March 20, 2015

American Geniuses

Filed under: Commentary — Tags: , , , — Bob Patterson @ 12:29 pm

crop of Mik Zint

“Magician, the Astonishing Life & Work of Orson Welles” is a new documentary film that tells the story of the fellow who made radio history and classic films, and was very much underappreciated while doing those things. Welles was a very innovative movie maker and is credited with inspiring the creation of the wide angle lens for “Citizen Kane.”

By pure coincidence, the additional material on a DVD of Martin Scorsese’s “The Aviator,” had alerted us to the fact that Howard Hughes had many things in common with Orson Welles. Hughes was born fabulously wealthy and he never developed a reverence for money and the need to budget wisely. Welles never seemed to have had a conservative approach to fiscal matters. He claimed that on his first night in Dublin Ireland, he spent all his travel money on a lavish meal. Embellishing a story for dramatic effect seems to be a likely modus operandi for a fellow who was noted for a great sense of theatricality.

Hughes was (perhaps) the only Hollywood film director to be honored with a tickertape parade down Broadway in New York City. He received that honor for setting a record for an around the world flight.

Welles was given a lifetime achievement Oscar.

Both men were notorious for their love lives.

Hughes was an aviation pioneer and a celebrated film maker but he also was responsible for some very practical achievements such as introducing retractable landing gear on airplanes. It was an innovation which dramatically increased their speed. His companies made technical innovations which had a beneficial effect on weapons and thus he improved the quality of America’s ability to wage war. His contributions to technology and aviation, which made modern drone strikes possible, was not fully communicated to the American public which dwelled on his flamboyant public image and his impact on that facet of society that thrives on gossip column items.

Welles burst on the New York theater scene already a legend. He had barely passed voting age when he feuded with Hemingway over the narration of a documentary film about the Spanish Civil War.

Part of the Welles legend is that his radio broadcast based on H. G. Wells’ (no relation/different spelling) novel about an invasion from Mars caused mass panic and traffic gridlock. Newspaper articles stating that fact are plentiful but skeptics who wonder if that was just an example of Hollywood ballyhoo are hard pressed to find some citizen who can provide eyewitness descriptions of the alleged example of mass hysteria. Skeptical reporters are advised to always avoid fact checking the legend.

Back then, people were encouraged to get diverse points of view. People who tuned into the Welles broadcast and switched stations to get a different set of facts quickly learned that the other radio networks were presenting the usual Sunday evening smorgasbord of comedy.

A column about American geniuses must note that this week, in San Francisco, it was reported by KCBS news radio that St. Mary’s Cathedral would have to pay to remove the sprinkler system it had installed to soak the homeless sleeping in their doorways, because they had made the “improvement” without getting a building permit. Wouldn’t it have been quicker and more efficient if the bishop had just gone out and urinated on them?

To cynics, it seems that America’s “War on Poverty” has become a war on the poor.

When we asked the Berkeley homeless activist Ninja Kitty if a (formerly) homeless person had ever been elected to Congress, didn’t he respond by saying: “There’s a first time for everything!”?

It used to be that exit polls were credited with pin-point accuracy, but lately they don’t seem to be very reliable at all. Time after time results contradict the exit polls. With that in mind, we predict that Karl Rove’s greatest behind the scenes achievement in American Politics is yet to be achieved. Wouldn’t the reestablishment of the Bush Dynasty be Rove’s greatest triumph?

“Magician” is a Cliff’s Notes style documentary film that will inform the people who are not aware of Welles’ story about the life of a genius and it will also give established Welles fans a new chance to hear his voice and see film sequences which give tantalizing hints about his magnetism and charm.

Clifford Irving wrote a book about a fellow who was very successful painting and selling counterfeit works of art. Irving also wrote a bogus Howard Hughes autobiography.

One of Welles’ many film projects was “F is for Fake,” which included a segment about Clifford Irving.

Now the disk jockey will play Orson Welles’ rendition (it’s on Youtube) of “I know what it is to be young (You don’t know what it is to be old),” Rita Hayworth’s “Put the Blame on Mame, Boys” (conspiracy theory folks assert it was dubbed) and the theme music from “The Third Man.” We have to go fact check the rumor that the Pacific Film Archive will open its new Berkeley home with a tribute to the films of Orson Wells. Have a “Rosebud” type week.



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