Seriously?

It’s been a little over a year since I debuted here, and in that time I’ve stirred up a handful of firestorms–but weirdly, not the ones I expected.  I posted a clip of Buster Keaton as a sympathetic Nazi general, and nobody chirped a word of protest.  I ran a whole blog about blackface comedians, and the comments thread it initiated was reasoned, intelligent and low-key.  I facetioustly pretended that The Thing was a Christmas movie, defended Popeye, and praised Charlie Chaplin imitators.

But the one time I provoked serious anger and acrimony was the time I suggested that William Haines–William Haines!–wasn’t all that funny (I got called “hateful” for that one!)

When I wrote last week’s post about the Muppets, I figured I was running a risk.  Critics say nice things about heavily hyped contemporary movies at their own peril.  But my positive thoughts on the new Muppets wasn’t what kicked up dust–heavens, no.  The vitriol came out in my offhanded reference to Orson Welles having appeared in the 1979 Muppet MovieSomehow, this prompted the comments thread to start to tear into F for Fake. (how?)

To be fair, it was just one lone voice, wailing into the ether about how much he hated the Muppets, and F for Fake.  I wouldn’t be surprised if it was a put-on, somebody simply trying to bait me.  But I’m not above being baited.  I won’t stand by and let anybody talk smack about F for Fake, one of my 10 favorite movies of all time.  Consider the battle joined.

Let's get in on!

Before we get started on F for Fake, we need to dig into its subject matter–the question of artistic provenance, and the difficulty in correctly attributing authorship.  Because this sits at the bedrock of any discussion of art forgers–Elmyr de Hory and his ilk didn’t go around ginning up duplicates of the Mona Lisa.  They made “new” artworks in the style of established masters and passed them off as having been created by someone else.

This is possible because there’s no easy way to make certain who painted what.  Let me give you an example–a friend of mine used to be a neighbor of Pablo Picasso’s.  Neighbor, friend, lover, it’s hard to pin things like that down with a single word.  Let’s go with “neighbor.”

Picasso

Her apartment is filled with Picasso artworks–things you’ve never seen before.  These are Picasso paintings that don’t appear in any exhibition catalog or coffee table artbook, because they’ve been in her house all this time!

Now, I suppose she could be lying, and these things are fakes.  That’s possible.  I tend to doubt it, because she was his neighbor (this is well documented) and she’s never tried to make money off these, so as frauds go it’s kind of weird.  But the point of this anecdote was to show how incomplete the “official” catalogs of even the best known, most exhaustively studied artists can be.  There are Picassos out there you don’t know about–and that very fact creates the opportunity for fraudsters to invent phonies to pass off as Picassos (or others) you don’t know about.

Picasso eyes

Time for another anecdote: when I was a film student at the University of Michigan, the program was administered by William Paul, who presided over a rather unfortunate bifurcation of the student body.  One group–which had Paul’s favor and loving support–was committed to the academic approach to film theory and critical study of cinema.  The other group–misfits and outsiders who Paul once openly mocked at a public event–wanted to study the actual making of film, the technical and practical aspects of filmmaking.

No prizes for guessing I was in the second camp.

The head of the technical department, and a man I am honored to have known and studied under, was Jonnie Doebele, who came from Germany with his wife Hannelore to establish and run the technical classes.  I came to be friends with them, and spent some time at their home enjoying fondue and watching obscure German films.

I took a class on Theater of the Absurd, which focused on the work of Samuel Beckett.  More specifically, it focused on the forays Beckett made into non-theater media forms like radio and television–which meant I got to take a class where I got to watch Buster Keaton in Film and get a grade on it!  Score!

But I digress–the theory proffered in this class was that Beckett’s work as a stage dramatist took a substantial leap into greater abstraction after he experimented in these alternate media forms.  To that end, the professor wanted us to pay close attention to Beckett’s obscurata and marginalia as a way of understanding his later plays.

Thus did we watch QUADRAT 1 & 2.  Words don’t do it justice.  Here’s a link to a clip on You Tube:

As the closing credits rolled, I noticed that Hannelore was listed among the production team.  The next time I was at their house, I asked her about it–and she let loose with a fabulous rant about how Beckett was drunk and/or asleep through the whole thing.  Apparently, Beckett didn’t understand that the B&W monitors in the studio showed B&W even when the camera recorded color images, so he blew up at the production team and demanded it be shot again, “in color.”  Which in turn resulted in the actual finished film–which runs twice through, once in color and once in B&W–an idea that derived from Becket”s misunderstanding of the technology.  Hannelore says that Beckett wasn’t even present during some of the production and deferred a lot of the creative decision making to his assistant.

