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Discovering Orson Welles

Discovering Orson Welles

Jonathan Rosenbaum
Copyright Date: 2007
Edition: 1
Pages: 346
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  • Book Info
    Discovering Orson Welles
    Book Description:

    Of the dozens of books written about Orson Welles, most focus on the central enigma of Welles's career: why did someone so extravagantly talented neglect to finish so many projects? Film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum has long believed that to dwell on this aspect of the Welles canon is to overlook the wealth of information available by studying the unrealized works.Discovering Orson Wellescollects Rosenbaum's writings to date on Welles-some thirty-five years of them-and makes an irrefutable case for the seriousness of his work, illuminating both Welles the artist and Welles the man. The book is also a chronicle of Rosenbaum's highly personal writer's journey and his efforts to arrive at the truth. The essays, interviews, and reviews are arranged chronologically and are accompanied by commentary that updates the scholarship. Highlights include Rosenbaum's 1972 interview with Welles about his first Hollywood project,Heart of Darkness;Rosenbaum's rebuttal to Pauline Kael's famous essay "Raising Kane"; detailed essays and comprehensive discussions of Welles's major unfinished work, including two unrealized projects,The Big Brass RingandThe Cradle Will Rock;and an account of Rosenbaum's work as consultant on the 1998 re-editing ofTouch of Evil,based on a studio memo by Welles.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-94071-0
    Subjects: Film Studies

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-15)

    Bill Krohn’s cautionary words inCahiers du cinéma’s special“hors série”Orson Welles issue in 1986 offer a useful motto for the present collection of essays, whose own title,Discovering Orson Welles,suggests an ongoing process that necessarily rules out completion and closure—the two mythical absolutes that Welles enthusiasts and scholars seem to hunger for the most. Accepting this ground rule is a prerequisite for understanding both the form and content of what follows: a chronological and historically minded ordering of still-evolving research, and one that considers the very notion of a “definitive” view of Welles an ideological and...

  5. 1 I Missed It at the Movies: Objections to “Raising kane”
    (pp. 16-27)

    Although these words are used by Pauline Kael to describe CITIZEN KANE, in a long essay introducing the film’s script, they might apply with greater rigor to her own introduction. Directly after the above quote, she makes it clear that KANE is “kitschredeemed,” and this applies to her essay as well: backed by impressive research, loaded with entertaining nuggets of gossip and social history, and written with a great deal of dash and wit, “Raising kane” is a work that has much to redeem it. As a bedside anecdote collection, it is easily the equal ofThe Minutes of...

  6. 2 The Voice and the Eye: A Commentary on the HEART OF DARKNESS Script
    (pp. 28-48)

    Last July, a week before the completion of this article, I had the unexpected privilege of meeting Welles for lunch in Paris, where he was busy editing a new film entitled HOAX, which has something to do with the Clifford Irving / Howard Hughes scandal. (“Not a documentary,” Welles assured me, but “a new kind of a film”—although he didn’t elaborate.) As other commentators have observed, the search for the truth about any Welles project is an endless trip through a labyrinth; possibly no other living director has been the subject of so many conflicting accounts, in large matters...

  7. 3 Notes on a Conversation with Welles
    (pp. 49-50)

    In the course of a conversation with Orson Welles about his HEART OF DARKNESS script, which is detailed elsewhere in this issue, I asked Welles about his more recent projects. Since a great deal of speculation has been circulating about these projects, the following details may be of some interest:

    THE DEEP—which was shot in Yugoslavia, 1967–69, in Eastman Color, starring Welles, Jeanne Moreau, and Laurence Harvey—is completed, but Welles prefers to hold it back for the time being, waiting until he has released something else first. He describes it as a “melodrama,” adding that “it won’t...

  8. 4 First Impressions of F FOR FAKE
    (pp. 51-53)

    [. . .] A last-minute flash: Less than 24 hours after writing the above, I was able to attend a private screening of fake, a remarkable new film by Orson Welles. I’m afraid at least one or two more viewings of the film will be necessary before I can determine whether it’s merely the least boring film I’ve seen in months or a great deal more than that. For the moment, steeped in the decidedly un-objective afterglow of sheer admiration, I can only stammer out a few points:

    (1) FAKE concerns art forgery in general; Elmyr de Hory, Clifford Irving,...

