As you may have noticed, we've had some glitches of late here at stately Wellesnet Manor; turns out that lackadaisical upkeep of the blog software led to porn spammers getting into some posts, although this charming link material was only visible on cell phones and mobile units. Chagrined, I immediately upgraded everything and tried to cleanse with fire, as it were. But, in so doing, some of the carefully-calibrated stuff I had set up, like the rotating banners, were lost, and I am still trying to figure out how to re-insert the code. I had also wanted to revamp the blog theme, which you see before you, and that requires changing up the sidebars so they don't mirror each other as you see now. But alas, working with php is not something you just waltz in and do. So I'm working on it. In the meantime, see the immediate left-hand link (under "Wellesnet Menu") to get to the message board, on the chance you don't go there automatically via bookmark. More fancy upgrades to come, once I figure them out.
Archive for March, 2008
If you have followed the legal battles revolving around Orson Welles' work in recent years, then you'll be aware that Welles' youngest daughter Beatrice has been suing Turner Entertainment for the rights to Citizen Kane, Magnificent Ambersons, and Journey Into Fear, claiming copyright over said works due to some unearthed contract. A recent trawl through the Internet for Welles news led me to stumble over some documents about the case; this document is the ruling from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals; in it, you will see that Beatrice was denied on most counts, including her claim of copyright, but on appeal a couple elements were remanded back to the prior court. Most interesting is a note at the bottom which states that while Beatrice Welles claimed rights to all three films, she had already settled over Ambersons and Journey, and this would seem to make plain the reality that this was the real reason behind those two films, particularly the former, not coming out on DVD, given that this case has been dragging on for literally years. Maybe Warner can finally get us DVDs of these films, and maybe even Blu-Ray editions (dare we hope). Here is an amended version of the ruling from September 2007, which adds some further comments. Kane would seem to be in limbo until this case is done, one way or the other, though. Lawyers, feel free to weigh in. The case appears to have gone before the court again at the end of February, but no further details seem to be available to the lay person.
On the set of Showtime's upcoming presentation of Orson Welles' final film, The Other Side of the Wind: John Huston, Orson Welles and Peter Bogdanovich.
Here are Peter Bogdanovich's comments regarding the status of completing The Other Side of the Wind as recorded in San Francisco on March 9, 2008.
Following the interview, I have included the opening narration from Orson Welles original script for The Other Side of the Wind. Welles originally intended to speak the narration himself, but it was never recorded. Given that fact, it seems to me as it would be quite appropriate to have Mr. Bogdanovich speak these lines, instead of Welles, as he is the only major actor from the film still around who could do so.
Of course, another alternative would be to simply hire a good voice-over actor, such as Anthony Hopkins, to read the lines instead. I've also included another interview with Peter Bogdanovich, recorded several years ago when The Cat's Meow was first released, where Mr. Bogdanovich talks about Orson Welles in relation to The Cat's Meow and several other projects.
Three directors: John Huston, Orson Welles and Peter Bogdanovich at lunch in Carefree, Arizona
LAWRENCE FRENCH: Last March in Florida, you announced that Showtime had finally green-lit plans to finish the editing work on The Other Side of the Wind. Since that time, I’ve heard stories that Oja Kodar had some kind of reservations about actually signing the final contract.
PETER BOGDANOVICH: No, it wasn’t Oja. I don’t want to go into details, but there were some rights we still needed, but hadn't gotten. But Showtime is still going to go forward with the project. We just have to work out of few more of the rights issues. Since then, I’ve actually seen a lot of the footage I hadn’t seen before, because we got into Oja’s vault in Los Angeles which has all the positive footage. I’d only seen about 40 minutes of the film and now I’ve seen quite a lot of new footage. These are scenes we had shot but Orson never showed them to me. I still haven’t seen everything, because there is so much stuff to look at. It’s the dailies and so on and it looks great.
Orson Welles gets down and dirty - on the floor to check out a low angle shot, while cinematographer Gary Graver looks on. Oja Kodar is sitting behind Welles.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: What about the vault in Paris that houses the negative?
PETER BOGDANOVICH: We're working on that still. There’s footage in Paris that I don’t think is here, so there’s a lot of material.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: Did you see any footage of the fireworks they shoot off outside of Jake Hannaford’s ranch house to celebrate his 70th birthday?
PETER BOGDANOVICH: Yes, there were some of the fireworks scenes in there.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: Several people who say they know the film say they don’t think there’s enough good material to put The Other Side of the Wind together and make it work. But having read the script and having seen a lot of the footage myself, I think it can be quite a brilliant picture.
Orson Welles lights a cigar between takes.
PETER BOGDANOVICH: Yes, and there’s plenty of footage. It’s all been shot and we’re going to couch the entire thing as a kind of documentary about making the film.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: Some other objections have been raised about how to best use the film within a film sequences, like the famous ten-minute sex scene between Oja Kodar and Bob Random in the mustang. The objection being, if you cut that scene up or shorten it, it won’t be as effective.
Oja Kodar, effectively lit by Gary Graver to simulate passing headlights during the tour-de-force sex scene between Bob Random and Kodar in the front seat of a Mustang (click to enlarge).
PETER BOGDANOVICH: I don’t think it’s ten minutes, but that scene will be in the picture, but it has to be crosscut with people watching it.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: When you get the final go-ahead on the project, how long do you think it will take to put everything together?
