Film: Celebration of a maverick

Orson Welles tribute continues

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This month, The Rafael continues a retrospective on the work of Orson Welles. Photo courtesy of the Smith Rafael Film Center.

by Mal Karman    

If you like your films as rare as your steak, the Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center this month is serving up a healthy dose of out-of-the-mainstream Orson Welles, who, despite his wars with the major studios, was twice voted the greatest director of all time by his peers.

“After Welles left Hollywood in the late ’40s, most of his films got very little exposure here,” says Richard Peterson, director of programming at the Rafael. “These are rare items, most of them made in Europe.” Among the unheralded gems are F for Fake, which Peterson calls “a very special documentary.”

“It’s an essay film, a portrait of a [Hungarian] art forger [and an American literary fraud],” he says. “Welles was able to utilize his personality in creating the film by talking directly to the camera. And he manages to bring the quality of a puzzle to it.”

Perhaps the most unique program in the retrospective is a presentation of Welles’ more obscure works by Joseph McBride, a professor at San Francisco State University and author of What Ever Happened to Orson Welles? A Portrait of an Independent Career.

No doubt paying a price for being a perfectionist, Welles was painted by critics as a lazy, overweight has-been who had pissed away the remarkable talent he demonstrated in Citizen Kane and the Mercury Theatre production of War of the Worlds.

McBride takes issue with the filmmaker’s detractors. “His life was a saga of untiring work, dedication … replete with evidence of his dogged tenacity,” he writes in his book, adding, “ … overwhelming obstacles (were) placed before him by a society that tragically undervalues its great artists.”

Also in the retrospective are Confidential Report, presumably the director’s intended version of Mr. Arkadin, about a man trying to track down his own past; The Immortal Story, Welles’ first film in color from an Isak Dinesen novel about a scheming wealthy 19th century merchant and Touch of Evil, which was re-edited not long ago according to Welles’ intentions by a team including Academy Award-winning Walter Murch of Bolinas.

‘Welles 100: The Maverick’ plays on Sundays and Thursdays through November 22; Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center; 1118 Fourth St., San Rafael; rafaelfilm.cafilm.org.

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