Orson Welles: The Other Side of the Argument
January 25 - May 7
Lecturer: Jonathan Rosenbaum
From January 25 through May 7, we offer a series of fourteen programs entitled "Orson Welles: The Other Side of the Argument," with weekly Tuesday lectures by Jonathan Rosenbaum, internationally renowned film critic and author of numerous books including "Discovering Orson Welles" and "Cinematic Encounters: Interviews and Dialogues." The series is presented in cooperation with the School of the Art Institute of Chicago’s Department of Art History, Theory, and Criticism. Additional screenings of the films on Friday or Saturday do not include Jonathan Rosenbaum's lecture. Admission to all "Orson Welles" programs is $5 for Film Center members; usual admission prices apply for non-members.
A polemical defense and celebration of Orson Welles’ fourteen features and a few of his shorter works, this series will seek to counter some of the ideological and biographical biases that have viewed him as an out-of-control and unfulfilled artist. Despite the very unruly and unorthodox aspects of Welles’ career, the richness of his artistry and the perpetual originality of his accomplishments have yielded challenges that this series will attempt to define, engage with, and honor. The order of the films to be discussed will be roughly chronological, although the existence of varying release dates and different
versions of individual films makes a strict chronology impossible. Anomalies of this kind, frequently the results of Welles’ unconventional work methods, will be addressed and discussed in some detail, because they suggest that different tools and criteria are sometimes needed in order to understand the nature of Welles’ far from conventional aims and achievements.
Upcoming films in "Orson Welles"
(Friday and Saturday dates are subject to change. Please check the relevant month's Gazette and website.)
There is no class/lecture on March 26, but the new documentary THE EYES OF ORSON WELLES will be shown on that date in the Chicago European Union Film Festival.
FILMING OTHELLO (1978)
Touch of Evil
1958, Orson Welles, USA, 111 min.
Charlton Heston, Orson Welles
"[Welles] makes transcendent use of the American technology his genius throve on; never again would his resources be so rich or his imagination so fiendishly baroque."-- Dave Kehr, Chicago Reader
Given access to Hollywood's superior technical resources for the first time in ten years, Welles responded with an outpouring of creative energy that dazzled the cast, crew, and, for a while, the studio management. From its legendary opening camera movement to its haunting Marlene Dietrich envoi, TOUCH OF EVIL is Welles's most spectacularly stylized film. The plot pits a corrupt border-town sheriff (Welles) against a Mexican narc (Heston) and his vulnerable American bride (Janet Leigh). The film’s gargoylish supporting characters (especially Akim Tamiroff’s toupeed drug lord and Mercedes Cambridge’s leather-jacketed bull dagger) and sensationally seedy setting (filmed in Venice, California) contribute to an exhilarating sense of baroque overload. Once again, the film exists in several versions; we are showing the 1998 restoration, sometimes referred to, not quite accurately, as the "Director's Cut." 35mm. (MR)
1962, Orson Welles, France, 118 min.
Anthony Perkins, Orson Welles
“Welles's nightmarish, labyrinthine comedy remains his creepiest and most disturbing work; it's also a lot more influential than people usually admit.”--Jonathan Rosenbaum, Chicago Reader
Welles called his dazzling, disturbing adaptation of Kafka’s 1925 novel “the best film I have ever made” and “closer to my own feelings about everything than any other picture I’ve ever made.” In his best role after PSYCHO, Perkins is in fine fidgety form as Joseph K., the office drone who finds himself inexplicably accused of an unspecified crime and embarks on a hapless quest for justice through an impenetrable maze of courtrooms, corridors, and offices. Welles ingeniously stitches together locations in Zagreb, Paris, and Rome to conjure up a nightmare world that is at once oppressively claustrophobic and vertiginously vast. DCP digital. (MR)
Chimes at Midnight
1965, Orson Welles, Spain, 115 min.
