Orson Welles

Donald Larsson

in Cinema and Media Studies

ISBN: 9780199791286
Published online December 2012 | | DOI:
Orson Welles

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The artistry of Orson Welles (b. 1915–d. 1985) can be difficult to disentangle from his own celebrity and notoriety. Citizen Kane (1941) was quickly hailed as a cinematic landmark by perceptive critics when first released, but the pivotal accomplishments of that film were blurred by controversies over the plot’s parallels with the life of newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst. Welles’s earlier controversial theater work in New York and the succès de scandale of his radio version of The War of the Worlds (1938) also affected critics’ views of Citizen Kane. Later films directed by Welles for American movie studios would be released in versions that did not reflect the director’s final intentions, such as The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), The Lady from Shanghai (1947), and Touch of Evil (1958). Working in self-exile in Europe, Welles created works such as Mr. Arkadin (1955) and The Trial (1962) that also would be altered by producers and distributors. Even when relatively unaltered, some of these films perplexed American viewers and critics, while other projects were never completed. By the 1960s, Welles would become best known to television viewers as an obese, though loquacious and witty, man appearing on talk shows and commercials, dismissed by many as a “has-been.” In the last two decades of his life, however, Welles’s own career was also being rediscovered and reevaluated by a new generation of cineastes and critics. Citizen Kane has remained near the top of critics’ “greatest films” lists for half a century. Welles was also championed as one of the greatest film directors of all time by international critics, led by French critic André Bazin and the auteur critics of the Cahiers du cinéma in the 1950s. American film critic Andrew Sarris, who popularized the French “auteur theory” for American filmgoers, placed Welles in his pantheon of the greatest American directors in his 1968 book The American Cinema (New York: E. P. Dutton). Such adulation, though, would be tempered by other critics, notably Pauline Kael, who claimed in 1971 that Welles had stolen credit for accomplishments in Citizen Kane from his collaborators, especially his cowriter Herman Mankiewicz. More-measured understandings of Welles, his life, and his work have been made possible by new research and restored versions of some of his films. This bibliography concentrates on major works by or relating to Welles, especially those published after the exhaustive annotated lists in Wood 1990 (see Bibliographies and Other Resources).

Article.  17503 words. 

Subjects: Media Studies ; Film ; Radio ; Television

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