And a Happy New Year from Orson Welles
"Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year"
With those simple words, filmmakers the world over, were given a new "cinematic" tool, as edited by Orson Welles in what everyone seems to think is the greatest movie ever made, Citizen Kane.
Now, strange as it may seem, I can't recall this particular editing innovation being used very often in movies after Citizen Kane was released. Maybe it's because I have a New Years Eve hangover from drinking a a few too many Gimlet's with Glenn Anders and Todd Baesen at the Ha-Ra Club (by the way, I told Todd to stop his rant against the new messageboard. Although I don't much like it, either, it's better than having nothing!)
However, to return to "Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year," it seems to me it recalls the cut in Kubrick's 2001 where we cover many years in the story in a single cut.
Welles had discovered a very effective cinematic device that nobody else ever seems to be using these days. Maybe it's like the dissolve, and it has simply gone out of fashion, but it's a technique that you would think some hot-shot young director would have picked-up on.
But, speaking of the dissolve, why would should that have gone so out of fashion in today's movies? It's one of the most poetic and beautiful things a director or a film editor has at their disposal. That is why Citizen Kane's opening is so poetic. And just look at the beautiful dissolves in Terence Malick's films.
Maybe it's just because today's young MTV trained directors don't even know what a dissolve is. Could that be why they are so out of fashion?
If that is the case, it's a pretty pathetic indictment of film schools. It reminds me of Welles own comments on what was "cinematic" made circa 1948. He and Jean Cocteau were at the Venice film Festival, and both wondered what the formula was for creating a "cinematic" experience, if only so they could put it into effect in one of their future films. At the time, both Welles and Cocteau had made films from plays they had already directed for the stage. Welles had just done Macbeth, while Cocteau had just started work on Les Parents Terribles.
The point being, "cinematic" was really just a fake description for what critics wanted movies to be. What is really cinematic, would be, as Welles said in 1958, giving the camera to someone who could use it as "an eye in the head of a poet."
So let's have more poets who want to make movies, and less bastards who are raised on MTV and want to become rich and famous!
In any event, here is wishing everyone at Wellesnet a very Happy New Year, and as promised, here is the second part of ORSON WELLES autobiography that was published in Paris Vogue.
A BRIEF CAREER AS A MUSICAL PRODIGY
By Orson Welles - PARIS VOGUE, December, 1982
Violinist, pianist...child conductor...
This last was pretty much of a fake. By the time I was seven I was reading through the scores and waving my little baton in the presence of such people as Heifetz, Casals, Schnabel, Wallenstein and Mischa Ellman, when they gathered informally in chamber groups in my mother's house. Her own professional life was frustrated by long illness, but just about everybody was in love with her, so the celebrated musicians, when they came to visit and play, were kind enough to pretend that the midget Von Karajan in front of them was not (as I must truly have been) a damned nuisance.
I find it strange that my mother indulged me in this since she indulged me in nothing else. She was not the musical version of a stage mother, but was simply resolved that whatever I did had to be good if it was to be done at all, and I was made to practice hours on end every day.
Once, distracted to the point of madness by endlessly repeated musical scales, I attempted suicide.
What I really wanted to end, of course, was not my life but the scales, and I did place myself in a position of imminent peril on the outside of one of those railings in the Ritz some two and a half stories above the Place Vendome. I hung there listening to the wretched spinster lady who'd been engaged to supervise my practice calling hysterically for my mother in an adjoining room.
Pause... Then my mother's voice: "Well," she said, "if he wants to jump, let him jump."
The truth is her heart was in her mouth. She knew her son, and knew that stepping off into space would have appealed to me for its gaudy element of melodrama and pathos. ("Now they'll be sorry.") She also imagined that a child could have no significant sense of the reality of death. But in this she was mistaken. I knew very well that she was going to die, and how real that would be, and how very soon it would happen. Whenever she left me, the moment the door had closed, I would burst into tears, afraid that I would never see her again.
But she was certainly right about that business of mine out on the balcony. If I'd heard her rushing toward me the excitement might well have been just enough, and I wouldn't be here now remembering it. Later, my mother told me that she stood still all that time in the hall outside the room with the piano. By the sheer force of her formidable character she persuaded the spinster lady to muffle her whimpering... Then, finally, there came to her ears the sound she'd been waiting for:
My mother had won. She was, in all things, as tough-minded as she was loving-hearted.
The last time I was allowed to visit her... It must have cost great effort and much pain to have let me find her sitting up in bed. And how much like her it was to have arranged it so that our farewell in that black room was made to seem like the high point of my birthday party. I heard that cello voice: "Well now, Georgie-Porgy..." I'd just learned that I'd been baptized "George" -- that Orson was a mere middle name, and had reacted tragically to the revelation. My father had said, "Hell, we had to call you 'Orson' -- every damned pullman porter in the country is named 'George'." My gangsterish little friends in the neighborhood had taken up the maddening chant:
"Georgie-Porgie, puddin' and pie, Kissed the girls and made them cry!"
The first line of the hateful couplet seemed to sum up the chubby little grub I knew myself to be, but I rather liked the part about kissing girls. Mother, who knew about that awful jingle, was teasing me -- as she so often liked to do.
Then I heard her again, a voice in the shadows, speaking Shakespeare:
"These antique fables apprehend, More than cool reason ever comprehends."
The quotation, spoken consolingly, came from her choice of a primer when she was first teaching me to read. "A Midsummer Night's Dream" is not the easiest way to start spelling out one's first written words, but "Why," she demanded, "should a person at his most impressionable age be shoveled into the sordid company of 'Auntie's Nice Kitty-Cat,' and 'Little Sister's Silly Red Ball'?" I was marinated in poetry, and to learn right at the beginning, "a sense of awe, delight and wonder."
And now she was holding me in one of her looks. Some of these could be quite terrible. I'd seen my father wither under them into a crisp, brown winter's leaf.
"The lunatic, the lover, and the poet Are of imagination all compact."
Those great shining eyes looked dark by the light of the eight small candles. I can remember now what I was thinking. I thought how green those eyes had always been when it was sunny.
Then -- all tenderness, and as if speaking from an immense distance:
"A lovely boy, stol'n from an Indian king, Who ever had so sweet a changeling...?"
What did she mean? Was I, indeed, a changeling? (I have, in later years, been given certain hints...)
Mother had told me that because it was just six o'clock in the morning: time for everyone to start work in the factories, whistles and bells had all started blowing at once, like heralds, at the moment of my birth.
"This stupid birthday cake," she said, "is just another stupid cake; and you'll have all the cakes you want. But the candles are a fairy ring. And you will never again in your whole life have just that number to blow out." She was a sorceress. "You must puff hard," she said, "and you must blow out every one of them. And you must make a wish."
I puffed very hard. And suddenly the room was dark and my mother had vanished forever.
Sometimes, in the dead watches of the night, it strikes me that of all my mistakes, the greatest was on that birthday just before my mother died, when I forgot to make a wish.