(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘Orson Welles

“In the property-maker’s room lives the wizard of the studio”*…


Take the test, then enjoy this tribute to the power of props:

email readers click here for video

* Designing for Films, Edward Carrick, 1950


As we wait for the telephone to ring, we might recall that it was on this date in 1938 that Universal Pictures released Mars Attacks the World, a space opera that prominently featured a classic hand prop, the ray gun.  Originally produced as a 15-episode serial, Flash Gordon’s Trip to Mars, the studio had it recut as a feature, planning a 1939 release.  But on October 30, 1938, Orson Welles and the Mercury Theater broadcast their infamous adaptation of H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds.  Capitalizing on the frenzied attention that Welles created, Universal quickly changed their feature’s title from the originally-intended Rocket Ship, and launched it into theaters.



Written by LW

November 7, 2015 at 1:01 am

“You got to be worried when they’re agreeing about anything… Prophets. That’s the last bloody thing you want prophets to do”*…


email readers click here for video

We may define future shock as the distress, both physical and psychological, that arises from an overload of the human organism’s physical adaptive systems and it’s decision-making processes… Put more simply, future shock is the human response to over-stimulation…

– Alvin Toffler

The film above is a documentary based on Future Shock, the book written in 1970 by sociologist and futurist Alvin Toffler…

Released in 1972, with a cigar-chomping Orson Welles as on-screen narrator, this piece of futurism
is darkly dystopian and oozing techno-paranoia… A great opening features a montage of car crashes and civil unrest intercut with two figures walking in a green field (while creepy synthesizers play in the background) who are soon revealed to be automatons with creepy robot faces — a nice metaphor for the fear of the unrecognizable, cold, and chaotic future society that Toffler thought we were all headed for…

More background in the notes accompanying the film.

(After watching the film, take a whack at being a futurist yourself; try the card game, “The Thing From the Future“…)

* China Miéville, Kraken


As we brace for change, we might recall that it was on this date in 1797 that André-Jacques Garnerin accomplished the first successful parachute jump.  He ascended to 2,230 ft. above the Parc Monceau, Paris, with a balloon, then released it and unfurled a silk parachute.  Lacking any vent in the top of the parachute, Garnerin descended with violent oscillations– as a result of which, he suffered the first case of airsickness.

Garnerin releases the balloon and descends with the help of a parachute, 1797. (Illustration from the late 19th century.)



Written by LW

October 22, 2015 at 1:01 am

The External World…

 click here for video

Young LA- based animator David O’Reilly has created a lovely short that is, at once, a history of animation and a glimpse at its future.  More amazement on his web site.

[Thanks to CE]


As we watch out for sentient banana peels, we might send bombastic birthday greetings to actor, director, writer and producer Orson Welles; he was born on this date in 1915.  Welles was a pioneer in the theater (e.g., his Broadway adaption of Julius Caesar, the debut of the Mercury Theatre) and on radio (e.g., his 1938 The War of the Worlds, the most famous broadcast in the history of the medium).  But it was his films (his first, Citizen Kane, is regarded by many to have been the greatest American film) that gave lie to his own observation that ” movie directing is the perfect refuge for the mediocre.”


Written by LW

May 6, 2012 at 1:01 am

Get (Sur)real…


click here for video

From Alex Pasternack on Motherboard:

Before he was Kermit, Jim Henson was Brunel.

With apologies to Man Ray and Busby Berkley and many others, I submit that argument and this hypothesis: the amount of time you spent as a child watching Sesame Street and the Muppets is directly proportional to your taste for the comic, the avant-garde, the absurd and the surreal. Jim Henson, the lead instructor of this viewers-like-you-fueled education, would have turned seventy-five this week had he not died in 1990, sucking away a collective head trip that was, ultimately, firmly planted in a felt flowerbed of weirdness.

Pasternack offers plentiful– and delightful– evidence, including this remarkable 1974 appearance on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show:

… and this “collaboration” with Orson Welles:

Many more mesmerizing examples at “Jim Henson Was America’s Greatest Surrealist.”

Special Minimalist Bonus!:


As we proclaim Henson the (Du)champ, we might wish a stony-faced Happy Birthday to “the greatest actor-director in the history of the movies” (quoth Roger Ebert); Joseph Frank “Buster” Keaton was born on this date in 1895.