All of which tends to mitigate against any argument that the content of this show can be used to interpret Beckett’s creative mind.

I tell this story here to point out how tricky the whole business of attributing authorship is–whether you can extraopolate a meaningful statement about Beckett’s larger body of work from QUADRAT has a lot to do with whether Beckett had a meaningful role in the making of QUADRAT.  The one depends on the other.  But the official statement of authorship on which my professor’s thesis relied was potentially skewed–Hannelore had an alternate theory of authorship about the show, and she was there.

These two anecdotes are presented to establish a single idea: that the official histories of any given artist may leave stuff out, and the official histories of any given artist may inaccurately include stuff in.  In other words, for any artist there are fat margins around them–and those fat margins are tempting places for forgeries or debates to prosper.

Orson

These same issues ripple through any discussion of Orson Welles’ legacy as a filmmaker–he put himself forward as a visionary artist whose self-expression was compromised by the interference of others.  This is the typical view of the auteur hero–not just Welles, but any director lionized by critics.  But even the most auteurist of these figures were working in a fundamentally collaborationist medium, and benfitted or suffered from the contributions of their writers, actors, composers, cinematographers, production designers, etc.  No director truly works alone–no film is solely the vision of a single artist.

It is merely a cultural fiction in which we collectively engage that any film can be attributed to the artistry of a single visionary–if a director receives advice and assistance from his collaborators that he accepts, that can be conveniently recharacterized as “his” vision, and when he disagrees their deviant suggestions can be blamed for any missteps.

The comments thread last week mentioned Welles’ unfinished Don Quxiote, which I’ve blogged about here before.  That film was never finished not because Welles was stopped by mean studio ogres, but because as an independent producer he couldn’t stay organized.  He was a terrible producer, to put it bluntly.  He needed someone to serve that role on his behalf–even if he would be tempted to villify them and battle them for doing their job.  Without the producer to keep things together, his unruly creative vision went off the rails.

F for Fake understands this problematic side of Welles–it is as autobiographical as a film gets.  Having acquired the raw footage of an unfinished documentary on art forger Elmyr de Hory, Welles realized that the question of art forgery circled uncomfortably through questions of artistic provenance and attribution that touched on his and any other filmmaker’s life.  How much of Citizen Kane is truly Welles?  100% or something less?  And if less, who can claim ownership of that remaining fraction–and why aren’t they famous?  How do you reconcile the creator of the perfect Citizen Kane with the creator of something ramshackle and rambunctious like Mr. Arkadin–or something unfinished like Don Quixote?

War of Words

More than most, Welles saw himself as akin with fraudsters–he was a magician after all, and the architect of the War of the Worlds hoax, both of which he directly references as he draws his own life story into the stuff of de Hory.  And I haven’t even touched on the Clifford Irving connection.

Clifford Irving

Irving appears in the documentary footage as an associate of de Hory, which allows Welles to go off on a tangent about Irving’s hoax biography of Howard Hughes–mindful at all times that he, Welles, became famous for making a fake biography of Howard Hughes, too.

It’s a labyrinthine movie, a thriller written by MC Escher, that mixes fact and fiction with no particular regard for which is which.  It is the forerunner to Penn & Teller Tell a Lie, which also finds magician entertainers mixing real science with fake, and using the techniques of documentary production (read: reality TV) to cover the patches.

I am astonished that I would need to come to the defense of a movie this richly imagined and meticulously composed–it is that rare creation that manages to be at once influential while also remaining unique.  And while it may not seem at first glance to be of a piece stylistically with Citizen Kane–well, none of Welles’ work fits like that.  Once he spun out of the studio environment, he spent most of his life crafting unruly, handmade, rambunctious stuff more like F for Fake than like Kane.

To disrespect this film is to slag off the bulk of Welles’ life–and if that’s how you feel, so be it, but how can you be a Welles fan and not like most of his life’s work?  Or do you seriously think you can blame everything that went awry in his life and career on everyone else and everything that went well in his life and career on him?

