Orson Welles

For most movie fans, there are two Orson Welles: the bright young polymath who tore up the rule book with his groundbreaking 1941 masterpiece "Citizen Kane"; and the bloated walrus who eked out his days making cigar commercials and reminiscing on chat shows.

The truth, of course, lies somewhere in between these two abiding images. A child prodigy, Welles arrived in Hollywood having made his name in New York with his all-black voodoo version of "Macbeth" on the stage and his notorious radio version of "The War of the Worlds" while still in his early 20s.

If RKO expected him to play it safe with "Citizen Kane", they were in for a shock. To Welles, a film studio was "the biggest train set a boy ever had", and he experimented with camera angles and deep focus with a gleeful disregard for the conventions of the medium, assisted in no small way by the great cinematographer, Gregg Toland.

A thinly disguised recreation of the life of millionaire press baron William Randolph Hearst, "Kane" was produced, directed, and co-written by Welles, as well as starring him. It so infuriated Hearst that he used all his influence to crush the film's release, and very nearly succeeded.

Welles' subsequent directorial career followed a depressingly similar pattern. For every flawed classic ("Touch of Evil", "The Magnificent Ambersons"), there was one more which never saw the light of day ("The Other Side of the Wind", "Don Quixote"). As as an actor though, he was capable of stealing a film from under the noses of his fellow performers, as he did with his small role as the enigmatic Harry Lime in Carol Reed's "The Third Man".

In recent years, Tim Robbins' "Cradle Will Rock" and "RKO 281" have paid tribute to Welles as we would all like to remember him: an artistic genius, the like of which we may never see again.

You can see a double bill of "Citizen Kane" and "The Magnificent Ambersons" on Saturday 9th March 2002, beginning at 1.40pm.