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Retrospective on legendary American film master Orson Welles

"Everyone always owes him everything" Jean-Luc Godard once said about the genius American film master Orson Welles.

Welles' debut film "Citizen Kane" made cinema history for its finesse and technical superiority. A film director and producer, a screenwriter, an actor in film, theatre and radio, a writer and a magician, Orson Welles is one of Hollywood's most acclaimed cinematic visionaries, yet his film career was never a smooth ride and his life was like a movie legend.

Nine of his renowned films produced from 1941 to 1968 will be shown from June 8-24. The selection includes his masterpiece "Citizen Kane", plus award-winning films "Touch of Evil", "The Trial", "The Magnificent Ambersons", the visually stunning "The Lady from Shanghai", his biggest box-office success "The Stranger", the Shakespearean tragedy "Macbeth", the European version of Citizen Kane "Mr. Arkadin" and his only publicly released colour film "The Immortal Story".

Not to be missed is the "Special Video Programme: The Unknown Welles" with treasures from Munich Film Museum on various aspects of the director's life. The Head of Museum, Mr Stefan DroSler will accompany the screenings with his commentary in English to give the audience a better understanding of Welles' rich heritage of works.

Presented by the Leisure and Cultural Services Department and supported by Goethe-Institut Hongkong, the retrospective "Orson Welles" is the first programme of the "Repertory Cinema 2007" series curated by Mr Law Waiming. Works of European film masters Luis Bunuel and Federico Fellini will be featured respectively in September and December.

The screenings will be held at the Cinema of Hong Kong Film Archive from June 8 to 17, at the Lecture Hall of Hong Kong Science Museum on June 19 and at the Lecture Hall of Hong Kong Space Museum on June 23 and 24.

To accompany the screenings, a seminar entitled "On Welles", to be conducted in Cantonese, is scheduled for June 19 at 4.15pm at the Lecture Hall of Hong Kong Science Museum.

Born in Wisconsin in 1915, Welles inherited his parents' artistic talents and developed a keen interest in magic, music, painting, and performing arts. His stage critiques appeared regularly in newspapers when he was only 14. He started acting for a theatre troupe at 16. He earned a cover spot on Time magazine when he was 23, commending his contributions to the theatre.

In the same year, he became an instant celebrity for his radio broadcast of H.G. Wells' "The War of the Worlds". Adapted to sound like a news broadcast, it caused a nationwide panic when more than a million listeners believed the Martians were attacking. He was immediately recruited by Hollywood.

At the age of 24, Welles wrote, directed and performed in his debut feature "Citizen Kane" with abundant resources and most importantly, authority for final cut. "Citizen Kane" became one of the greatest and most important films in American cinema history. Yet it was a box-office flop as there was enormous pressure for it to be boycotted because of its satire of a media mogul. The delay in release and its uneven distribution caused a great loss in investment.

Welles' power in filmmaking took a nosedive. He finally lost all his rights in editing. Many of his creative footages were cut, sequences reshot and scene order re-arranged. While his suitability as a film director was questioned, his popularity as an actor continued. He kept working across different fields in stage, radio broadcast, TV, narrating, writing columns to finance his own films.

Many films remained unfinished and unreleased, but the images left were enough to form a chapter in cinematic text book for generations to come. He was honored in 1970s and 1980s with lifetime achievement awards from several US film organisations. Welles died in 1985 of heart disease, aged 70.

A tragic story of a man who seems to have everything but have nothing in his life, the opening film "Citizen Kane" (1941) has a deep impact to the prototype of film noir, French New Wave and film studies in the USA. The techniques employed including flashbacks, depth of focus, high contrast lighting, complicated long takes, precision executed mis-en-scene, and low angle shots all caused sensations and elevated the film to artistic level of the highest pane. It was elected the No 1 movie in American Film Institute's 100 Year... 100 Movies, and won the Best Original Screenplay at the Academy Awards 1942.

In "The Lady from Shanghai" (1948), Welles plays a sailor who has an affair with a rich man's wife. To raise money for the elopement, he promises to participate in a fake murder plot which turns out to be real. The bizarre thriller is always remembered for its stunning cinematic visuals.

A timeless masterpiece, "Touch of Evil" (1958) was filmed after his return to Hollywood. A young Mexican attorney and his wife are car-bombed while on honeymoon. The deeper the attorney probes, the more hidden agendas he discovers from the crooked police chief. The opening long take has become another chapter in the cinema text book. The film was awarded the grand prize at the 1958 Brussels World’s Fair Film Festival and was lauded by Jean-Luc Godard and Francois Truffaut who were presiding over the jury.

Adapted from Franz Kafka's novel, "The Trial" (1962) was Welles' personal favourite. Anthony Perkins plays the protagonist who wakes up one morning to find himself interrogated by the police with no apparent charges. The cast also includes Welles and Jeanne Moreau. The black and white cinematography by Edmond Richard created a claustrophobic Kafkaesque landscape demonstrating Welles' boundless cinematic vision. The film won the Critics Award, Best Film at the French Syndicate of Cinema Critics 1964.

A potent performance by Welles and Jeanne Moreau makes "The Immortal Story" (1968) pure magic. The film was a Golden Berlin Bear nominee in the Berlin International Film Festival. Adapted from the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Booth Tarkington, "The Magnificent Ambersons" (1942) features a lifelong love for the well-born Isabelle Amberson. Though voted as one of the 50 "disastrous films" of the cinema, its classic status is never in doubt. It received four Oscar nominations and won the Best Actress at the New York Film Critics Circle Awards 1942.

In the film noir thriller "The Stranger" (1946), Welles plays a well-respected small town professor who was actually a Nazi fugitive being investigated by the FBI agent played by Edward G. Robinson. The film was nominated for an Oscar in the Best Original Screenplay and a Golden Lion at Venice Film Festival.

The surrealistic low-budget "Macbeth" (1948) baffled the US and British audience at its initial release but mesmerised the French crowd with its primal dramatic tension. With unexpected twists of suspense and murder, "Mr. Arkadin" (also known as Confidential Report) (1955) tells the story of a smuggler who investigates the past of an elusive billionaire. The signature dolly shots and short focus lens created cinematic magic of shifting space.

Welles left behind a wide spectrum of works with lasting influence. With the help of his late companion Oja Kodar, the Munich Film Museum has acquired rare images from various media and edited into a collage of the director's life.

"The Special Video Programme: The Unknown Welles" features six programmes of Welles playing tricks and magic with Senta Berger, Lucille Ball and Marlene Dietrich, his interviews with films stars and excursions to Paris, Italy and London, as a narrator and storyteller in front of a camera, his early days on stage, his unfinished works and his filmmaking views as explored by the master himself.

All Films are in English. Except for "The Trial", "The Immortal Story" and the "Special Video Programme: The Unknown Welles", all other films have Chinese subtitles.

Tickets priced at $50 are available at all URBTIX outlets. Half-priced concessionary tickets are available for senior citizens, people with disabilities, full-time students and Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA) recipients. There will be a 10% discount for each purchase of six to 10 tickets and a 20% for each purchase of 11 or more tickets.

For programme information, call 2734 2900 or visit . Reservation can be made at 2734 9009 or on the Internet at

Ends/Monday, May 14, 2007
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