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The Magnificent Orson Welles

Saturday, March 8, 2008
5:00 p.m. The Magnificent Ambersons
Orson Welles (U.S., 1942)

A family portrait set in the deep spaces of a nineteenth-century home: as in a portrait, its setting becomes its era. An ingenious narrative structure spans many years, following the fate of one of those families whose self-made riches waned, rather than doubled, with the advent of the technological age. They are viewed through the prism of an outsider, the young Eugene Morgan (Joseph Cotten), who loses his true love, Isabel Amberson (Dolores Costello), to a loveless marriage of status. It is a film filled with regret—for frustrated love and for the coming industrial age, which “darkened our town into a city.” Like the strawberry shortcake devoured in a key scene, it is almost sinfully rich and layered in image and sound. Incorporating a Greek chorus of townspeople, a circular perspective and a cubist one, still-lifes and silence, repetitions and non-sequiturs, it has a dreamlike quality with a dream’s wicked comeuppance.

—Judy Bloch

• Written by Welles, based on the novel by Booth Tarkington. Photographed by Stanley Cortez. With Joseph Cotten, Dolores Costello, Anne Baxter, Tim Holt. (88 mins, B&W, 35mm, From Warner Bros.)