I’m a realist–and my best friends and family are messy people full of flaws and cracks.  I love them for that, and I celebrate the flaws and cracks in everything.  I think Welles was a tough man to get along with, who had terrible business sense, and was his own worst enemy.  And those problematic character traits made him what he was–they led to his greatest heights as well as his lows.  And seriously, F for Fake is one of those greatest highs.

Better than Citizen Kane, if you ask me.

(And for those who are curious about my comment regarding my top 10: Fantasia, The General, The Testament of Dr. Mabuse, F for Fake, Once Upon a Time in the West, Playtime, Detour, Godzilla, Rear Window, Trouble in Paradise, Diabolique.  So there.)

34 Responses Seriously?
Posted By Dr. Charles Forbin : December 3, 2011 8:06 am

The question of Joe Manciewiscz’ involvement in Kane is so well-known that it made up part of the storyline for The Bad and Beautiful. But we should also recognize Tolland’s cinematography, Herrman’s music, the acting performances, …. And there are some who will say that Welles was ultimately a magpie, see e.g. the obvious influence of Stagecoash. Welles himself famously claimed that Ford stood head and shoulders above all other great American directors. Hitchcock was also an influence, and he gave an enigmatic response on the Dick Cavett show when asked about Welles.

I think a more interesting Welles film to discuss is The Magnificent Ambersons. Here we have the classic case of a film maker being betrayed by the studio system. But how true is this conventional wisdom? Did Welles abandon his creation and leave his collaborators to take the rap for what followed?

As far as autobiographical Welles films, Kane was much more based on Welles than it was ever based on Hearst.

Posted By Dr. Charles Forbin : December 3, 2011 8:06 am

The question of Joe Manciewiscz’ involvement in Kane is so well-known that it made up part of the storyline for The Bad and Beautiful. But we should also recognize Tolland’s cinematography, Herrman’s music, the acting performances, …. And there are some who will say that Welles was ultimately a magpie, see e.g. the obvious influence of Stagecoash. Welles himself famously claimed that Ford stood head and shoulders above all other great American directors. Hitchcock was also an influence, and he gave an enigmatic response on the Dick Cavett show when asked about Welles.

I think a more interesting Welles film to discuss is The Magnificent Ambersons. Here we have the classic case of a film maker being betrayed by the studio system. But how true is this conventional wisdom? Did Welles abandon his creation and leave his collaborators to take the rap for what followed?

As far as autobiographical Welles films, Kane was much more based on Welles than it was ever based on Hearst.

Posted By Jeffrey Ford : December 3, 2011 11:42 am

Wonderful piece on a wonderfully quirky film. And I love anyone who has the guts to take on CITIZEN KANE’s untouchable standing within film circles (even though I love it). Just one question and a comment: how far down beyond your ten best list would we have to go to find Harry Langdon and THREE’S A CROWD? And you’re right: William Haines is NOT funny! To my eyes he’s the most appalingly un-funny and resistable personality of the silent era! I’m prepared to be denounced as “hateful” for this comment but, as they say, the truth hurts…

Posted By Jeffrey Ford : December 3, 2011 11:42 am

Wonderful piece on a wonderfully quirky film. And I love anyone who has the guts to take on CITIZEN KANE’s untouchable standing within film circles (even though I love it). Just one question and a comment: how far down beyond your ten best list would we have to go to find Harry Langdon and THREE’S A CROWD? And you’re right: William Haines is NOT funny! To my eyes he’s the most appalingly un-funny and resistable personality of the silent era! I’m prepared to be denounced as “hateful” for this comment but, as they say, the truth hurts…

Posted By Al Lowe : December 3, 2011 12:22 pm

I first saw F FOR FAKE in 1977 or 1978 when I was living in an area with easy access to New York City. It was showing in a revival house that showed movies in the days before they had computers, VHS and DVD.
I liked it.
I remember I thought it was curious I hadn’t read anything about it. Of course, we all miss things in the media. Again, this was in the days before computers.
Or perhaps critics were leery and declined to comment. They might have thought Welles was playing a hoax or practical joke on them.
It is my theory that the uproar over War of the Worlds had a profound effect on Welles’ judgment. I think he went after Hearst with CITIZEN KANE because he thought people would say, “That outrageous, controversial man is at it again.” Instead, Hearst stepped on him like he was a bug.
(Incidentally, some years ago, I did high school and college term papers on Hearst. There is no doubt CITIZEN KANE was about him.)
I hadn’t given it much thought but maybe Welles was trying to stir things up again with F FOR FAKE.
I like it a lot, along with ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST and DETOUR, although they would not make my Top 10 list. REAR WINDOW and TROUBLE IN PARADISE would. There are two of your titles I haven’t seen. I have mixed feelings or pleasant memories of the others.