With Orson Welles, Keith Baxter
"This is a magnificent film, clearly among Welles' greatest work...It is also magnificent Shakespeare."--Roger Ebert
The recipient of mixed reviews and poor distribution when first released, CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT is now considered by many to be the greatest of all Shakespeare films; it was also Welles's personal favorite among his own films. Portions of five different plays (primarily "Henry IV, Parts I and II," and "Henry V") are woven together to focus on Sir John Falstaff as the center of a tragicomic narrative tracing his relationship as mentor, boon companion, bad example, and eventual embarrassment to Prince Hal (Baxter), later King Henry V. Welles hearty, heartfelt, ultimately heartbreaking performance as Falstaff heads up a cast that includes John Gielgud as Henry IV, Jeanne Moreau as Doll Tearsheet, and Margaret Rutherford as Mistress Quickly. Despite being filmed under difficult, underfinanced conditions, CHIMES displays Welles's gifts for visualization and editing in full form, capped by the spectacularly brutal Battle of Shrewsbury scene. DCP digital. (MR)
The Immortal Story
1968, Orson Welles, France, 58 min.
With Orson Welles, Jeanne Moreau
"Surpassingly, heartbreakingly beautiful…Viewers may find themselves seizing on individual moments, which are magnified by the depth and audacity of Welles’s formal imagination."--Chuck Bowen, Slant
The Danish writer Isak Dinesen (aka Karen Blixen) was one of Welles's favorite authors, but, out of his several projects based on her work, THE IMMORTAL STORY was the only one that made it to the screen. Financed by French TV and at one point intended to be paired with another Dinesen story in a full-length feature, this exquisite mood-piece continues the autumnal melancholy of CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT while also tackling the issues of art-making and authenticity that would lie at the heart of F FOR FAKE. Welles plays the "immensely rich" Macao merchant Mr. Clay, a pinched descendant of such God-playing Wellesian titans as Charles Foster Kane and Gregory Arkadin. When he learns that an ostensibly true story he had heard about a rich old man who hired a sailor to impregnate his young wife is actually an oft-told legend, the fact-minded Clay resolves to make it come true by reenacting it in real life. He dispatches his obedient clerk (Roger Coggio) to hire a willing woman (Moreau) and sailor (Norman Eshley) to play the roles. Welles only fiction film fully in color, THE IMMORTAL STORY is also his most restrained film, with a hauntingly contemplative tone in place of his usual razzle-dazzle. In English. Digital video. (MR)
The Other Side of the Wind
1976/2018, Orson Welles, USA, 122 min.
With John Huston, Oja Kodar, Peter Bogdanovich
"The Holy Grail for zealous film buffs, the long-awaited bookend for CITIZEN KANE."--Todd McCarthy, Hollywood Reporter
Filmed piecemeal between 1970 and 1976, and left only partially edited at Welles's death in 1985, THE OTHER SIDE OF WIND attained legendary status while legal and financial issues stymied efforts to complete it, until an infusion of Netflix money and a dedicated team of producers and editors finally pushed it to completion. What emerged after decades of speculation was a caustic portrait of both the declining Old Hollywood and the briefly ascendant New Hollywood by a defiant filmmaker who was never at home in either. Like CITIZEN KANE, it begins with the death of its main character, the declining but still potent Hollywood director Jake Hannaford (played with gusto by John Huston). We then go back to the day leading up to Hannaford's death, in which his raucous 70th birthday party--rife with cameos, innuendos, rancor, backbiting, and betrayal--becomes the occasion for a screening of his uncompleted film, a parodic (and, in one scene, scorchingly erotic) riff on Antonioniesque art cinema. 35mm print courtesy of Netflix. (MR)
F for Fake
1973, Orson Welles, France, 89 min.
With Orson Welles, Oja Kodar
"A masterwork of montage...The movie is a love story, a crime story, a comedy, a picturesque travelogue, and a paean to art. In short, F FOR FAKE is as grand, multitudinous, and original as Welles himself."--Richard Brody, The New Yorker
F FOR FAKE signals Welles's shift to the metatextual, montage-dominated approach that would characterize the last phase of his filmmaking career. Announcing "I am a charlatan," Welles appears on-screen in magician's garb to serve as our jovial guide through a zippy, playful discourse on the porous boundary between art, fakery, and forgery. His tour centers on the master art-forger Elmyr de Hory and de Hory's biographer Clifford Irving, who himself became notorious for forging an autobiography of reclusive billionaire Howard Hughes. While using these Borgesian paradoxes to question notions of authenticity and authorship (if De Hory's fakes were good enough to fool numerous museums and art experts, should they not be considered authentic masterpieces?), Welles establishes his own credentials as a trickster par excellence, reminding us of his panic-causing "War of the Worlds" radio broadcast ("I didn't go to jail. I went to Hollywood"), fooling children with magic tricks, and fooling us spectators with a final display of editing-room sleight-of-hand. 35mm. (MR)
1941, Orson Welles, USA, 119 min.
