Arguably one of the greatest directors in film history, there are few things that are in the public consciousness about Orson Welles. Firstly, that he directed Citizen Kane, a feature that’s still as critically acclaimed today as it was when it was released. Secondly, that he made a radio play of War of The Worlds that was so frightening that many people believed it was real.
However, there’s a lot of things that get pushed by the wayside and brushed over when it comes to Welles’ life. American: An Odyssey to 1947 is a documentary that attempts to redress that balance by talking about Welles’ life from his early career in the theatre, right up until his self-sanctioned exile from America in 1947.
Directed and written by Danny Wu, the documentary uses unseen footage, voice recordings and interviews with experts on his life such as Simon Callow and the relatives of Isaac Woodard to tell Welles’ story. The latter which could be the subject of a documentary all on its own, only tells a small part of the story of Orson Welles’ career and it becomes all the better for it.
Those expecting a straight forward story about a man’s rise to fame and glory in the eyes of his peers may be a little surprised though. Because American: An Odyssey to 1947 seeks to interweave Welles’ story with that of a tumultuous time in America and indeed world history.
Depicted as something of a rebel, right from the word go Orson Welles was thinking outside the box. From directing his first play to great success, an adaptation of Macbeth with an entirely African American cast, fans of Welles should know that the legendary director was set for great things.
However, that’s not all as the documentary also talks about his involvement with the McCarthy trials and even the beginnings of the civil rights movement.
These moments in time are not exaggerated in order to elevate the subject of the documentary, but like all good biopics, they only exist to flesh out a person whose greatest achievements were presumably on the big screen. American: An Odyssey to 1947 may bring in cinephiles, but will leave them with a greater understanding of what Orson Welles did for America.
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