Posted By Al Lowe : December 3, 2011 12:22 pm

I first saw F FOR FAKE in 1977 or 1978 when I was living in an area with easy access to New York City. It was showing in a revival house that showed movies in the days before they had computers, VHS and DVD.
I liked it.
I remember I thought it was curious I hadn’t read anything about it. Of course, we all miss things in the media. Again, this was in the days before computers.
Or perhaps critics were leery and declined to comment. They might have thought Welles was playing a hoax or practical joke on them.
It is my theory that the uproar over War of the Worlds had a profound effect on Welles’ judgment. I think he went after Hearst with CITIZEN KANE because he thought people would say, “That outrageous, controversial man is at it again.” Instead, Hearst stepped on him like he was a bug.
(Incidentally, some years ago, I did high school and college term papers on Hearst. There is no doubt CITIZEN KANE was about him.)
I hadn’t given it much thought but maybe Welles was trying to stir things up again with F FOR FAKE.
I like it a lot, along with ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST and DETOUR, although they would not make my Top 10 list. REAR WINDOW and TROUBLE IN PARADISE would. There are two of your titles I haven’t seen. I have mixed feelings or pleasant memories of the others.

Posted By Al Lowe : December 3, 2011 1:47 pm

A couple more comments, if I may.

Something sad and terrible is going to happen to CITIZEN KANE. Future generations will find it as antiquated as BIRTH OF A NATION is for many of us. They will respond, “Who cares about newspapers?”

This will happen with other now beloved movies too. For example, IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE. The kids will be amazed at seeing all the shops on the Main Street and will ask, “Where is Wal-Mart?

How about WAIT UNTIL DARK? They’ll ask, “Why didn’t Audrey Hepburn use her cell phone?

The ten movies on your list should not be affected by this type of thing. But who knows what the future will bring?

Posted By Al Lowe : December 3, 2011 1:47 pm

A couple more comments, if I may.

Something sad and terrible is going to happen to CITIZEN KANE. Future generations will find it as antiquated as BIRTH OF A NATION is for many of us. They will respond, “Who cares about newspapers?”

This will happen with other now beloved movies too. For example, IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE. The kids will be amazed at seeing all the shops on the Main Street and will ask, “Where is Wal-Mart?

How about WAIT UNTIL DARK? They’ll ask, “Why didn’t Audrey Hepburn use her cell phone?

The ten movies on your list should not be affected by this type of thing. But who knows what the future will bring?

Posted By Cool Bev : December 3, 2011 1:52 pm

F FOR FAKE is my favorite Wells movie, but then, INTERVISTA is my favorite Fellini. I love the way he sucks you into a story that is so unconvincing, that he tells you flat out is going to be a lie.

Interesting to see it on a list with PLAYTIME. Both are such complete artifices, full of deceptive surfaces. But Wells builds a ramshackle flimsy construction out of documentary footage, while Tativille is solidly build and completely fake.

And neither one made much money from them, either,

Posted By Cool Bev : December 3, 2011 1:52 pm

F FOR FAKE is my favorite Wells movie, but then, INTERVISTA is my favorite Fellini. I love the way he sucks you into a story that is so unconvincing, that he tells you flat out is going to be a lie.

Interesting to see it on a list with PLAYTIME. Both are such complete artifices, full of deceptive surfaces. But Wells builds a ramshackle flimsy construction out of documentary footage, while Tativille is solidly build and completely fake.

And neither one made much money from them, either,

Posted By Tom S : December 3, 2011 3:34 pm

Al:

I assume you mean Herman Mankiewicz, not Joseph (his brother.) I’m not sure what part of the Bad and the Beautiful could possibly refer to Kane- the part with the director (where the movie is clearly based on Cat People) doesn’t make a lot of sense, as Mank was certainly credited for his work (and in fact won an Academy Award) and the screenwriter segment is about Douglas manipulating the writer’s personal life to get him to finish, which also doesn’t fit. Unless there’s some story I haven’t heard about Joe, I’m not sure of what you’re talking about here.

