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War of the Welles: Seven Actors Who’ve Played Orson

War of the Welles: Seven Actors Who’ve Played Orson (photo)

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Orson Welles’ “Citizen Kane” is about one man from many perspectives. As a reporter travels the country in search of the meaning of Charles Foster Kane’s last words, he hears stories about the man from wives, co-workers, friends, and guardians, all of whom see Kane’s life differently. In the trailer, Welles describes the many dimensions of his character in the narration: “Kane is a hero, and a scoundrel, a no account and a swell guy. A great lover, a great American citizen and a dirty dog.”

Certainly, Welles believed that one man could encompass all of these dissimilar traits. And in recent years, enough actors have portrayed enough variations of Welles himself to suggest that the acting/directing wunderkind, like Kane, was just as complex an individual. Some films have portrayed him as a hero, others as a scoundrel. Some, like Richard Linklater’s new film “Me and Orson Welles,” show him to be both. Here now, a comparison of the various onscreen Orsons, lovers, citizens, and dirty dogs, all.

11262009_NightThatPanickedAmerica.jpg Paul Shenar in “The Night That Panicked America” (1975)
Directed by Joseph Sargent

The Film is… a TV movie about Welles’ infamous 1938 “War of the Worlds” radio play and the reactions of people who believed the show was real and got swept away in the ensuing panic.

Orson Welles is portrayed as… an aloof genius. Though “The Night That Panicked America” is structured as a behind-the-scenes account of the “War of the Worlds,” it keeps Welles himself at arm’s length. He arrives at the studio shortly before the broadcast and departs after the show in a scrum of reporters. People talk about his directions and desires for the show, but Welles himself has exactly zero lines of dialogue in “The Night” outside of his contributions the as narrator and star of “The War of the Worlds.” He directs the entire play silently with hand gestures, glances, and the occasional devilish grin. The interlocking scenes of terrified listeners provide tangible evidence of Welles’ gifts. But the movie offers no insight into the process as to how he harnessed those talents. It is as if Welles is a magician and the film is his assistant; it knows how he does the tricks, but is sworn never to reveal the secrets.

Paul Shenar is… never going to be mistaken for Orson Welles. He simply looks nothing like the man. But then this is a film about radio, so how Welles looks is ultimately far less important than how he sounds. And Shenar does sound like Welles, though not in the precise way that an impersonator might. Instead, he captures Welles’ tone, the richness of his voice, his confidence and seriousness. You may not be convinced that you are listening to Welles (you’re certainly not convinced that you’re looking at him), but you are convinced that this Welles is capable of directing and starring in maybe the most famous radio broadcast in the medium’s history.

11262009_MaliceinWonderland.jpgEric Purcell in “Malice in Wonderland” (1985)
Directed by Gus Trikonis

The Film is… the story of the rivalry between Hollywood gossip columnists Louella Parsons (Elizabeth Taylor) and Hedda Hopper (Jane Alexander). Welles gets involved when Hopper figures out that Welles’ secretive new movie, “Citizen Kane,” is inspired by the life of William Randolph Hearst, Parsons’ boss.

Orson Welles is portrayed as… Joseph Cotten’s sidekick. “Kane” played an important role in the Parsons/Hopper war, but in the scenes “Malice in Wonderland” devotes to it, Welles plays second fiddle to the film’s version of Joseph Cotten (and the young actor named Tim Robbins who plays him). At a posh Hollywood party, Hopper prods Cotten for information about his rumored extramarital affair with actress Deanna Durbin. Eventually, a fed up Cotten shoves her face first into a plate of deviled eggs while a bemused Welles looks on. In the next scene, Welles and Cotten sit down to watch “Kane” in a screening room and Hopper arrives, technically to watch the movie, but really just to shake Cotten’s hand for having the moxie to do what so many others have wanted to.

