Thursday, March 10, 2005

Touch of Evil d. Orson Welles, 1958

The end of Noir, or so they say. This film was a bit of a disappointment after all the talk-up it has received (or at least that I have heard.) The opening eight minutes (one brilliant, mind-blowing shot) is rather breathtaking - Welles has technical bravura and bravado both. What he lacks is a good editor and a judicial hand with said technical prowess.

Citizen Kane was monumental, earning Welles high marks for his technical, emotional, and thematic excellence alike. Touch of Evil contains the same technical brilliance as Kane, but without the substance that gives the technique meaning. High and low angle shots are used throughout Citizen Kane to denote power - who holds it, who does not. In Touch of Evil, the same technique is used, and to the same effect, but at times unncessary. Welles wields his eye for composition and serpentine camera movement like a sledgehammer rather than a paintbrush. In addition to this slight misstep (and, despite my harping, it is slight - Touch of Evil is still a very good film, I just feel that something, anything, negative should be said about it.), Welles' editor seems absent on several occasions. Scenes run on - without humor, point, or necessity - to the edge of boredom. I'm thinking specifically of Heston confronting the night man at his wife's hotel. Which brings up another gripe - Heston. The man, in addition to being a blind tyrant of a testosterone (someone please render his hands cold & dead), is hardly worthy of the denotation, "thespian." Even if I'm exaggerating, his presence as Mike Vargas (that's right - M. Heston plays a Mexican man) is flaccid, causing him to seem absolutely lifeless in comparison to Welles' ironically vivacious Hank Quinlan.

If this was truly Noir's coffin-nail (and Noir, somehow, no longer exists. WTF, mate?), then it was an apropos way to go. Welles' films cause me to think that the man was trying to say something about himself. Casting himself as the larger-than-life Charlie Kane, only to knock himself down the ladder upon which he climbed. Or Mike Quinlan, the quasi-despicable vigilante policeman who sits above the law, lamenting the days of yore. Welles, the multimedia wunderkind, seems to comment on his own frailty; his own grandiose pomp and pathetic manner in which that pomp is deflated. He is, in essence, the Noir Hero. He possesses the fatality, the finite power, and the dreams and aspirations grown too large. So, with Touch of Evil, Welles gathers all these confluences - the genre elements, the technique, and, most of all, himself - and molds them into one final, flawed farewell to the defeated spirit of post-war modern man.


Blogger Quack Corleone said...

While reading the last paragraph of your review, about Welles playing a version of himself that's bloated and deflated at the same time, I was reminded of John Huston's role as Noah Cross in 'Chinatown'.

And you're right about Heston, I don't even remember him in the film.

14 March, 2005 00:16  
Blogger Michael K. said...

You're lucky.

Yeah, I can see Huston in that. I need to see more of Welles' films, but I think this idea (a type of self-deprecation and demystification) in all of his films that I have seen. Charlie Kane being the obvious paradigm, but his roles in Touch of Evil and The Stranger seem to fit as well. It'd make a good thesis, methinks.

14 March, 2005 12:54  

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