Orson Welles was a well-regarded performer in radio and film, a celebrated Shakespearean stage actor, an accomplished magician and one of the most influential filmmakers of all time. Welles found national and international fame as the director and narrator of a 1938 radio adaptation of H. G. Wells’ novel The War of the Worlds. It reportedly caused widespread panic when listeners thought that an invasion by extraterrestrial beings was occurring, rocketing Welles to notoriety. Welles’s growing fame drew sudden Hollywood offers, while RKO Radio Pictures President George Schaefer offered Welles complete artistic control to an untried director. Welles agreed to the offer and conceived a screenplay titled Citizen Kane with screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz, where Welles would direct, co-write, produce, and star as the lead. Mankiewicz based the original outline on an exposé of the life of William Randolph Hearst, whom he knew socially and came to hate. When hearing of this Hearst’s media outlets immediately boycotted the film, exerting enormous pressure and intimidation on the Hollywood film community. At one point they even offered to purchase the film, fully intending to burn the negative and existing prints, but RKO declined, and the film was given a limited release. Citizen Kane (1941) was well-received critically, as it garnered nine Academy Award nominations, but won only for Best Original Screenplay, shared by Mankiewicz and Welles. Although it was largely ignored at the Academy Awards, Citizen Kane is now hailed as one of the greatest films ever made. Andrew Sarris called it “the work that influenced the cinema more profoundly than any American film since The Birth of a Nation (1915)” and during the 1950s, the film came to be seen by young French film critics such as François Truffaut as exemplifying the auteur theory, in which the director is the ‘author’ of a film. Welles followed up Citizen Kane with such films as The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), The Stranger (1946), The Lady from Shanghai (1948), Othello (1952), The Complete Mr. Arkadin (1955), Touch of Evil (1958), The Trial (1962) and Chimes at Midnight (1965). Unfortunately Welles would forever struggle for creative control from major studios, while most all his films were either heavily edited or remained unreleased. For the rest of his life, Welles permanently remained an outsider to the studio system directing only 13 full-length films in his entire career. Even so, Welles distinctive directorial style presented revolutionary cinematic techniques that would forever change the language of cinema, including layered and nonlinear narrative forms, innovative uses of lighting such as chiaroscuro, unusual camera angles, sound techniques borrowed from radio, deep focus shots, long takes, and the use of innovative editing effects. Welles has been praised as a major creative force and as ‘the ultimate auteur,’ while in 2002, Welles was voted as the greatest film director of all time in two British Film Institute polls among directors and critics.
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