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Film

Orson Welles once named the "saddest film ever made"

The legacy of Orson Welles, especially for younger generations, is often unfortunately limited to the extensive mythology of Citizen Kane. Welles’ directorial debut feature is still cited as the greatest film ever made, especially because of the film’s contributions towards the development of the auteur theory and its influence on other movements like the French New Wave.

While Gregg Toland’s use of deep focus and other stylistic elements were not invented while making Citizen Kane, it ended up exploring the visual potential of the cinematic medium because it managed to utilise all these techniques from various filmmaking traditions to form one coherent artistic vision. Years later, critics such as Jean-Luc Godard and François Truffaut were inspired by the mastery of Welles and embarked on their own filmmaking journey.

However, many have also noted that Citizen Kane wasn’t even the best work by Welles in his illustrious career. In addition to making spectacular masterpieces such as Touch of Evil and starring in what is probably the greatest film noir ever made – The Third Man, critical re-evaluations have insisted that the finest film Welles ever made was his 1965 work Chimes at Midnight.

Over the course of a fascinating career, Welles was often very critical of the directors around him. He was not a fan of Alfred Hitchcock and referred to him as “senile” and was disgusted by the theatrical self-deprecating humour of Woody Allen. While Godard had a lot of respect for Welles, the American pioneer did not feel the same way at all and claimed that he could never take Godard seriously.

Despite the fact that Welles had a lot of contempt for some of the most acclaimed filmmakers in history, there was one particular gem that moved him so much that he referred to it as the most depressing cinematic experience of all time. Now regarded as one of the great American classics, the film that affected Welles was an anomaly when it first came out.

The film in question is Leo McCarey’s 1937 magnum opus Make Way for Tomorrow, a moving dramatic work that focuses on the obsolescence of an old couple whose children do not want to take care of them after they are evicted from their own house. It ended up serving as the basis for another great cinematic masterpiece – Yasujirō Ozu’s seminal gem Tokyo Story.

When Peter Bogdanovich asked Welles whether he had seen the film, Welles responded: “Oh my god! That’s the saddest movie ever made. It would make a stone cry.” He was very mad about the fact that very few people saw it but at the time, most audiences weren’t interested in hearing about the plight of the old. That is why Make Way for Tomorrow has become one of the definitive films on the subject of ageing and consequently, the human condition.

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