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Jeff Vorva's Im-PRESS-ions: Welles was larger than life in more ways than one

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

Jeffs Col Impressions

You are old if you remember Orson Welles.

You are ancient if you were around when Orson Welles was a genius. But you are a better person for it.

If Welles was still alive, he would be 100.

Hanging out with Erik Martin and his Oak Lawn-based CineVerse film discussion group and talking about classic movies (see page 1)  jogged my memory about my favorite movie of all time, “Citizen Kane.’’

Some, including Martin, consider it to be the greatest movie ever. CineVerse showed it three times in 10 years.  Welles was the boy genius who starred and directed that film in 1941 and, depending on who you want to believe, wrote some or a lot of the storyline.

Growing up, I didn’t get Welles. At the time he was a fat, old guy who people in the entertainment biz made fun of. He did some wine commercials, popped up on a Dean Martin roast and many talk shows.

His last couple of credits before death in 1985 were not Oscar- or Emmy-worthy. He was the voice of the planet-eating robot named Unicron in the movie “Transformers: The Movie’’ and he was the voice in a “Moonlighting” episode on TV. Remember “Moonlighting”? That was when Bruce Willis did TV. And had hair!

When I was in college, I was home on a Saturday night and “Citizen Kane” was being shown at 10:30 p.m. My attitude was “OK, Kane, you are supposed to be the greatest movie of all time – impress me.’’

The stars were aligned for me to not enjoy the greatest movie of all time. I was watching on a 19-inch TV with rabbit ears. Channel 7 showed way too many commercials.

And I loved it.

It’s the story of the fictional newspaper mogul Charles Foster Kane (allegedly based on William Randolph Hearst) from the innocence of his childhood to his rise as an idealistic newspaperman to his later years as a disagreeable old man.  The lights, shadows and camera-angle styles used in that film are still used in films today.

Welles was masterful as a young, middle aged and old Kane.

I thought it was going to be overrated but I was blown away by the movie.

Then I found out Welles was just  25 when he created the masterpiece. All of a sudden, the fat wine salesman people enjoyed spoofing was someone worthy of respect in my world.

Even earlier in his career, he was the brainchild of the radio broadcast “War of the Worlds” which was a fictional account of alien invasions and it was so realistic-sounding that people all over the country panicked.  Frightened folks called radio stations and newspapers all across the nation wanting to know what the heck was happening to their planet.

The first quarter century of Welles’ life was simply amazing.

The rest was a mixture of hits and misses but nothing could compare with the work his first work of art –“Citizen Kane.’’

For those of you youngsters who think that black and white movies are not worth your time and know Kane as a Blackhawks star or a WWE wrestler, I would point out that alt-group the White Stripes have a song called “The Union Forever” in which the lyrics are based on Kane.

A few hard rock/punk groups have emerged that called themselves Citizen Kane have popped up and a prog-rock group called Citizen Cain so the movie has some influence in the guitar group world.

The “Orson” character in “Mork and Mindy” was in homage to Welles, even if fat jokes were a part of the bit. “The Simpsons” parodied Welles’ “War of the Worlds” broadcasts. I don’t know if the town Orson, Indiana in “The Middle” has to do with Welles, but it wouldn’t surprise me. 

Kane is probably not for the teen set, but if you are in your 20s or older and haven’t seen it yet, give it a shot. It might not make it to No. 1 on your list there is so much to the movie to enjoy.

And just remember, the guy who made the magic of this great film was just 25.