Eric Purcell is… playing the sort of rushed celebrity cameo present in most Hollywood biopics that requires overly expository dialogue to explain who he is and what he’s up to. Hence, he’s first spied next to Hopper as she says “Come on Orson, spill the beans! This “Citizen Kane” caper is about William Randolph Hearst, isn’t it?” Then again, it’s not like we’d recognize Purcell as Welles just from his appearance; with his hideous, crooked bowtie, bad posture, and floppy haircut, he looks like a caricature of Welles drawn by someone who didn’t like him. If Louella Parsons had done this good of a job making Welles look bad after Hearst ordered her to bury “Kane,” the film might never have gotten released.

11262009_HeavenlyCreatures3.jpgJean Guérin in “Heavenly Creatures” (1994)
Directed by Peter Jackson

The Film is… an extremely stylish and visually imaginative version of a real-life murder committed by two New Zealand teenagers. Pauline (Melanie Lynskey) and Juliet (Kate Winslet) bond over their mutual loneliness and quickly grow inseparable. The pair’s favorite activity is to construct elaborate fantasies that director Peter Jackson brings to life within the film, one of which involves Orson Welles and his performance in Carol Reed’s “The Third Man.”

Orson Welles is portrayed as… “the most hideous man alive,” according to Juliet. During a late night bonding session, she shares with Pauline her thoughts on the afterlife, a place she calls “the fourth world” that is populated by all her favorite pop culture crushes: James Mason and Mario Lanza, but not Orson Welles, because he’s so gosh darn ugly. Later, the girls watch “The Third Man” at the local movie theater, where Pauline remarks (in words Jackson and co-writer Fran Walsh took right from the real girl’s diary), “He was appalling! I had never in my life seen anything in the same category of hideousness!” (One shudders to think what she would have written if they’d seen “Touch of Evil” instead.) When the girls leave the theater, their fantasy life kicks in and Welles, still in black-and-white, appears before them and silently chases them through the streets and dark alleys of their town. He follows them back home, where his shadow – or perhaps, since we’re talking about Welles, The Shadow – makes several clever appearances. The walls between fantasy and reality break down; Pauline and Juliet escape Welles’ clutches, the two begin to kiss on a bed, then Pauline suddenly transforms into Welles and begins to make love to Juliet. Eventually, reality is restored, as the two friends, lying together in a tub, finally resolve to kill Pauline’s mother. Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men, indeed.

Jean Guérin is… really not that hideous. I think the girls are being a bit unfair.

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Religuous Bill Maher

Politics Now!

10 Hilarious Political Documentaries You Need to See

Documentary Now! gets political with "The Bunker" premiering September 14th at 10P on IFC.

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Photo Credit: ©Lionsgate/Courtesy Everett Collection

Who says political documentaries can’t be hilarious? The best political docs — like The War Room, the 1993 depiction of the Clinton presidential campaign that Documentary Now! pays homage to with “The Bunker” — have plenty in them to make you laugh. Here are 10 political documentaries that will elicit more than just bitter laughter.

1. The Yes Men

Activist duo Jacques Servin and Igor Vamos are responsible for not just one, but three funny and scathing political documentaries: The Yes Men (2003), The Yes Men Fix the World (2009) and The Yes Men are Revolting (2014). The pair impersonate bad guys from the worlds of business and government, and often end up fooling the media. They also stage elaborate pranks like having dozens of people don inflatable ball outfits called SurvivaBalls to help survive catastrophes resulting from climate change. Along the way they’ve racked up numerous awards and almost as many arrests.


2. Weiner

“Hilarious…like a Spinal Tap of politics,” said the New York Post about the doc Weiner, of course adding, “…it’s the full package.” This doc follows the disgraced Congressman, who had to resign due to a sexting scandal, in his quest for a comeback, running for Mayor of New York City. Incredibly, yet another sexting scandal explodes during the course of filming. You’ll laugh, you’ll cringe, as the whole sordid story unfolds before the cameras, featuring Weiner and his wife, longtime Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin. It’s the film that puts the (Carlos) “danger” back in politics.


