“Orson Welles: Genius and Innovator of the American Cinema” – a new documentary
Orson Welles: Genius and Innovator of the American Cinema is a short documentary written and directed by a 14-year old student, David La Rosa, as part of the National History Day Competition. It won third place out of all the finalists from New York State and can be viewed on YouTube HERE.
I found it to be especially enjoyable, since in only ten short minutes it covers many of the lesser known films from Welles's career, such as It's All True and Chimes at Midnight.
By contrast, take this opening line from a 2003 book review by a so-called "professional" writer who shall remain nameless:
"The 1964 Spanish/Swiss film Chimes at Midnight, based on several Shakespearean plays, will never be recalled as one of the cinema's high points. With a budget only $800,000, there were no makeup artists on set to aid director and star Orson Welles, long exiled from the Hollywood mainstream."
Now, in only two lines, this reviewer has made between three to five mis-statements about Chimes at Midnight, simply because he believed the numerous factual mistakes from the error-ridden captions in the photo book he was supposed to be offering critical advice on: Stars on the Set.
David, on the other hand has done quite a commendable job of research. After watching the film, I asked David to write an introduction for his documentary, which I've posted below, along with the process paper he wrote, that tells how he went about researching Orson Welles career for National History Day.
Introduction by David La Rosa
I've always liked old movies and one day I watched Citizen Kane on Turner Classic Movies. I was astonished by the film and thought it was brilliant. It made me want to see more of Welles' films. I thought that his directorial style reminded me of Hitchcock's. We went to our library and borrowed all of the DVD's we could find. As I watched them, I saw how brilliant they were and decided to learn more about Welles and his work.
Soon I realized that Orson Welles would make a great subject for National History Day. This year's theme was "The Individual in History: Actions & Legacies". I chose to enter the Junior Individual Documentary category because I've always made claymation and stop-motion videos. I thought that I could show how the genius of Welles influenced the American cinema and how he was also a genius unfufilled because of the era in which he made his movies. I used a lot of research from movies, documentaries, books, and the internet. Wellesnet was one of the most resourceful sites to obtain my research. Specifically I learned about Welles' documentary Its All True which is prominently discussed in my documentary. It shows how racism in Hollywood affected Welles. I also learned about the influence that Welles had on Steven Spielberg and how he even bought the original Rosebud sled. Also through Wellesnet, I learned that Chimes at Midnight was available on DVD from Brazil. We bought a copy and I used some of the battle scenes in my documentary to talk about Welles's innovative filming and editing.
The documentary took 1st Place in my Middle School. Everyone really loved it. The next level of the National History Day competition was the Regional Level which was held at Hofstra University. My documentary was up against all the winning ones in the Long Island region. Again I was lucky enough to take 1st Place. Finally, my documentary was shown at the New York State History Day competition in Cooperstown where it took 3rd Place. I won't be moving on to the National level because only 1st and 2nd place winners advance. Still, I am very proud of what I accomplished. I think that many people were really surprised that Orson Welles would make for a great History project.
I am very happy that you liked my documentary and I also want to thank you for running such a great site about Orson Welles!
David La Rosa
Process Paper by David La Rosa
Why I chose this topic
I have always liked movies and when I saw Citizen Kane with Orson Welles I became very interested in him. In watching the documentary “The Battle Over Citizen”, I realized that Welles was a genius who changed American cinema despite being held back by Hollywood.
I discovered that Welles continued as an independent filmmaker against tremendous odds and left a significant legacy which still influences films today. I thought that this would fit the theme of the NHD, “The Individual in History: Actions & Legacies”.
How I conducted my research
I went to the library and borrowed copies of many of Welles’ movies and documentaries, including some of his rare and unfinished ones. I also borrowed books about Welles; both on film criticisms and biographies. Some of the films and books were borrowed through the inter-library loan system. In addition, I went online in order to get further research, film clips, and photos. I spent many hours simply looking for the best quality clips and photos. I completed my annotated bibliography.
How I created and developed my documentary
First, I made many notes from my research. I wrote a script for my narration based on my research from all sources. I then recorded and edited my narration using Audacity Audio Editor. I used DVD Fab to cut clips from the various Welles movies. The documentary itself was created and edited using Windows Movie Maker. I have a lot of experience with this program but it is difficult to use at times due to bugs in the software. I also used Adobe Premiere Pro to create the end credits, which were then edited into the documentary. I created a DVD of my documentary using Nero. I practiced what I was going to say to the judges.
How my project relates to the theme
My documentary relates to the theme “The Individual in History: Actions & Legacies” quite well. Orson Welles was truly a genius and there is no doubt that his innovative style changed the history of moviemaking. However, Welles did not come along at the right time in history. He was the original independent filmmaker who was held back by the rigid Hollywood system and the social times in which he worked. So in this way, history had a negative impact on him and his contribution to films. However, he never compromised his artistic style or principles. He left Hollywood to make his own films which was often very difficult in those days. He acted in many films and commercials despite the ridicule he received from those who felt this was beneath him in order to finance his own. Today, independent filmmaking is an important component of the industry. Major Hollywood directors such as Steven Spielberg and George Lucas publicly acknowledge Welles as a genius and an inspiration. This is the legacy of Orson Welles.