Symposium at Yale Explores Orson Welles in Europe

A symposium November 30–December 2 at the Yale Whitney Humanities Center, 53 Wall St., will look at the “European period” of filmmaker Orson Welles.

Orson Welles
in “Othello”

Titled “The Transnational Orson Welles,” the symposium will gather film scholars and historians from Europe and America to discuss the life and work of this American icon of stage and screen during his two decades (1949–1969) of European exile. The discussions will be illustrated with video and film from some of Welles’ rarely seen projects from this period.

The son of a successful inventor father and concert pianist mother, Welles was identified as a child prodigy while still a toddler. He was schooled in Shakespeare, trained as a musician and self-taught as a magician early in his life and made his professional stage debut in Dublin at 16. By 1935, Welles had become a well-known radio actor in New York. In 1936, the all-black production of “Macbeth” that Welles staged for the Public Works Federal Theatre Project proved a milestone in African-American theater history and established him, at the age of 20, as a leading director.

His first feature film “Citizen Kane,” often hailed as “the greatest American movie ever made,” earned the filmmaker his reputation as a “creative genius.” Welles directed, wrote (with Herman Mankiewicz) and played the lead role in this 1941 screen epic based on the life of press baron William Randolph Hearst. Neither “Citizen Kane” nor his later masterpiece “The Magnificent Ambersons” was financially successful, and another documentary project he originally undertook for the government, “It’s All True,” was a financial failure from which he could not recover. In 1948, in debt for unpaid taxes, Welles left the United States for Europe.

European scholars, including Stefan Drössler, director of the Munich Film Archive, will join several American Welles scholars to explore both the European sensibility of this iconic American figure and the perception of him that Europeans developed at the time and maintain today. Among the films Welles produced during his exile are Shakespeare’s “Othello”; Kafka’s “The Trial”; Isak Dineson’s “The Immortal Story”; “Chimes at Midnight,” based on the Shakespearean character Falstaff, played by Welles; Mr. Arkadin, a thriller that Welles wrote, directed and starred in, opposite Akim Tamiroff; “F for Fake,” about the famed art forger Elmyr de Hory, which Welles wrote with his companion, the Croatian actress Oja Kodar; and the ambitious but unfinished “Don Quixote.”

The symposium will begin on Thursday, 7 p.m. with a talk by Yale scholar Scott Newstok, “Adapting Othello; Adapting to Europe,” which will be followed by an 8 p.m. video screening of “Filming Othello.” Friday’s sessions will begin at 10 a.m. with a video screening of an episode from “Orson Welles’ Sketch Book” and will end with two film screenings: “F for Fake” at 7 p.m. and “Mr. Arkadin” at 9 p.m. Saturday’s events include a 9:30 – 10 a.m. showing of “Portrait of Gina,” followed by a panel discussion of the auteur as seen through “F for Fake” and “It’s All True.” There will be a rare public screening of the feature film “The Immortal Story” at 3:15 p.m. The event will end on Saturday night with a screening of “Chimes at Midnight,” at 8:30 p.m.

The symposium is sponsored by the Film Studies Program, the Whitney Humanities Center, the Council on European Studies, the Edward J. and Dorothy Clarke Kempf Fund, as well as by the departments of English, Comparative Literature and Spanish and Portuguese.

All events take place at the Whitney Humanities Center and are free and open to the public. For a complete schedule, visit

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