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Posts Tagged ‘Orson Welles’

“I haven’t seen too many films since Blade Runner (1982) to be honest with you.”
Director William Friedkin in a 2012 interview

William Friedkin tells of something he did on the road to becoming an Oscar-winning director (The French Connection) that I imagine a small percentage of people who want to be filmmakers have ever done—watch one movie five times in a single day. That one film changed his life. But before I tell you which film that is, let me give you a quick recap of the skills he acquired before he directed his first feature film in his early thirties.

Friedkin was the son of Russian immigrants and grew up in a one-room apartment in the north side of Chicago, but “didn’t know we were poor until I left high school.” He left high school without a degree, and got a job in the mail room at a local television station. He made his way into production and worked on 2,000 local tv programs. His Tv work included even thing from kids programs to the documentary The People vs. Paul Crump (1962).

Citizen Kane is the film that made me want to become a filmmaker. I saw it when I was 20-years-old. I had no idea what I wanted to do. And somebody told me there was this really interesting old film playing at the Surf Theatre in Chicago on Dearborn and Division. And I trusted this guy’s opinion so I went there on a Saturday at noon, and I left the theater at midnight. I saw it five straight times. Whatever that was, that was what I wanted to do. To me it’s the greatest film ever made, because it synthesizes everything that was found in the past, and it points the way to the future.”
William Friedkin
Fade In/William Friedkin’s Favorite Films of all Time

P.S. While I don’t know how many times Friedkin has seen Citizen Kane, I imagine it’s over 50 times. I saw a list recently where he talked about 10 of his favorite films—all of which he’d seen at least 50 times each. Oscar-winning director Mike Nichols (The Graduate) once commented that anyone wanting to be a film director should watch the George Stevens’ classic A Place in the Sun 50 times.

Related posts:

Orson Welles at USC in 1981 (part 1)
Study the old masters.’—Martin Scorsese
Orphan Characters (Tip #31)
‘Stagecoach’ Revisited  “[Citizen Kane director Orson] Welles not only watched the film 40 times, but when once asked who his favorite three film directors where said, ‘John Ford, John Ford, John Ford.'”
Screenwriting Quote #38 (Orson Welles) And the early roots of Welles who also had a connection to the greater Chicago area.
Screenwriting da Chicago Way (2.0)

Scott W. Smith

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“I’m more interested in politics than anything in the world.  Much more interested in politics than I am in movies, art, or anything. I’m absolutely fascinated by politics and have been all my life…The truth is every piece of art is a political statement. When you deliberately make it you—the audience is going to get dizzy—when you deliberately make it you usually fall into the trap of rhetoric and the trap of speaking to a convinced audience, rather than convincing an audience. I think some movies and some books, and god some paintings, have changed the face of the world. But I don’t believe it’s the duty of every artist to change the face of the world. He is doing it by being an artist.”
Orson Welles at Q&A at USC in 1981
(Welles was most personally politically active during the ’30s and ’40s—”FDR used to say, ‘You and I are the two best actors in America.'”—Orson Welles)

This concludes a week of posts of the Orson Welles Q&A at USC after they screened his film The Trial. It’s interesting to note that in the Q&A he mentioned that he never watched his film after he made them because they are so much better in his mind.

It’s also worth noting that in the last few years before Welles dies in 1985,  filmmaker Henry Jaglom recorded conversations with him at the original Ma Masion restaurant where Welles held court in his later years.Those conversation were edited by Peter Biskin (Easy Riders, Raging Bulls) and recently  published in the book My Lunches with Orson Welles. I have not read the book yet but from what I’ve read it does offer some new—and unplugged—revelations into a man who at just 24-years-old directed one of the masterpieces of cinema—Citizen Kane.

“When asked to describe Welles’s influence, Jean-Luc Godard remarked, simply, ‘Everyone will always owe him everything.'”
Peter Biskin introduction to My Lunches with Orson Welles

For Welles Citizen Kane was his mountaintop experience. The movie was released in 1941 and his journey, and creative & financial struggles, over the years have been well documented. If you were born after his death you may be surprised to learn that in the ’70s—and era before cable TV, DVDs, and Internet streaming—Welles was mostly known to the American public as the spokesman for Paul Mason wine. For his Shakespearean delivery of the line, “We will sell no wine before its time.”

An average young person  today is more likely to know Welles from his drunken outtakes from those Paul Mason commercials. The kind of video that ends up on Funny or Die and I’ve actually seen a video of the outtakes below re-shot with actors today as either a spoof or a class project.

By this time in his life the well had run dry for Welles. In a sense he had become like what became of many legends in their later years (Elvis, Hemingway, Tennessee Williams) a shadow of his former greatness. But like Elvis, Hemingway, and Williams the sun is shinning once again. The good, the bad, and the ugly has turned the man who once stood on the mountaintop to become his own mountain. Welles like a select few people in Hollywood—a place he called “a snake pit”— has become through appointments and mythology reached the status of legend and icon.

