Orson Welles Biography and Impact

Table of Content

Orson Welles, a multifaceted individual, was a renowned actor, producer, director, writer, and columnist. His significant contribution to the film industry involved directing movies that portrayed authentic human experiences. Welles’s writings also mirrored his own persona and inspired others to explore the complexities of human existence, encompassing both positive and negative aspects. Constantly pushing boundaries, Welles dedicated his life to experimenting with various mediums and conveying his unique perspective on mankind’s eternal battle against personal demons. This enigmatic man’s films were a reflection of his inner struggles and his endeavor to reconcile the contrasting aspects of his own being.

Orson Welles, often referred to as a Renaissance man, was frequently asked about how he reconciled opposing ideas. His response was that he did not. He believed that contradictions existed within each person, including himself. Humanity consists of opposites, existing between two extremes. We all possess both a philistine and an aesthete, a murderer and a saint within us. Instead of attempting to reconcile these opposites, Welles argued that we should simply acknowledge them. In 1967, during a conversation with Kennety Tynan, he stated: “You don’t reconcile the poles. You just recognize them.” Welles excelled not only as an actor who frequently starred in his own productions but also as a prolific writer and talented artist. His zest for life was accompanied by an ambitious drive to revolutionize various aspects of existence. Fearlessly experimenting with diverse pursuits, he embraced both failures and successes without fear.

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Despite critics’ claims that Welles could never surpass Citizen Kane, films like The Trial, Touch of Evil, and The Lady from Shanghai are hailed as classic and monumental achievements in cinematic production. However, movies such as The Stranger, Chimes at Midnight, and Mr. Arkadin were met with criticism for being one-man band shows in which Welles glorified and embellished himself.

Welles’ films showcase his conflicting outlook on life. He established the Mercury Theater due to a dispute with the Federal Theater Project, which tried to censor his work. Welles stood his ground and refused to tone down the political messaging in his pro-labor play, The Cradle Will Rock. This refusal to compromise persisted throughout his life, leading to his isolation and facing criticism and condemnation rather than yielding to authority.

Welles employs extravagant and dynamic images to convey his unique perspective. In his anti-fascist play, Julius Caesar, Welles styled his characters in modern clothing and depicted Brutus as an arrogant yet rational individual.

Traditionally, camera shots are deep focused with long takes and sweeping movements. One of the most renowned shots is found in the movie The Lady From Shanghai. Here, there is a well-known shoot-out in a hall-of-mirrors, where the villain and hero engage in gun fire, leaving the audience uncertain of the situation. This scene gained fame due to Welles’ use of innovative camera techniques that astonish viewers with their extravagant movements.

Welles utilizes skillful editing techniques to transition between characters and enhance the action in his films. This can be seen in works such as The Third Man and Compulsion, where flawed characters who have lost their innocence take center stage. Furthermore, he employs bold music and distinctive lighting to emphasize the portrayal of both characters and plot development. Typically, antagonists are highlighted with dim lighting and dramatic music, while protagonists are depicted with brighter lighting and lighter melodies.

The central theme of most of his dramatic presentations focuses on the examination of characters’ ability to overcome challenges and crisis in their lives. These characters, derived from the playwright’s personal experiences, often struggle to navigate the difficulties of daily existence and inadvertently cause harm to others while trying to resolve their own problems. Welles’ dramas are both controversial and realistic due to their non-linear nature.

Citizen Kane, released in 1941, was the most controversial and possibly the most successful film in the career of its creator. Although it received critical acclaim, financial success came later. The movie depicted the life of William Randolph Hearst, a newspaper tycoon who controlled the press by manufacturing news and using hyperbole to sell papers. Hearst’s newspapers were known for being entertaining but often exaggerated rather than factual. He was an egotistical and self-serving man who continually sought to expand his empire at the expense of others.

Orson Welles, the producer and director of Citizen Kane, had a strong dislike for Hearst due to his power and prestige. Welles embarked on a mission to destroy Hearst’s reputation through the movie. Hearst, in turn, did all he could to prevent the release of the film and discredit Welles. This campaign of defamatory remarks and smears greatly impacted both men’s reputations.

Following the release of Citizen Kane, Welles gained acclaim for his extraordinary talent and his self-destructive nature. Throughout his life, he contributed to the creation of over 46 films. A recurring theme in many of his movies focused on the struggle between the small and the powerful. Occasionally, the underdog would triumph, but commonly, it was the mighty who emerged victorious. Nevertheless, the narratives effectively expressed empathy for both the oppressed and the conqueror.

In Welles’ movies, the protagonist consistently faces and handles challenging circumstances that are outside their control. Touch of Evil, a film directed by Welles, showcases a character with a tendency for self-destructive behavior, leading to various issues and ultimately their demise. Welles frequently associates his characters with his personal experiences, stating, “I started off at the pinnacle and have been gradually declining ever since.”

Following Citizen Kane, Welles’ subsequent films continued to explore the timeless struggle between individuals and both others and their own inner selves. Each character possesses a sense of reason that becomes somehow compromised throughout their life experiences. The loss of rationality leads to internal conflict and ultimately self-destruction.

“Man is a rational animal who always loses his temper when called upon to act in accordance with the dictates of reason.” Excerpt from the book: The Portable Curmudgeon Redux by: Jon Winokur.

For Welles, the climax of every story revolved around accepting fate and not tampering with the will of Gods. Any character who refused to accept his or her fate was systematically destroyed. This dark side of Welles’ personality was often masked by a lighter side that enjoyed the company of others and the good life of drinking, women, and food.

Ultimately, Welles passed away as a widely acclaimed individual who achieved great success at a young age but spent the remainder of his life attempting to replicate his early triumph. Nevertheless, some individuals argue that Welles’ later films were equally impressive. It is up to the viewer to decide, but his distinct perspective on life endures as his lasting heritage.

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Orson Welles Biography and Impact. (2018, Nov 20). Retrieved from


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