George Orson Welles became known as an American actor who is also into radio, motion picture and theatrical producer. He was born Kenosha, Wisconsin on May 6, 1915. He finished his high school in Woodstock, Illinois and began his acting career with the Gate Theatre in Dublin, Ireland, in 1931. Two years later he toured the United States with Katherine Cornell and in 1937 founded the Mercury Theatre, the same year producing actors in modern-dressed version of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. Among his other stage production were Christopher Marlowe’s Dr.
Faustus (1937) in which he played the title role and Thomas Dekker’s “The Shoemaker’s Holiday”. Welles made Mercury text recording of Shakespeare’s plays, at the same time producing radio broadcasts. The War of the Worlds, broadcast in 1938, a fictionalized narrative of the invasion of earth by creatures from other planets, is said to have created panic in the New York Metropolitan area because of its realism, although there has been some misgivings recently on the account of write-ups that there was real panic leading people to vacate the area.
In 1940, Welles began his motion picture career as producer, writer, director, and actor. His most notable motion picture, which has received current acclaim as the Hollywood’s most important work to have produced, was Welles’s Citizen Kane, released in 1941. Other more prominent works includes The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), Journey into Fear (1942), Macbeth (1947), Moby Dick (1956), and Compulsion (1959). He made a documentary film in Latin America. II. Discussion A. The Issue of Politics on Welles’ Life and Works
During the early years of Mercury Wonder Show, Welles took to the task of bringing travelling shows, performing before military troops during the war years. His initial performances were relegated to performing comedy shows and showcasing his abilities for magic tricks. As the broadcasting of this show became regularly heard by troops at camps while being deployed abroad, and as the war dragged on, Welles started to incorporate political issues by using war themes. The show however, had to be dropped because of its unpopularity, failing miserably on public ratings.
The New York Post took Welles as one of its writers where he began to take political issues to the fore. He often considered subjects that were bordering on the controversial that had come to illustrate Welles’ works whether it be in print, radio broadcast or films. The chief problem however, for Welles and for those who employ his talent, the focus would end up in politics instead of strictly adhering to the project’s original format. The New York Post work for instance, had wanted to cash in on the saleability of Hollywood gossips to boost sales for its newspaper.
The character and presence of Welles was to bring a different flavour to the columns’ set-up. This brought him constantly at odds with producers who would not gamble their financial investments on his works that catered more on his personal political passions that went for most of his lifetime unappreciated by co-workers in Hollywood. He later lost his writing space at the New York Post. Undaunted, Welles continued to take up serious political issues on air through his radio broadcast Commentaries.
He would often pick up relevant issues of the time, usually speaking up to question (or ‘attack’) the validity and morality of actions and decisions done by a single individual, company, or political government. Political matters taken up in this program includes: • Bikini Atomic Test – was on his radio program that questioned the validity of the government’s action of test explosions. His opinion was supposed to mirror the fears and anxieties of the public towards its safety for such undertakings.
• Affidavit of Isaac Woodward – the case concerning Isaac Woodard was not readily revealed, but Orson Welles made extensive efforts to expose the injustice done against Woodard. His was a case of police brutality and prejudice against blacks. South Carolina’s authorities were indicated to have grossly violated the rights of Woodard, who had been severely beaten by a police officer that left him blind for the rest of his life along with partial amnesia. The plight of this former bemedalled Naval war veteran of the 2nd World War, created a national outrage, owing largely to the works of Welles.
(“1946 Orson Welles Commentaries”) B. Film The films of Orson Welles, finished or unfinished, is gaining considerable attention. This was not so during his time, wherein his unrelenting manner of insisting his way of doing his project alienated him from the major players of the studio by which he worked for, who happen to gain much control of Hollywood’s world (“Orson Welles”). Welles however, gave Hollywood two major innovative films: • Touch of Evil Welles was keenly involved in upholding other Civil Rights issues. But twelve years after the outcome of Woodard issue, Welles worked on the film ‘Touch of Evil’.
Its story was heavily motivated out from the Woodard case. Chiefly because of his active support for the Woodard case, Welles formed and later revealed his unconventional perspective towards the police work in general. Welles recognized the difficulty of a policeman’s predicament in fulfilling his profession. However, he redirected the focus and common view of the public, by saying that the main task of a police officer is to defend the law abiding citizen, and not to be fixated with pursuing criminals. This became the very basis in Welles’ Touch of Evil.
