Sunday, January 3, 2010

Orson Welles: The Making, Undoing and Remaking of A Legend, Part Two


"They may turn their backs on me now, but you wait and see, darling girl...they're going to love me when I'm dead."--Orson Welles to his daughter Christina shortly before his death in 1985.  

Welles was a great prognosticator of his own reputation.  He was indeed snubbed by a multitude of producers and younger filmmakers (One famous producer-director, who praised Welles to the skies after he died and even bought one of the sleds used as "Rosebud" in "Citizen Kane", refused to help lend any help to the man who inspired him to make his own version of a film based on a famous radio play, according to a book called "Citizen Welles" by Frank Brady.

 According to Brady, "The young multi-millionaire even left him to pay the tab at the restaurant they dined in!" 

 But it might be wrong to blame Mr. Steven Spielberg   too much or that--much lesser Hollywood producers did pretty much the same thing. That's why the man who made the greatest film of the 20th Century couldn't direct a film in America after "Touch of Evil" was finished in 1958.    

In my first part of this blog, I wrote that I considered Orson Welles, arguably the greatest artist-performer Ameirca produced in the mid-20 Century, was a one man double-act. The American Da Vinci and The Old Fat Man.  

The first Welles was the man who was revered as a maverick film director and showman, a tireless entertainer who wrote his own screenplays and television scripts, worked on his own films whenever he made enough money to get a crew together in some location (usually in Europe or Morocco) and financed his work mainly by appearing in commercials and in cameo roles in other director's work.   

Then there was the other part of the act: Orson Welles the celebrity Old Fat Man, a sort of sideshow Sir John Falstaff, ironically one of his greatest roles from the movie "Falstaff: Chimes at Midnight" (1965):  the man who had to sell everything from  frozen peas to photocopiers to cheap domestic wine to make ends meet.  He was also the rotund man who did magic tricks on talk shows and seemed to be a walking relic; he was also the butt of jokes by lesser talents like those great American chat show hacks Johnny Carson and Tom Snyder of NBC.   It is the second public Welles, I would argue, that was a strange disservice to a man who should have been given more honor in his own land.      

  Here's Welles hawking wine in what became his most famous endorsement. It would be good to say this work--which he undertook in part to keep his name before the public--earned him a plum job directing a major feature film or at least a  part in a film worthy of his stature.  But it was not to be. 

The second clip is a CBC interview.  Although the interviewer is too critical to suit my taste, he does illicit from Welles a frank assessment of his career as he was reaching his older years. What the older man says about his critics is in the main true: he was a prophet without honor in his own country and often in England as well. 

The third clip is where "they'll love me when I'm dead" comes true, as he predicted. In 1995, Universal spent a lot of money to restore Welles film noir classic, "Touch of Evil", to the original way he intended it to open, as well as restoring many of his editorial suggestions he made after the film was taken away from him by the original studio bosses.  

The clip is a stunning three-minute one-take masterpiece!  

  It actually made money on its re-release, the first Welles movie to get a decent release in America in forty years. But why couldn't they have done it in 1975 or 1980?  



  1. Wow, what a genius. And I believe he was also a product endorsing forerunner for what all famous actors and actresses do these days without even blinking an eye. Just look at how much Nescafe George Clooney sells these days. ;¬D IMO, Orson Wells gave that bottle of wine a 'touch of class' that would make almost anyone go out and buy it. I know I sure would have if I was of drinking age back then!

    I also laughed at his interview when he bluntly said he didn't consume and clutter his thoughts with what others said about him. Doesn't that truly put a damper on the creative spirit and waste a lot of the (most often always) sensitive artist's emotions? Once again, the true genius of Wells was tapped into without, IMO, even being realised at the time. TY for this great presentation, Doug!

  2. You're very welcome Red. I agree wholeheartedly with your critique.

  3. Loved Citizen Kane. It's in my Top 100 List of Greatest Movies ever.

  4. "You're superficial and since 'Kane', the work hasn't been memorable?" Talk about ambush interviewing
    I'm amazed at how well Orson Welles handled that interviewer. Indeed, Red, I agree his commercials at least gave us a chance to see how a real showman could handle so pedestrian a spot and make it memorable. He would have probably been great making short films for You Tube I think.

    But I think, in a nutshell, he was calloused to the reaction he got in North America and England (not always, but often). It's only in death it seems that he was been appreciated and the naysayers and crtitics have made way for those who discuss his work in full.

    Thanks for your comments Red.

  5. Very fitting indeed. That's one film that's 100% of Orson Welles' vision and really deserves all its plaudits Frank.

  6. " It actually made money on its re-release, the first Welles movie to get a decent release in America in forty years. But why couldn't they have done it in 1975 or 1980?"
    Because he wasn't dead yet!

  7. Yes, Jacquie, that is the correct answer!

  8. I'm sorry, I just couldn't resist that!