I’ve always been intrigued by the somewhat odd connection between Welles and the New Wavers because it’s a somewhat cyclical relationship in comparison to the normal idol/idolizer relationship we get with filmmakers.
It’s pretty clear that many (most, all?) of the new wavers looked up to Welles. André Bazin’s first book was about him, Truffaut wrote the introduction to a newer edition of the book and included scenes of him stealing Citizen Kane press photos in “Day for Night.”
Agnès Varda’s “Vagabond” can (and has been: http://www.criterion.com/current/posts/78-vagabond) connected structurally to Citizen Kane.
However, for me, what makes this very interesting is that when Welles’ became an independent filmmaker and took off for Europe, he seemed to show a lot of influence from the New Wavers. His films were influenced by the people who had been influenced by his films. The most noticeable example for me is “F for Fake.” This film took the energy that the New Wavers had absorbed from him and morphed into their own, and sent it through another transformation into redistilled Welles.
Welles adopted many of the New Wavers tricks to tell his story as it came to him. He took their technique of “writing” with the camera and pushed it even further by “writing” with a moviola. Some of the film takes place in the edit suite where Welles is currently editing the film we are watching whilst we watch it. He shot on light weight 16mm, borrowed footage from other sources. Filled his movie with jump cuts, freeze frames, voice over clarifications, and long digressions only vaguely related to his original subject which somehow only helps us to understand the film on a deeper level.
The New Wave’s aesthetic principles were in many ways meta-cinematic, or at very least unafraid to reveal itself as an artistic work to its audience, and F for Fake takes this to its logical extreme. It’s a movie just as much about its own creation and its own effects on the audience as it is about the paintings and forgers it claims to be about.
If anyone can shed some light on this relationship or has other examples of these people influencing and re-influencing each other I’d love to hear it. Or if there are similar cyclical relationships with other groups of filmmakers that I don’t know about.
I don’t think it would be an overstatement to say that the French New Wave influenced practically everything that came after them, Welles included. However, F For Fake is less interesting to me as a continuation of the French New Wave and more interesting as a precursor to the postmodern MTV aesthetic.
^The French New Wave has OFTEN been considered “a precursor to the postmodern MTV aesthetic.”
Actually, Godard has been considered the precursor. Even more correct, Breathless specifically.
Comme çe, comme ça.
Well I can’t agree that I think “F for Fake” is necessarily MORE interesting as a precursor to the MTV aesthetic, but that’s only because I personally find the MTV aesthetic much less interesting than that of the French New Wave.
However, it certainly isn’t a bad comparison, Orson did seem to sort of teeter on that approach with F for Fake, though for me it feels too cinematic. However, here’s a clip from a talk show he hosted:
Actually reminds me of a lot of MTV shows, even as recently as PUNK’D with the constant changing of cameras and merely swiveling to face each new camera with each change, rather than maintaining a single neutral eye line.
The link isn’t clickable or viewable because I’m less tech savvy than many on this site, and I don’t know how to post youtube videos. Sorry.
Welles style changed a lot with each film. His Othello has a great debt to Eisenstein, while he started using hand held work in The Trial.
F For Fake seems to me the starter of the aesthetic in documentary film: the narrative voice is the subject. Michael Moore and others have borrowed a great deal from Orson without understanding that Welles was making an ironic joke that even he was on some level “a fake”. Moore’s problem is that he believes what he’s saying.
Yes, I think F For Fake is a good example of an essay film, which inspired many that followed. About Moore, I don’t think he takes himself so seriously. There are many ironic jokes in his films.
Ok, since somebody mentioned Eisenstein, I’ll bring this up again (mentioned it on another thread recently).
Joseph Von Sternberg was apparently a very apt pupil of Eisenstein’s montage technique – so good in fact that he created a montage sequence to rival anything Sergei had created previously – namely in this sequence at the beginning of The Scarlet Empress:
To which Eisenstein later responded by making his Ivan the Terrible – a film quite noticably different from anything he had done before and that owes a considerable debt to Sternberg’s own techniques.
I’m always amazed by that montage – the melding of hoop skirts and iron maidens, bells and torture, ending with a ‘hang-man’ hanging inside a giant bell being used as a human clapper, and quite obviously representing Catherine’s phallus. It’s an astonishing encapsulation of the themes of the film to follow.
Bobby- “F for Fake” is definitely an interesting example of an essay film. Which keeps bringing me back to the New Wave (or Rive Gauche group) as Agnès Varda is famous for her essay films, which are often quite different in formal style, but quite similar in tone or in the basic energy. (I’m thinking of “Salut, Les Cubains” in specific.)
Darkm@atters- Interesting catch with Sternberg and Eisenstein. I’ve actually never seen a whole Sternberg film and very little Eisenstein. But that little 10 minute clip from “Ivan the Terrible” is certainly a drastic shift from “Potempkin” and “Strike.”
The New Wave did a lot to liberate film form, this is true. I haven’t seen many of Varda’s essay films.
Well, if you happen to get a chance to watch any I’d certainly recommend them. They have a completely unique energy to them.
I published this ekphrastic text via Orson Welles as translated by two figures within the nouvelle vague context— Alain Cavalier & Francoise Widhoff:
A couple of half remembered anecdotes:
I read somewhere that Truffaut made recordings from the soundtracks of Welles’ films and listened to them in the bath. I don’t think I dreamed this.
Also saw some footage of Welles, I think from the early 60s, in which he was pitching a film which would have no script. He said no-one had made a film this way, although the French had started to make steps in this direction.
Interestingly I saw an interview with Anna Karina in which she scotched the idea that Godard worked spontaneously and improvised dialogue as he went, that in fact he had everything worked out meticulously in advance.
As I say, all a bit half remembered, and perhaps not completely relevant to the original post.
I’m guessing that unscripted Welles film never got off the ground, like so many others…
Welles was important to the New Wave because over and above everythign else “Citizen Kane” is a sterling example of the fact that a deeply personal (and in many ways wildly idiosyncratic) film can be made within the studio system.
Needless to saythis opportunity was snatched away from Welles right afterwards and the Hollywood films he made were executed in the shadow of the system — interferred with and re-edited at alsmot every stage. So he took off for Europe. There he had to make films in a far more makeshift fashion (eg. “Othello”) that was even more personal than his earlier films. “F For Fake” is a primary example of this. Welles had garnered over the years a reputation as a storyteller and all-purposer diseur on talk shows. Henc F For Fake is a story Welles is recounting to us, via all manner of cinematic means. He takes the footage Francois Reichenbach had shot, added new footage of his own and mixed it all together with a narration of his own resulting in a quite unique essay film. It’s a perfect example of what the Chiers critics were talkig about when they spoke of the “camera stylo.” They wanted films to be as direct and intimate as wrting. And that’s what Weles does here. It’s my favorite Welles film.
Agree. It just may be my favorite of his also. The film is full of irresistible charms.