Perhaps there is room in our society where a revolutionary technological innovation introduced five years ago is already outdated to celebrate the 70th anniversary of just one classic film a year. And in 2012, that honor fell to "Casablanca." Celebration of that remarkably film achievement is righteous; it's nearly flawless. More flawed, but perhaps all the more remarkable an achievement because of it, is another film that turned 70 in 2012. And before the year gets away from us, we should take time to recognize it.
"The Magnificent Ambersons" is Orson Welles' follow-up to his perhaps overly honored debut, "Citizen Kane." The second film from Orson Welles is a highly cinematic adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize winning novel by Booth Tarkington. The film is remarkably faithful to the letter and spirit of the novel in telling the story of how the arrival of technology changed the course of the societal evolution in America; in this case technology being the horseless carriage.
Unfortunately, Orson Welles' second completed directorial effort would set the stage for the rest of his career in a way that we can only wish "Citizen Kane" had done. Welles left an unfinished morass of film behind to be edited into form by those who did not, and probably could not, share his vision. The result is a curtailed version that artlessly added a ridiculous happy ending that is just as much a shock to the system as Tommy Lee Jones' little anecdotes about his dead father in "No Country for Old Men."
Regardless of this flaw in the final cut, " The Magnificent Ambersons" represents ambitiously achieved filmmaking and the second example of the genius of Orson Welles. The specifics of the story focuses on the comeuppance of a haughty young man clinging too tightly to the status quo which serves as a metaphor for the larger theme of the passage of time from era of the horse drawn carriage to the automobile. The automobile becomes a symbol at once for technological evolution and the death of simpler eras.
Things to watch closely for are the way in which Welles shoots a long sequence following a horse drawn carriage that is groundbreaking in its revelation of the actual bumpy discomfort associated with that mode of transportation that is rarely experienced in other films. The Amberson mansion becomes a character itself under Welles' direction, especially in the highly stylized shooting of a grand party and its aftermath. While this movie doesn't seem as showy as "Citizen Kane," there are plenty examples of what made Welles such a fantastic director in the way he utilized both the visual and audio elements of cinema.
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