The well-known controversy is the one Pauline Kael stoked, claiming that Welles hadn’t written any of the script, and to some degree that his primary contribution was in getting all of the ridiculously talented people who worked on Kane together and getting the best possible work out of them. Which is certainly somewhat true- but isn’t that one of the major roles of the director?

(The influence Stagecoach had on Kane is pretty indirect, as neither the script nor the acting nor the shooting style is closely related to it. Welles couldn’t make a Ford film if he tried, and in any case, even someone who might genuinely be called a magpie (like Tarantino) is no less a great artist for that- putting together pieces that are already there to make a great work isn’t cheating, it’s called ‘art’.)

The idea that great movies become automatically dated because the society reflected in them isn’t ours seems foolish- I think people are capable of understanding that things may be different in different times and different places. Of the most popular movies this last year, X-Men First Class, Captain America, and The Help are all period pieces, and people didn’t seem particularly baffled by the idea of people who did things differently.

Interestingly, and kind of cruelly, there’s reason to believe that Magnificent Ambersons is pretty autobiographical, as Tarkington knew Welles’ family when he was a young man, and the lead (George) shares his name- the young jackass who needs a comeuppance seems somewhat based on Welles himself. Which implies that Welles had a pretty good sense of humor about himself.

I’ve got Detour and Diabolique, but I haven’t gotten the chance to watch them yet. I have seen and love the rest of that top 10, though I’m of the camp that prefers Vertigo to Rear Window. Good lord but Trouble Paradise is fun, though, isn’t it?

Posted By Tom S : December 3, 2011 3:34 pm

Al:

I assume you mean Herman Mankiewicz, not Joseph (his brother.) I’m not sure what part of the Bad and the Beautiful could possibly refer to Kane- the part with the director (where the movie is clearly based on Cat People) doesn’t make a lot of sense, as Mank was certainly credited for his work (and in fact won an Academy Award) and the screenwriter segment is about Douglas manipulating the writer’s personal life to get him to finish, which also doesn’t fit. Unless there’s some story I haven’t heard about Joe, I’m not sure of what you’re talking about here.

The well-known controversy is the one Pauline Kael stoked, claiming that Welles hadn’t written any of the script, and to some degree that his primary contribution was in getting all of the ridiculously talented people who worked on Kane together and getting the best possible work out of them. Which is certainly somewhat true- but isn’t that one of the major roles of the director?

(The influence Stagecoach had on Kane is pretty indirect, as neither the script nor the acting nor the shooting style is closely related to it. Welles couldn’t make a Ford film if he tried, and in any case, even someone who might genuinely be called a magpie (like Tarantino) is no less a great artist for that- putting together pieces that are already there to make a great work isn’t cheating, it’s called ‘art’.)

The idea that great movies become automatically dated because the society reflected in them isn’t ours seems foolish- I think people are capable of understanding that things may be different in different times and different places. Of the most popular movies this last year, X-Men First Class, Captain America, and The Help are all period pieces, and people didn’t seem particularly baffled by the idea of people who did things differently.

Interestingly, and kind of cruelly, there’s reason to believe that Magnificent Ambersons is pretty autobiographical, as Tarkington knew Welles’ family when he was a young man, and the lead (George) shares his name- the young jackass who needs a comeuppance seems somewhat based on Welles himself. Which implies that Welles had a pretty good sense of humor about himself.

I’ve got Detour and Diabolique, but I haven’t gotten the chance to watch them yet. I have seen and love the rest of that top 10, though I’m of the camp that prefers Vertigo to Rear Window. Good lord but Trouble Paradise is fun, though, isn’t it?

Posted By Tom S : December 3, 2011 3:50 pm

Haha, whoops, confused two different posters there. I wish I could edit, oh well.

Posted By Tom S : December 3, 2011 3:50 pm

Haha, whoops, confused two different posters there. I wish I could edit, oh well.

Posted By AL : December 3, 2011 4:36 pm

You are a fatuous megalomaniac who fancies himself a Provocateur. It’s amazing how many people take your adolescent perverse set-ups seriously.

Posted By AL : December 3, 2011 4:36 pm

You are a fatuous megalomaniac who fancies himself a Provocateur. It’s amazing how many people take your adolescent perverse set-ups seriously.

