Sunday 16 December 2012

The Magnificent Ambersons [1942]

Orson Welles will forever be remembered by his legendary debut feature Citizen Kane, but it was his follow-up film The Magnificent Ambersons that was closest to him. Yet the two films couldn’t have had a more different legacy – while the former continues to be adulated the world over, the latter will forever remain a flawed masterpiece at best, more so on account of around 50 minutes of it being destroyed by RKO; interestingly, its editor was Robert Wise, who later became a famous director himself. Based on Booth Tarkington’s novel of the same name, the movie follows the tragic demise of the eponymous Amberson family, once the cynosure of the town. Narrated with eerily calm intonation by Welles himself, we see how petty jealousy, vindictiveness, and disturbingly oedipal behaviour of George (Tim Holt), the thoroughly unlikeable youngest member of the family, lead the Ambersons to their doom. The ill-fated middle-age romance between his mother (Dolores Costello) and her old lover (Joseph Cotten), and his self-destructive nature borne out of his fierce protectiveness of his mother and his burning pride for his family name, were as much themes of the film, as were topics of class divide, viz. clash between aristocracy and nouveau riche, and the massive social changes brought in by the blind march of industrialization. The film’s most incredible facets were its expressionistic photography, with its deep focus, extreme close-ups, canted camera angles, and terrific use of shadows and silhouettes, and the remarkable use of sounds. The closing credit sequence, where Welles narrates all the names of the cast and crew, was borrowed by Godard in Le Mepris as homage.

Director: Orson Welles
Genre: Drama/Family Drama
Language: English
Country: US

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