Sunday, May 31, 2015

Orson Welles at 100: THE TRIAL (1962)

I'm over at Criminal Element with a new installment in my series on Orson Welles at 100. This time around I'm looking at one of my favorite of the director's works, 1962's THE TRIAL

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Orson Welles at 100: TOUCH OF EVIL (1958)

TOUCH OF EVIL is one of the great pieces of cinematic trash. It's a frantic film, wildly over the top, in love with its own squalor, infatuated with the feel and smell of decay. Among Orson Welles's attempts at pulp, it is his masterpiece. 

I'm over at Criminal Element writing about the film in the newest entry of my series on Welles At 100. Check it out here.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Orson Welles at 100: THE THIRD MAN (1949)

The newest entry in my series on the centennial of Orson Welles takes a look at the most popular role he ever played, Harry Lime in Carol Reed's THE THIRD MAN, starring Welles's old pal Joseph Cotton. Click here to check it out

Friday, May 15, 2015

Orson Welles at 100: THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI (1947)

In the latest entry on my series "Orson Welles at 100" over at Criminal Element, I'm looking at the beautiful mess that is THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015


There's a really nice review of my story collection THE DEEPENING SHADE up at The Life Sentence. I couldn't be happier about it. Written by Scott Adlerberg, it's one of the most perceptive pieces that's been written about my work.

Check out the review here.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Report from the Welles Centennial Festival

There are two master narratives about Orson Welles. The first holds that he was a boy genius who made the Greatest Movie Of All Time and then went into a precipitous decline that lasted the rest of his life. In this view, he was a man undone by his passions and his personal failings.

The second narrative holds that Welles was a boy genius who made a great movie that so unsettled the fickle company town of Hollywood that he was driven out, forced to make his increasingly brilliant art as an independent producer. In this view, Welles isn't just the guy who made CITIZEN KANE. He's the author a body of work that includes pivotal contributions to film noir (THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI, TOUCH OF EVIL), European cinema (THE TRIAL, THE IMMORTAL STORY), and the documentary (F FOR FAKE). In this view Welles' greatest film wasn't the masterpiece he made in 1941, it was the one (FALSTAFF) that he made in 1965.

The second view (and, by my lights, the correct one) was well on display in Woodstock, Illinois the last few days. The town is playing host to the Orson Welles Centennial Festival because it is the place that Welles himself regarded as his hometown. Though he was born in Kenosha, Wisconsin, and lived much of his early life in Chicago, and lived all of his adult years as a continent-hopping nomad--Welles reserved a special love for Woodstock because it was home to Todd Seminary for Boys, where he was sent as a child after the death of his parents. The school's headmaster, Roger Hill, was Welles's oldest and dearest friend.

I made the trip from Chicago to Woodstock this weekend. On Friday, I attended a screening of MAGICIAN: THE ASTONISHING LIFE & CAREER OF ORSON WELLES, a new documentary by director Chuck Workman. Pardon the pun, but the film is best described as workmanlike. Moving lockstep through Welles's life and career, following a basic chronological style, it's unlikely to turn the heads of people who aren't already interested in its subject. Instead, it does admirable recovery work on the legacy of Welles, moving his later films like THE TRIAL and FALSTAFF and F FOR FAKE back into focus after decades of neglect. It's a partisan film, and thank god for that. Welles has been hammered enough over the years under the guise of objectivity. It's nice to see a movie that actively wants to debunk the "boy genius gone sour" myth of a supposedly objective piece of business like THE BATTLE OVER CITIZEN KANE, the American Experience documentary that is regrettably included in DVD packages with CITIZEN KANE. That film is slicker and more dramatically-focused, but MAGICIAN is far more nuanced view of Welles and his work. It is, in the best sense, a movielover's movie. No Welles fan will want to miss it.

Saturday, I got to see Jonathan Rosenbaum interview Oja Kodar. For the last twenty years of Welles' life, Kodar was his partner and artistic collaborator. Her talk with Rosenbaum was wide ranging. She explained the origin of the title of THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND (in short: she regarded Welles himself as an elemental force, like the wind, and the film sought to explore the other side of that kind of larger than life figure). She explained why she wasn't intimidated by him when then first met. ("Yes, he was this world famous legendary genius...but I knew he was just a man and I was a very pretty girl.")

She also dished on behind the scenes drama, including why she is no longer friends with some of Welles' old confidants, including Peter Bogdanovich and Henry Jaglom. (Her disdain for Jaglom is particularly palpable.) Rosenbaum didn't take the conversation into any uncomfortable areas such as the Kodar's feelings about Welles' wife or daughter, nor he did touch on any controversy involving THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND. No mention was made of the claim in Josh Karp's new book ORSON WELLES'S LAST MOVIE, that Kodar has been the main obstacle in getting the film released.

All in all, though, it was a fascinating experience to get to hear Oja Kodar (who looms large for any Wellesian) talk about her life and career with such intelligence and good humor. And, of course, it was an honor to hear her talk about the man she loved, a man she still talks about with joy and passion.

Wellestock, as I hope someone is calling it, will continue for the next two weekends. Check here for details.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Orson's Birthday

Today would have been Orson Welles's 100th birthday. I'm doing a series over at Criminal Element looking back on his films, and I included my long exploration on his influence on film noir in my book THE BLIND ALLEY, but I don't know that I'll ever run out of things to say about the big guy. Some artists just connect to us too deeply--or is it that we connect to them? Either way, the connection, once made, is seemingly permanent. 

Here's all I want to say about Orson today: while he's often praised (even overpraised) as a stylist and an innovator, I'm not sure he's ever been given his due as a thinker. I don't know if there is a deeper, more profound filmmaker than Orson Welles. Ozu, Bergman, Kieslowki--they would be his equals. But no one is better, deeper, more true. I'm not saying he was always right, not saying that he didn't have his blind spots. He was a human mammal like the rest of us, and as such he was a flawed artist. But, as the man himself would have been quick to point out, all artists are flawed. Their flaws are part of what make them distinctive. Their flaws, in the end, are part of what feeds whatever wisdom they have because wisdom is only arrived at through failure. Few filmmakers were as fearless in risking failure than Orson, and fewer still put as much profound humanity on the screen.

One hundred years of Orson Welles is a beautiful thing. Here's to a hundred more.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Orson Welles at 100: THE STRANGER (1946)

Over at Criminal Element I have a new installment up in my series on the centennial of Orson Welles. This time around I'm talking about THE STRANGER, which is widely acknowledged as one of Welles's failed films. Welles himself treated the film like an unloved child because it was the one that he "did for the studios." It was the one time he tried to make a Hollywood film in a way that would impress the studios. The funny thing, of course, is that the film is entertaining from beginning to end. I never tire of watching it. So if it is a failure, then we have to say it's a failure that only Orson Welles could have made. Which, I suppose, is another way of saying that it's a failed experiment which shows us exactly why Welles was never a good fit for the Hollywood system.

Click here to read my piece on THE STRANGER.