Posted By dukeroberts : December 3, 2011 7:17 pm

AL- Are you talking to Orson Welles?

Posted By dukeroberts : December 3, 2011 7:17 pm

AL- Are you talking to Orson Welles?

Posted By Al Lowe : December 3, 2011 10:50 pm

Hi.

I think everyone knows that the AL who posts sometime is not me. I don’t know him.

But, before he did that, there was already enough confusion. It reminds me of Richard Boone’s comment when the director of NIGHT OF THE FOLLOWING DAY gave him some ridiculous instructions. He said, “Okay, but this makes about much sense as a rat trying to fuck a grapefruit.”

I am responsible only for my comments. Not for anyone else’s. Tom S., I really hope that some other Tom posts. Then I will blast you for anything idiotic he says.

Posted By Al Lowe : December 3, 2011 10:50 pm

Hi.

I think everyone knows that the AL who posts sometime is not me. I don’t know him.

But, before he did that, there was already enough confusion. It reminds me of Richard Boone’s comment when the director of NIGHT OF THE FOLLOWING DAY gave him some ridiculous instructions. He said, “Okay, but this makes about much sense as a rat trying to fuck a grapefruit.”

I am responsible only for my comments. Not for anyone else’s. Tom S., I really hope that some other Tom posts. Then I will blast you for anything idiotic he says.

Posted By Tom S : December 3, 2011 11:03 pm

Haha, yeah, I’m sorry about that. I think only a paragraph of my comment actually applies to you.

Posted By Tom S : December 3, 2011 11:03 pm

Haha, yeah, I’m sorry about that. I think only a paragraph of my comment actually applies to you.

Posted By suzidoll : December 4, 2011 1:09 am

Contrary to popular belief, filmmaking is not the only art form that is dependent on the collective contributions of many. The great Renaissance painters did not do all of their painting alone. They had assistants who mixed the colors; converted sketches to large walls, ceilings, or canvases; and filled in large sections of the painting with color. The artist understood exactly what each member of his crew was good at, and he used that talent to help him achieve his vision. Likewise with sculptors, conductors of music, and printmakers–all of whom depend on the talents and skills of others and yet the content and style is recognizably theirs. No one would try to say that Raphael is not the “auteur” of “The School of Athens,” or that Michelangelo is not the “auteur” of the “Sisteen Chapel,” despite the dozens of talented “crew” that worked on each art work. Therefore, I have no problem assigning primary creative vision to the director of a film. He is the only member of the creative team involved in preproduction, production, and postproduction. Does that mean all directors are auteurs? No; clearly, today, there are many directors who are merely hacks for the studio. But, the great directors are truly the artists behind their films.

After teaching Welles and CITIZEN KANE for over 20 years, I have no doubt that it represents the artistic vision of Orson Welles, and I think his AMBERSONS, OTHELLO, and TOUCH OF EVIL are clearly in the same style and traffic in the same themes. I do not see much in Herman Mankiewicz’s career that would lead me to believe that he had consistent themes or a consistent style. I fail to understand why this weak argument (that Welles took credit for Mankiewicz’s vision) continues to get attention.

I have only seen parts of it, but I think you are on to something with F FOR FAKE, and its connection to Welles’s life and career. It may be his most personal film that represents him best as an auteur.

Posted By suzidoll : December 4, 2011 1:09 am

Contrary to popular belief, filmmaking is not the only art form that is dependent on the collective contributions of many. The great Renaissance painters did not do all of their painting alone. They had assistants who mixed the colors; converted sketches to large walls, ceilings, or canvases; and filled in large sections of the painting with color. The artist understood exactly what each member of his crew was good at, and he used that talent to help him achieve his vision. Likewise with sculptors, conductors of music, and printmakers–all of whom depend on the talents and skills of others and yet the content and style is recognizably theirs. No one would try to say that Raphael is not the “auteur” of “The School of Athens,” or that Michelangelo is not the “auteur” of the “Sisteen Chapel,” despite the dozens of talented “crew” that worked on each art work. Therefore, I have no problem assigning primary creative vision to the director of a film. He is the only member of the creative team involved in preproduction, production, and postproduction. Does that mean all directors are auteurs? No; clearly, today, there are many directors who are merely hacks for the studio. But, the great directors are truly the artists behind their films.

