“Orson Welles at 100”

Orson Welles: Magician, radical and ham

With “Orson Welles at 100” the Northwest Film Center celebrates the great actor/director during the next three weeks


Orson Welles was known as many different things during his 70 years on Earth: boy genius, drunken has-been, radio superstar, theatrical innovator, handsome leading man, grotesque character actor, and, of course, cinematic genius, to name but a few. In fact, it might be easier to name the things he was never known as: compromising, lazy, shy, or small—in any sense of the word.

Welles would have turned 100 this year, and Portland’s Northwest Film Center is throwing a three-week birthday party for the man voted the greatest film director of all time by a British Film Institute poll in 2002. (It’s safe to say no one has emerged in the last thirteen years to challenge him for the title). “Orson Welles at 100” assembles 17 films Welles either acted in or directed and one documentary about him (all beginning with “Citizen Kane” on Saturday, December 12), to offer a panoramic view of one of the most (literally) mercurial careers in American cinema.

Orson Welles in "Touch of Evil." Courtesy of the Northwest Film Center

Orson Welles in “Touch of Evil.” Courtesy of the Northwest Film Center

Of all the descriptors used on Welles, though, it seems to me that there are three primary Orsons, one of which dominates each of his films, though all three are present to some degree in everything he did: The Magician, The Radical, and The Ham.