Claiming Orson Welles as an influence is like claiming the Beatles as an influence- and they most certainly are an influence as well- but regardless of his well-known stature in pop culture, I wanted to write a short blurb singing his praises. My introduction to the great man was as the voice of Unicron, the planet-sized Transformer villain, as a child. Two years ago, Brooks Jensen of Lenswork compared the rich cinematography of Citizen Kane against an Iron Man film and realized he couldn’t remember a single specific scene of the Iron Man film, but could completely soak up Kane scenes. It was a necessary thing in black and white films to have superb composition, since special effects were primitive and color was not a compositional component. In a way, the old classic films were heavily into graphic design, a deep kind of design that functions as a storytelling device.
This year I decided to dive deep into Welles, so to speak. I watched the Third Man (which was not directed by Welles but features him as a villain), the claustrophobic and surreal adaptation of Kafka’s The Trial, The Lady From Shanghai, and Touch of Evil. Beyond the films I watched a documentary on his life, several interviews, and subscribed to a podcast featuring all his radio work.
The stunning scenes speak for themselves- images that are 1. memorable, and 2.serve the story. Any photographer would do well to take that lesson, rather than shooting or posting a shit ton of photos that don’t stand out as compositions. I also found inspiration from Welles’ refusal to work in the studio system, and his holding on to artistic integrity as much as possible. He refused roles based on his moral objections (such as a sadistic Roman emperor), but would do side jobs like the famed food and drink advertisements because it allowed him to make the films he wanted to make. Conversely, the films he did for corporations always ended up with loss of creative control- either take studio money and have his films dissected, or do side work and make what he really wanted to make. I also applaud his candidness about money, which is something many creatives decline discussing, as if they were just funded by magical elves or something and didn’t have to consider it when making their art.
Towards the end of his life he lamented his unfinished work, that he spent most of his life chasing money, and that films were an enormous undertaking with little reward. He felt he could have done more with his life, but “it’s like saying, I could have done more with my life if I hadn’t married that woman. But I loved her.” The movies were his girl, and he remained faithful to the end.