  9. 5 The Butterfly and the Whale: Orson Welles’s F FOR FAKE
    (pp. 54-58)

    A tale is told of a lecture delivered on Orson Welles at the Cuban Cinematheque, sometime during the mid-fifties. The speaker is G. Cabrera Infante, who later went on to write a remarkable novel set in Havana during the Batista period,Three Trapped Tigers.It is announced that the lecture will be given in two parts, on successive weeks. An audience gathers for Part One; Cabrera Infante steps up to the podium and delivers it: “Orson Welles is a whale.” Then he steps down.

    General consternation and outrage. Due to the uproar about the event, an even greater number of...

  10. 6 Prime Cut (The 107-Minute TOUCH OF EVIL)
    (pp. 59-61)

    In its broad outlines, the footage missing from the 1958 release version of touch of evil has never exactly been a secret: after a festival screening of the film in Brussels, Orson Welles described the major deletions to Charles Bitsch inCahiers du cinémano. 87. Nor has it ever been assumed that these cuts were nearly as serious as those suffered by the magnificent ambersons. Nevertheless, it was good to have a chance to see for oneself—an opportunity afforded by the recent appearance in England of the original 107-minute version, in the Universal season at the NFT and...

  11. 7 André Bazin and the Politics of Sound in TOUCH OF EVIL
    (pp. 62-66)

    André Bazin’s defense of Orson Welles’s Hank Quinlan in touch of evil, which I had the job of translating a few years ago, shocked me at the time for what seemed to verge on a fascist argument in the midst of a humanist discourse. Acknowledging, with his customary scrupulousness, that his moral interpretation differs from that of Welles, Bazin implies that Quinlan is justified in his framing of suspects, not only because “without him . . . the guilty would pass for innocent,” but also because of his innate superiority:

    Quinlan is physically monstrous, but is he morally monstrous as...

  12. 8 The Invisible Orson Welles: A First Inventory
    (pp. 67-89)

    It seems typical of the misunderstandings which plagued Orson Welles’s life that he died, as a working artist, in almost total obscurity. The director of citizen kane, to be sure, taped a lengthy TV talk-show appearance the day before he died which summarized a substantial portion of his career—as magician, actor, director, one-time political aspirant, show-biz personality, and, most recently, the subject of a biography by Barbara Leaming. Yet such is the nature of our media and its discreet omissions that this generous glimpse of Welles failed even to hint at the artistic activity that consumed the last two...

  13. 9 Reviews of Biographies by Barbara Leaming and Charles Higham and a Critical Edition of TOUCH OF EVIL
    (pp. 90-98)

    If Orson Welles had been chiefly known as a composer, poet, playwright, novelist, painter, or sculptor, it is an open question, at least, whether any notion of artistic or moral decline would ever have attached itself to his name. Over the forty-six years that comprised his career as a filmmaker, it appears that there was hardly ever a time when he was not actively pursuing or working on a film project of his own; the very week that he died, he was working directly on at least four of his own features, and he even died while typing stage directions...

  14. 10 Afterword to THE BIG BRASS RING, a Screenplay by Orson Welles (with Oja Kodar)
    (pp. 99-114)

    The rift between public and private life that figures so prominently in the work of Orson Welles, from CITIZEN KANE to THE BIG BRASS RING, is ironically a factor that has tended to obscure substantial portions of his own life and work. An intensely private man himself, in spite—or should one say because?—of his expansive public image, especially during the latter portion of his life, Welles played Menaker to his own Pellarin (and vice versa) in more ways than one. While he remained in the public eye throughout his career, principally as an actor and performer, a large...

  15. 11 Wellesian: Quixote in a Trashcan (New York University Welles Conference)
    (pp. 115-119)

    “I earn a good living and get a lot of work because of this ridiculous myth about me,” Orson Welles told Kenneth Tynan in the mid-60s. “But the price of it is that when I try to do something serious, something I care about, a great many critics don’t review that particular work, but me in general. They write their standard Welles piece. It’s either the good piece or the bad piece, but they’re both fairly standard.”

    Standard Welles pieces were for once not the main bill of fare at a major Welles retrospective and conference held last May at...

  16. 12 Reviews of Citizen Welles and a Critical Edition of CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT
    (pp. 120-125)

    In overall approach as well as attitude, Frank Brady’s hefty (655-page) and readable Welles biography represents a certain advance over the previous efforts of Barbara Leaming and Charles Higham, which I reviewed in these pages exactly three years ago. Eschewing the gossip of Leaming and the petty malice of Higham, Brady concentrates on Welles’s work and career almost exclusively, with a balanced sympathy towards his subject that avoids either special pleading or thesis mongering. The book’s jacket informs us that Brady, who has also written biographies of Bobby Fischer, Aristotle Onassis, and Barbra Streisand, worked on this one for a...

