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The Magnificent Welles at Locarno

by Alex Deleon

The 58th installment of the Locarno film festival at the Tippety-top of glorious Lago Maggiore in the Italian Speaking part of Switzerland (Ticino) got underway on Wednesday, August 3rd and will go on until August 13. Some 300 films of all kinds will be projected at numerous venues all over town, but the main event is the slate of 18 features in competition for the spotted leopard awards, the jungle cat in question being the symbol of this fabulous Alpine resort city for nearly a hundred years – or long before Visconti’s famous film “Il gato pardo” = The Leopard. The calling card of this festival, however, is the open air screening of films (usually big spectaculars) every night in the Piazza Grande or main city square on what is said to be the largest screen in Europe -- with room enough to seat up to 7,000 spectators. In spite of the size of the screen the projection is nevertheless remarkably clear -- (think super-duper American Drive-in without cars) -- and the sound is perfectly clear all over the plaza. Unlike most big competition festivals, Locarno has never gone in for mainstream blockbusters, although one or two occasionally turn up. Instead, as festival topper Irene Bigniardi puts it, "we are interested in the artistic side of cinema and in the discovery of new directors and talent from lesser known countries and film cultures." Big international names who will be specially honored during the fest include legendary Italian cameraman Vittorio Storaro (many films with Coppola including "Apocalypse Now"), and American thespians Susan Sarandon and John Malkovith, both
scheduled to arrive next week.

One of the great highlights this year is a thorough -- and I DO mean thorough -- retrospective on Orson Welles covering not only all the films he directed (some in original uncut versions rarely seen), but also all the films in which he appeared as an actor, and even more significantly, all kinds of documentaries, fictionalizations with other actors playing Welles, etc., (one wonders what Orson would have thought of their portrayals...) made over the years in various countries about Welles, as well as many short diary-type films Orson himself made in between larger projects. One of the most interesting entries is a reconstruction of the famous "War of the Worlds" radio broadcast of 1938, entitled "The Night that Panicked America", a rarely seen made-for-television film directed by Joseph Sargent in 1975.
No masterpiece but, nevertheless, a fascinating contribution to the burgeoning field of Orson Welles Studies with Vic Morrow in the main role of a family man trying to save his embattled family from the “invading
Martians”, and TV actor Paul Shenar in the shadowy supporting role of Welles at age 23 directing a radio show that was so realistic it panicked a nation on Halloween nigh, 1938.
All of this material comes from the Film Museum of Munich whose director and Wellesian archeologist is Stefan Droessler. Many of these films were made for European TV and therefore have German or other subtitles, but a goodly number are being shown here in the original English versions without sub-titles under the assumption that most true Welles buffs at a festival such as this will know enough English to get by without the crutch of written translations. This is an incredible collection of Wellesiana and Orsonography comprising what amounts to a sub-festival within the festival encompassing no less than 74 (seventy four) titles! One extremely handsome movie house, the “Rex” just off the Piazza, has been commandeered for this imposing festival sidebar appropriately named "THE MAGNIFICENT WELLES".
Starting with seminar type workshops in the morning, screenings and discussions of Wellesiana go on here all day long until the chimes of midnight.
Alex Deleon


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