Time to write….

…finally a chance to work on this over the summer.

RIVETS

A Historical Fiction Novel

“As time to time it occurs, in the course of history, that an individual is driven to achieve more in one lifetime than even imagined, so it was with one woman’s journey that embodied the spirit of an entire nation.” George Larkins

The snow drifted silently, as in a dream, onto the porch steps of the Tudor style home. Its glory days had long since passed, and while some homes on the street had been abandoned, it remained stoic and well attended. Inside a small spaniel, her muzzle white with the age, stared up at the sleeping woman. It inched forward to nuzzle the old ladies palm with its wet black nose. Without opening her eyes she spoke to her longtime companion “Okay girl, let’s get a move on”. The bedside clock read 5:00 am, although, she had never used its bell, relying instead on her own internal clock. Sitting up, she placed a worn pair of slippers onto her feet. Reaching for her bathrobe, she gasped when a sudden twinge of pain in her side began and then subsided. “I guess we’re not as young as we used to be, are we sweetheart?” Her companion wagged a stubby tail as she looked toward the bedroom door. Rosie had found the little dog fourteen years before begging behind the café bar that bore her name in downtown Detroit. She was all “skin and bones” then, but with love, shelter and choice scraps brought home nightly, she had quickly recovered. Rosie made her way down the little hallway and through the living room. Its handsome crafted woodwork was a reminder of Detroit’s days as a power town of automobile manufacturing. The built in oak cabinetry of the fireplace mantle held three photographs in silver frames. A black and white wedding snapshot of she and Edwin, Her rocking their baby Joseph, and a more recent picture of her son, his wife, Abby, and her granddaughter, Grace Jack.

She passed through the kitchen and opened the side entry door for the little dog. The dog looked up at her and cocked her head to one side. “Well, are you going or not? Make up your mind” The dog reluctantly ventured out into the cold as was her routine. This was a little game they played. Turning on the tap and loading the chrome coffee maker were also part of the routine, as were the newspaper on the front porch and a hot breakfast of oatmeal, milk and pure maple syrup. Once these tasks were complete, the little dog was allowed back inside; she was given a treat and settled down at her master’s feet.

Rosie pulled on her thick wool coat, rubber boots and knitted hat. She waved goodbye to the sad face in the window and made her way to the garage. The inside lit up a workshop that would make a master mechanic take note.  Rows of every imaginable tool lined the walls in a neat and ordered system. Fasteners and essential materials to keep a home and automobile in good repair stood ready for the next minor or major emergency. Against one wall was a welding unit and laying on the bench beside it a welding mask and thick leather gloves. Against the opposite wall a motorcycle perched on its stand covered by tarpaulin. The primary occupant of the building was a near mint condition 1972 red convertible Ford LTD. She had purchased the car with cash off the lot and had rigorously maintained it. As She slipped behind the wheel and inserted the key, she paused a moment to look around. Content that everything appeared in order she turned the key, and with a soothing roar the big eight cylinder motor began to warm Michigan’s frosty March morning air.

The car left the enclave of North Rosedale, a neighborhood community of home preservation supporters within the city limits, and made its way to the Polish neighborhood of Hamtramck.  The big ford pulled curbside in front of a large well-lit storefront, its protective grate rolled up and wide windows revealing rows of fresh baked goods. The smell of Kowalski’s bakery enveloped Rosie as she entered like a warm blanket, breads, cakes, cinnamon rolls and assorted pastry items beckoned from the display cases. The two fat ladies, aprons dusted in flour stopped their bantering and looked up with smiles to greet her “Oh, Goood Morning! How are we today Rosella. You look beautiful today!” Rosie smiled back “Thank you, Jolanta. I’m a little tired today. I guess it’s just old age creeping up on me”. Jolata stepped lively, for a woman of her girth, from behind the counter and swept Rosie into one of the small dining chairs reserved for those patrons who found time to sit and enjoy a coffee with their pastry. “Sit, Sit, Zofia! get her order. Come, come, now. Don’t worry. We take care of everything”. Jolata returned to the back of the bakery and emerged with a warm danish and milk and sat beside Rosie. “See you just need slow down, little bit. You rest for now. Zofia and I, we load your order. I take keys”. She quickly snatched the keys and shouted something in Polish to Zofia in the back. The ladies emerged and loaded rolls and doughnuts into the trunk of the LTD. Once Rosie had rested to Jolata’s satisfaction, she was walked to her car and handed the keys. The fat ladies eyes welled with unexpected tears as she embraced Rosie in a hug that drew the breath from her. “It’s okay, it’s okay now. We see you tomorrow, same time. You take good care. If you need something at bar, you call. Zofia and me, we come help. Goodbye, goodbye now”.

