Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Orson Welles: Big Budget Shakespearean Adaptation Vs. Indie Masterpieces

(Written in December, 2015)

Orson Welles uses many different kinds of film techniques throughout all of his films, but there are some that he uses in both his Shakespearean adaptations as well as his independent productions. In both he uses different kinds of lighting tricks, including using silhouette and shadow. He also uses narration as well as other radio techniques in interesting ways. He also uses different editing techniques to cut for a certain rhythm to the piece. As well as these, there are some differences that will be discussed between these adaptations and independent productions.

            To begin, there are many different lighting tricks and techniques that Welles uses throughout his work. One includes silhouette. When Welles uses silhouette, he usually has the subject backlit and fades out the light in front of the subject. One example of this is as early as The Magnificent Ambersons, when he has the main couple near the door and they are silhouetted as they say their goodbyes. He uses these in several Shakespearean adaptations, such as in Macbeth when he frames the witches in silhouette against the sky near the middle of the film. He also uses it in Othello at the beginning with the funeral procession against the sky. These are used similarly to how a stage play might be lit, and might have come from Welles's experiences on stage plays. Of course with Shakespeare, they can evoke the stage version as well as help increase the tension. With his independent work, it also has a similar feeling to it. Welles uses silhouette in several independent works, but maybe most noticeably in The Fountain Of Youth. There are many transitions from scene to scene where the scene ends with the subject being silhouetted, with multiple times the backgrounds changing behind them or fading out behind them. There is also a scene in F For Fake where Welles is sitting at a park bench and is silhouetted. This technique is used many times by well, and normally evokes the same dramatic feel.

            Welles also similarly uses shadow in both kinds of work. In his adaptation of Macbeth, There is much use of shadow, as in the scene where Macbeth has a speech, and he is looking up at the sky. There is much use of shadow, and it changes throughout the scene and even sometimes is on Macbeth's face. This scene itself is very stage-like, and the lighting reflects that. The use of shadows in F For Fake is also much like that. In the scenes where Welles is sitting in an editing room talking about the story, there are shadows on him and on the background, evoking sort of a set or stage. In Hearts of Age, Welles starts the film by having a shadow of a hand in front of a cross, and there are similar shadows on gravestone crosses later on in the film. The shadows evoke the same sort of lighting as stage, and help create a darkness and mood to the scenes they are used in.

            Welles also has a good use of sound and other radio techniques in both types of works. He used Narration in both, usually of himself. In Othello, there is Narration of the story at many points, and as well there is Narration in Chimes at Midnight. While not Narration per say, there is use of Macbeth's soliloquy being used over other footage in Welles's Macbeth. In the Independent productions, Welles uses narration heavily. The Fountain of Youth is almost all narration by Welles, with pictures being shown over his narration and even sometimes Welles narrating the character's dialogues. In F For Fake There is also a lot of narration, as Welles tells the story, again sometimes over pictures, and sometimes sitting in an editing room telling the story. Sometimes he even has narration, taken from an interview, of one of the people in the story over other pictures or sometimes footage.

            Welles also uses different sound techniques that might have been a holdover from his radio days in both kinds of productions. For example, in his adaptation of Chimes at Midnight, he uses dubbed audio, which works especially well when the character is far away from the camera. He also uses sound to help with the sense of space in Othello, were when the characters go underground there is an echo to their dialogue, and when they are near the ocean waves can be heard in the background. In his independent productions, he uses a similar technique. In The Fountain of Youth, the ticking clock in Mr. Baxter's office reminds the viewer about time, and in F For Fake, Welles does something a little different, and has the sound kind of overlay itself, as footage from Elmyr's party would be under his narration, both giving a sense of the place and explaining the story at the same time, much like could be used in radio.

            Welles uses many editing techniques in both types of productions, and there are some very obvious similarities in the editing style. In the Shakespearean adaptations, Welles tends to use a more traditional editing style, though there are times in Macbeth, Othello and Chimes at Midnight where he uses a more complicated editing. In Macbeth, when Macbeth has his soliloquy where he looks up at the sky, the editing is a little more fast and haphazard. In Othello, during the battle scene where they are firing cannons, the editing is also quicker, with shots of the cannon immediately cutting to other images, and the boats they are firing on. As well, in the scene where Iago kills the man in the bathhouse, there is fast cutting as he stabs to a overlay of the sword going through the floorboards for a few seconds, and the fast cutting and overlay work to add to the scene.
In Chimes at Midnight There are a lot more fast cutting during certain sections where Falstaff and Harry are at the pub area. This shows the fun-loving nature of the scenes, and there is also faster cutting to the trumpets blaring in Henry's court.

            Some of these same cutting techniques are used in Welles's independent productions. He uses it much in Hearts of Age, as there are shots of a bell, a cross, and people's faces, and they switch between these shots and others throughout the film. There is also a part where the same shot is looped three times, and this helps add to the surrealness of the film. F For Fake is full of this kind of editing, as there are shots of the interviewee, then Welles, then the monkey playing around with stuff. Welles uses heavy editing techniques in F For Fake to help add to it, many times using the technique of Soviet Montage to show two elements and create an image in someone's mind, such as when he shows Oja and a picture of El Myr. This helps create images in people's mind and make connections, and he uses it along with quick cutting all throughout F For Fake. He uses it to a lesser extent in The Fountain of Youth, but there are still some times he uses interesting editing techniques. Instead of cutting, many times throughout the production there is a scene transition as if on a stage, with the character changing outfits and a new background sliding in, but then Welles will cut to another view, such as who Baxter was talking to, and then the location has also changed. The same thing is done with transitions, such as when time is being shown to pass, it transitions behind Welles as he narrates. Welles typically uses his editing techniques to help fluidly keep the film going, and with his Shakespeare adaptations and his independent productions you can really see the kind of editing Welles enjoys.

            Although there are many similarities between Welles's independent work and his Shakespeare adaptations, there are also some key differences. In general, the Shakespearean adaptations were a little more Hollywood-style, though done independently. There were large casts, including many extras, which you can see in the armies and background characters in all three adaptations. They are generally larger productions, with extravagant locations, such as a Scottish castle or a battlefield. They also sometimes have poor dubbing, perhaps due to the filming conditions, or perhaps because of a decision on Welles part to help make sure all the lines were understood, but they don't always match up. They still use a lot of independent techniques and shot design, but are generally larger productions than his independent productions.

            his independent productions, in contrast, are usually much smaller. Hearts of Age seems to be predominantly shot in one location, and The Fountain of Youth quite possibly was all filmed on one soundstage. There are more locations in F For Fake, but it never reaches the production value of the Shakespearean adaptations. as well, there are very few, if any extras in these productions. both Hearts of Age and The Fountain of Youth Have a small cast, with no more than ten actors in both. F For Fake has more people in it, but they are mostly from the interviews and documentary aspects, while there are probably still less than ten actors in the acted parts of the film, such as the opening train part and the conversation between Welles and Oja. The dubbing, however, seems better on these productions, possibly because of the small aspect of them, and a more set-based filming.

            All in all, both kinds of productions show the talents of Welles are vast, whether making a small-budget Shakespearean adaptation into a large affair, or making a small, studio-based television show. Welles uses his talents and techniques from radio and stage to help present the stories. Welles seems to have a way with making productions remarkable, and all the while keeping the independent filmmaker's mindset. Shakespearean adaptation and an independent production could be drastically different, but for the most part they are similar when made by Welles, and both seem like something that he had a hand in.

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