In the spirit of who “Who was Charlie Kane?” and “Who was Rosebud?” — Who was Orson Welles?   Biskin and Jaglom I imagine have added another chapter to the growing story of the man now sometimes called Citizen Welles.

The final scene of The Lady from Shanghai is perhaps the most autobiographical truthful metaphor in all of his work. It is ultimately impossible to find the real Orson Welles among all the fun-house mirrors he so energetically set in place.”
Henry Jaglom

And to end this full circle, I found a quote online from Jaglom’s talks with Welles that touched on politics.

“Politics is always corrupting. Even saints in politics. The political world, in itself, is corrupt. You’re not going to satisfy that urge to spiritual perfection in any political movement without being betrayed and without betraying others. Only service, direct service, say, helping a lot of starving kids in a Third World country, is impeccable.”
Orson Welles
My Lunches with Orson Welles

And instead of ending with the a scene from The Lady from Shanghai or a clip of one of Welles’ films I thought you might enjoy this clip of Welles talking about Ernest Hemingway.

P.S. If you happen to be in the Orlando area, the Enzian Theater will have a Saturday matinée of Citizen Kane tomorrow (1/11/14) at noon.

Related links: The USC Spectator Spring of 1982 about Welles visiting USC

There is an entire You Tube Channel dedicated to Citizen Welles which includes the  90 min doc—The Complete Charlie Kane.

Scott W. Smith

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“I think The Third Man is one of the best, if not the best, non-auteur films ever made.”
Writer/Director Peter Bogdanovich (The Last Picture Show)

The Third Man was never written to be read but only to be seen. Like many love affairs, it started at a dinner table and continued with many headaches in many places, Vienna, Venice, Ravello, London, Santa Monica.”
Screenwriter Graham Greene
‘The Third Man’ as a Story and a Film
NY Times—March 19, 1950

Towards the end of the Orson Welles Q&A at USC back in 1981 there is this brief exchange which says a lot about going to great lengths to get the right shot.

Audience member: An actor friend of mine once told me that he thought one of the great moments in film is in The Third Man when the light falls on you and you’re revealed —

Orson Welles: —”Oh, it is one of the great moments. (The USC audience laughs and applauds.) Remember I didn’t direct it, Carol Reed directed it. And do you know that we had that set built on another stage, and every afternoon for five days at the end of the day’s shooting we went and shot it again until Carol had it exactly the way he wanted it. Because he knew it was the key moment of the movie.”

I couldn’t find that scene online, and that’s just as well. If you’ve seen it you know what’s being talked about. If you haven’t seen it, you should (and not online). But I did find the classic short “cuckoo clocks” monologue by Welles that is often quoted from the movie. And a couple other related videos including a full audio commentary of The Third Man by Steven Soderbergh (Traffic ) and Tony Gilroy (The Bourne Identity). And I should at least mention that The Third Man—which is listed at number #94 on IMDB’s Top 250— was written by the novelist, playwright and screenwriter Graham Greene (but even he admitted, “the popular line of dialogue concerning Swiss cuckoo clocks was written into the script by Mr. Welles himself.”)

Scott W. Smith

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“I’m often asked by younger filmmakers, ‘Why do I need to look at old movies?’ I’ve made a number of pictures in the past 20 years and the response I find that I have to give them is I still consider myself a student. The more pictures I’ve made in the past 20 years, the more I realize I don’t know. And I’m always looking for something or someone I can learn from. I tell the younger filmmakers, the young students that they should do it like painters used to do it—painters do it—study the old masters. Enrich your palette. Expand the canvas. There’s always so much more to learn.”
Oscar-winning director Martin Scorsese (The Departed, Goodfellas, Hugo)  
A Personal Journey with Martin Scorsese Through American Movies (1995)
Section The Director as Smuggler

Related Post:
Learning from Others (Tip #42) Post the touches on Orson Welles watching Stagecoach 40 times while making Citizen Kane, Frank Darabont watching Goodfellas while making The Shawshank Redemption, and Christopher Nolan watching Blade Runner 100 times.
Can Screenwriting Be Taught? (2.0)

Scott W. Smith

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“If you’re not hot in Los Angeles, it’s a very lonely town…It’s a lonely town even if you are hot.”
Peter Bogdanovich

“I’m not bitter. I ask for it myself. Success is very hard. Nobody prepares you for it. You think you’re infallible. You pretend you know more than you do. Pride goeth before the fall.”
Peter Bogdanovich
New York Times article: Older, Sadder, Maybe Wiser
April 07,2002

In the post The Making of Peter Bogdanovich I wrote about his rise from an early love of movies as a child, to being a teenage actor, to being a writer in his early twenties, to directing The Last Picture Show in his early thirties. After that film was nominated for eight Academy Awards, he would direct two more winners—What’s Up, Doc? and Paper Moon. At least professionally, at that moment in time, Bogdanovich had the kind of success that few filmmakers experience. But then what happened?

