"This is Orson Welles", Orson Welles & Peter Bogdanovich


Orson Welles (1915-1985) is today remembered for being the author of what is arguably the "best film of all-time", but his artistic career wasn’t easy and involved a series of struggles that could have discouraged anyone. The son of a pianist and an inventor, he was exposed to the fine arts since an early age. He began his professional career as a painter in Ireland (where he sold his paintings on a donkey cart) and as a theatre actor for the Gate Theatre in Dublin. From then, he went to radio with peculiar results (his adaptation of War of the Worlds provoked a mass hysteria - altough its dimension is still debatable - in the American population at the time, who really thought that the Earth was being invaded by Martians), and finally to the studios of the RKO to make Citizen Kane (1941). There, with the precious collaboration of Gregg Toland, he showed his cinematographic experimentalism, developing a baroque visual technique of low angles, great depth of field and exposed ceilings, a style that had enthusiastic admirers such as theorist and Cahiers du Cinéma co-creator André Bazin. Welles was a director-producer-scriptwriter-actor and made the film in complete freedom, with all Hollywood facilities. Unfortunately, it was the first and last time that these circumstances would occur to Welles. His next film, The Magnificient Ambersons (1942) had the unfortunate chance of having seen Orson Welles dragged out of post-production, as the Office for Inter-American Affairs demanded RKO and Welles to make a documentary in Brazil (It's All True) with the purpose of promoting good diplomatic relations with the country. As such, the producers of RKO made an opportunistic use of the Ambersons material, that was subjected to length mutilations and audience tests that led to the film being reduced from its original 132 minutes to 87, without Welles having the opportunity to fight for the original version. Also, a myth was created about Welles, seeing him as a figure of a difficult, extravagant and megalomaniacal personality that damaged, in an irreversible way, his filmic career.

From then on came Welles's haunted journey, with producers interfering, in a discouraging way, in the final version of his films [Mr Arkadin (1955), Touch of Evil (1958)] and lack of financing that forced Welles to make a masterful use of his logistical capacities (the absence of money for wardrobe in Othello (1951) led him to do a scene in a Turkish bath, with some of the actors covered only by towels). Not only that, but also a series of projects that never came to be complete by the filmmaker, like his Don Quixote (there was an abominable version edited in 1992 by Jess Franco that does not respect Welles’s artistic intentions, having made an addition of material - some filmed by Franco himself - that should never have been part of the film). One of them, and his last film, is The Other Side of the Wind (Welles edited only 40 minutes, and the team assembled a rough cut of 3 hours), which is expected to debut commercially in November 2018 after a multi-year legal fight and a search for financing that only came in the last few years.

This is Orson Welles is the collection of interviews that Peter Bogdanovich made to the filmmaker over several years, talking about the various biographical aspects that help to ascertain the truth about the myth that has hit (and hurt) Welles. Also, they go through the three areas where Welles left indelible marks (radio, theater, cinema) as well as his work on television, painting and his long career as a magician. It also includes an extensive chronology of his life and the original screenplay for The Magnificient Ambersons. Edited by the great film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum.

Excerpts:
OW: [On Citizen Kane] (...) Everybody wants a contract like that. Director-producer-writer-actor with absolute artistic control. Imagine! A certain amount of outrage always goes with hitting a gusher. Here was the unique gusher of all time – what everybody’s always wanted – and here was a fellow who’d never even been in a movie who had it!
PB: Did you contractually have the right to the final cut?
OW: For the first time in the industry’s history. And the important thing was that nobody, but nobody, could even see the rushes or come on the set.”

PB: That’s the thing you admire most, isn’t it? That and gallantry. Isn’t Ambersons as much a story of the end of chivalry – the end of gallantry – as Chimes at Midnight?
OW: Peter, what interest me is the idea of these dated old virtues. And why they still seem to speak to us when, by all logic, they’re so hopelessly irrelevant. That’s why I’ve been obsessed so long with Don Quixote.”

OW: [On the original version of The Magnificient Ambersons] You see, the basic intention was to portray a golden world – almost one of memory – and then show what it turns into. Having set up this dream town of the “good old days”, the whole point was to show the automobile wrecking it – not only the family but the town. All this is out. What’s left is only the first six reels. Then there’s a kind of arbitrary bringing down the curtain by a series of clumsy, quick devices. The bad, black world was supposed to be too much for people.”

Link to the complete book in PDF:

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