An aging film director, lauded as a genius, celebrates his 70th birthday while scrambling to finish his latest film.
Film Within A Film;
The Wild, Frantic Editing;
Often Feels Dreamlike.
I am far from a completist when it comes to the work of Orson Welles. Not to sound like a film student cliche, but I have seen Citizen Kane multiple times and absolutely love it, and after this I feel compelled to turn back the clock and dive in deeper. By all accounts, Welles was a private man with motivations that weren’t always clear, so it’s easy to see pieces of himself written into the main character here. But it isn’t just that simple, as the cast of people surrounding him shed light, perhaps, on his thoughts about the film culture itself and the types of people who inhabit it, from crew to critics and everything in between. At times it comes across as though Welles hated the movies as much as he loved them, and after making such a dramatic impact with his first film, the culture undeniably has his fingerprint on it. Perhaps he resented that, or at least resented aspects of what the culture came to represent in his eyes. It’s hard to tell, and a film like this is going to produce as many questions as insights.
The performers really seem to be enjoying themselves, most especially John Huston and Peter Bogdanalovich as the director and his protege. There is a sense that some of it is being winged on the spot, as if some scenes were only framed for the actors and they were allowed to riff and see what happened while the camera followed, somewhat like a pivotal scene in the film within the film where the lead actor is pushed beyond his limits and followed by the cameras as he storms off the set. Even with all the madness that goes on and the wide array of characters milling around, relationships are easy to sort through and understand, which is a compliment both to the writing and acting.
The major story is the editing. With a project like this (40 years in the making and finished by others trying to complete Orson’s vision), there is some frenzy to be expected, but this is editing on another level. The cuts are dizzying and constant, jumping all over the place through conversations and interactions as you try to take it all in. The movie also jumps between color and black and white and even different aspect ratios, and not only when the director is screening parts of his film…within the film (confused yet?). It really is something to see, and I imagine older cinephiles (or just huge Welles fans) will get a great deal out of it. “The greatest movie never released” is finally here, and now, over thirty years after the death of Orson Welles, his legacy in its final form can be discussed and debated.