Yes, Orson Welles made Citizen Kane. Its reputation precedes it and it is often seen as a perfect film. Yet, the rest of Welles’ films are equally as fascinating for their impressively experimental qualities built around sometimes-flawed structures. Touch of Evil, The Trial, Mr. Arkadin and his Shakespeare adaptations are just as integral in their display of revolutionary talent as Citizen Kane or The Magnificent Ambersons.
In this video essay from Every Frame a Painting creator Tony Zhou, Welles’ late career experimental “essay film” F For Fake is dissected through looking at structure. As a film, F For Fake is unusual and, in many ways, disconnected from the rest of Welles’ filmography. As Zhou points out, the film is a collection of ideas and thoughts, linked through structure. Structure is picked apart and placed into a new order, as Welles is cognizant of what piques the audience’s interest and how editing can be used to maximize this interest. With F for Fake, Welles juggles six different “plot lines” and six different planes of thinking, jumping between each of them to build a crescendo of themes and ideas. As Zhou explains, this is one of the primary purposes of editing and, thus, the storytelling that editing expresses.
Zhou brings up South Park, The Empire Strikes Back and, yes, F For Fake, in order to show how important storytelling techniques are to the editing process. South Park’s procession of jokes and absurdity are carefully built on top of and around each other as to create a necessary progression in the story structure. The same applies to The Empire Strikes Back, which cuts between two parallel stories, balancing the stories to the natural ebbs and flows of the audience’s interest. As soon as audience interest begins to dip in one area of the story we build up interest in the other and allow that to seep back in to the other story. In a similar manner, the peak of one story can be matched to the peak of another, leading to a coalescing of ideas and events into a cohesive whole.
Looking all of the way back to Citizen Kane, the structure is similarly tailored towards maintaining the peak of audience’s interests. As Zhou points out, the powerful thrust of parallel storytelling and parallel editing can be maximized upon in order to create efficiency in storytelling. The individual episodes recalled in flashbacks are timed and intercut between the “modern” events so as to cut away just as the audience’s interest begins to wane and pick up and rejuvenate with fresh, new interests. Welles’ Touch of Evil is, arguably, an even more perfect specimen of maximizing storytelling efficiency. In the middle act of the film, we are taken between what is happening to Mike Vargas as he disappears into a labyrinthine maze of crime and drugs and his wife Susan Vargas, who is being punished in an attempt to discredit Vargas. Orson Welles’s editing techniques work to maximize the impact of his stories as well as his ideas. Citizen Kane examines memory with precision and Touch of Evil examines actions and consequences—both achieved through his carefully constructed editing techniques. MM