“What happened? Three-in-a-row struck back. Mr. Bogdanovich’s three successes were followed with Daisy Miller (1974), At Long last Love (1975), and Nickelodeon (1976)–three flops.”
David Thomson

Professionally he was in a tail spin. It probably didn’t help his psyche that he turned down opportunitees to direct The Godfather and Chinatown. His private life was no picnic either. During The Last Picture Show he began an affair with Cybill Shepherd which ended his marriage to Polly Platt. After his three failed films, his relationship  ended with Shepherd and in 1979, at age 39, he began a relationship with 19-year-old Playboy centerfold Dorothy Stratten, who he cast in his film They All Laughed. Tragically Stratten was killed in 1980 by her  estranged husband who then killed himself. Bogdanovich retreated by writing a book about Stratten.

He also created a controversy when his compassion for Stratten’s 13-year-old half-sister turned into a romantic relationship sometime in her later teens. When Bogdanovich was 49 he married the 20-year-old.  They would later divorce, and along the way he’s filed for bankruptcy twice, reportedly went through psychiatric treatment, and eventually left California and returned to New York’s Upper West Side, not far from where he was raised.

“If you do not stay visible, you’re forgotten. It’s somewhat like riding a tiger. If you fall off, you get eaten, and if you stay on it’s a rough ride.”
Paul S. Sigelman (An attorney of Peter Bogdanovich’s at the time of his bankruptcy trials)

But Bogdanovich is a survivor. Heck, my favorite Bogdanvich film, Mask (1985), was made during one of the hardest periods of his life. And he’s continued to make films over the years, he had a role on The Sopranos, he’s written books (including Who the Devil Made It and one on Orson Welles), he blogs at Blogdanovich, he teaches at the University of North Carolina School for the Arts, and because of his deep film knowledge and relationship with Welles and John Ford he is a living link to the past and in demand at film festivals and doing DVD commentaries. Now at age 73 he still has films to make & roles to play, articles to write, and lessons to pass on to the next generation of filmmakers.

 “[Hollywood’s] an easy place to get fooled. There are no real seasons and you’re not aware of time going. Orson had this line: ‘The terrible thing about LA is that you sit down when you’re 25 and when you stand up you’re 62.’ He was not wrong.”
Peter Bogdanovich

The Bel-Air hacienda, the Rolls-Royce, and the servants of his past life are gone. Like John Wayne, John Ford, and Cary Grant—all just a faded remnants of Bogdanovich’s past.

But well into the future, filmmakers will learn from Bogdanovich—even if just via his writings and commentaries—about filmmaking, old Hollywood, and maybe a life lesson or two along the way.

Scott W. Smith

 

 

 

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“I remember I was having a conversation with Orson Welles one time and we were talking about Greta Garbo. He loved her—I do too—but he was rhapsodizing about her. And I said, ‘I agree with you, but isn’t it too bad that she only made two really, really good pictures out of forty?’ And he looked at me for a long time and said, ‘Well, you only need one.'”
Writer/Director Peter Bogdanovich
The Last Picture Show: A Look Back documentary

P.S. Watched Bodganvich’s Mask (1985) over the weekend for the first time in years. Think I’ll make this Peter Bogdanovich week.

Scott W. Smith

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This week I picked up the just published book Writing in Pictures: Screenwriting Made (Mostly) Painless by Joseph McBride. He’s the perfect person to pull a quote from on this blog because he’s had an interesting career, which actually got a kickstart start here in the Midwest.

As a student at the University of Wisconsin in Madison he first saw Citizen Kane, and then went on to watch it a total of 60 times as a student.* He spent six years working alongside Orson Welles, produced a documentary on John Ford, wrote the screenplay for Rock ‘n’ Roll High School, has written and published several books on filmmakers, and now teaches at San Francisco State University where he’s been able to have top screenwriters visit his classroom.

Writer/director Peter Bogdanovivh says of Writing in Pictures, “Joe McBride’s comprehensive yet very succinct work should become a standard text.”

Now I don’t know how painless the quote I’ve pulled from McBride’s book is, but is a common thread that I have found over the four years of writing this blog:

“I didn’t sell my first screenplay until 1977, the seventh feature-length script I had written (I also had written dozens of short film scripts and filmed several of them myself). That’s one of the first lessons I will pass along to you. Don’t ever stop writing…So I had served a ten-year apprenticeship teaching myself how to write scripts before I became a professional.”
Joseph McBride 

Maybe painless, but certainly time-consuming.

* Because, as a student in the ’60s, McBride couldn’t afford to photocopy the script for Citizen Kane he hauled a manual typewriter to the reading room at the now Wisconsin Historical Society and typed an exact copy of the script. A great exercise in learning. Something McBride points out that a young David Mamet did with the Tennessee Williams play A Streetcar Named Desire.

Related Posts:
Screenwriting Quote #38 (Orson Welles)/He was born in Kenosha, Wisconsin
Screenwriting from Wisconsin
It Takes a Little Time Sometimes
Beatles, Cody, King & 10,ooo Hours
The Secret to Being a Successful Screenwriter (Seriously) 

Scott W. Smith

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