DID YOU READ

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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Jurassic Park Cast

Park Rules

5 Lessons Modern Blockbusters Could Learn From Jurassic Park

Catch the Jurassic Park movies this month on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Universal/Everett Collection

Jurassic Park wasn’t the first blockbuster that set out to appeal to everyone, but it is arguably the most successful of its kind. Adults, kids, boys, girls, nerds, jocks, and lawyers love it. (Okay, maybe not lawyers). With a script from David Koepp, direction by Steven Spielberg (who also had the Oscar winning Schindler’s List the same year) and groundbreaking special effects that still thrill modern CGI-addled viewers, Jurassic Park was the most ambitious film project of its time. And as we see with dreadful early-’90s megaflops like Waterworld and Showgirls, the bigger they were, the harder they were apt to fall.

Jurassic Park faced the impossible scenario of having to appeal to everyone, and the end result is one of the very few examples that actually succeeded. So what lessons can we take from the shining beacon of both mass appeal and being smarter than the competition?

1. Don’t Be Afraid to Change Your Source Material

Nedry

An adaptation of Michael Crichton’s hit novel, Jurassic Park changes a lot from page to screen, but the most significant changes are in the characters, in that they actually exist. Crichton’s primary interests were scientific morals and philosophy, not character and story, so the characters end up more as vessels for the action and ideas rather than, well, characters. Adding dimension to the characters changed a great deal of the material, since the material flowed more organically not just from ideas and philosophy, but character action.

Hammond (Richard Attenborough), the well-meaning, impassioned lover of science and possibilities, is a much more compelling character in the film than the corporate, grandchild-hating jerk who is poetically eaten by dinos in the book. Nedry (Wayne Knight) isn’t just in the story for some corporate espionage — there’s a genuine “daddy issue” undercurrent in his relationship with Hammond, and his desire to subvert his father figure goes horribly awry.

Tim and Lex (played by Joseph Mazzello and Ariana Richards) aren’t just whiny nuisances who are kids for kids’ sake, but are given interests and agencies that pay off later in the film — Lex with her computer skills, and Tim with his basic dinosaur knowledge. The movie gives Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neill) a character arc by getting him to connect with children, whom initially make him uncomfortable, which helps solidify his relationship to Ellie Satler (Laura Dern).


2. Avoid useless characters.

Jurassic World

Often in movies we see half-baked young characters (kids, teenagers) who get jammed into the film for no other reason than to appeal to a wider demographic. For example, the child characters in Independence Day are borderline comical both in their narrative non-purpose and how much they don’t act like children.

Last summer’s mega-blockbuster/franchise extender Jurassic World was guilty of this, too. Zach (Nick Robinson) and Gray (Ty Simpkins) have no skill, except for (apparently) some world experience from That One Time They Fixed A Car, a skill which was not set up nor ever referred to again. After the kids are rescued, they’re basically fleshy backpacks for Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard to foist around for the rest of the movie.

Lex and Tim not only aid in Grant’s growth, but also use their skills to further the plot. Sure, it’s a little goofy how Lex uses her knowledge to save the day, but this was 1993. Nowadays people know a bit more about UNIX systems (and, let’s face it, most people learned about UNIX systems from other people joking about how Jurassic Park got it oh-so-wrong).


3. You can include complex concepts…but keep it simple.

Jurassic Park Jeff Goldblum

Part of the brilliance of Jurassic Park isn’t that it involves complex philosophical concepts, but all of the different ways it disseminates complex information. It’s like a sampler platter of ways to both world-build and sew in theme.

Jurassic Park grazes over complex concepts like Chaos Theory, but that is not to say that it only pays them lip service, and moreover, the characters don’t just stop the action to explain things to the audience in an inorganic way. As a writer of prose, Crichton is guilty of this. These ideas are present in the original novel, but in the film, they are distilled, focused and sharpened to a fine point. The theme of chaos in an unpredictable environment is shown both implicitly (after Nedry’s meddling throws the trip into chaos) and explicitly, where Malcolm exposits repeatedly, betwixt a uniquely suave mix of “ums” and “uhs” and other Goldblum-isms.

The overarching theme of the movie is not so much that man should not play God (as Malcolm argues), but that man cannot, with perfect accuracy, predict all outcomes. That is a much more complex and satisfying conclusion to come to than simply “man play God, man go too far!”. The “don’t play God” aspect is certainly there, but it doesn’t end there. There is a genius simplicity in Jurassic Park‘s complexity.


4. Exposition should be actually motivated!

Jurassic Park Chaos

Since all of our main characters are experts in different fields, talking to each other about their respective fields is a great and easy way to let the audience in on things the characters already know in a natural way. Some of the scientific concepts are imparted by way of a cartoon in the Jurassic Park visitor center, because it is a theme park, and it is an educational “ride,” as Hammond says.

My favorite example of this is the scene where Malcolm gives Ellie a primer on Chaos Theory in a discussion which could’ve be really pretentious and boring. He gives the elevator pitch in the form of trying to describe the Butterfly Effect, but she doesn’t get it, leading to a more practical (and flirtatious) lesson that she can actually follow. Whereas in old sci-fi B-movies of yore it would have been just a bunch of guys standing in labs, explaining things to each other, here it is motivated.

