With Orson Welles birthday coming up - he would have been 100 years old had he lived to May 6th 2015 - it is tempting to try and sum up what the great man was - and why Citizen Kane still is considered one of the best films ever made.
I have spent a few evenings with his films, both the ones he loved and hated - and I've browsed through some of the books about him - there are so many!
Who was he? Was he a genius or just a spoiled kid with a gigantic ego? What are his real contributions to cinema, when it seems that he preferred the theatre and probably loved the magic show more than anything else? And can we trust anything he said, really?
Among the texts, I particularly like the essay on Citizen Kane by Laura Mulvey in the BFI Film Classics. Mulvey is both a feminist and a Freudian and she provides clear cut readings on some of the things in the film that are not so obvious, such as the roles of women in Citizen Kane.
The other text is the lovable and very readable My lunches with Orson - conversations between Henry Jaglom and Orson Welles edited by Peter Biskind. The stories he tells, and how he tells them, how Jaglom feeds him his cues and how his reactions are subtly recorded, is just plain beautiful writing. It reminded me of how filmmaking also is a team effort, even when the star steals the show.
Of course, the interviews with Peter Bogdanovich are also great, but I almost prefer a clip from youtube, with Bogdanovich from a couple of years ago, now the older man, now the story teller, doing Orson impersonations during a presentation of Touch of evil at an American college. He is carrying Orson's torch now, and doing it with uncanny splendour.
And then there is a little movie called Orson and me. It was made in 2008 by Richard Linklater on the Isle of Man, maskerading for New York in 1937, when Orson Welles was staging Julius Ceasar with the Mercury Theatre - as a play about a fascist dictator. Christian McKay plays Orson Welles and he had previously played Orson in a one man show called Rosebud. His take on Orson is both fun and a little bit scary, at least for the stagestruck kid in the movie played by Zac Efron. It's great to see the big man alive again in a story that may very well have happened.
In Tim Burton's Ed Wood, from 1994, there is also a scene where Orson Welles turns up in a bar, to comfort and inspire the ambitious but not so genius Ed Wood. Orson Welles is played by Vincent D'Onofrio who looks a lot like Welles, and sounds like him too.
A few years later, in Peter Jackson's Heavenly Creatures, Orson is the object of desire, together with Mario Lanza, that propels two school girls into a fantasy world that eventually leads them to murder. Here, the apppearance of Orson Welles is in the shape of actor Jean Guérin.
He liked to talk, and to mesmerize people. He wasn't always truthful and he couldn't be trusted. He had a knack for abandoning his ideas, his projects, his beloved, and still he is famous for achieving some of the most memorable movies of the 20th century. It often seemed that he was the character he played, Kane, Mr Rochester, Harry Lime... Or that his appearances on the screen somehow gave us a new piece for the great big puzzle that was Orson Welles. He was fascinating, he was fun, he was charming and he had some things to contribute on the subject of personal integrity, power and corruption.
I'll rememeber him fondly. But, as his old friend Marlene Dietrich said in Touch of evil:
"What does it matter what you say about people?"