In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Orson Welles

  • Introduction
  • Biographies
  • Interviews
  • Memoirs by Others
  • Bibliographies and Other Resources
  • Other Works for Film or Television
  • Performances under Other Directors
  • Works Written by Welles
  • Theater, Radio, and Other Media
  • Portrayals

Cinema and Media Studies Orson Welles
Donald F. Larsson
  • LAST REVIEWED: 19 December 2012
  • LAST MODIFIED: 19 December 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791286-0121


The artistry of Orson Welles (b. 1915–d. 1985) can be difficult to disentangle from his own celebrity and notoriety. Citizen Kane (1941) was quickly hailed as a cinematic landmark by perceptive critics when first released, but the pivotal accomplishments of that film were blurred by controversies over the plot’s parallels with the life of newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst. Welles’s earlier controversial theater work in New York and the succès de scandale of his radio version of The War of the Worlds (1938) also affected critics’ views of Citizen Kane. Later films directed by Welles for American movie studios would be released in versions that did not reflect the director’s final intentions, such as The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), The Lady from Shanghai (1947), and Touch of Evil (1958). Working in self-exile in Europe, Welles created works such as Mr. Arkadin (1955) and The Trial (1962) that also would be altered by producers and distributors. Even when relatively unaltered, some of these films perplexed American viewers and critics, while other projects were never completed. By the 1960s, Welles would become best known to television viewers as an obese, though loquacious and witty, man appearing on talk shows and commercials, dismissed by many as a “has-been.” In the last two decades of his life, however, Welles’s own career was also being rediscovered and reevaluated by a new generation of cineastes and critics. Citizen Kane has remained near the top of critics’ “greatest films” lists for half a century. Welles was also championed as one of the greatest film directors of all time by international critics, led by French critic André Bazin and the auteur critics of the Cahiers du cinéma in the 1950s. American film critic Andrew Sarris, who popularized the French “auteur theory” for American filmgoers, placed Welles in his pantheon of the greatest American directors in his 1968 book The American Cinema (New York: E. P. Dutton). Such adulation, though, would be tempered by other critics, notably Pauline Kael, who claimed in 1971 that Welles had stolen credit for accomplishments in Citizen Kane from his collaborators, especially his cowriter Herman Mankiewicz. More-measured understandings of Welles, his life, and his work have been made possible by new research and restored versions of some of his films. This bibliography concentrates on major works by or relating to Welles, especially those published after the exhaustive annotated lists in Wood 1990 (see Bibliographies and Other Resources).

General Overviews

This section includes full-length critical works that deal with significant portions of Welles’s career in motion pictures. For more-detailed listings of book-length studies, see Wood 1990 (cited under Bibliographies and Other Resources), as well as bibliographies and citations under Biographies. For other critical views on individual works, again see Wood 1990 and citations under Feature Films. For citations of projects uncompleted at the time of Welles’s death, see Wood 1990 and Unfinished or Unreleased Works. Important early books and monographs on Welles’s work include Bazin 1978, Gottesman 1976 (cited under Critical Collections), McBride 1996, and Naremore 1989. Most of these works concentrate on Welles’s career in film, although some also refer to his work in radio and theater. Anderegg 1999 focuses on Welles’s adaptations of Shakespeare in film and theater. The works cited in this section, with the exception of Naremore 1989, were issued after the publication of Wood 1990. As with biographies of Welles, critics tend to split into two camps, viewing the director as self-indulgent and self-destructive or as an artistic martyr. McBride 1996 in particular tends toward the latter view. Others, notably Naremore, downplay such controversies to concentrate on an overall understanding of the works within the continuum of Welles’s ongoing experimentation and quest for artistic expression. Rosenbaum 2007 describes the difficulties of separating fact from myth in discussions of Welles and his films, as well as the difficulty of locating an “authoritative” text for any but a few of his motion pictures. Thomas and Berthomé 2008 gives more-detailed attention to Welles’s working methods than most sources, and Mereghetti 2011 has special appreciation for Welles’s later works, but Ishaghpour 2001 has written the most extensive study of Welles’s films yet published. For other foreign-language works, see Wellesnet: The Orson Welles Web Resource (cited under Bibliographies and Other Resources) as well as standard bibliographic sources. Rasmussen 2006 contains close visual analysis of individual films that will be useful for students new to Welles.

