The Pioneer of Modern Cinema

         Orson Welles was arguably one of the single most influential talents Hollywood has ever seen. Apart from being among the most brilliant and recognizable writer/director/producers of all time, a quick IMDB search lists over one hundred films that Welles also acted in. Even before the motion picture industry turned into a billion dollar business, finding someone who could write, produce, direct and even star in his or her own film was nothing short of amazing. We see so many cinematic elements Orson Welles pioneered that have been copied countless times in movies throughout the years, leading up to even some of the most current films. From plot twists to cinematic style, Welles is without a doubt the grandfather of modern cinema.

        Using the film "Citizen Kane" from class as an example, one can see just how far ahead of his time Welles was for the early 1940's. It has been said that Welles spent several months working six days a week, sometimes from 4:00 AM to 10:00 PM, just to finish editing this movie. Since it has been labeled the greatest American film of all-time, it would almost be easier to list what was not rather than was groundbreaking about Citizen Kane. Welles truly raised the bar for technique, story, and cinematography. To quote Life Magazine, "Few movies have ever come from Hollywood with such forceful narrative, such original technique, such exciting photography."

        Even when Welles was not sitting in the director's chair, he continually gave knockout performances in films such as 1949's The Third Man. This Carol Reed film, which is constantly ranked among the top fifty movies of all time, gave us a puzzling and illusive image of Welles. His character, Harry Lime, although possibly unintentional, draws many similarities to Orson's mysterious life.

        Needless to say Orson Welles was not afraid to think outside the box. Looking as far back as 1938's original "War of the Worlds" broadcast, we can definitely see the effect Welles's genius had on society. In adapting the book for radio, Welles modified the story to be read as an artificial newscast. This fake newscast was so convincing, Welles had the entire nation on edge, and many were convinced that we were actually being attacked by aliens. As an advertising major, I have even had to study the effect of this story and how it changed the rules of broadcasting. During the allotted radio time for the narrative, dance music that was popular during that time was broadcast and repeatedly interrupted by fake bulletins, claiming a large object had landed in New Jersey. Although a disclaimer was read at the beginning of the broadcast, many of those tuning in any time after the beginning of the story were convinced it was real! It was reported that after listening to the broadcast some individuals headed out into their fields, shotguns in hand, looking for aliens, and even further, opening fire on each other!

        A truly legendary cinematic artist is not bound by the canvas of audio or even video. After wracking my brain to even remotely compare someone from modern day Hollywood to Orson Welles, I have found that the closest comparison I can make is M. Night Shyamalan. With such films as The Sixth Sense, Signs and The Village, many argue Shyamalan borrows too much of his style from Hitchcock and the like, but he continues to push the envelope of creative cinematography, plot twists and suspense, a very difficult task for modern film makers. However closely or loosely related current writer/directors are to Orson Welles, one can trace their creative roots straight back to films such as Citizen Kane and see what a long shadow it has cast on future film makers and what a tough act it is to follow.

Adam Cecil

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