• Citizen Kane (1941) Now considered by many new filmmakers with great respect, Citizen Kane both established and destabilized Welles’ reputation. By creating citizen Kane, he also recreated Hollywood’s system of presenting its movies. Whereas, main actors and actresses commonly cause the stir among films projects, Welles was the first to put the director, Welles’ himself, into the limelight. Moreover, he had been given much freedom and control over the making and editing of the film (McAbee, “Orson Welles: Martyr of the Underground”).
The story revolves on solving the meaning of the word “Rosebud” uttered by a newspaper tycoon, Charles Foster Kane before his death. Kane’s life was initially impassioned with idealism upon his entrance into the publishing business, but gradually waned off and replaced by a lifetime callous pursuit of power. The manner of unfolding the story is done by going backwards, as the reporters tries to solve the mystery of the dying man’s last words. The theme is heavily derived from the life of real newspaper magnate — William Randolph Hearst, although Welles’ own life is also incorporated in the story.
It was widely believed to be intended to deride of Hearst’s ruthless exploitation. Hosting lavish parties in one of his many luxurious homes, Hollywood celebrities were welcomed, for as long as they were said to divulge juicy information that could be printed in his newspaper and help keep boosting sales. This kind of abuse of power and influence was the sorts of thing that an Orson Welles would not let pass, unscathed. Known for condemning any forms of oppression or unfairness, Citizen Kane was Welles’ medium to hit upon a ruthless system of greed that has eaten up the idealistic spirit of Americans in general.
The movie expectedly earned the ire of Hearst, who used his every clout to bring Welles down, and could partially be held responsible for Welles downfall. The release of Citizen Kane made Welles’ a sensation in ‘moviedom’, but Welles’ unstable directorial career was no match for a man of status such as Hearst’s whose influence and wealth blocked every progress of Welles in the field of filmmaking (Epstein & Lennon, 1997). III. Conclusion Some strongly believed, along with Welles himself, of him being of outstanding ability. But there are those who debate upon the validity of Welles’ genius.
Although he became well-known, his career and works were far from being fulfilling. In truth, he failed to see his efforts of being truly appreciated. While it is common and vogue to see today’s celebrities standing up for political, social or environmental cause, Welles was already way ahead of his time — fighting mainly for civil rights for most of his adult life. He recognized the power wielded by the media and used it to advance the issues which he sought to find justice. He did succeed in getting public attention. Some of those attentions though, were naturally hostile to his cause mainly because they were the object of his complaints.
He was not also lacking of people within his own field of work, wherein he had a run-in which had dearly hurt his career. The many works which he left unfinished were alleged to be indications of having a lack of focus towards his career or worse, of being undisciplined. But one cannot say that Orson Welles lacked a focus in his life, for he was truly zealous about going against any forms of oppression. Whether it is social injustice towards women, racial prejudice against men of colour, or expression of personal faith, Welles was sure to take it up personally, not even minding if it would cost him financially.
It is within in this context in which sets him apart. The number of projects which he left unfinished may have earned him ill-refute and tainted his brilliance. But many geniuses were left un-applauded by their generation. Besides the social and political relevance of his objections, Welles talent for his craft could not be forever hidden in the vaults of movie history. His major works, Citizen Kane is now being hailed as besting all other works of all time (“Critics’ Top Ten Poll”). Another work, Touch of Evil, is not far from the number one list.
There may had been some considerable projects that he failed to deliver, a sorry state to have missed what could have been another significant contribution to the field of filmmaking. But a more sorry state is the public’s failing miserably to deliver during Welles’ time, the recognition and applause that was due him. Man, has sorely lost another opportunity to give a reward on time for one of its own geniuses. References: “Orson Welles”. Reel Classics. 2008. December 21, 2008, p. 1 http://www. reelclassics. com/Actors/Welles/welles. htm
“1946 Orson Welles Commentaries”. Internet Archive. 2001. December 21, 2008 <http://www. archive. org/details/1946OrsonWellesCommentaries> McAbee, Sam. “Orson Welles: Martyr of the Underground”. December 21, 2008 <http://5mtl. com/ft/orson%20welles2. htm> Epstein, Michael and Thomas Lennon. “The Battle Over Citizen Kane”. The American Experience. 1997. December 21, 2008 <http://www. pbs. org/wgbh/amex/kane2/kane2ts. html> “Director’s Top Ten Poll”. British Film Institute. 2007. December 21, 2008 http://www. bfi. org. uk/sightandsound/topten/poll/critics. html
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