Public radio station KQED in California is presenting a radio show looking at the history of the infamous "War of the Worlds" episode of The Mercury Theater on the Air. The show will be presented twice, once tomorrow (2/16) at 1 PM, and on 2/20 at 8 PM (these are Pacific times, by the way). You can listen to them on their site, so check it out.
Archive for February, 2008
Hey, if you haven't seen this news on the message board, look to the right hand column for the "Welles Multimedia Online" link under the conveniently titled "Pages" section. This page has been put together by message board member Store Hadji, and contains links to just about everything Welles-related on the web that can be watched or listened to.
Fake? is a labored and dispiriting jape... No more than a home movie, an indulgent, desperate bit of trick editing; for Welles's sake I hope that it is quickly forgotten.
—Stephen Farber, Film Comment July, 1974
F For Fake is a talentless concoction of unparalleled ineptitude... It would have been a more generous gesture to show a retrospective of old Welles films rather than remind everyone of how low his ability as a filmmaker has plummeted.
—Rex Reed, New York Daily News Sept 26, 1975
F For Fake was commercially and critically successful everywhere but here at home. Small-time, amateur distribution and some poor reviews in the smaller cities rendered it virtually invisible in America. This came as a shock to me, because I thought I’d opened up a new movie form—the essay as opposed to the documentary—which would give me lots of scope for future experimentation and would cost little enough, so financing wouldn’t be a problem.
In attempting to explain F For Fake’s state-side failure, it has occurred to me that perhaps the subject matter was at least partially to blame, and that this country is so blissfully enslaved by the notion of the special sanctity of the expert that an overtly anti-expert film was bound to go too much against the national grain.
—Orson Welles, 1983
By Lawrence French
After listening to Gary Graver's informative commentary with Bill Krohn on Eureka's splendid UK edition DVD of F For Fake, I looked at some old reviews and was rather shocked to see how vituperative the comments were. As can be seen from just two of the quotes above, it's not that reviewers just didn't like the film, but their attitude seemed to be "how dare Welles try to make anything so radical or different." While there were some glowing comments as well, the overall trend seemed to be that F For Fake was a decidedly "minor" Welles effort, certainly not worthy of the talented director of Citizen Kane.
The difference between the spacecrafts of NASA and the lurid flying sorceries of that old radio show War of the Worlds is the difference between science and science fiction, and yes, War and Peace.
It’s our own world that has turned out to be the interplanetary visitor. We are the ones who are moving, out there – not with death rays, but with cameras. Not to conqueror, but simply to learn. We are in fact, behaving ourselves, far better out there, than we ever have back home on our own planet.
—Orson Welles in WHO'S OUT THERE
Here’s another fascinating Orson Welles piece, a half hour film shot by Gary Graver for NASA and producer Robert Drew in 1975, two years after Republican President Richard Nixon had the IRS audit Welles' income taxes and then resigned in disgrace after failing to pay his own taxes!
Exactly where this film was shown is something of a mystery, as it seems to have fallen off the radar in most of Welles filmography listings. However, it is certainly a fascinating piece, featuring as it does, Welles expounding details about his War of the Worlds radio broadcast, nearly 40 years later, as well as Welles talking about the possibilities of life on other planets in the Universe. There is no end credit for any writers, but it seems likely that Welles added his own touches to his narration, especially when it came to talking about his own adventures during his 1938 broadcast of War of the Worlds.
Who are the experts? Elmyr de Hory had dramatized the question of whether or not art exists. It has always existed, but today I believe that man cannot escape his destiny to create whatever it is we make—jazz, a wooden spoon, or graffiti on the wall. All of these are expressions of man's creativity, proof that man has not yet been destroyed by technology. But are we making things for the people of our epoch or repeating what has been done before? And finally, is the question itself important? We must ask ourselves that. The most important thing is always to doubt the importance of the question.
Thanks to "Store" and "Ste" for the information in the message board thread about Eureka's Masters of Cinema UK version of F For Fake. I actually contributed some F For Fake material to Craig Keller, who designed the beautiful 40-page full color booklet that comes with the DVD (which is far superior to Criterion's skimpy little booklet), but when I received a copy of the Eureka DVD, I somehow never got around to looking at it, since I had just recently watched the Criterion version. But after reading Ste's report about the hidden "Easter egg" on the Eureka disc, I quickly gave it a look for the first time and I must say that this hidden feature alone, makes the UK version a must have DVD. Here you get to see Welles mini-masterpiece of a trailer, restored to all it's glory in beautiful color by the Munich film archive, which is far superior to the awful version on the Criterion disc. As Bill Krohn notes in his commentary talk with Gary Graver, he likes the trailer more than the movie! So having it restored in gorgeous color is really something quite special.
We all know Orson Welles never won as Oscar as best director, but let's face it, given all the great directors who haven't won Oscars, it's really more of a honor to be on the long list of Oscar losers than among those who have actually won. Besides Welles, the list includes Hitchcock, Hawks, Kubrick, Lang, Penn, Ray, Sirk, Preminger, Altman etc., etc.
However, what is far more shocking to me is how Welles is still so unhonored in America, compared to all the tributes that have been heaped on him in Europe. In Kenosha, Wisconsin you might think they would have the sense to erect a statue to an American Master, but apparently nobody living there cares about such trivial things.
Thankfully, our European friends are much friendlier to the memory of Welles and his accomplishments. Quite by chance, when I was in Jerez, Spain, in 2006, Jose Luis Jimenez, the President of the Cine-Club Popular de Jerez was campaigning to have a street in Jerez named after Welles. Now I may be wrong, but I don't think any city in America has ever proposed that a street be named after Orson Welles. And although there is a statue of George M. Cohan in Times Square, I don't know of any Orson Welles statues that have been erected in New York, or anywhere else in America. I bring this up, simply to point out the great contrast between the honors and efforts European countries seem to bestow on Welles, compared to the country of his birth.
Here is a link to an article on the recently unveiled statue of Orson Welles in Split, Croatia, followed by information on the plans to name a street for Welles in Jerez, Spain.
Here is a link where you can hear what is probably Orson Welles only single, which was obviously never a hit, at least on Billboard's top 200, but all the same it was issued as a CD single, which in my book, is enough to call it a hit for Welles.
Hearing it for the first time, I was astonished that it seems to have captured the touch of Welles genius, transforming what might have been utterly banal lyrics into a meditation about what Welles own work was most concerned about at the end of his life: Death.
So here is the master on that subject from his proposal to make his last unfinished movie, King Lear:
"Death" is our only dirty word. And King Lear is about death and the approach of death, and about power and the loss of power, and about love. In our consumer society we are encouraged to forget that we will ever die, and old age can be postponed by the right face cream. And when it finally does come, we're encouraged to look forward to a long and lovely sunset.
"Old age," said Charles de Gaulle, "old age is a ship wreck"—and he knew whereof he spoke. The elderly are even more self-regarding than the young. To their dependents the elderly call out for love, for more love than they can possibly receive, and for more than they are likely—or capable—of giving back. When old age tempts or forces a man to give away the very source of his ascendancy over the young—his power—it's they, the young, who are the tyrants, and he, who was all-powerful, becomes a pensioner.
Link to the Youtube video of
I Know What it is to be Young: