The idea that Orson Welles could never direct a film to match the achievement of Citizen Kane (1941) still persists. But few Hollywood directors can boast of a finer oeuvre. Had Welles been a conformist, he might have been more successful – but his greatness would have been diminished. Citizen Kane (1941), his first full-length feature, went against the conventions of chronological narratives and techniques of filmmaking. In F for Fake (1973), Welles tells anecdotes about art forgers with relish, demonstrating that “Art is the lie that makes us see the truth”. Who, then, is a storyteller but a great liar?
In the splendid comic poem and historical epic, Chimes at Midnight (1965), Falstaff – one of the great liars of literature – is given dignity by Welles’ portrayal. In The Immortal Story (1968), a wealthy merchant wishes to make a popular sailor’s myth come true. Power is a sustaining motif of Welles’ work, as evidenced in Citizen Kane, Macbeth (1948), Othello (1952), and Confidential Report (1955). A struggle for dominance is central to The Lady from Shanghai (1947) and Touch of Evil (1958). Even though RKO cut The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), the film remains a haunting portrait of a family in decline in the late 19th century.