Bogdanovich’s voiceover tries to contextualize the film. What we’re going to see is a documentary, pieced together from the footage shot by documentary crews at Huston’s birthdary party. He’s a big Hollywood director self-financing a movie for hippies and everyone is following him around with a camera. So the footage in the film–usually with Welles accounting for the camera-people in other shots–is this “found” footage.

Here’s where the text card should’ve explained Welles’s original intent, because the movie sure doesn’t seem like it’s supposed to be some assembled thing. It just seems like a budgetary control device of Welles’s. Since he self-financed Wind himself. Layers and layers and layers.

Once things get started, after some gratitious topless nudity (there’s a lot of nudity later, but not gratitious in the same way), Wind immediately reassures. Bogdanovich, as an actor, is nowhere near as obnoxious as he was in the opening voiceover. He’s still obnoxious, playing a blue blood mainstream filmmaker who’s devoted to Huston (ostensibly mirroring Bogdanovich’s devotion to Welles–more layers), but… well, his dialogue’s better. The character, as thin as Bogdanovich does with it, is better.

Plus, most of the time is spent with Huston’s regular crew. Huston’s regular crew looks a lot like Welles’s crew. There’s Paul Stewart, Mercedes McCambridge, Edmond O’Brien, and Cameron Mitchell. Mitchell’s bad. McCambridge isn’t in it enough but is good. O’Brien and Stewart are awesome. They’re on a bus with a bunch of party guests–they’re going straight to the birthday party from shooting–and a lot of reporters. Including Susan Strasberg as a film critic (she’s fantastic) and Joseph McBride in William Alland part if Wind were Kane. But Wind isn’t Kane and McBride’s young, inquisitive journalist is annoying background. McBride isn’t very good. Strasberg’s great, like I said, but she’s really one of the standouts, performance-wise, in Wind.

Huston and Bogdanovich are in a car, where Bogdanovich does most of the talking to the documentary filmmakers. It’s very hard to take Bogdanovich’s character seriously because he’s such a sycophant to Huston.

Alongside these two threads is Norman Foster–one of Huston’s gang, but I don’t think his position is ever specifically mentioned–showing the movie (in the movie in the movie… in the movie?) to producer Geoffrey Land. Land’s bad. But the footage of the hippie movie is fun. It’s always in a state of exaggerated pretension but beautifully composed exaggerated pretension.

Robert Random and Oja Kodar star in the movie in the movie. The story of Wind, why Huston’s in trouble with the movie, is because after he discovered Random, Random went and quit the movie, leaving Huston without a star. No one in the movie in the movie talks. Hippies just communicate with their body language after all. Amusingly, Kodar doesn’t speak in the rest of the film either. She’s around, she’s active, but she never speaks. It’s funny.

The movie in the movie footage is shown at a different aspect ratio. The documentary footage is supposed to be eight or sixteen millimeter so not widescreen. The movie in the movie is widescreen.

Why the opening titles are in artificial television aspect ratio with a vague “video” look… especially if it’s reconstructed in 2018… the resurrectors of Wind really don’t want to draw attention to themselves but are really bad at avoiding it.

Especially once they get to the party. Most of the rest of the movie takes place at the party. All of a sudden, certain cameras at the party–certain sources of footage–are black and white. And they’re suspiciously black and white. One of the first shots has this weird pixelation in the blacks, which seem an effect of digital editing of the frame, something Welles certainly wouldn’t have done in the same way if he’d finished the picture. And, about halfway through the movie, there’s an emphasis shot in color and it’s the same source as one they’d been using as black and white. So much, if not all of the black and white footage is a modern edit. And it does the film no favors. Because even though they didn’t change the brightness and contrast of the black and white footage to match–the sources still appear different–it loses the reality of the opening.

O’Brien, McCambridge, Stewart, and Mitchell all sitting around talking about how Huston is out of touch with the kids today is a lot different in color than black and white. It sets up the film differently.

Worse, when the color returns in the last third, it’s clear the mismatched footage–Welles shot the film over more than five years–looks better mismatching in color than it does in digital black and white.

At the party secrets are revealed (or re-revealed), more of the movie in the movie is shown, character drama, great dialogue, some excellent performances in some thin parts, and some fireworks. There’s also some homophobia and exploitation of little people. Because Welles is down on Hollywood–he’s not a stand-in for Huston, whose fictive career (and popularity) is much different than Welles’s real one–he can get a pass on the latter. On the former, it’s a theme. One Welles uses for sensationalism. It doesn’t qualify for a pass. It’s part of the movie, resurrected version or not. Especially since there’s supposed to be some implications about it. Yes, Welles is making fun of film criticism a little as the implication subplot goes, but… still no. He cops out on the subplot.

The movie’s about the party. Once they get to the party, they watched the movie–the movie is the point of the party. Only the power keeps going out. So they’re trying to get the power back on while Huston is hearing from his gang how they can’t scrap together any more money.

