Friday, 5 February 2010

Against so home-spun a background, the magnificence of the Ambersons was as conspicuous as a brass band at a funeral.

No 334 - The Magnificent Ambersons
Director - Orson Welles

I've always known this film as the one that isn't Citizen Kane, which goes to show how decidedly uncultured I am.
Here, we follow a family in a small town. A successful and rich family which stand out in the smallness of their town.

The film's story is quite simple. We follow two wealthy families. The titular Ambersons and the Morgans. Whilst we follow 3 generations of the Ambersons, we focus mostly on two couples. Isabel Amberson becomes a widow and falls for her former sweetheart Eugene Morgan. Meanwhile, their respective children (George Amberson and Lucy Morgan) begin to develop feelings for one another.
The greatest character in this film, the nearest it has to a protagonist, is George Amberson. He is just a spoilt and horrible person, and he embodies the film's key message. It is all about the inability to move on.
George's prejudices and his 'stuck in his ways' view on the world means he refuses to allow it to develop. He refuses to let his widowed mother re-marry, certainly not to re-marry a former love and he refuses to believe that automobiles will replace cars. In face, his refusal to believe these points frequently lead to massive arguments and the eventual fall of the family. I began the film thinking that George was hilarious. I loved his grumpy stubborn bigoted views. But he becomes boring. Quickly. You're waiting for him to see the error of his ways.

Yet, as the Amberson's life comes slowly crashing down around them, you begin to feel sorry for him and for his aunt Fanny (who is far crueler and far more manipulative than George will ever be). They are spoilt and pampered and horribly selfish people. But it isn't refreshing to see them suffer. Nobody gets to relish in the Ambersons getting their come-uppance. Something had happened. A thing which, years ago, had been the eagerest hope of many, many good citizens of the town, and now it had come at last; George Amberson Mainafer had got his comeuppance. He got it three times filled, and running over. But those who had so longed for it were not there to see it, and they never knew it. Those who were still living had forgotten all about it and all about him.

I have to say, I found the story quite dull. I find this a strange thing to say because I'm fairly sure that aspects of the Ambersons are echoed in the Tenembauns (certainly the crumbling family and the use of the narrator, as well as the film's feel), however what I found interesting were the stylistic elements.
Orson Welles is an excellent director after all and the film has some wonderful touches. I like the cutaways, which ask the villagers what they think of the story's progress. The way that the camera lurks and the angles ysed are incredibly advanced. Shots are frasmed in reflections or viewed through bannister posts. It is very bold and very daring. It even sounds different - voices overlap continuously. Not neatly, but in a muddled and broken and noisy way. It feels like a group of people speaking. It is a bold change from the neatness and crispness which seems to be evident in 1940's film.

However, the film's most interesting point (and I don't know if this bodes well for the film) are the credits.
The narraotr throughout this film is Orson Welles, and come the end of the film he narrates the entire credits. He explains who played each part and performed each role and then he signs off. I have never seen this in a film, neither films of that era or films after that era.

It is a fascinating move and a very interesting stylistic decision.

1 comment:

acraig said...

I've yet to see Ambersons - I kind of dread it, having read about how the studio took it out of Orson Welles' control and basically butchered it.

But re: the credits, Orson Welles narrated the credits of "The Trial" too.