One of my English Literature professors once posed the question "why do artists create their greatest work when they're young?" I thought at the time that the answer must be that old people suffer from aged grey matter and general physical decrapitude, which limits their mental abilities and amount of energy they have to act on a creative impulse. Since the professor was a sweet grey-haired lady, I mercifully kept my mouth shut.
Now that my teeth are longer, though I've hardly come to "old person stage," I find that lack of inspiration is the biggest culprit. I used to dabble in a few creative media, and having crafted a few artifices in each I thought were pretty much as good as I was capable of accomplishing, I found my need and desire to create completely dried up and I got on with practical matters, such as surviving in a capitalistic society and the daily drudgery that entails. I still dabble on occasion, but primarily out of boredom, and the results of that show my lack of burning inspiration. So is a waning flame of inspiration why the young artist's creation is preferential? What if that flame never wanes?
I think it was Bosley Crowther who said of Chimes that it was "the work of an old man slowing down." Um, unless my basic math skills have departed along with the trillions of brain cells I killed in college, Chimes was released when Welles was 50. Which meant that he was actually in his late 40s when he shot it and edited it. Is being in your late 40s "old?" To a three year old it is. Was Bosley Crowther three years old when he wrote the review? What sort of name is "Bosley Crowther?" To my midwestern sensibilies, that sounds like a fanciful character name from the works of Mervyn Peake or H. P. Lovecraft. Anyway, Chimes is hardly the work of an old man, in physique or in spirit. That must just be a matter of opinion, as so many things (if not all) regarding the reception of any work of art (or any work purpoted to be a work of art) are.
Welles told Peter B something about how the greatest work was done by artists when they were young and when they were old, that middle age was the enemy of art, just as the middle class was the enemy of society. Perhaps Orson would be happy today, as the middle class seems to be on it's way out (under the doorframe, it seems to me.) Welles lamented that old artists were denied the chance to create, and that their best work was accomplished in their 70s and 80s, for however long as a person's health continued.
Someone in their 70s and 80s still sounds like a candidate for an old person to me. So Welles as an Old Director can be confined to what he did when he was 70. Or when he was 69, since he thought he was actually 70 that year. Prior to then, his films fall into the "middle age enemy of art" category, including Chimes, Fake and TOSOTW. His only Old Director films, that I know of or have seen anything from, are The Dreamers, the Abu Khan section of The Magic Show, and The Spirit of Charles Lindburgh.
Lindburgh seems to me little more than most Youtube vids with someone sitting in front of the camera of their computer, staring into the lens, and babbling for a few moments. The little more would be that the person babbling was Orson Welles, and that tends to be more interesting at least in my opinion. The other two Old Director projects I find quite interesting though. Dreamers has a lovely delicacy, even through the "Nth-generation VHS-tape bootleg fuzz and colour-wash" I have to view it through. And Abu Khan is quite funny and charming. Truly funny I think, compared with the humour in Orson's Bag from the 1960s which seemed to me to be very forced, dispirited and disillusioned (is Tailors funny or is it shamefully painful?)
Anyway, some very promising snippets from Old Director Welles. I've also recently been fascinated with Kurosawa's films. Since he called his mentor Kajiro Yamamoto by the respectful nickname "Yama-san," and since I've been blown into next week by Kurosawa's films, I've been calling him "Kuro-san," though I think "Sensei" is much more appropriate. Kurosawa's Old Director films started when he was 70 with Kagemusha, and on through Ran, Dreams, Rhapsody in August, and Madadayo. Kagemusha seems to be his most Kubrickesque film, one of clinical precision and abject coldness and distancing in terms of the characters. Though Kubrick was a younger man when he made his cold and distanced films, like 2001 or The Shining, and as an old man his Eyes Wide Shut had characters much closer to the lens, as it were. Eyes is his only Old Director film, and great it is. I'm glad to see the proper version has finally been released in the US.
Of Kuro-san's other Old Director films, I found Ran to be utterly stunning, Dreams to vacillate between vignettes which fascinated or bored me to death (my favourites were the segment on Van Gogh and the end segment at the watermill village,) Rhapsody in August was suprisingly lively and dense with shots compared with Dreams (though Americans don't like having their noses rubbed in the radioactive ashes of Nagasaki. At the French premiere of Rhapsody someone is said to have shouted "who started the war, anyway?" My hope is that someone retorted "people like you." Anyway, I quite liked Rhapsody, though the ending with the ironic musical counterpoint didn't work for me,) and Mah-die-die-yah was pleasure from start to finish, with the middle-aged businessmen rampaging and giggling around like adolescents in the midst of getting away with doing something naughty being quite wonderful.
So I think Kurosawa's flame hadn't waned as an Old Director, and neither had Welles' or Kubrick's. I can't speak for Hitchcock as I haven't seen his later films. I think I prefer, however, Kuro-san's Young Director and Middle-aged Director films. They seem to channel more emotion, at least they channel it out of me. And I didn't even like Rashomon, by the way. I was expecting a study of imperfect memory, not a visualization of people lying. Nor did I care for Yojimbo, which is an absudist farce on the Western genre, but pretty well done for all that. For my money, my favourite Kurosawa films (that I've seen) are Drunken Angel, Stray Dog, Ikiru, Seven Samurai, The Lower Depths, High and Low, and Red Beard. They've also added Toshiro Mifune and Takashi Shimura to my list of All Time Favourite Actors.
Kurosawa seems a very Wellesian director. And Welles seems a very Kurosawian director. I don't know if their works informed one another or if they were simply comparable talents and intellects who were both obsessed with John Ford. Welles said he hated seeing films by other directors. I've read Kurosawa loved watching films by other directors. However it came to be, The Lower Depths seems greatly Wellesian and Chimes seems greatly Kurosawian. Roger Ebert has recently called Kurosawa "the greatest of all directors" and Ikiru his greatest film. I think he may be right. Welles bettered Kurosawa in terms of frame composition, they were comparable in terms of camera movements and blocking/choreography of the actors, Welles probably won the editing contest for even attempting things like Fake and TOSOTW, they were comparable directors of actors (though thankfully AK didn't go in the radical direction Welles did for awhile in the 1940s. Glenn Anders in Shanghai, anyone?) and Kurosawa certainly won in the screenwriting department, nearly always co-writing his screenplays with two other people (demoting himself to being only a junior writer on his own films and letting another trusted voice tell him when the script was no good or going astray. Welles might have benefitted from that arrangement as well. Clear story lines and strong dialogue were never his strong point.) Anyway, two of the creme de la creme they were, and their work continues to be.