After teaching Welles and CITIZEN KANE for over 20 years, I have no doubt that it represents the artistic vision of Orson Welles, and I think his AMBERSONS, OTHELLO, and TOUCH OF EVIL are clearly in the same style and traffic in the same themes. I do not see much in Herman Mankiewicz’s career that would lead me to believe that he had consistent themes or a consistent style. I fail to understand why this weak argument (that Welles took credit for Mankiewicz’s vision) continues to get attention.

I have only seen parts of it, but I think you are on to something with F FOR FAKE, and its connection to Welles’s life and career. It may be his most personal film that represents him best as an auteur.

Posted By Jim Vecchio : December 5, 2011 8:34 am

I enjoyed this Blog!
I have a quick comment on this passage: “…No director truly works alone–no film is solely the vision of a single artist.

It is merely a cultural fiction in which we collectively engage that any film can be attributed to the artistry of a single visionary–if a director receives advice and assistance from his collaborators that he accepts, that can be conveniently recharacterized as “his” vision, and when he disagrees their deviant suggestions can be blamed for any missteps…”

I’ve told this story to another fan, and thought you might find it interesting.
In the late seventies, I once took a course in Grad School which involved the cration of a one-minute piece-with me doing everything-organizing the talent, directing, script, lighting, ertc. etc.
I was never an egotist and during the production asked one of the “talent” about his opinion concerning the lighting.
The Course instructor chided me severely and said, “The Director NEVER asks anyone for their opinion! The Director DOES EVERYTHING himself!”
-Just one of the many reasons I’m not in front of or behind a camera today!

Posted By Jim Vecchio : December 5, 2011 8:34 am

I enjoyed this Blog!
I have a quick comment on this passage: “…No director truly works alone–no film is solely the vision of a single artist.

It is merely a cultural fiction in which we collectively engage that any film can be attributed to the artistry of a single visionary–if a director receives advice and assistance from his collaborators that he accepts, that can be conveniently recharacterized as “his” vision, and when he disagrees their deviant suggestions can be blamed for any missteps…”

I’ve told this story to another fan, and thought you might find it interesting.
In the late seventies, I once took a course in Grad School which involved the cration of a one-minute piece-with me doing everything-organizing the talent, directing, script, lighting, ertc. etc.
I was never an egotist and during the production asked one of the “talent” about his opinion concerning the lighting.
The Course instructor chided me severely and said, “The Director NEVER asks anyone for their opinion! The Director DOES EVERYTHING himself!”
-Just one of the many reasons I’m not in front of or behind a camera today!

Posted By Qalice : December 5, 2011 4:10 pm

Thank you for a post on a movie I’ve never seen and now want to see very badly. Welles interests me because he has often left me cold — I can see the brilliance in Kane, but I don’t like it. Touch of Evil bothers me — which is not a bad thing — so I never watch it. I only recently sat down to watch The Lady From Shanghai and was surprised that I liked it very much. I like the bastardized version of The Magnificent Ambersons (does that make me an apostate?). The contradictions in Welles are what make him fascinating.

As for the “auteur” question, Welles had to know — coming from a theatrical background — that it takes a village to realize a vision, and precious few filmmakers ever have one. I think the auteur theory gained traction because some film critics are just too lazy to memorize more than one name in relation to a film.

Posted By Qalice : December 5, 2011 4:10 pm

Thank you for a post on a movie I’ve never seen and now want to see very badly. Welles interests me because he has often left me cold — I can see the brilliance in Kane, but I don’t like it. Touch of Evil bothers me — which is not a bad thing — so I never watch it. I only recently sat down to watch The Lady From Shanghai and was surprised that I liked it very much. I like the bastardized version of The Magnificent Ambersons (does that make me an apostate?). The contradictions in Welles are what make him fascinating.

As for the “auteur” question, Welles had to know — coming from a theatrical background — that it takes a village to realize a vision, and precious few filmmakers ever have one. I think the auteur theory gained traction because some film critics are just too lazy to memorize more than one name in relation to a film.