3. Please Vote for Me

Politics on a scale much smaller but just as riveting are on display in this 2007 documentary. A third grade class in China is given the task of holding an election for class monitor. The resulting web of intrigue, dirty tricks and bare-knuckle politics among this group of 8-year-olds are reminiscent of something Karl Rove or Lee Atwater would come up with. And the parents are worse. A fascinating look at the roots of democracy, with a touch of Lord of the Flies.


4. Roger & Me

Filmmaker Michael Moore could have any one of a number of his movies in this list (his is the first name most people think of when the subject of funny political docs comes up). But his first doc, Roger & Me, remains one of his funniest and — with its focus on the economic impact of globalization on American workers — still remains one of his timeliest. The film centers around Moore’s attempts to confront then CEO of General Motors Roger B. Smith. Moments from the film including scenes with former game show host Bob Eubanks and another with a luckless rabbit have become iconic.


5. Bronx Obama

The first feature-length documentary from filmmaker Ryan Murdock, Bronx Obama follows the story of Louis Ortiz, a lifelong resident of the South Bronx. Unemployed and with a young daughter, Ortiz is told by a friend in 2007 that he looks like a rising young politician. Before long, he’s making a living as a Barack Obama impersonator. The award-winning doc shows many hilarious moments intentional and otherwise as Ortiz comes to grips with his new life over the course of three years during Obama’s first term and deals with an unscrupulous manager.


6. Religulous

Bill Maher brings his scathing satire of organized religion to his 2008 documentary Religulous. In the course of the film he travels to The Wailing Wall, The Mormon Temple in Salt Lake City and The Vatican, among other places. But some of the best scenes are in cheesy locales like The Creation Museum and a Christian theme park in Orlando called Holy Land Experience. He even finds a Muslim gay bar in Amsterdam. Maher is merciless in his mockery of the main Western religions, but even if you disagree with his viewpoints, his comedy is always spot on.


7. Al Franken: God Spoke

From the makers of The War Room, this doc shows the evolution of Al Franken from comedian to political pundit during the first term of George W. Bush. We see Franken touring in promotion of his book Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot, broadcasting at Air America Radio and touring with the USO in Iraq. The most memorable encounters in the film are clashes with right-wing pundits like Bill O’Reilly, Ann Coulter and Sean Hannity. It’s a funny look at a man on a journey from SNL to the US Senate.


8. Journeys with George

In the year 2000, Alexandra Pelosi (daughter of Nancy Pelosi) was covering the presidential campaign of then-Texas Governor George W. Bush for NBC. For 18 months, she also used a handheld camcorder to record Journeys with George. The result is a remarkably warm and funny portrait of a somewhat goofball politician. Pelosi went on to become a filmmaker. Bush went on to bigger things as well. From the vantage point of 16 years later, the big takeaway from Journeys with George is that George W. Bush seemed a lot funnier before we had eight years of him as president.


9. Mitt

You may have suspected that George W. Bush could make a goofily entertaining subject for a documentary. What you never suspected was that Mitt Romney could ever be anything other than stiff and robotic. For the film Mitt, documentarian Greg Whiteley was given unprecedented access to Romney in his runs for president in both 2008 and 2012. What emerges is a surprisingly human portrait of Romney and his family. There’s an amazing scene in the hotel on the night Mitt lost to Barack Obama revealing that he never even contemplated the possible need for a concession speech.


10. Sarah Palin: You Betcha!

No list of things both political and funny can avoid having at least one entry about Sarah Palin. Sarah Palin: You Betcha! is from noted British documentarian Nick Broomfield (Kurt & Courtney) and should not be confused with the fawning Palin doc The Undefeated. In 2011, after she had become a conservative icon, Broomfield went to Alaska and documented his attempts at getting an interview with Palin in a Roger & Me-esque pursuit. In interviews with Palin family, friends, fans and foes, Broomfield manages to make the self-described “mama grizzly” seem both dangerous and ridiculous, both of which are undoubtedly true.

