The Shakespearean Tragedy of Orson Welles

To Be Or To Be, There’s no question…

I promised myself to stop writing Orson Welles articles then this happened…

Director Fincher’s “Mank” made me really disappointed because there wasn’t enough Orson Welles in it. But it also intrigued me, reminding me of the tragedy of Orson.

For anyone that knows, Orson Welles was an old filmmaker, radio host, who was obsessed with food, however, he was also deeply obsessed with Shakespeare and Tragedy, as the two go hand in hand.

The parallelism of Welles and Shakespeare are like bread and butter, they both complement each other equally. It is hard to say why Welles’s life was so tragic. In some cases it could’ve been from misfortune, in others he could’ve brought it on himself. Whatever it was, Shakespeare's tragedies were relatable and enhanced his tragic life.

In my previous Welles article, I talk about how Welles was The Most Successful Failure in film. He died broke but lived on in infamy. He made a lot of great pictures, critics argue Citizen Kane as being one of the best ever, unfortunately, he also had a lot of unfinished pictures, such as the Other Side Of The Wind. Although successful he was not immune to tragedy.

Form Riches to Rags

“I started from the top and been working my way down ever since“ — Orson Welles

This quote is the embodiment of Welles’s entire tragic life story. For whatever reason, Welles always had the disposition to start from the top and reach the bottom, the classic plot structure in any Shakespearian tragedy play.

Welles had a motto that if you believe in yourself that you are successful, then it will come true. When Welles was broke and looking for work in Europe, he went to a theater and said he was a famous actor from America and should be given the lead role.

Shakespearian Tragedy

“Some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them” ~William Shakespeare

The Rise

Those who knew him would agree that Welles was somewhere between Zen Master and God. At an early age Welles had greatness thrust upon him, he was born great and even achieved more greatness later in life. Welles’s mother was responsible for such greatness, having high expectations for the young child prodigy.

His mom would push to be skillful with many aspects of life, such as the piano, Orson would practice the piano daily even though he hated it. He was a child prodigy reading at 2, performing Shakespeare at 10, performing magic for school classmates, and playing music.

He was successful in live radio and theater before even breaking into the movie industry. He produced and acted on Broadway. Some of his best films are Citizen Kane, The Lady From Shanghai, and Touch Of Evil. He had a genius IQ of 185, which is way above average in the .1 percentile. Everybody wanted to be Orson Welles, except Orson Welles.

The Fall

From childhood, Welles was fascinated by Shakespearian tragedies, personally from having the privilege of experiencing tragedy. When he was just six years old, his mother died. When he went to Hollywood, he had trouble fitting in. His first feature film debut got him blacklisted. In Old Hollywood, it was as if it were a ritual ceremony to betray and sabotaging Welles and his films. Whenever Welles was working on new film projects he was fired. Films such as Touch of Evil and The Magnificent Ambersons and re-shoot and re-edited without Welles.

He had problems finding work in his later life the only way he could finance his films was by doing guest roles in commercials, tv shows, and other director’s films. He would take the money he made to finance his films, unfortunately, a dozen or so films were unfinished because he lacked funds or just gave up on them.

“My doctor told me to stop having intimate dinners for four. Unless there are three other people.”~ Orson Welles

Some say he ate himself to death, at the end of his life he was so unhealthily overweight which was the reason for his depression from the torment of losing his former glory. He had many tragedies with his love life married multiple times.

The tragedy is what connected the two. Anyone that knows anything about Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, MacBeth, Merchant of Venice, knows that they are all tragic with no happy endings. Welles was fascinated with stories without happy endings. Both on and off-screen, “Citizen Kane” was surrounded by tragedy, Welles’s greatest fascination.

The Tragedy Of Citizen Kane

As tragedy followed Welles, it naturally ended up in his work.

On-screen Citizen Kane shows the tragic life of a man, Charles Foster Kane, a figure on the top of his game who could’ve been president but fell from grace, in his professional and personal life. The irony of this film to foreshadow Orson Welles’s later years was uncanny. Both Kane and Welles start from respectable positions of society and became outcasts who could never regain that former glory.

Charles Kane’s tragedy began as a child, like Welles. Kane lost his youth when his parents sold him off to a business tycoon for a prominent future in business and eventually politics. Losing his youth was a significant turning point in his life because it meant he had to grow up. Similarly, Orson had greatness thrust upon him with the high expectations by his mother. Which is why he became an iconic playwright, radio producer, filmmaker, magician, maverick and jack of all trades.

The most tragic line in the film was in the beginning, his final words, a reference to his childhood, Rosebud, his childhood sleigh. It was very ironic, everyone assumed it had to do with business, money, politics, or a woman, but Rosebud was the most innocent thing he could say for his last moments on this earth.

Phlegmatic writing raconteur with a passion for the nonfiction genre, other wise known as life.

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