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."

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