As is the case with the work of many a cinematic genius, the filmography of Orson Welles is especially revealing when considered as a whole. Hits, flops, stretches of obsession, gaps of inactivity, passion projects and moneygrabs — in some ways this kind of retrospective review can tell us more about the filmmaker than the films themselves. It’s the “God’s-eye view,” to steal the name of an aerial shot favored by Welles, and it serves to highlight the ideas that the writer/director would experiment with, return to, or transform entirely in successive efforts. The other edge of the sword, of course, is that each individual film inexorably loses something when viewed alongside a slew of cinema which may otherwise share little by way of plot, theme, style or cultural impact.
The best case-in-point: The Stranger, Welles’ 1946 Nazi-hunting thriller. It was either his third or fourth feature outing, depending on whether you account for one technicality. His first two were Citizen Kane and The Magnificent Ambersons, utilizing a special technique called setting the bar high. But studio meddling with Ambersons soured Welles on Hollywood, and so his work on 1943’s Journey Into Fear is that aforementioned technicality. Tied up in a tussle over the final cut of Ambersons, Welles received no directing, producing or screenwriting credits in Journey, only appearing in a minor acting role as a Turkish inspector. In actuality Welles directed and wrote portions (at least) of Journey, and the theatrical poster seemingly has no issue declaring this as “ORSON WELLES’ Production…Starring ORSON WELLES.” Coincidentally or not, Journey Into Fear is a fairly feeble thriller that barely justifies a brief hourlong runtime.
Continue reading The Stranger (1946)
On New Year’s Day it’s customary to make a ritual sacrifice to the all-powerful List Gods, the extradimensional appetites of which demand that all things — like, say, the best (and worst) movies of 2018 — be ordered and numbered before the new year can commence. For some reason, the List Gods also demand that “Top Ten” items be ranked in reverse sequential order so that everyone has to read the whole damn article to see what came in first.
Editor’s note: in cooperation with scary net neutrality stuff, Motion State’s Top Ten this year was subject to audit and review before publication to ensure that none of this news is deemed fake. As such, the views expressed in this commentary are actually 100% correct, factually speaking. These ones are just the best.
Continue reading Best of 2018
Motion State Face Offs pit two films, franchises, or television series against each another for no reason other than because we can.
In sharp contrast to the veritable torrent of Hamlet adaptations, it’s somewhat surprising that a Shakespeare tragedy as popular as Othello has so few major film versions. The first is Orson Welles’s 1952 adaptation, featuring the man himself in both the title role and the director’s chair. The most recent, oddly enough, at least as far as explicit-made-for-film versions, is 2001’s O, a modern update that you may or may not consider a true film adaptation of the play. Sure, there are a ton of films that fall in the middle ground. Do filmed theatrical productions count? Do modern updates like O count, and if so, do we consider films that have an even more tenuous link to the play?
Why do we care? might be the actual question on your tongue right now, but if you’ve ever enjoyed Shakespeare at all you’re probably aware of the fact that no two adaptations of the same play are ever the same. How has Othello changed from the first film adaptation to the most recent version? Is there anything that remained from the Welles version, working its way in to the Shakespeare tale such that O becomes an adaptation of both? If this is interesting to you, then this article will explore all of that; if you’re not interested, this article will still explore all of that.
Continue reading Face Off: Othello (1952) and O (2001)
Graham Greene only wrote The Third Man as a novella in order to better understand the tone and characterizations before committing the story to screenplay, so in a way Carol Reed’s film adaptation can’t really be considered an adaptation at all. It was Greene himself who penned the screenplay, although Reed and Orson Welles are said to have had strong influence on the resulting film, and the novella version of The Third Man was never intended to be published. Eventually it was published, paired with the even shorter novella The Fallen Idol, and so today we have further insight into the development of the story.
Reed, who helmed a few other Greene adaptations including The Fallen Idol and Our Man in Havana, understood the novels of the author in a way that few other directors can claim. The atmosphere of The Third Man is masterful, with the long shadows of hidden still-hunters creeping along Viennese landmarks and midnight cafés. The famous sewer scene still echoes today, just as the voices of the police echoed throughout the subterranean columned halls as they hunted the elusive Harry Lime. As a whole the film and the novella share the strongest aspects of atmosphere and characterization, which is why film clubs still pore over Reed’s film while a few doors down the hallway a literature course picks apart Greene’s book.
Continue reading The Third Man (1949)