  17. 13 Review of Orson Welles: A Bio-Bibliography
    (pp. 126-128)

    Issued without dust wrappers and priced beyond the range of most individuals, this 364-page book is clearly intended for libraries, and not likely to get much attention outside of specialized publications. But as a multifaceted research tool for anyone investigating the career of Orson Welles it is a veritable godsend—more valuable in some ways than any of the Welles biographies published so far.

    Not counting introduction, endnotes, index, a skeletal Welles chronology, an invaluable section devoted to special sources, and ten well-chosen illustrations, the book is divided into eight sections: Biographical Sketch, Theatre Credits, Radio Credits, Film Credits, Welles...

  18. 14 Orson Welles’s Essay Films and Documentary Fictions: A Two-Part Speculation
    (pp. 129-145)

    Two propositions:

    1. One of the most progressive forms of cinema is the film in which fiction and nonfiction merge, trade places, become interchangeable.

    2. One of the most reactionary forms of cinema is the film in which fiction and nonfiction merge, trade places, become interchangeable.

    How can both of these statements be true—as, in fact, I believe they are? In the final analysis, the issue is an ethical one. In support of 2, there are docudramas that use spurious means to grant bogus authenticity to fiction (MISSISSIPPI BURNING is a good example), and documentaries that employ fictional devices in order...

  19. 15 The Seven ARKADINS
    (pp. 146-162)

    It’s generally known that, for a variety of reasons, some of the films of Orson Welles survive today in two or more versions. James Naremore has told me he once saw a print of THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI in Germany that included alternate takes of certain scenes and somewhat different editing, plus a few shots he hadn’t seen before or since. (This sounds roughly comparable to the “Italian” version of Stroheim’s FOOLISH WIVES, apparently sent overseas before the domestic version was completed.) Better known are Welles’s two separate versions of MACBETH, running 107 minutes and 86 minutes. (The second...

  20. 16 OTHELLO Goes Hollywood
    (pp. 163-174)

    I guess this describes the official Orson Welles we’re all supposed to love and revere. The ad demonstrates how even the recalcitrance of a wasted and abused artist can wind up as a handy marketing tool. Chrysler, a corporation that never would have dreamed of sustaining, much less supporting, Welles as an artist when he was alive—and surely wouldn’t pay a tenth of what this ad cost to help make his unseen legacy available today—proudly invites us to join it in celebrating his artistry. Clearly they’re onto something: loads of money can be made sustaining our self-applause for...

    (pp. 175-187)

    As perverse as it sounds, the work of art that IT’S ALL TRUE: BASED ON AN UNFINISHED FILM BY ORSON WELLES most calls to mind—my mind, anyway—is Vladimir Nabokov’s 1962 novelPale Fire.Discounting its tricky foreword and index, this literary tour de force consists of a 27-page, 999-line poem by the fictional dead poet John Shade, followed by 160 pages of annotation by the probably insane and certainly unreliable Charles Kinbote. By contrast, IT’S ALL TRUE consists of about half an hour of entertaining, accurate, and altogether sane commentary on Orson Welles’s ill-fated, three-part feature of that...

  22. 18 Afterword to THE CRADLE WILL ROCK, an Original Screenplay by Orson Welles
    (pp. 188-200)

    It somehow seems fitting that in order to piece together Orson Welles’s autobiography, we have to turn to his creative work. The unceasing desire and energy to produce that coursed through the seventy years of his life, and literally kept him occupied until his final moments, crowded out the opportunity to recount his life in tranquility, at least in any complete form, yielding only a series of tantalizing fragments. There’s a moving account in F FOR FAKE (1973) of how, in Dublin at the age of sixteen, he launched his professional career as an actor, and FILMING OTHELLO (1979) describes...

  23. 19 Orson Welles in the U.S.: An Exchange with Bill Krohn
    (pp. 201-235)

    October 1, 1993

    Dear Bill,

    I estimate it’s been about two years since you wrote Serge a letter for the first issue ofTrafic,the last part of which was concerned with several anticipated developments concerning “the invisible Orson Welles.” By 1992, you correctly predicted, versions of DON QUIXOTE and a “restored” OTHELLO would be appearing, and the interviews with Welles conducted by Peter Bogdanovich in 1969 and 1970, which I had been editing since the late 1980s, would be published. You were also looking forward to the publication of Welles’s unrealized script for THE CRADLE WILL ROCK, written a...