  • Anderegg, Michael. Orson Welles, Shakespeare, and Popular Culture. New York: Columbia University Press, 1999.

    Examines Welles’s adaptations of Shakespeare in different media as a “core sample” of Welles’s overall career. Contends that “Welles holds an unparalleled place in American life as a mediator between high and low culture . . .” (p. ix). Avoids critical conventional wisdom and places Welles within the changing historical context of the popular reception of Shakespeare.

  • Bazin, André. Orson Welles: A Critical View. Translated by Jonathan Rosenbaum. New York: Harper & Row, 1978.

    According to Rosenbaum 2007, the book he translated here was not the original (and superior, he contends) 1950 text by Bazin, but one written years later. One of the most influential critics in film history, Bazin discusses Welles as an artist whose use of deep focus and long takes helped to realize film’s potential to re-present reality to the audience.

  • Ishaghpour, Youssef. Orson Welles cinéaste: Une caméra visible. 3 vols. Les Essais 18. Paris: Éditions de la Différence, 2001.

    The most extensive study (2,100 pages) of Welles’s work, written in French by an Iranian-born film scholar. Volume 1 offers an overview, Volume 2 concentrates on Welles’s “American period,” and Volume 3 considers the director’s “nomadic period.” Over thirty years in the making, the book is not yet translated into English.

  • McBride, Joseph. Orson Welles. Rev. ed. New York: Da Capo, 1996.

    A reworking of one of the first full-length studies of Welles’s career. This edition provides new and corrected information and an extended account of McBride’s meeting Welles for the first time and being given a role in The Other Side of the Wind (1970). Still an important study by a perceptive critic. Originally published in 1972.

  • Mereghetti, Paolo. Orson Welles. Rev. ed. New York: Phaidon, 2011.

    Low-priced and well-illustrated overview of Welles’s career. Gives consideration to early work in theater but gives special attention to later films, in particular declaring The Immortal Story (1968) to be a “perfect film.”

  • Naremore, James. The Magic World of Orson Welles. Rev. ed. Dallas: Southern Methodist University Press, 1989.

    A comprehensive study of Welles and his films, from an auteurist standpoint. Traces themes and imagery that recur across Welles’s career, with detailed attention to and analysis of individual scenes and shots in the films. Still one of the best formalist studies of Welles’s works. Originally published in 1978.

  • Rasmussen, Randy L. Orson Welles: Six Films Analyzed, Scene by Scene. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2006.

    A close and detailed examination of shots and scenes in Citizen Kane, The Magnificent Ambersons, The Lady from Shanghai, Touch of Evil, The Trial, and Chimes at Midnight. Has to contend with the problems posed by the different versions of several of these films. Useful as an introduction to these films and to elements of Welles’s artistry.

  • Rosenbaum, Jonathan. Discovering Orson Welles. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007.

    Rosenbaum’s film and book reviews and other pieces dealing with Welles over the years, many for the weekly Chicago Reader, are linked by connective passages and the introduction. Rosenbaum uses this structure as a process of discovering Welles as a postmodern artist, whose later work deserves as much serious consideration as Citizen Kane itself.

  • Thomas, François, and Jean-Pierre Berthomé. Orson Welles at Work. Translated by Imogen Forster, Roger Leverdier, and Trista Selous. New York: Phaidon, 2008.

    A detailed account, by two respected French film scholars associated with the journal Positif, of Welles’s working methods on his films in different phases of his career. Examines major films from beginning to end of production and after. Includes discussions of theatrical and other works. Lavishly illustrated.

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