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Orson Welles (1915-1985)


Orson Welles - The One Man Band (1995)
The Hearts of Age (1934)


George Orson Welles was an American actor, director, writer and producer who worked in theater, radio and film. He is best remembered for his innovative work in all three media: in theatre, most notably Caesar (1937), a groundbreaking Broadway adaptation of Julius Caesar; in radio, the 1938 broadcast "The War of the Worlds", one of the most famous in the history of radio; and in film, Citizen Kane (1941), consistently ranked as one of the all-time greatest films.

Welles directed a number of high-profile stage productions for the Federal Theatre Project in his early twenties, including an innovative adaptation of Macbeth and The Cradle Will Rock. In 1937 he and John Houseman founded the Mercury Theatre, an independent repertory theatre company that presented an acclaimed series of productions on Broadway through 1941. 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 performed for the radio anthology series The Mercury Theatre on the Air. It reportedly caused widespread panic when listeners thought that an invasion by extraterrestrial beings was occurring. Although some contemporary sources claim these reports of panic were mostly false and overstated, they rocketed Welles to notoriety.

His first film was Citizen Kane (1941), which he co-wrote, produced, directed, and starred in as Charles Foster Kane. Welles was an outsider to the studio system and directed only 13 full-length films in his career. Because of this, he struggled for creative control from the major film studios, and his films were either heavily edited or remained unreleased. His distinctive directorial style featured layered and nonlinear narrative forms, innovative uses of lighting such as chiaroscuro, unusual camera angles, sound techniques borrowed from radio, deep focus shots, and long takes. He has been praised as a major creative force and as "the ultimate auteur." Welles followed up Citizen Kane with critically acclaimed films including The Magnificent Ambersons in 1942 and Touch of Evil in 1958. Although the three are generally considered his greatest works, some film critics have also argued other works of his, such as The Lady from Shanghai (1947) and Chimes at Midnight (1966), are under-appreciated.

In 2002, Welles was voted the greatest film director of all time in two British Film Institute polls among directors and critics, and a wide survey of critical consensus, best-of lists, and historical retrospectives calls him the most acclaimed director of all time. Well known for his baritone voice, Welles was a well-regarded actor in radio and film, a celebrated Shakespearean stage actor, and an accomplished magician noted for presenting troop variety shows in the war years.


RESOURCES:
Orson Welles in the 356 Days Project on UbuWeb