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Bill and Teds Bogus Journey Everett

Die Laughing

5 Depictions of “Death” in Comedy

Catch Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey this week on IFC's Rotten Fridays.

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With Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey airing as part of IFC’s Rotten Fridays, we got to thinking about how exactly the character of Death made his way onto the screen – and onto the poster – of a 1991 comedy sequel.

Ingmar Bergman’s depiction of Death in his 1957 classic The Seventh Seal set the tone for how most people think of The Grim Reaper. Portrayed by Bengt Ekerot, Death was a chess-playing philosopher, answering deep existential questions while capturing your rook with his knight. In Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey, Death is partial to board games.

Here then is the journey of Death in movie comedies, from Bill & Ted to Whoopi.

1. The Dove / De Duva (1968)

Three years after The Seventh Seal hit theaters, this short film parodied as much Ingmar Bergman as could fit into 14 minutes. The centerpiece is of course the pale-faced and shrouded Death, challenged this time in a game of badminton. It’s also the film debut of Madeline Kahn, who would go on to become the queen of parody with Young Frankenstein, High Anxiety and Blazing Saddles.


2. Monty Python and the Holy Grail trailer (1975)

One of the greatest comedies of all times parodies one of the greatest movies of all times –- but only in the trailer. Referring to the director and title by name, this preview promises something “all rather silly” when compared to The Seventh Seal. To wit: Death takes a pie to the face.


3. Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey (1991)

Bill and Ted
Orion Pictures

If Death can play chess, then why not Twister, Clue and Battleship? Of all the comic portrayals of Death in movies, this is the one that holds up best. William Sadler brings a vulnerability to the role while never losing Death’s sense of menace. Like the Bill & Ted movies, it’s brilliantly smart and stupid all at the same time.


4. The Last Action Hero (1993)

"Ian
Columbia Pictures

This action-comedy-trainwreck acknowledges The Seventh Seal as a movie and then takes a big leap as the character of Death leaves the land of Ingmar Bergman and jumps into the world of Arnold Schwarzenegger. Ian McKellen (the Bengt Ekerot of our day) takes over the role and wreaks havoc in 1990s America.


5. Monkeybone (2001)

Monkeybone
20th Century Fox

Whoopi Goldberg plays Death in this bizarre 2001 comedy, where Brendan Fraser’s comatose cartoonist must get an “exit pass” from Death in order to return to the land of the living. Also, Death has a giant robot. It’s a weird movie, folks.

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Rick Moranis Honey I shrunk the kids

Rick of Time

10 Best Rick Moranis Roles

Catch Rick Moranis in Honey, I Shrunk the Kids this month on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Buena Vista Pictures/ Courtesy: Everett Collection

Everyone loves Rick Moranis. It’s just the truth. This month on IFC, you get a chance to rediscover his awesomeness in Honey, I Shrunk the KidsAs you enjoy that family comedy gem, here are a few other roles that showcase Rick Moranis’ greatness.

1. Little Shop of Horrors, Seymour Krelborn

Only Rick Moranis could play a character that you still root for even though he’s murdering people and feeding them to an alien plant. Audiences loved Seymour so much, the studio had to reshoot the ending of the film. Originally, the film ended like the original Off-Broadway play, with Seymour and Audrey being eaten and Audrey II taking over the world. Test audiences couldn’t stand the fact that they were killed, so a new ending was shot with our leads victorious and the film became one of the best movie musicals of all time.


2. Ghostbusters, Louis Tully

In a film with so many comedy legends, it would have been easy for Rick Moranis to fade into the background as the hapless Louis Tully. But he more than holds his own up against the rest, making Tully just as funny as he is pathetic. And when he goes bug-eyed as Vinz Clortho, Keymaster of Gozer, that’s when the fun really starts.


