The man who changed Hollywood
The city celebrates the iconic director and actor Orson Welles this weekend with a festival at Rodina movie theater.
Published: November 9, 2011 (Issue # 1682)
Director and actor Orson Welles.
Few can compare with legendary American filmmaker Orson Welles and his talent for depicting the rarities and complexities of human nature. Welles, who spent his life in a constant struggle with traditional Hollywood canons, will be celebrated this week at the Orson Welles: Citizen of the World film festival, taking place this week at Rodina movie theater.
The director, actor and producer often encountered negative reactions and little appreciation from his contemporaries, but is now considered to be one of the best and most innovative filmmakers in cinema history. To this day, his films serve as visual aid and inspiration to cinema professionals. In 1999, the American Film Institute released a list of the top 50 screen legends of all time, in which Orson Welles was voted number 16. He was also the recipient of two Academy Awards as well as several Cannes Film Festival and Venice Film Festival awards.
Welles managed to break the trend of depicting heroes as either good or evil, and to show the ambiguity in every character.
“He showed that the world is not confined to black and white, and found a gray area that characterizes the vagueness and uncertainty of human nature,” said Marina Staudenmann, the festival’s director.
Marlene Dietrich appears in a celebrated five-minute scene in Welles’ ‘Touch of Evil’ (1958).
“This very ambiguity of Orson Welles’ characters defines the relevance of his films today. Moreover, he abandoned the traditional ‘happy ending,’ which was almost inconceivable for Hollywood and American society as a whole, especially during the war and post-war periods when the film industry was supposed to keep the national spirit up.”
The organizers of the Orson Welles: Citizen of the World film festival — the Tour de Film festival agency with the support of the U.S. Consulate in St. Petersburg — have chosen to screen five films, including some very rare versions. The festival opens with ‘Citizen Kane’ (1941), a film fully representative of Welles’ unique talent, as it was the only film completely controlled by him, from the directing and casting to the montage of the final scene. In Hollywood history, this has never been done before or since.
Welles’ unusual directing, narrating and scene-setting techniques made his films one of a kind. He was among the first filmmakers to experiment with camera angle, focus range and lighting, which allowed him to broaden the traditional frames of film perception.
“Welles by definition was one of the independent film pioneers,” said Staudenmann. “The retrospective of Orson Welles’ films at the festival perfectly demonstrates where contemporary independent cinema gets its origins.”
‘The Lady from Shanghai’ (1947) features on the festival’s program.
“The Lady from Shanghai” (1947) and “Touch of Evil” (1958), two films of Welles’ favorite film-noir genre, will also be shown during the festival. The psychological tension present throughout the films and labyrinthine detective plots make Welles’ films a competitor to any contemporary thriller.
The version of “Touch of Evil” shown at the festival is a reedited version that has never before been shown in Russia. The film features Marlene Dietrich in a brief yet captivating appearance.
“It may seem strange that Marlene Dietrich accepted such a short role at the peak of her career, but it’s necessary to remember what kind of role it was and how brilliantly she acted during this five-minute scene,” said Staudenmann. “Welles once said that Marlene Dietrich in this role encompassed all her previously played roles.”
The festival wouldn’t be complete without a Welles film based on a Shakespeare play. Welles’ “Macbeth” (1948) is a unique interpretation of the Shakespeare play. Welles remained very faithful to the original play by making the actors speak with Scottish accents, but also added his personal twist to some scenes, creating his own expressive version of the tale of bloodthirsty ambition.
Orson Welles as Macbeth.
Welles never failed to succeed in combining things that may seem incompatible at first sight, merging European and American cinematic traditions and attracting the best talents to his films, justifying the label of Citizen of the World.
The Orson Welles: Citizen of the World film festival runs from Nov. 11 through 14 at Rodina movie theater,
12 Karavannaya Ulitsa. Tel. 571 6131.
For a full schedule, visit