Summer Reading Challenge 2018: The Magnificent Ambersons (1918) Booth Tarkington

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There’s a moment in Richard Linklater’s 2008 film Me and Orson Welles where Welles (Christian McKay) tells another character, “Ambersons is about how everything gets taken away from you.” That scene – which takes place in 1937, years before Citizen Kane – is meant to convey not only a theme from the novel, but also Welles’s own future. Reading the Booth Tarkington novel The Magnificent Ambersons, you can see why Welles was so attracted to it as a young man and how it served as a painful reminder of his own life in later years.

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Me and Orson Welles (2008) Richard Linklater

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Me and Orson Welles (2008)
Directed by Richard Linklater
Produced by Ann Carli, Richard Linklater, Marc Samuelson
Screenplay by Holly Gent Palmo, Vincent Palmo, Jr.
Based on the novel by Robert Caplet
Music by Michael J. McEvoy
Cinematography by Dick Pope
Amazon streaming rental (1:53)

“There’s one simple plan: I run the store.”

Orson Welles (Christian McKay) makes this proclamation rather late in Richard Linklater’s Me and Orson Welles (2008), but it surprises absolutely no one, least of all a young acting hopeful named Richard Samuels (Zac Efron). The story opens in 1937 when Welles was just 22, directing his Mercury Theatre Players in a modern anti-fascist Broadway production of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. By contrast, Richard – just five years younger than Welles – struggles to pay attention during high school English. It doesn’t seem fair to Richard that someone just a few years his senior could’ve achieved so much so quickly. Yet it looks somewhat audacious for Richard – the “me” of the film’s title – to find himself mentioned before Welles. Richard certainly won’t be accused of a lack of confidence.

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Noirvember 2016, Episode 20: The Stranger (1946)

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The Stranger (1946) Orson Welles (2x)
(1:35)
Kino Lorber Blu-ray

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A member of the UN War Crimes Commission named Wilson (Edward G. Robinson) is convinced that WWII Nazi war criminal Franz Kindler (Orson Welles) is hiding out in America. Wilson sends Kindler’s former right-hand-man Meinike (Konstantin Shayne) to find Kindler with Wilson following closely behind. Meanwhile, Kindler has a new identity: a prep school teacher named Charles Rankin. Rankin is well-respected and is about to marry a young woman named Mary (Loretta Young), the daughter of a Supreme Court Justice (Philip Merivale).

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Noirvember 2016, Episode 9: Mr. Arkadin (1955)

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Mr. Arkadin (1955) Orson Welles
(1:39 – Corinth edition)
Criterion DVD – library

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I’m uncertain whether I can do justice to Mr. Arkadin either as a film or as one of the oddest entries in cinematic history, but here goes. In Naples, an American cigarette smuggler named Guy Van Stratten (Robert Arden, above right) hears the dying words of a man named Bracco, who has just been stabbed. Bracco gives Van Stratten two names, names that will supposedly lead to great riches. One of those names is Gregory Arkadin. After much searching, Van Stratten locates Arkadin (Orson Welles) who informs him that he wants Van Stratten to investigate someone. Who? Gregory Arkadin. It seems Arkadin can’t remember anything before 1927. And we’re off…

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He’s Still Got It: Orson Welles, Citizen Kane and Modern Audiences

When I saw weeks ago that Citizen Kane (1941) was going to play at the AFI Silver in Silver Spring, Maryland, I experienced one of those “bucket list” (for want of a better term) moments in life. I’ve always wanted to be able to travel back in time to key events, not so much from world history, but from arts history. What I wouldn’t give to have heard some of David’s psalms performed live, for instance, or Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring premiere in Paris in 1913, or Bob Dylan “going electric” at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965, to name just a few.

I’ve always had “Watching Citizen Kane in a theater with an audience from 1941” on that list. Of course I can’t go back in time to 1941, but the screening of the film at AFI last night (as part of the Orson Welles Centennial) gave me the chance to realize most of that wish. The AFI Silver is a gorgeous theater, one reminiscent of those grand old movie houses that you can see now only in photographs: elegantly designed and decorated shrines that seem at least as otherworldly as the films projected in them, the perfect setting for Citizen Kane.

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