Hot off his meteoric ascent as the "Boy Wonder" of theater ("Voodoo Macbeth") and radio ("The War of the Worlds"), Welles took Hollywood by storm with this prismatic portrait of a newspaper tycoon loosely modeled on William Randolph Hearst and bearing certain resemblances to Welles himself. Daringly innovative in its use of deep-focus cinematography, narrative structure, and multilayered soundtrack, CITIZEN KANE remains the most sensational debut in film history. Whether it is the greatest film of all time, or even Welles' greatest film, is a perpetual topic of discussion, but one thing is certain: Welles would never again enjoy such ideal production conditions, unhindered by studio interference or financial constraints. 35mm. (MR)
1948, Orson Welles, USA, 107 min.
"One of the director's most personal creations, it's a courageous experiment with a craggy barbaric splendor all its own."--Elliott Stein, Village Voice
Coming close on the heels of Laurence Olivier's Oscar-winning HAMLET, Welles's first Shakespeare film was buried under an avalanche of unfavorable comparisons. Welles himself supervised a drastically recut and redubbed 85-minute version that was released in 1950, but, since the rediscovery of his original version in 1985, the film's reputation has steadily risen. Filmed quickly and economically at the B-movie house Republic Pictures, MACBETH is charged with rough-hewn energy (Welles described it as a "rough charcoal sketch") and visual inventiveness. With its relentlessly claustrophobic atmosphere and expressionist touches, it evokes film noir and Universal horror movies, while setting the stage for Welles's boldly cinematic approaches to Shakespeare in OTHELLO and CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT. 35mm restored print courtesy of the UCLA Film & Television Archive; restoration funding provided by The Film Foundation and the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. (MR)
1955, Orson Welles, Morocco, 91 min.
“This may well be the greatest Shakespeare film...arguably an even more important film in Welles’s career than CITIZEN KANE.”--Jonathan Rosenbaum, Chicago Reader
Filmed piecemeal over a period of four years and financed mainly out of the director’s own pocket, OTHELLO marked the beginning of Welles’s career as an independent filmmaker. A model of ingenious low-budget filmmaking, it replaces sets with architecture, making use of stunning locations in Italy and Morocco to provide the frame for some of Welles’s greatest set pieces: the stark, eerie opening funeral; the stormy arrival at Cyprus; the vertiginous murder of Roderigo in a Turkish bath. The cast is dominated by MacLiammóir’s wily, bitter Iago, and the film’s relentless pace matches the momentum of the villain’s opportunistic machinations. The film exists in three different versions (1952, 1955, 1992); we are showing the 1955 U.S./U.K.-release version, whose soundtrack (extensively reworked by Welles after the film's rushed 1952 Cannes premiere) is considered more authentic than that of the 1992 posthumous restoration. Digital video. (MR)
The Magnificent Ambersons
1942, Orson Welles, USA, 88 min.
"Welles's second feature is in many ways his most personal and most impressive...The emotional sense of America in the late 19th and early 20th centuries is so palpable you can taste it."--Jonathan Rosenbaum, Chicago Reader
Based on Booth Tarkington's 1918 novel, Welles's second film uses the decline of a prominent Midwestern family as a microcosm for the shift from 19th-century gentility to 20th-century industrialism. The plot centers on an Oedipal triangle involving the dowager Isabel Amberson Minafer (Costello), her automobile-manufacturer suitor (Cotten), and her possessive, enfant-terrible son (Holt). Throughout his career, Welles insisted that THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS was a greater achievement than CITIZEN KANE, although his assessment was based on the film's long-lost original version. Cut by 45 minutes and saddled with a weak, studio-imposed ending, AMBERSONS is perhaps the most regrettable hatchet-job in film history. However, enough of its original glory remains to give credence to Welles's claim, supported by the film's greater emotional depth and its more accomplished use of the fluid long-take style that had been pioneered in CITIZEN KANE. 35mm. (MR)