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Orson Welles: Between Setting and Character

Orson Welles: Between Setting and Character

     George Orson Welles began his early career in theater and quickly rose to fame with his Mercury Theatre radio broadcasts. As a director auteur in cinema, Welles is partly defined by the stylistic settings and character portrayals of his films. Three films that demonstrate these elements are, Touch of Evil (1958), Citizen Kane (1941), and The Magnificent Ambersons (1942). Through identification and comparison of these films, this essay will present evidence that it was Welles’ theatrical approach to film that provided his distinctive mark on cinema. The inquiry will argue that it was the applying of theatre form to film, by partitioning the setting or stage from the character or actors, which creates a dynamic tension in Welles’ films. Additionally, Welles’ auteur qualifications will be supported in specifying trends of cinematic technique across genres.

The following are some of the secondary sources that may help shed light on this inquiry. Peter Bogdanovich, a longtime friend of Welles, conducts a series of poignant interviews in his book, “This is Orson Welles”. A second source of insight into Welles’ career, and auteur status, is James Naremore’s book, “The Magic World of Orson Welles”. This source covers in depth many of the films directed by Welles.  In “Despite the System”, written by Clinton Heydon, the rebellious origin of Welles’ reputation as a les enfant terribles in Hollywood is explored. This source also provides references to the connection between Welles’ theatre background and his films. Mike Prokosch’s article “Orson Welles” covers stylistic methods and compositional insight into many of Orson Welles films. His detailed scene analysis will be helpful in defining the visual cues that distinguish an Orson Welles film. The article explores Touch of Evil in the areas of setting and character  development and presentation.

At first glance, these two aspects of setting and character may appear unified due to Welles’ skill in blending cinematic techniques. Specifically, methods he uses include long tracking shots, low camera angles, and deep space focus combined with lighting design, and fast paced editing. However, deconstruction of the three films reveal distinct properties that merge in a cinematic synthesis and propel Welles’ mythical persona. The exterior setting in the drama, mystery, genre film Citizen Kane is a gothic castle. The castle’s interior reveals a great deal more than its intimidating edifice. As Naremore states, “In the climactic moments, the camera glides forward over Kane’s possessions, a collection that looks like an aerial view of a metropolis” (56, 57). This interior crane shot of Kane’s castle is more personal, as it enshrines all of the deceased Kane’s worldly possessions. Kane’s empty stage or space, according to Mike Prokosch, “is left as the only permanent reality (29)”. It appears as though an emphasis is being placed on the material setting that distinguishes it from the character of Charles Kane. This attention to the setting was carefully contrived by Welles in pre-production. Heydin cites actor Joseph Cotton’s autobiography memoir, “The largest wall of Orson’s office was covered with rows and rows of sharply defined drawings” (60). This detailed creation of setting which the characters inhabit can also be observed in Touch of Evil.

