It took me five minutes to find the men’s room on the second floor of the second floor of this gothic glass tower. After relieving myself in a fancy urinal, I ran across the vast but empty marble lobby, passing a crowd of handsomely uniformed young staff who were standing around, returning to the screening of Citizen Kane.

Orson Welles made this film when he was only in his 20s. Is this really “the greatest film of all time”? I would not have known. Despite its scope, its subject and its fame, what really impresses me is the film’s youthful ambition and vigor – even Welles’ heavy make-up couldn’t  hide his gleaming and penetrating eyes that belong only to young people.  The closest thing in the gallery of “great films” I can think of, in fact, is Les Parapluies de Cherbourg. If a 34-year-old Jacques Demy was projecting a youthful regret in that film, a 27-year-old Welles was projecting a youthful cynicism here. While both regret and cynicism are frequently associated with older people, when presented by the young, they are particularly affecting and particularly true because the underlying ambition and love are much stronger

Now Orson Welles and Citizen Kane are part of the establishment they are both enshrined in this “Essential 100” list and this monstrosity of a building. What he needs, probably, is a youthful audience who could occupy the empty theatre I was in this afternoon, and who could watch the film as what it is, not what everybody says it is.

Ambition and cynicism:

Love and regret:

,

"Everybody has his own idea of happiness, but money is what all of us in common."

It’s a common misconception that great art is the child of profound considerations or unusual circumstances while in fact many masterpieces were brought by contingency or material necessity in totally mundane situations. Probably that’s why Orson Welles’ 1947 film The Lady From Shanghai is regarded by some film historians as unworthy, because they are well aware of the film’s genesis: Orson Welles made the film to pay off a loan. The film itself does has some obvious drawbacks, such as a very contrived B-movie story line based on a certain Sherwood King’s novel If I Die Before I Wake – it’s said that when Welles was calling studio boss for the loan, this book happened to be on the side of the telephone, so he grabbed it and made an adaptation proposition.

However, great artists being great artists, they are able to – and often do – grab every chance to express their overflowing original ideas. And it’s not difficult for a careful watcher (or a carefree one who has no ideology baggage) to discover the highly unconventional and individual elements both in contents and style under layers of studio make-up of this Orson Welles film. Here is a short list which I would like to discuss more thoroughly in subsequent posts:

  • Exquisite visuals
  • Surrealistic setting
  • The use of close-ups
  • Artistic dignity vs. material dependence
  • (Genre) film-making as a reflexive game (or autobiography)  played by the filmmaker
  • “Murmuring effects” in films
  • Masculine innocence vs. femme fatale
  • “Shanghai” as a code word for outsider (with a shady past)