Too often, Orson Welles is portrayed as a tragic burnout case, a boy genius who made possibly the greatest movie ever when he was 26 and then descended into ruin and neglect from the film industry. It’s true that his late days as a drunken, obese commercial pitchman were sad, but Welles pursued his vision relentlessly, to the point when Hollywood regarded him as difficult to work with, and he never stopped experimenting with ways of telling a story. You can see this American genius on display this weekend at the Modern.
As part of Happy Birthday, Orson!, a retrospective of Welles’ films, you can see Citizen Kane here as well as his pulp masterpiece Touch of Evil and his mutilated family saga The Magnificent Ambersons, which features a terrifying performance by Agnes Moorehead. However, his lesser works are just as interesting, with the famous shootout in the hall of mirrors that serves as the climax of The Lady from Shanghai and the villain’s ridiculous death at the end of The Stranger. Amid the grotesquerie of Mr. Arkadin, there’s nothing nuttier than when Welles’ Arkadin hires Robert Arden’s idiot hero to investigate a strange man loitering around his property — himself! These movies are often bad, but they’re bad in fascinating ways that illuminate this peculiar cinematic genius.
Happy Birthday, Orson! runs Thu-Sun at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, 3200 Darnell St, FW. Tickets are $7-9. Call 817-738-9215.