Going to the Welles

A new film that can claim, even tenuously, to be "by Orson Welles" doesn't come along every day. The Big Brass Ring isn't by Welles, really; it's a new work by the admired director George Hickenlooper, best known for his classic documentary chronicle Hearts of Darkness and the short Some Folks Call It a Sling Blade, which eventually was adapted into Billy Bob Thornton's Sling Blade. But The Big Brass Ring is based on an unproduced screenplay by Welles and Oja Kodar, and it's a fascinating look, several years and several artists removed, at the Wellesian genius.

It's a florid political melodrama about an independent candidate for governor of Missouri (William Hurt) whose past comes back to haunt him, in the form of his creepy old mentor (Nigel Hawthorne), a kingmaker who holds the secret to the candidate's dark, Conradian relationship with his brother. Hurt sees a gorgeous young TV reporter (Irene Jacob) closing in on the truth, and starts a relationship with her, maybe in sincerity, or maybe to disarm her, or maybe both.

The meat of the story seems a bit dated in the post-Monica era, it must be admitted, but the dialogue is sly, and the actors seem to enjoy themselves. Hurt, in particular, has a splendid world-weary quality, and Miranda Richardson has a high old time as the pissed-off, martini-swilling wife. Hickenlooper's compositions are full of Wellesian deep-focus flourishes, and there are some very sweet homages. For instance: The plot hinges on the identity of a person named "Raymond Romero," and when the reporter asks Hurt if the name means anything to him, he quips: "When I was a kid there was a sled, and on the sled was the name Raymond Romero."

William Hurt in The Big Brass Ring.
William Hurt in The Big Brass Ring.

Hickenlooper himself, who also visited the Valley last year for a screening of his film Dog Town, is scheduled to be present for a special screening of The Big Brass Ring, and for an in-person Q&A after the screening, which is presented by the Arizona Film Society's "Phoenix Independent Cinema Series" (PICS). It starts at 7:30 p.m. Monday, August 16, at AMC Arizona Center 24, Third Street and Van Buren. Tickets are $6, $5 for AFS members, seniors and students. It's worth a look. For details call 602-970-8711. -- M.V. Moorhead

 
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