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In honor of the screening, I've compiled a list of my five favorite Orson Welles films.
5. Citizen Kane (1941) I mean, do I really need to make an argument? It's a classic, though I echo Dave Kehr's sentiments: It isn't my absolute favorite Welles film, and I don't really even believe it's his best overall film, but there isn't a better film to kick-start a deep interest in movies. Unlike so many canonical works, this seems new with each viewing, even as its central qualities remain steadfast.
4. The Stranger (1946) Probably his most effortlessly enjoyable film (after all, he made it in an attempt to prove he could direct conventional Hollywood entertainment), though not without its share of intrigue. It's compelling and just a little bizarre to see Welles in "studio mode," where some of his authorial trademarks are somewhat less discernible. A shamelessly bawdy film technician, Welles is intriguingly restrained here, save for the climactic chase scene in which he can't help but show off.
3. The Trial (1962) One of the few films to properly encapsulate that overused phrase "Kafkaesque," Welles's adaptation of the Franz Kafka novel is at once his most expressionistic and minimalistic work. His use of extreme angels and meticulous composition evoke the source material's otherworldly tone, but there's a sparseness to the characterizations that infiltrates the narrative as a whole; the only thing keeping the film together is Welles's devilish instincts.
2. F For Fake (1974) Welles's stately meditation on art as it relates to authorship, authenticity, and representation, this essay film is his last major work and, perhaps, the key text in deciphering his entire filmography. His conception of film editing as an inherently deceptive tool not only contextualizes his style (think of the opening sequence in Citizen Kane) but proved influential on generations of filmmakers to come.
1. Chimes at Midnight (1966) Welles considered this classical pastiche about Sir John Falstaff, a fictional character who appeared most prominently in Shakespeare's work but also in plays by Giuseppe Verdi and Otto Nicolai, to be his finest film. The Battle of Shrewsbury sequence, among the most bracing scenes in American cinema, retains Shakespeare's antiwar sentiment even as Welles reorients it to fit a more contemporary mindset. This is a masterclass in intertextuality and narrative semiotics.