Friday, January 29, 2016

Of interest to film geeks only (maybe)

I've been thinking about Orson Welles a lot lately.

I  recently finished the eBook version of this:

It covered the years between Welles' amazing pre-natal heritage (wealth and all the associated advantages) thru his early theater triumphs, culminating in the amazing creation of 'Citizen Kane' (despite what nay-sayers say, still, IMHO, the best American film of all time, as far as innovative camera movements, long takes, writing, and general film pleasure).

'Vertigo' is #2, but that's another story.

I watched my DVD of 'Kane'  the other day, with the astute Peter Bogdanovitch commentary, and, as always, found it filled with amazing technical camera wizardry, plus the complex, multi-layered make-up, acting and script (what was Mankiewicz and what was Welles? - the evidence is scattered). 

It really is a spectacular film.  Have you seen it recently?

At any rate...

Welles' 2nd film in 'the system' was 'The Magnificent Ambersons' and I found it at the library today and just watched it for the first time in many years.  What a curious film - so old-fashioned in its costumes, period, and setting.  I don't understand why Welles was so drawn to the story.

Of course, this was the butchered version that RKO released, after deciding that Welles's cut was 'unsatisfactory'.  The final scene is indeed laughable.  Still, there are flashes of amazing cleverness in the framing, composition, and especially lighting, not to mention the astonishing performance by Agnes Moorhead (who only had a couple of scenes in 'Kane').

The main character, George Miniver (Tim Holt) is the obvious villein, smug in his self-worth and entitlement.  The whole arc of the story is his 'comeuppance'.  Eugene Morgan (Joseph Cotton, in a fairly absurd mustache) has made his fortune in the early automobile business, and is the sympathetic father of George's love interest (who sees him as the shallow 'affluenza' youth he is).

In a key scene, George insults Morgan by characterizing the advent of the gasoline-powered automobile as a terrible event, that will destroy a way of life (i.e. horse-and-buggy world).

Here's the thing.

In the context of 1942, when 'Ambersons' was made, George's insistence that the gasoline-powered automobile is a curse upon us was ridiculous.

In the context of 2016, it is prophetic.

Weird, eh?