As a young vaudevillian, Keaton met silent star Fatty Arbuckle.  Keaton borrowed Arbuckle’s crew’s camera, took it back to his boarding house, disassembled and reassembled it, then returned to ask for a job.  He was hired as co-star and gag man on “The Butcher Boy”– and soon became Arbuckle’s “second director” and his entire gag department.  Keaton soon earned his own unit, and began churning out two-reelers.  Leo McCarthy (director of Charlie Chase, Laurel and Hardy, the Marx Brothers, Mae West, and others) recalled, “All of us tried to steal each other’s gagmen. But we had no luck with Keaton, because he thought up his best gags himself and we couldn’t steal him!”

From 1920 through 1929, Keaton made Our Hospitality, The Navigator, Sherlock Jr., Seven Chances, Steamboat Bill Jr., The Cameraman, and The General— gems all.  Indeed, Henson collaborator Orson Welles considered The General to be, “the greatest comedy ever made, the greatest Civil War film ever made, and perhaps the greatest film ever made.”

With the advent of sound, Keaton’s career took a sideways turn.  While he appeared in a number of feature films, guested on many television series, and even served as an advisor to Lucille Ball on I Love Lucy, he was never again the monster star that he had been on the silent screen… which adds to the power– and the poignancy– of his penultimate role: the lead in the only movie written by Samuel Beckett, the (nearly) silent Film.


Your correspondent is bound for the City of Dreaming Spires.  The time-zone differential being what it is, regular service will be interrupted until October 10 or so.  While there may be an occasional missive in the meantime, readers can trustworthily amuse themselves with the films of Buster Keaton, streaming (for free) on the wonderful Archive.org.

Written by LW

October 4, 2011 at 1:01 am

Say what?…


Trying to master a role in a Tennessee Williams play?  Place someone by their accent?  Steven Weinberger, a linguist at George Mason University can help.  He’s created The Speech Accent Archive, where one can click on a map to hear some native, some non-native English speakers from all over the world– but in each case reciting the same short English paragraph, crafted to contain every sound in the Queen’s Language.

(C.F. also the previously-reported British Library Map of Accents and Dialects.)

As we smooth our sibilants, we might recall that it was on this date in 1938 that Northwestern University conferred an honorary degree on ventriloquist’s dummy Charlie McCarthy (whose “partner,” Edgar Bergen, had attended Northwestern, but never graduated).

Lest we doubt that Bergen and his wooden friend were worthy of the academic accolade, we might note that they have been credited by some with “saving the world”: later that same year, on the night of October 30, 1938, when Orson Welles performed his War of the Worlds radio play, panicking many listeners, most of the American public had tuned instead to Bergen and McCarthy on another station.   (Dissenters note that Bergen may inadvertently have contributed to the hysteria: when the musical portion of Bergen’s show [The Chase and Sanborn Hour] aired about twelve minutes into the show, many listeners switched stations– to discover War of the Worlds in progress, with an all-too-authentic-sounding reporter detailing a horrific alien invasion.

Charlie McCarthy, BA (left), with his friend Edgar Bergen (source)

Pride of ownership…

While the earliest known marks of ownership of books or documents date from the reign of Amenophis III in Egypt (1391-1353), bookplates (also known by their usual inscription, “ex libris”) date from the post-Gutenberg period when books were (still) things of value, but were widely-enough available to be circulated.  In their modern form, they evolved from simple inscriptions in books which were common in Europe in the Middle Ages, when various other forms of “librarianship” became widespread (e.g., the use of class-marks, call-numbers, or shelf-marks). The earliest known examples of printed bookplates are German, and date from the 15th century.

By the 19th century, books had become more common and bookplates– while still attesting to ownership and thus establishing provenance– had begun to become ways for owners to underscore their personalities, or in the case of celebrities, their images.

Author Simon Rose, writing in the ever-illuminating Dark Roasted Blend, surveys the now-nearly-lost art of the bookplate.  His piece is filled with wonderful examples, e.g.:

Enjoy many, many more at “The Extraordinary World of Ex Libris Art

As we open to our inside front covers, we might recall that it was on this date in 1936 that then-21-year-old Orson Welles took his curtain call at the fifth-and-final performance of MacBeth in Bridgeport. Connecticut.  The Federal Theater Project production was Welles directing debut, and that start of his collaboration with producer John Houseman.  In a foreshadowing of the creative risk taking that would characterize Welles’ career, he cast MacBeth with African-American performers in all the roles; the setting shifted from Scotland to the Caribbean, and the witches became Haitian witch doctors.  (His 1948 film version of “The Scottish Play” returned the action to the Highlands, but retained some of the dramatic elements of his inaugural outing.)

Production photo (Library of Congress)


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,158 other followers

%d bloggers like this: