Sunday, April 22, 2007
As I wrote in yesterday's blog, there is a connection with the greatest movie ever made and Woodstock, Illinois. It is Orson Welles. Orson moved from Kenosha, Wisconsin to Chicago and then on to Woodstock following the death of his mother. He attended the Todd School for Boys. The theme of "Citizen Kane", lost innocence, illustrated by the sleigh Rosebud, was based on his own experiences of losing his mother and father before the age of 15. I was a big fan of Orson's well before I ever saw his cinematic masterpiece. I knew him from the greatest radio program ever produced; "War of the Worlds". In the '70s I would watch the "Merv Griffin Show". Orson was a frequent guest. By this time, Orson was best known as the regal guy on the Paul Masson wine commercials who would tell us; "We will sell no wine...before its time". He was also an easy mark for jokes regarding his considerable girth. As someone who has had weight management issues of my own since I was seven, it was great to watch someone as articulate and respected as Orson Welles on TV. On one particular Griffin show Orson recounted a story of how a person had attempted to make fun of his size. Orson told the gentlemen the following; "Yes sir, I am fat...and you are stupid. I can go on a diet tomorrow." I loved it. I loved Orson. I love Orson today. But I am also sad when I think of what might have been. Down right angry . Fact is, he never did go on that diet. It wasn't that Orson was a procrastinator, on the contrary. There may have been no one in Hollywood as prolific as Orson Welles. He wrote, produced, directed and starred in many films and plays. He was the original multi-tasker. On "Citizen Kane" he had complete and total control of the entire production. It shows. It is still visually stunning 66 years later. Framatically perfect. The story behind the box office failure of Citizen Kane is well documented. In short, William Randolph Hearst, the newspaper magnate who the movie was based on, orchestrated a boycott of the movie. Not accepting advertisements for the movie in the Hearst owned newspapers. There was even an attempt to buy the movie and all the existing prints for the express purpose of burning them! RKO gave it a limited release. The movie recognized as the greatest ever made; lost money. "The Magnificent Ambersons" was Welles' second RKO project. While filming "Ambersons" he also worked on other projects. Many projects. A radio show for CBS. Another movie he wrote with Joseph Cotton called "Journey Into Fear". He produced a documentary about South America. The Orson Welles version of The Magnificent Ambersons" was never finished...at least not by Orson. The final cut was edited by the studio...missing 45 minutes. It is so chopped up that it is hard to follow the story. Cinematic historians believe that The Magnificent Ambersons would have been an even greater film than "Citizen Kane", if Orson had just been around to finished it. He had negotiated away the "final cut" option in the contract for the movie. His contentiousness did not endear him to the studio. Genius aside, RKO wanted to make money, so they edited the movie the way they wanted to. Those 45 minutes, as of this writing, have never been found. Lost.
There is no question Orson was a genius. There is no question that RKO and the studio system in Hollywood, instead of embracing his genius, as they initially did with "Citizen Kane", failed him and us. But Orson is culpable as well. His legendary ego and insistence of working on multiple projects at one time not only resulted in works, that although brilliant in some ways, lacked focus, attention and completion. Mostly, they lacked ORSON. His propensity to not see things all the way through is illustrated by his short marriage to Rita Hayworth. Simply the sexiest, most beautiful and talented actress of her time. When a person is too busy for RITA HAYWORTH, their priorities have been misplaced. Speaking of Hayworth, Orson did make a movie with her: "Lady from Shanghai" . Not surprisingly, editing issues lead to huge pieces of this movie ending up on the cutting room floor. It was such a mess that its release was delayed two years. Like many of Orson's works, it is considered "classic", if for only his amazing movie making, not for the movie itself. After a decade plus of Welles being on the outs in Hollywood, he returned in 1958 to create "Touch of Evil". History repeats. The studio chopped it to bits. "Touch of Evil" is another example of what could have been. Soon afterward Welles began filming his version of "Don Quixote". He worked on it, off and on, for several years. It was never finished. Another movie called "The Deep" suffered the same fate in 1967. Yet another movie, "The Other Side of the Wind", a project he worked on for six years in the '70s was never completed. (there's a possibility that it may see the light of day on Showtime sometime in the near future)
Orson Welles continued to work all the way up until his passing in 1985. Films, voice overs, commercials and more. His work was varied and extensive. Moments of brilliance, but rarely satisfying. He had a problem with finishing.
Orson Welles. Big talent. Big ego. Great at getting things going. Bad at getting them done. How may of us live our lives like Orson Welles? Starting. Stopping. Starting. Stopping. What is your vision? What do you want to do? Begin. Today. What's stopping you? Begin. Finish. Begin again. Finish. That's life. We are all a work in progress. It is very exciting. Few of us will ever come close to creating a piece of art as brilliant as "Citizen Kane". What is important is that we DO use our God given talent. Our masterpieces may be a column in the local paper, volunteering in the community to help the less fortunate, losing those troublesome 50 pounds, or writing an award winning screenplay. Begin. Finish. And begin again. Don't leave your potential untapped and your dreams unfinished.