Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Happy Birthday, Orson!

Today is the birthday of the late actor, writer, film director, and producer Orson Welles. I don't think I could really write much about him that hasn't been written, but I'll try to make a small observation. It's been another unforgivably long time since I've posted, so maybe this will make up for it. A little.

I have long said that Welles' crowning achievement, "Citizen Kane," is a good film and an historic film. But in my own list of preferences in terms of what satisfies and makes a great film, I have to place "Casablanca" above it in the #1 spot. A poll was taken—I think an official one—and the results were the reverse. "Citizen Kane" took the top spot and "Casablanca" came in second. We'll agree to disagree on that.

With that quibble, Citizen Kane was great in many respects. It introduced new cinematic techniques, and sort of told the story backward from Kane's death and then flashbacks throughout his life. It was the fictitious story (per Welles) of a media tycoon who was almost Solomon-like in the power and wealth he acquired, only to end up near friendless and alone. His dying words mystified people, but the in the know film watcher will get what "Rosebud" means fairly quickly. Whether or not Welles really based the movie on the late newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst is beside the point. The story itself is one that has been repeated often in human history.

At my church right now, I am leading a Bible study through Ecclesiastes. As do most conservative Bible students, I believe the author was King Solomon reflecting at the end of his life on what really mattered, and how human endeavors are all "vanity and striving after wind" apart from God.

Citizen Kane makes that point in very vivid style. Look at the somber picture from the film above. The great iron gates with a big "K" on them, and the mansion "Xanadu" in the background where Kane died alone, smoke billowing out of the top of the mansion. The scene is black and white, very dark. And very appropriate.

I wonder how many really reflect after seeing films like this? Films can entertain, and my favorite ones do that. In general, when I am seeking entertainment, I am not seeking a sermon or lecture. Nor am I seeking political advocacy. Like Rick Davies sang in "Waiting So Long," - "I don't need no heavy message. Just turn me on and make me smile." (And mind, don't misinterpret that. I am not talking about theology and the Bible. I am solely talking about my own film tastes, and how I prefer a good, engaging yarn or drama rather than an effort to make some kind of "point" to me. But Kane is a bit different. It is a good personal reflection picture because in part, it is so very, very well done. You're being made to think even though you don't know you're being made to think.

The story summation, for me, is what Jesus our Lord said. "What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul."

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