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TOUCH OF EVIL
1958 - Orson Welles
United States
69
Opening Shot

One of the most referenced and studied shots in the history of cinema, what more can possibly be said about this opening shot that hasn't been said already? The shot begins with a close-up of a setting time bomb which is then placed into the trunk of the car. The three minute shot is done entirely on a crane, as it lifts up above through the streets, following the moving car which intersects with the heroes: a couple walking together on the streets. As the couple embrace to kiss, the shot cuts to the car exploding and then back to a close-up reaction. Sadly the studios original release (which they reedited against Welles' approval) had the films titles over this shot, which sets not only the stylistic tone of the film but the essential metaphor and characterizations. Fortunately a new cut of the film (intended to match Welles original vision) was released in 1998.

The Film

"What does it matter what you say about people?" Orson Welles' 1958 Touch of Evil is a cinematic masterpiece if, for nothing else, it's opening and closing moments. Particularly the opening, which remains among the most legendary shots in film history. A tracking shot that last over three minutes and absorbs the viewer (subconsciously) all while used as a metaphor for the films theme of crossing boundaries. It's a shot that also establishes the films technical style. As with just about every film he made in Hollywood (and this was his last) Welles experienced difficulties with the studio (Universal). In post production the studio decided to reedit the film and reshot additional scenes (without Welles). Welles saw the studio cut and wrote a 58-page memo requesting them to make changes prior to releasing the film. His memo concluded, "...I close this memo with a very earnest plea that you consent to this brief visual pattern to which I gave so many long hard days of work." In 1998 a new version of the film was created as an attempt to match the vision Welles had envisioned. Touch of Evil is a brilliant display of Welles' vast filmmaking talents, as it's packed with Welles' vision (tracking shots, heavy lightning, shadows, blinking lights, unique angles, etc). Touch of Evil is an engaging and thought-provoking experience. The climax is flawless, and brilliantly examines human nature in general. This is really a film with so many layers and depths it could be studied for a lifetime. Touch of Evil is an absolute landmark in cinema history, and to me, Welles' greatest film. Adios...

The Filmmaker

Orson Welles is among the most respected and acclaimed American born filmmaker of all-time. His place in history and his importance and visionary influence is undeniable. While I personally prefer some filmmakers I certainly do not find him or his films overrated. In fact, I believe many of his films to be great and some to be masterpieces from a true visionary and innovative artist. After his shockingly effective radiobroadcast of HG Welles 'War of the Worlds', RKO Pictures gave Welles a contract to direct his first film and perhaps the only film in which he had complete control on the final cut. The result is very well the most acclaimed and studied film of all-time, 1941's Citizen Kane. It is this first film that is often referred to as not only his greatest film but it is also a film that places at the top of many 'Greatest Films of All-Time' lists. From a filmmaking point of view you can see the brilliance and even today the film is remarkable (Gregg Toland's masterful cinematography also helps and Welles knew this and shared the final credit with his name). Though often highly praised many regard Welles career a tragic one that peaked with his first film (at the age of 24) and struggled with his now lost version of his second feature The Magnificent Ambersons. However, I believe his greatest work came later, most notably in 1958 with Touch of Evil a film that grabs hold of you from the dazzling 3 minute opening tracking shot to it's genius concluding moments ('Adios'). Welles was an auteur in every sense and very often that didn't fit well with the Hollywood Studio System. Some filmmakers found a way to be auteurs within the Studio system of this era (Howard Hawks, Preston Sturges, John Ford, Alfred Hitchcock- though he had many struggles with studio bosses as well), others worked in the much less restricted B-films. Welles seem to have difficulty with the studio executives on every film he made and many of them were reedited. Also just about every film Welles made became a failure at the box office, including Citizen Kane which put RKO Pictures in a financial hole. After the box office flop of 1947's The Lady From Shanghai (which starred his wife, Rita Hayworth, as they were in the process of divorcing), Welles left Hollywood and with the exception of Touch of Evil did not work with the studios. Throughout his entire career Welles was forced to deal with limitations and executives and many of his films were never completed in his original vision. For this his career can be viewed as a tragedy, but even the work the stands today remains legendary. What Welles did was take the film language and ideas that were originally conceived by DW Griffith and he perfected it, which is why his techniques are so evident today. Welles is without question one of the most important visionaries in the history of filmmaking.

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