Posted By Kingrat : December 5, 2011 9:09 pm

To draw a distinction, in the 1950s Cahiers du Cinema had a “politique des auteurs”–in other words, the magazine had a policy of treating the director as if he were responsible for the whole film. Andrew Sarris mistranslated this as the “auteur theory,” which was brilliant strategy because science has high prestige in America and “theory” sounds more scientific than “policy.” However, scientists look for data which contradicts their theory as well as for data which supports it–unlike the American proponents of the auteur “theory.” The proponents of the “theory” had a list of the absolutely saved and the utterly damned (it isn’t coincidence that Sarris arranged a Dantean cosmology of directors), so that one needed only to check the name of the director to see if a film was worthy. This is the aspect of this group I disagree with most strongly.

David, your story about Beckett is great and you make me want to see F FOR FAKE.

Posted By Kingrat : December 5, 2011 9:09 pm

To draw a distinction, in the 1950s Cahiers du Cinema had a “politique des auteurs”–in other words, the magazine had a policy of treating the director as if he were responsible for the whole film. Andrew Sarris mistranslated this as the “auteur theory,” which was brilliant strategy because science has high prestige in America and “theory” sounds more scientific than “policy.” However, scientists look for data which contradicts their theory as well as for data which supports it–unlike the American proponents of the auteur “theory.” The proponents of the “theory” had a list of the absolutely saved and the utterly damned (it isn’t coincidence that Sarris arranged a Dantean cosmology of directors), so that one needed only to check the name of the director to see if a film was worthy. This is the aspect of this group I disagree with most strongly.

David, your story about Beckett is great and you make me want to see F FOR FAKE.

Posted By Harvey Chartrand : December 7, 2011 4:02 pm

F FOR FAKE is too radically un-Wellesian for my taste. It’s a fake Orson Welles film, reassembling bits of “found footage” from director François Reichenbach and other sources (Fred F. Sears’ EARTH VS. THE FLYING SAUCERS, old newsreels, etc.). Welles’ artistic muse Oja Kodar came up with the false anecdote about Pablo Picasso that ends F FOR FAKE, so was she more of an influence on the last 30 minutes of the film than Welles? Quite likely. Welles directed a few scenes in which he wanders about the Tuileries Gardens in Paris, philosophizing about fakery and posterity. F FOR FAKE is notable for its frantic, pre-MTV-style editing. So it really should have been sold as a film “edited by Orson Welles.” Not having directed a picture in a while, he went into overdrive with the Moviola. The point the film is trying to make is too esoteric… I prefer the 10-minute trailer for F FOR FAKE to the full-length “faux documentary” (or whatever it’s called).

Posted By Harvey Chartrand : December 7, 2011 4:02 pm

F FOR FAKE is too radically un-Wellesian for my taste. It’s a fake Orson Welles film, reassembling bits of “found footage” from director François Reichenbach and other sources (Fred F. Sears’ EARTH VS. THE FLYING SAUCERS, old newsreels, etc.). Welles’ artistic muse Oja Kodar came up with the false anecdote about Pablo Picasso that ends F FOR FAKE, so was she more of an influence on the last 30 minutes of the film than Welles? Quite likely. Welles directed a few scenes in which he wanders about the Tuileries Gardens in Paris, philosophizing about fakery and posterity. F FOR FAKE is notable for its frantic, pre-MTV-style editing. So it really should have been sold as a film “edited by Orson Welles.” Not having directed a picture in a while, he went into overdrive with the Moviola. The point the film is trying to make is too esoteric… I prefer the 10-minute trailer for F FOR FAKE to the full-length “faux documentary” (or whatever it’s called).

Posted By Tom S : December 7, 2011 6:00 pm

A lot of documentaries are made up of footage shot without the director’s immediate involvement- but there’s no question that the movie is Welles’ vision, and it’s an auteurist editing job if ever there was one.

It’s not surprising that it looks un-Welles, as he specifically avoided shots that he felt looked ‘Wellesian’ in the material he did shoot, but it’s obviously very appropriate that there be games played with creative ownership and magic tricks and so forth in that kind of movie. That’s half the fun of it, really.

Posted By Tom S : December 7, 2011 6:00 pm

A lot of documentaries are made up of footage shot without the director’s immediate involvement- but there’s no question that the movie is Welles’ vision, and it’s an auteurist editing job if ever there was one.

It’s not surprising that it looks un-Welles, as he specifically avoided shots that he felt looked ‘Wellesian’ in the material he did shoot, but it’s obviously very appropriate that there be games played with creative ownership and magic tricks and so forth in that kind of movie. That’s half the fun of it, really.

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