While an urban environment setting in crime, noir, genre films may not be unique, the level of consideration to detail that is used to create Touch of Evil’s Los Robles is highly stylistic. As Naremore states, “Welles’ skill is obvious, his vision of Los Robles is at once more stylized and more specific than usual studio expressionism”(158). Touch of Evil opens with a two minute and fifteen second long tracking crane shot beginning with a close up of a ticking time bomb being placed into the trunk of a car. Naremore describes the shot as, “…rising in the sky, arching over dark roofs and neon signs, then drifting backward ahead of the car to present gradually the town of Los Robles”(158). This opening scene marks an advancement of Welles’ ability to establish a film setting. The earlier use of surveying the material possessions in Kane has expanded in revealing an entire societal structure as portrayed by Los Robles. Prokosch references the setting, “This town is a piece of visual nightmare poetry, a metaphor of essential threat and corruption, which tells more about the meaning of action than any amount of dialogue or character exposition” (34). Although the setting in Touch of Evil is a populated exterior, and the setting in Kane is an empty interior, both may be considered as the backdrops for characters who will act within Welles’ compositions.

Welles’ mindset was continually preoccupied with theatre; more specifically, the works of Shakespeare. Heylin states, “Macbeth, the theatrical version of which Welles liked to characterize as his greatest success, continued to occupy him even after he took off for Hollywood” (237). In theatrical arts, an actor must adhere to rules of blocking that are comprised of nine stage placements. The placements consist of combinations of up, center, down, right and left stage. The actors must also interact with props and backdrop flats provided as natural surroundings, walls, doorways, stairs and balconies. Welles creates similar theatrical spaces within the framing composition of his films.  Lighting may be considered as another adaptation from Welles’ theater background that finds its way into his films. The use of lighting in Kane bares resemblance to the lights coming up to reveal a dramatic stage set, and next reveal the actor. Cinematographer Greg Toland, credited for photography, is cited by Heydon on the use of transitions and lighting, “ …most of the transitions in Citizen Kane are lap dissolves in which the background dissolves from one scene to the next shortly before the players in the foreground are dissolved” (61). Toland explains that two separate light dimming systems were utilized for the effect, first for the setting, and the secondly for the characters. Welles’ is establishing the film setting through lighting and theatrical spacing prior to permitting the actors upon his equivalent of a celluloid stage.

Deep focus is one tool used to achieve dynamic tension between setting and character and is a method often cited in the recognition of Welles’ work. Heydon explains how the specialty lens allowed a closer connection to theatre form, deep focus, “…enabled the actors to play the scenes much as they would on stage, engaging in those long takes that were destined to become something of a Wellesian trademark” (61). Welles credits his development of this technique to Greg Toland’s skill and innovative use of the film camera. In an interview with Bogdanovich, recounts, “Some people have said that the look of Kane is a result of Toland’s photography, but all your pictures have the same visual signature, and you only worked with Toland once.” Welles replies, “It’s impossible to say how much I owe Greg. He was superb” (59).  The deep focus shots that retain Welles’ visual signature, attributed by Bogdonovich, may also result from the character placements within the setting. The compositional framing that Kane presents in the ‘barroom’ scene provides one such example. The film’s characters are placed in a triangular configuration. Jedediah Leland (Joseph Cotton), and Mr. Bernstien (Everett Sloane) occupy the right and left frame foreground while Kane (Orson Welles) dances with the chorus in the deep space center frame. Naremore describes the planes presented serve to create a dynamic tension over a portrayal of realism. “Welles uses deep focus not as a ‘realistic’ mode of perception, but as a way of suggesting a conflict between the characters’ instinctual needs and the social or material world that determines their fate” (40). Comparison of Welles deep focus trend may also be drawn between Kane and The Magnificent Ambersons, in the ‘strawberry shortcake’ scene. Three characters, Georgie (Tim Holt), Aunt Fanny (Agnes Moorehead), and Uncle Jack (Ray Collins) are pinned between the kitchen background antre and an opulent silver tea set in the foreground. Welles depicts their ‘material world’ while placing characters in the triangular perspective previously regarded in Kane. This depicts two levels of conflict, the first between the characters and the setting, and the second between the characters’ interactions.  As Prokosch notes, “The Amberson mansion encloses the characters, restricting their personal development of their relationship to one another” (30).

