Orson Welles’ spectral return to the screen, ingeniously in posthumous mode, should have come as a comfort to the magicians skilled in the arts of trickery. Beyond the grave, he seems to be exerting a continuing influence, with his film, The Other Side of the Wind making its debut after 48 torrid years at the Telluride Film Festival. His delight for illusion and the magical manipulations of the camera would not have been out of place in the anxiety filled age mistakenly called the “post-truth” era.
Starting momentously grand and at summit greatness in Citizen Kane, and heading low into financial difficulty and stuttering projects, his genius was as prodigious as his luck was absent. His aptitude in mastering the brutish nature of the directing set was unquestioned – except in Hollywood. Throughout he was plagued by the curse that money has over the genius of expression. Power and control do not necessarily entail backing and profits – for Welles, it was the sheer sense of doing something, the need to run multiple projects that might never have seen the light of day. His mind, and application, proved inscrutably errant.
What Welles did master, to an extent, was the degree of fakery, creating a world of illusion that refuses to date. The word “fake” has a certain pejorative quality, having been further stained by its users in the age of Donald J. Trump, often in connection with that other unreliable companion, “news”. But Welles managed to give it a boost of respectable guile, a teasing sense of about how other realities might be seen. Now, to challenge such ways of seeing by claiming them to be fake would either make you a mental patient or a US president. For Welles, it was a cinematic experiment or a broadcasting contrivance, an effort to alter the senses and entertain.
Welles could hardly have been despondent about this age, he being the finest exponent of the values of fakery. He would have gotten down to work, tyrannically engaged with his staff in producing a fine work on the odiously named “post-truth world” (since when was there a fully truthful world in any case, one pulsating with verity?).
His most delightful ribbings would have now been subsumed under such tags as misinformation, crowned by the meaningless nature of fake news. Could he have gotten away with the radio announcement made on October 30, 1938 that extra-terrestrials had, in fact, landed on earth and attacked it with single minded fury? Any empanelled jury would have to ponder.
The occasion is worth retelling. Grover’s Mill, New Jersey, and the Mercury Theatre group, featured, along with an updated version of H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds. National radio supplied the thrilling medium and the delivery. “The Columbia Broadcasting System and its affiliated stations present Orson Welles and the Mercury Theatre on the air in the ‘War of the Worlds’ by H.G. Wells.” A mild mannered, sensible start.
For more HERE!