Ellie and Malcolm didn’t have any kind of a “thing” in the book, but adding this now famous moment to the film not only gives us a little philosophical discussion, it allows for integral character development as well — Ellie egging on Alan by being receptive to Ian’s flirting, and Alan showing his difficulty committing to her by not engaging. It’s subtle, but all of these character traits come in and are built upon later.

Finally, if you learn nothing else from Jurassic Park, remember:


5. Dinosaurs Eat Man, Woman Inherits the Earth.

Jurassic Park Women Inherit

Just sayin’.

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Weird Al Hidden America

Keep America Weird

Watch “Weird Al” in the Trailer for Hidden America With Jonah Ray

Weird Al comes to Comedy Bang! Bang! starting June 3rd at 11P on IFC.

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Photo Credit: SeeSo

Jonah Ray, Nerdist podcaster and future resident of the Satellite of Love on the Mystery Science Theater 3000 reboot, is motoring across the country as part of a new travel parody show on SeeSo. And “Weird Al” is coming along for the journey.

Hidden America with Jonah Ray takes a tongue-in-cheek approach to tourism travel logs as the comedian visits and fumbles through cities like Chicago, Seattle, Los Angeles, New Orleans, Denver, and Austin. Along the way, Ray will meet up with Comedy Bang! Bang! bandleader “Weird Al” Yankovic, Randall Park, David Koechner, and more.

Check out the trailer below. For more “Weird Al,” be sure to catch the premiere of Comedy Bang! Bang! season five on June 3rd at 11P.

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Back to the Future Jaws Parody

Swimming with Sharks

10 Hilarious Jaws Spoofs

Catch the Jaws movies during IFC's Memorial Day Shark Half-A-Day Marathon.

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Photo Credit: Universal Pictures

How much is Jaws a part of our culture? Over 40 years after its release, it’s still prompting parodies that get laughs. To get you ready for IFC’s Memorial Day Shark Half-A-Day Marathon, check out our favorite spoofs of Jaws from across pop culture. Want more? You’re gonna need a bigger list…

1. “Mr. Jaws,” Dickie Goodman

Released just a few months after the movie’s debut on June 20th, 1975, this novelty record spent ten weeks on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, peaking at #4. In one of the earliest examples of sampling, comedian Dickie Goodman spliced in snippets of pop songs to answer interview questions with the Great White himself.


2. Jaws II (Land Shark), Saturday Night Live

It took only the fourth episode ever of SNL to establish one of its iconic recurring bits and play into the hysterical fear of sharks that Jaws prompted. A big punchline of this sketch: A sequel to Jaws! Who in 1975 could imagine such a thing??


3. “Jowls,” The Carol Burnett Show

Exactly one week after SNL spoofed Jaws, Carol Burnett and company did their take. Looking back now, what’s most amazing is that network TV allowed a sketch to go on for eleven minutes.


4. Mad Magazine

Mad Magazine Jaws
Mad Magazine/DC Comics

Even Jaws wouldn’t want to take a bite of Alfred E. Neuman in this issue from 1976. The comic inside spoofed the movie with a musical version -– an idea that took off over 30 years later.


5. 1941

How many times has this happened to you? You make a legendary movie, you see people parody it, and you want in! That’s the unlikely scenario that led to Jaws director Steven Spielberg making his own spoof as part of his 1979 war comedy 1941. How authentic did Spielberg get? Yes, that’s Susan Backlinie, the original lady in the water from Jaws, meeting up with trouble in the moonlight yet again.


6. Airplane!

One of the greatest disaster comedies of all time sets the tone for hilarity with its opening sequence. Even before the title appears, you know you’re in for a movie that winks at its place in film history.


7. Back to the Future Part II

1989 brought us this blockbuster sequel making fun of blockbuster sequels, as Marty McFly finds himself in a futuristic 2015 showing Jaws 19. While the actual 2015 came and went with Jaws only having three sequels, Universal treated fans of both movies to a trailer for the film that might have been…


8. Clerks

Kevin Smith was one of a generation of filmmakers influenced by Jaws. Many of his films contain references to his love of the original film, but only Clerks has the salsa shark.


9. Giant Killer Shark: The Musical

Mad Magazine Jaws

Why should live theater be without a spoof of Jaws? Just because of the risk of a massive lawsuit over intellectual property infringement? That may help explain the please-don’t-sue-us title of Giant Killer Shark: The Musical, which debuted in 2006. Just to drive the point home: the action takes place on and around Copyright-Protected Island. Scary!


10. Bill Murray’s Jaws Love Theme, SNL 40

The star-studded SNL 40th anniversary special marked four decades since the debut of SNL and of Jaws. It featured not one but two references to the movie, with Bill Murray as lounge singer Nick Ocean singing the love theme from Jaws we never knew we were missing. (He reprised the song at the event above.) Later, the Land Shark himself appeared on “Weekend Update.” Jaws: The gift that keeps on giving laughs.

Spend Memorial Day with IFC’s Shark Half-A-Day Marathon featuring “fin facts” from “sharks-pert” Jason Alexander!

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