A further development of the deep focus trend is carried from melodrama to the crime, noir, genre as Welles finds new ways of exploiting the technique. According to Naremore, the deep focus form in Touch of Evil is still prevalent although it is now being used to accentuate the narrative. Naremore states, “Welles isn’t using mobile, deep focus shots to emphasize fateful mishaps and dual lines of action, he is editing so as to underline the ironies of the double plot” (161). In the ‘blind woman’ scene, the first shot in the motel contains Mrs. Vargus (Janet Liegh) as she reclines invitingly on the bed. This shot is purposely designed to entice a male voyeuristic tendency and is abruptly disrupted by a cut to a low deep focus shot of a Blind Woman (uncredited), and Mr. Vargus (Charlton Heston). The Blind Woman’s distorted face suddenly leers from the right fore plane, contrasting ugliness with Liegh’s sensuality. The deep focus placement of Mr. Vargus within the central left plane reduces his degree of male prowess. Flanking the two characters is a wall of compartmentalized boxes, perhaps indicative of the isolated circumstances in which the newlywed characters find themselves.  Heydon cites Welles memo to the studio on this relationship, “What’s vital is that both stories – the leading man’s and the leading woman’s – be kept equally and continuously alive: each scene, as we move back and forth across the border, should play at roughly equal lengths leading up to the moment at the hotel when the lovers meet again” (319).

A film like Touch of Evil in the hands of another director may have amounted to little more than a low budget crime film or B movie slated for second billing in a double matinee feature. Unfortunately, the film was wrested from Welles control, in the editing stage, by Universal Studios. The film then underwent six editing revisions before the general release version, as explained by Heyland “It was taken away from him because the studio had no idea of what he was doing, and why it was taking so long to do it” (307). The film making process that Welles used, which the studio disregarded, may be attributed to the earlier references to drawings by Joseph Cotton. The drawings were the physical manifestations of what Welles referred to as “Visual Patterns” (307). Cotton’s excerpt reveals that for Welles the process of making a film involved both a visual and auditory perceiving of the final product. The fact that the film was never seen to fruition by Welles in the editing process may explain why Touch of Evil has, as Heydon notes “that quality of strangeness” (324). Although, it was not edited as Welles had envisioned the production aspects of setting and character still retain his signature. Heydon explains that, “Welles had been constructing films that could not be easily recast by some other ‘dominant personality’. For all of Universal’s rejigging, the atmosphere was still Welles” (324). Despite the failure attributed to its release, Touch of Evil won the first prize at the Brussels’s Film Festival and is today considered one of Welles’ masterpieces. Through the study of his theatre background origin, and early career arc through his waning years, a deeper appreciation might be gained as to the cinematic masterpieces that are Welles’ legacy. While his wrangling with studios and maverick approach to filmmaking is the stuff of Hollywood legend, his cinematic art may as yet remain undiscovered. In examining the separation of setting and character, attributable to theatrical form, this essay hopes to have unearthed one small relic in that endeavor.

Works Cited

Bogdonovich, Peter. This is Orson Welles. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., 1992.

Print.

Citizen Kane. Dir. Orson Welles. Perf. Orson Welles, Joseph Cotton, Dorothy Comingore. RKO

Radio Pictures, 1941. Film.

Heylin, Clinton. Despite the System. Chicago: Chicago Review Press, Inc., 2005. Print. Naremore, James. The Magic World of Orson Welles. Dallas: Southern Methodist University

Press, 1989.  Print.

Prokosch, Michael. “Orson Welles”. Film Comment. Summer 1971, 28. Web. 21 Mar. 2012.

The Magnificent Ambersons. Dir. Orson Welles. Perf. Tim Holt, Joseph Cotton, Dolores

Costello. RKO Radio Pictures, 1942. Film.

Touch of Evil. Dir. Orson Welles. Perf. Charlton Heston, Orson Welles, Janet Leigh. Universal

International Pictures, 1958. Film.