Orson Welles: An Experimenter of Life


Two beautiful quotes from Orson Welles on experimentation:

1. “It is too bad that there is no money spent in Hollywood for experiment. If you take any other large industry…you spend at least ten percent – maybe twenty percent – of your profits on a laboratory where experimentation is done.”  

2. “My sole value in my eyes is that I don’t dictate laws but am an experimenter. Experimenting is the only thing I’m enthusiastic about. I’m not interested in art works, you know, in posterity, or fame, only in the pleasure of experimentation itself. It’s the only domain in which I feel that I am truly honest and sincere…we professional experimenters have inherited an old tradition. Some of us have been the greatest of artists, but we never made our muses into our mistresses. For example, Leonardo considered himself to be a scientist who painted rather than a painter who was a scientist…” -Welles (1958: 45)

Thoughts on this process of experimentation.

Above all else, Welles was an experimenter, a fabulous scientist of experimentations. His experiments were electric, meticulous and sporadic, and conditioned on the eradication of the center as the essential point of reference for the composition of a film.

Under Welles, the notion of the center was subjected to a radical transformation. He tested the parameters of the cinema in a constant effort to push the limits and to stretch the possibilities that the medium afforded: from the treatment of the characters and their bodies to the faith in the audience and his trust in time.

To that end, Welles adopted methods that were considered bold, mad and noble. Most notably, with his exploration of time. In his experiments, the risks were enormous and the outcomes could not be predicted from the start. The results were often strange concoctions, mixtures and potions in which the primal elements of fire and the earth were called forth. 

There is an ancient power that flows in the work of Welles, one which is a constant source of wealth and obliteration: there is an element of nihilism that burns in all of his work. Is Citizen Kane not already enflamed from the start?