The best performance in the film is Norman Foster. He’s also the only character with an actual arc. The present action’s short–the movie starts before sunset one day, ends at sunrise the next–so everyone getting an arc might be a little much, so it’s Foster. And he’s great.

Huston gives a great performance in a thin part. Wind is about the inscrutability of filmed subjects so all of Huston’s development has to be in action (or at least through contemporary dialogue). But he’s great. And totally unbelievable as he pervs on teenage girl Cathy Lucas, in one of the film’s most throwaway subplots. He’s going to kidnap her to Mexico. Like Welles wanted to throw in a Charlie Chaplin jab.

Strasberg’s great. O’Brien’s great. Lilli Palmer’s good. She seems to be doing a Marlene Dietrich stand-in (the film feels a lot like a Touch of Evil reunion, so much in pacing one has to wonder if it’s from Welles or resurrection editor Bub Murawski). She’s also not in it enough. Like McCambridge. Stewart’s good. Gregory Sierra’s good as the macho version of Bogdanovich (they’re both intentionally ripping off Huston’s style and competitive about it).

Bogdanovich never gets too terrible. Nothing near the opening the voiceover. He fails a few times. Important times. But he’s never too terrible. The exposition in scenes between him and Huston is terrible, easily the worst writing in the script. He and Huston have a very odd story arc. It arrives late, is undercooked, and poorly executed.

Tonio Selwart is rather annoying as Huston’s regular screenwriter. And Dan Tobin’s way too broad in a problematic part.

Michel Legrand’s score? It’s okay. It’s conceivable Welles would’ve wanted something like it. Does it do anything for the film? No.

The Other Side of the Wind comes with a litany of conditions. Even if it hadn’t been resurrected thirty-five years after Welles’s death, it was still filmed over six years. Its budgetary constraints are exceptional. And Wind does finish. It completes its artistic gesture. It is a complete film.

It’s just not a particularly successful one.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Orson Welles; written by Oja Kodar and Welles; director of photography, Gary Graver; edited by Bob Murawski and Welles; music by Michel Legrand; produced by Frank Marshall and Filip Jan Rymsza; released by Netflix.

Starring John Huston (Jake Hannaford), Peter Bogdanovich (Brooks Otterlake), Norman Foster (Billy Boyle), Susan Strasberg (Julie Rich), Lilli Palmer (Zarah Valeska), Paul Stewart (Matt Costello), Tonio Selwart (The Baron), Edmond O’Brien (Pat Mullins), Mercedes McCambridge (Maggie Noonan), Cameron Mitchell (Zimmer), Peter Jason (Grover), Alan Grossman (Charles Higgam), Geoffrey Land (Max David), Gregory Sierra (Jack Simon), Dan Tobin (Dr. Burroughs), Cathy Lucas (Mavis Henscher), Joseph McBride (Pister), Oja Kodar (Actress), and Robert Random (John Dale).


RELATED

Return to Glennascaul (1953, Hilton Edwards)

Orson Welles stars in Return to Glennascaul as himself. He’s acting as a combination presenter and narrator. Amusing, he says he’s not going to be around for long, he’s busy making Othello after all. But then when star Michael Laurence starts telling Welles his story, Welles can’t let someone else do the narrating, so he takes over.

It’s far from a seamless overlay. Welles has to jabber to keep up with the action.

Welles comes across Laurence on a rainy Irish night. Laurence’s car has broken down, does Laurence want a ride, is Welles “you know who,” where do you live, guess what happened the last time I was at that intersection. Enter the ghost story, Laurence’s short-lived narration, and flashback.

At the same intersection, Laurence picks up a similarly stranded mother and daughter, played by Shelah Richards and Helena Hughes, respectfully. Things aren’t what they seem and Laurence has to figure out what’s going on.

Writer-director Edwards has more strength on the latter. The script starts getting long just after halfway through, as Laurence’s investigation kicks off. Laurence is okay, but he doesn’t command at all. Maybe Welles’s narration throws the emphasis off Laurence; it’s fine since Welles sort of saves the day at the end.

And, really, Edwards directs Laurence as a subject, even when the film’s from his point of view. Edwards uses Laurence’s flashlight beam to reveal just a little bit of each frame, with encroaching, unknown black all around. Hans Gunther Stumpf’s creepy music plays, Georg Fleischmann’s photography is great with the whites and blacks. It’s very effective.

The script isn’t as effective. At least not until Welles gets back and then Glennascaul wraps up fine.

2/3Recommended

CREDITS

Written and directed by Hilton Edwards; director of photography, Georg Fleischmann; edited by Joseph Sterling; music by Hans Gunther Stumpf; produced by Edwards and Micheál MacLiammóir; released by Arthur Mayer-Edward Kingsley.

Starring Michael Laurence (Sean Merriman), Shelah Richards (Mrs. Campbell), Helena Hughes (Miss Campbell), John Dunne (Daly), and Orson Welles (Orson Welles).


RELATED