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Orson Welles

Making people see something they werent

FLM 1023 Group Essay

In this essay we will be discussing Orson Welles and how Auteur Theory applies to his works.
Derived from the French word for author auteur theory is when a director inserts his/her own
vision into the particular screenplay that has been commissioned to turn into a film.
The term making people see something they werent has been used to describe Welles work
due to his ability to really deliver scenes by working overt formality and realism into his
projects. Probably the greatest example of this was his production of H.G Wells War of the
Worlds which, when it aired, sent much of the country into a panic. He made key changes in the
original script which is an important point in discussing auteur theory. He re-wrote the play to
be delivered as if it were a radio broadcast about an invasion from Mars. These broadcasts would
be delivered at random interruptions between what seemed like a normal radio broadcast. It was
this work in radio and theater that got the attention of Hollywood and signed a near total
autonomous contract with the RKO in 1939. It was that autonomy that applies to him as one of
the greatest examples of a film auteur in the history of cinema.
Auteur theory is simply a term applied to how a director makes the work of another their own
by adding unique techniques and particular stamps as well as interpreting it in their own way
during the production of that particular work. This serves to make it as much, if not more, the
vision of the director vs the original creator of the screenplay. While this can bring acclaim to a
particular director, it can also bring contempt from everyone from the studio, actors, and the
screenwriter, because it often comes at the expense of others vision. And Orson Welles was no
exception to that kind of animosity. That happened later, however.
Orsen Welles was born George Orsen Welles on May 6, 1915 in Kenosha, Wisconsin to
Richard (Dick) Welles, a businessman and inventor, and Beatrice Welles, a concert pianist. Both

parents died early on in Welless life and at the age of fifteen he taken in by Dr. Maurice
Bernstein, a lifelong friend of his family.
Welles artistic and creative traits that were just starting to surface while his parents were
living continued to be nurtured under the care of Dr. Bernstein, who introduced the young
director to musicians, actors, and sportsmen giving him a wide array from which to draw
Welles attended the Todd School for Boys in Woodstock, Illinois, where he developed a
penchant for being flamboyant extrovert, confident and ambitious. So much so that at the age of
sixteen he decided against college and Travelled to Dublin, Ireland to audition for the role of The
Duke in Jew Suss at The Gate Theatre.
That was the night I had all the applause I needed for my life. Welles stated upon
completing the performance.
He continued to land roles for several productions, but more importantly, his time spent
at The Gate and Abbey Theater was where he developed his overt formalism as well as lighting
and staging techniques that would ultimately wind up in his films.
After his time in Dublin, Welles travelled to Spain where its theorized he developed a
severe distaste for fascism. In 1933 he returned to the United States after making the
acquaintance of playwright Thornton Wilder and actress Katharine Cornell, and played Mercurio
in Romeo and Juliet, as well as other roles with Cornells production company. It was during this
time that Welles returned to Todd School and made his first film, a short titled The Hearts of
All of this was during the time of the Great Depression and as part of Roosevelts WPA
program, Welles made his first directorial debut with a production of Macbeth which is a great

example of an application of auteur theory; he changed the play to Haitian Voodoo themes rather
than the traditional medieval witch themes in the original play. This would garner him acclaim as
well as contempt.
Perhaps his most renowned work was during his time with RKO Pictures where he
directed The Magnificent Ambersons and whats often referred to as the greatest film of all time,
Citizen Kane. It was Citizen Kane where Welles establishes himself as an auteur using recurring
themes of isolation associated with downfall of a seemingly powerful individual and finally a
loss of innocence. His distaste for authority is also apparent on films such as The Trial which
may also reflect a deeper insecurity in Welles, particularly in that film where there are three
bosses, constantly watching with a critical eye, yet not speaking a word.
Another example of Welles as auteur was his film, Touch of Evil, the name of which
Welles chose to change from its original title Badge of Evil. The opening is a great example of
his use of a sequence shot, where the viewer gets the impression of a long, continuous shot that
expands over several scenes. This technique has been become popular with just about every great
director as a way to create tension in a particular scene.
From a cultural aspect, Welles was creating films during a backdrop of war, depression, and
overall paranoia; elements that tended to seep into each of his films. This is major in discussing
auteur theory, as many directors will use the films to speak their own opinions and grievances
about the current state of society. Which brings us to the question: Is auteur theory relevant
It can be argued that the influence of auteur theory goes beyond just the message of what the
director wants to get across in his/her film. While that may be the origins, the impact it has on
film as a whole is affected. For example in Citizen Kane, Welles pioneered a new technique

called Lightning mix which is a way to stitch a montage of clips together using related sounds.
Another technique he helped pioneer is deep focus cinematography. This is a technique that
filmmakers continue to employ to create a hyper sense of realism to their film. This allows the
viewer to more easily suspend disbelief in even the most outrageous of situations on screen by
creating visual environments that seem very believable.
Another technique that was seemingly perfected by Welles was the use of low angle shots, An
unorthodox technique at the time as most films were still done on Hollywood sound stages.
These low angle shots create an image of a person who will seem powerful and larger than life.
This was used effectively in Citizen Kane and made the ultimate downfall of the character more
poignant. Welles also used non-linear storytelling, which is a way to show multiple character
stories and events in a single film. At the time Welles created that movie, virtually no one else
was using that method of storytelling. He also made good use of flashbacks, once again seen in
Citizen Kane, where he remembers several years worth of breakfasts with his wife in just a
couple of minutes.
As we can see, from just a technical standpoint auteur theory can be credited for advances in
lighting, auditory stimulus, pacing, and storytelling in general. But the societal impact may be
just as important.
Besides making a visual statement by innovating lighting and film techniques, the director
places himself as a commentator on society and also can use film as a platform for their own
grievances, opinions, fears, etc.,
By the act of taking a screenplay and working it into a motion picture, the influence of the
directors own vision and preference can entirely change something to make it his own statement.
This of course can come at the expense director as well. As Welles became more in demand, he

may have fallen into the trap of self-aggrandizement; taking on more work than he could handle
and ultimately forced to renegotiate with RKO. Some say that this period marked the downfall of
Welles. He became regarded as stubborn and difficult to work with, as most visionaries tend to
be. In sense directors, as auteurs, take a career risk with each film they use as platform for their
own expression -- even more so in today's film industry where you are responsible for each film
being a blockbuster. Today a director like Welles would not last as long as he did back when he
was directing.
The question of whether auteur theory is relevant depends on who the director is and what
message hes getting across. Chances are, if a director's vision affects the bottom line of the
studio hes employed for, that director will not work for long.

Works Cited page:

Looking At Movies; Barsam Richard, Monahan, Dave

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