  24. 20 The Battle over Orson Welles
    (pp. 236-247)

    Two prevailing and diametrically opposed attitudes seem to dictate the way most people currently think about Orson Welles. One attitude, predominantly American, sees his life and career chiefly in terms of failure and regards the key question to be why he never lived up to his promise—“his promise” almost invariably being tied up with the achievement of citizen kane. Broadly speaking, this position can be compared to that of the investigative reporter Thompson’s editor in citizen kane, bent on finding a single formula for explaining a man’s life. The other attitude—less monolithic and less tied to any...

  25. 21 TOUCH OF EVIL Retouched
    (pp. 248-257)

    It all started with a book I was editing in the early 90s,This Is Orson Welles,by Orson Welles and Peter Bogdanovich—an extended interview interlaced with various documents about Welles’s career. One of the most fascinating of these documents was an edited version of a 58-page memo written by Welles on December 5, 1957 after a single viewing of the studio rough cut of TOUCH OF EVIL, his last Hollywood picture. Addressed to Universal studio head Edward Muhl, the memo was a plea for certain changes in sound and editing in a cut that had been partially prepared...

  26. 22 Excerpt from “Problems of Access: On the Trail of Some Festival Films and Filmmakers” (On TOUCH OF EVIL)
    (pp. 258-260)

    TOUCH OF EVIL (Cannes, Toronto, Ann Arbor, Torino, Rotterdam). The reconfiguration of Welles’s film based on forty-eight changes in sound and editing derived from a fifty-eight-page memo that he wrote to Universal studio head Edward Muhl in 1957 is scheduled to premiere in Cannes. But unfortunately this is planned to take place in the smallest auditorium in the Palais for a few hundred VIPs, most of them American. So I’m mainly glad when the spurious claims and legal threats of Welles’s daughter Beatrice persuade Gilles Jacob—who doesn’t have the time while directing the festival to check the facts of...

  27. 23 Welles in the Lime Light: THE THIRD MAN
    (pp. 261-268)

    Ironically, the most successful and beloved movie Orson Welles was ever associated with—and the one that may have had the most significant effect on the remainder of his career—has not been one of his own. Admittedly, CITIZEN KANE has more prestige, but that’s a relatively recent development; for the first quarter of a century after it was made, it was criticized as “uncinematic” in the few standard works of film history available, such asThe Liveliest ArtandThe Film Till Now.Instead it was THE THIRD MAN (1950) that was most often cited with pleasure when Welles’s...

  28. 24 Orson Welles as Ideological Challenge
    (pp. 269-288)

    During my almost thirty years as a professional film critic, I’ve developed something of a sideline—not so much by design as through a combination of passionate interest and particular opportunities—devoted to researching the work and career of Orson Welles. Though I wouldn’t necessarily call him my favorite filmmaker, he remains the most fascinating for me, both due to the sheer size of his talent, and the ideological force of his work and his working methods. These continue to pose an awesome challenge to what I’ve been calling throughout this book [i.e.,Movie Wars] the media-industrial complex.

    In more than...

  29. 25 Orson Welles’s Purloined Letter: F FOR FAKE
    (pp. 289-295)

    There were plenty of advantages to living in Paris in the early 1970s, especially if one was a movie buff with time on one’s hands. The Parisian film world is relatively small, and simply being on the fringes of it afforded some exciting opportunities, even for a writer like myself who’d barely published. Leaving the Cinémathèque at the Palais de Chaillot one night, I was invited to be an extra in a Robert Bresson film that was being shot a few blocks away. And in early July 1972, while writing forFilm Commentabout Orson Welles’s first Hollywood project, heart...

  30. 26 When Will—and How Can—We Finish Orson Welles’s DON QUIXOTE?
    (pp. 296-308)

    I’d like to dedicate these remarks to the memory of Henri Langlois, who in the early 1970s programmed Orson Welles’s don quixote as one of the first films to be shown at the New York Cinémathèque, which was never built.

    When Orson Welles died in 1985, he left many of his films unfinished. Each one was unfinished in a different way and for somewhat different reasons, because, to the despair of anyone who has ever tried to market his work, no two Welles films are alike. Some of the unfinished ones aren’t even regarded as such because people other than...

  31. Appendix: The Present State of the Welles Film Legacy
    (pp. 309-322)
  32. Index
    (pp. 323-336)
  33. Back Matter
    (pp. 337-337)