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The Big Brass Ring

Because of Orson Welles' seemingly interminable battle with the Hollywood studio system, the legendary director made far too few films. Of those that he did complete, some were hacked apart by editors (The Magnificent Ambersons, Touch of Evil) and released without his approval. Others were shot in Europe (Othello, Chimes at Midnight), but on shoestring budgets that could not do justice to the director's vision. And other Welles films simply never got made at all, including The Big Brass Ring, which — until recently — was no more than a screenplay he developed with Oja Kodar not long before his death. Fortunately, director George Hickenlooper was interested enough in The Big Brass Ring to re-work Welles' original script (with the help of F.X. Feeney) and produce his own film for cable television. And, like Welles' landmark Citizen Kane, The Big Brass Ring addresses one of his favorite themes — the nature of power in America, how it is acquired, and how it can be abused. Missouri gubernatorial candidate Blake Pellarin (William Hurt) has gained the attention of the national press as a whiz-kid politician with an independent streak and enough charisma to send him all the way to the White House. But first he has to win the governorship of Missouri, which is a difficult race made even more complicated by an unexpected visit from his past. Orphaned as a young boy, Pellarin was raised by Sen. Kim Mennaker (Nigel Hawthorne), who had groomed the young man for politics at an early age. But Mennaker's re-entry into Pellarin's life — starting with one simple, incriminating photograph — soon creates a downward spiral of threats, blackmail, and distrust, as secrets from Pellarin's personal history threaten to destroy his political viability. Purposefully updated to the year 2000, Hickenlooper and Feeney's adaptation of The Big Brass Ring is both timely and a testament to the prescient vision of Welles, never examining modern-day politics as a debate over public policy or an attempt to capture the hearts and minds of voters, but simply as a high-tech game of "gotcha," with a public eager for scandals, an electronic press more than willing to provide them, and politicians who must go to greater and greater lengths to distance themselves from their past — even if it means distancing themselves from their own humanity. Forget that The Big Brass Ring was made for the Showtime cable network, because it's got some big-screen stars, including Miranda Richardson in a great role as Pellarin's electioneering wife, Iréne Jacob as a TV reporter who must deal with the ethical implications of a breaking story, Hawthorne as the eccentric, gay Sen. Mennaker, and Hurt as Pellarin, in a performance that is equal to anything he has ever done before. Good transfer (1.85:1), Dolby Surround 2.0, commentary track with Hickenlooper and Feeney, deleted scenes, cast and crew notes, trailers for The Big Brass Ring, Arlington Road, and The Winslow Boy. Keep case.

(Editor's note: An early test scene by Hickenlooper from his Big Brass Ring screenplay can be found on Short Cinema Journal 1.2, with Malcolm McDowell in the role of Kim Mennaker.)

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