WHO is he?

American filmmaker, theatre director, producer, actor, scenarist and radio artist who wrote and directed over 30 feature and short films and acted in about 100 between the early forties and the late eighties. Welles shuttled between Europe and the United States throughout his troubled career. He won the Oscar for Best Screenplay for Citizen Kane in 1941 and took the top acting prize at the Cannes Film Festival in 1959 for Compulsion.

WHAT are his films about?

Themes

Welles’ films, through characters that are bound up with Welles’ own on-screen persona, take an ironic and self-deprecating look at male insecurity and the ensuing pettiness and foolishness. Perhaps more importantly, they deal with the tragedy of excessive power, of its tyranny and of its essential loneliness, which is ironical given Welles’ own tortured career. He also engaged with the works of Shakespeare throughout his life and realised a number of them on screen.

Style

In an era of studio cinema where directors were either inconspicuous craftsmen or played second-fiddle to actors and screenwriters, Welles’ strongly visual cinema would certainly have been an aberration. His films are characterised by a predominance of low-angle shots in which characters appear imposing, a complex, richly textured soundtrack in which actor voices overlap often without clarity, a non-linear narrative structure in which the truth about a single character is at stake, humorous voice-overs that frame the story and the use of vast interior spaces which seem to imprison the characters.

WHY is he of interest?

Almost each one of Welles’ Hollywood films was butchered by the studio because they deviated sharply from the studio’s idea of a good movie. Welles’ versions of these films have perhaps been irrecoverably lost, but even that which remains is testament to his mastery of the medium, his singular vision of what narrative cinema can be and his spirit of experimentation and discovery.

WHERE to discover him?

Perhaps the most explosive directorial debut in the history of film, Citizen Kane centres on the private life of newspaper tycoon Charles Foster Kane. Made when Welles was just 26, the film employs a groundbreaking narrative in which the personality of Kane is constructed through a series of testimonies. A veritable catalogue of modern film techniques, Citizen Kane not only stands the test of time, but continues to enthral even today.

srikanth srinivasan