3. Spaceballs, Dark Helmet

You don’t often think of James Earl Jones and Rick Moranis being typecast together. But in Mel Brooks’ goofy send-up of Star Wars, Moranis takes on his version of Darth Vader. As Dark Helmet, Moranis is a perfect mixture of occasionally threatening and mostly inept. If Brooks ever decides to revisit the Spaceballs franchise on the big screen, hopefully he’ll find a way to bring Dark Helmet into the new Star Wars universe.


4. Parenthood, Nathan Huffner

Directed by Ron Howard, Parenthood is a wonderfully truthful movie about marriage, having children and the dangers of oral sex while driving. Moranis plays Nathan Huffner, an intellectual who’s more interested in raising his daughter as a science experiment than being a loving father. Though there are many comedic moments, this is a much more understated performance for Moranis. And he gets easily the sweetest moment in the film when he serenades his estranged wife in front of her students.


5. Strange Brew, Bob McKenzie

Bob and Doug McKenzie were breakout characters from SCTV that were originally created by government demand — the CBC mandates that a certain percentage of all shows in Canada have specifically Canadian content. So, Moranis and Dave Thomas thought of the most stereotypical Canadians possible and the McKenzie brothers were born. The duo appeared on SCTV, in Pizza Hut and Molson commercials, on a platinum-selling comedy album and their big screen debut, Strange Brew. It’s a tale of poisoned beer, mind control plots and an escape from an insane asylum. Plus, it’s a loose take on Hamlet. Probably not what you’d expect from characters made as a joke, but that’s what makes Bob McKenzie a great and surprising “hoser.”


6. Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, Wayne Szalinski

In this 1989 classic, Rick Moranis plays a bumbling inventor who accidentally shrinks his kids and neighbors to the size of ants. Though that may sound horrifying, Moranis is great as a man who’s thrilled that something of his finally worked and just as comically terrified by what he’s done. With impressive special effects for the time, the film still holds up as a fun family comedy.


7. My Blue Heaven, Barney Coopersmith

Did you know that Rick Moranis was in a comedic version of Goodfellas? My Blue Heaven, starring Steve Martin and Moranis, came out one month before Scorsese’s legendary Mob film. Though the silly comedy and gritty gangster drama may seem completely different, both are based on the life of Henry Hill, known as Vinnie Antonelli in Heaven. Moranis plays the average neighbor who tries to keep former mobster Vinnie (Martin) in line so he can remain in witness protection. Though Goodfellas was based on a novel about Hill’s life by Nicholas Pileggi, My Blue Heaven was written Nora Ephron, who happened to be married to Pileggi at the time. It’s a small mob world.


8. The Wild Life, Harry

This ’80s teen comedy has been mostly forgotten, but it’s notable not only for a performance by Moranis as a trendy manager with very big hair but it’s top level cast. Eric Stoltz, Randy Quaid, Lea Thompson and a bleached blonde Chris Penn all star, with a soundtrack by Eddie Van Halen. It’s all the more surprising that this film isn’t better remembered, since it was writer Cameron Crowe’s follow up to Fast Times at Ridgemont High.


9. Head Office, Howard Gross

This 1985 satire of the corporate world stars Judge Reinhold as a new employee who gets mysteriously promoted within a huge company and learns of the seedy underbelly of business. The film features a few subplots, one starring Danny DeVito and one with Moranis as a failing executive whose screaming idiocy is a great parody of the executive top brass. Though it may not be much of a parody, since we’ve all probably experienced our fair share of screaming, asinine bosses.


10. Brewster’s Millions, Morty King

In Brewster’s Millions, Richard Pryor finds out he’ll get a $300 million inheritance only if he can spend $30 million in one month. (If only we all had such troubles.) As Pryor’s character gets more attention for his big spending and eventual mayoral campaign, he attracts a bunch of odd characters. One of which is Moranis as Morty King, King of the Mimics. It’s a small role where he plays a guy that always repeats everything that’s said, but Morty has got a great costume and Moranis plays this confident weirdo with delightful skill. Also, the idea of anyone crowning himself “King of the Mimics” for doing a trick that little brothers use to annoy everyone is a pretty insane thought.

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