PETER BOGDANOVICH: Probably a year or longer. Orson asked me to finish the picture if anything should ever happen to him. One day at lunch in Arizona, we were all sitting around, Orson, Oja, Frank Marshall and myself. Out of the blue, Orson turned to me and said, “if anything ever happens to me I want you to promise me you’ll finish the picture.” I said, “what a terrible thing to say. Why should anything happen to you?” He said, “I know, but just in case it does, I want you to promise me you’ll finish the picture.” I said, “okay, of course I will.” So when Orson died I felt it was incumbent on me to make good on my promise. It’s now been 22 years and I think we are finally going to get it done. I’d say it should happen within the next year. But to catalogue all the material, putting it all together so we know exactly what is there, including what’s in Paris, is going to take almost a year. So there’s still a lot of work to do.
Orson Welles consults with Peter Bogdanovich and Joseph McBride in Bogdanovich's Bel Air home (click to enlarge).
LAWRENCE FRENCH: Will Frank Marshall be helping out on the project?
PETER BOGDANOVICH: Yes, Frank will be involved in producing the final version. Of course, Oja will be involved and although Medhi Bouscheri died, his widow wants it to happen, as well. Everybody wants it to happen, but we just had a snag with some people who made problems. Showtime has already got quite a bit tied up in it.
(Here are some of Frank Marshall's comments on the film: We’re working with Showtime on finishing Orson Welles’ last movie, The Other Side of the Wind, which I worked on in the 1970's (as production manager). We have the script. We shot it all—I worked on it for over five years—but we never put it together. Showtime has been incredibly supportive. I’m producing what will be the final movie that Orson directed.)
LAWRENCE FRENCH: In the script, Welles clearly indicates a lot of overlapping dialogue and cutting between different voices coming from tape recorders and so-forth. So you’ll also have to do a lot of elaborate sound editing and add a score to the film.
PETER BOGDANOVICH: Yes and Orson wanted the picture to have a jazz score. It was supposed to be a kind of song score, because there is music playing at Hannaford’s birthday party.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: The French producer of the film, Dominique Antoine said Welles was going to use Michel Legrand to score the film.
PETER BOGDANOVICH: Maybe, but I don’t think so, because it was supposed to have a documentary feel. We’ll never really know, because Orson was such a fresh filmmaker he never put anything in stone. He always kept changing his mind and he’d re-do scenes at the last minute. So to know exactly what he would have done is impossible. All you can do is take what’s there and follow his notes and follow your instincts and do the best you can with what he left behind. There are many scenes that he didn’t edit, but he left edited takes, where he cut off the slates and cut off the tail and just left what he wanted to use from the take, so if you follow the script, you realize what take he wanted to use, and what line reading he wanted to use. For example, there’s a line of mine in a scene with John Huston where he had printed two takes. The first part of the first take is great, but the second part of the first take is lousy. But the second part of the second take was good, so he obviously meant to put them together. If you follow what he laid out, you can follow his reasoning.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: Cinematographer Gary Graver said most of the film was shot, but there were still a couple of inserts and effects scenes that needed to be filmed, like Hannaford crashing his Porsche behind the drive-in screen.
PETER BOGDANOVICH: I don’t think we need to shoot anything, but we still have to see all the footage, so we’re not entirely sure. But Orson said he didn’t think there was anything left that needed to be shot. We’re going to put the whole thing in the form of a documentary about the making of a film, that was a mockumentary of itself. So we can jump in and say, “we didn’t shoot this.” We won’t connive to do that too often, so we can involve the audience as much as possible, but there will always be an unfinished quality to it, because it is unfinished. If we don’t do that, we’ll have a problem with Beatrice Welles (who controls the Welles estate).
LAWRENCE FRENCH: Because you play the leading role of Brooks Otterlake in the movie, one of the interesting things you might want to do is add the opening narration to the movie, which Welles originally intended to read himself, but it was never recorded.
PETER BOGDANOVICH: Yes, we will probably do something like that, because Brooks is the only one around after Hannaford’s death. So he would probably be the one who would put the film together.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: Did you ever act in any scenes with Lilli Palmer?
PETER BOGDANOVICH: No, all her scenes were shot in Spain. Orson shot wherever he was at the moment.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: I’ve heard stories that John Huston privately expressed misgivings about the film.
PETER BOGDANOVICH: That is so untrue! John tried to finish the film himself, because he loved his own performance and he thought the film was fascinating. He wanted to cut it with his son, Danny Huston, but Oja wouldn’t let him do it. (Danny Huston told The London Times in 2005: I’ve seen the footage. It’s absolutely fascinating.)
John Huston as J. J. Hannaford, smiles benignly for the swarm of cameras that are covering his every move during his 70th birthday party.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: My own thought on how to complete the film would be to hire a really good film editor from the late sixties, like Dede Allen who was so good at doing the kind of staccato cutting that was in fashion at the time, and that Welles intended to use. Or maybe Donn Cambern who edited Easy Rider and I noticed you worked with him on The Last Picture Show.
PETER BOGDANOVICH: Donn didn’t really edit The Last Picture Show. I cut the film by myself, by hand, as I did with Targets. The reason Donn got credit was because the editor’s guild said we had to have an editing credit. I said, “I’m not going to take an editor credit.” It would be too much, but I did physically cut the picture. At the time Donn was cutting another picture, Drive, He Said directed by Jack Nicholson, so as a favor, I asked him if he would order the opticals for me, which I had already marked. Then (producer) Bert Schneider said, “What do you want to do about the editor’s credit, we’ve got to give somebody credit.” So I said, well give it to Donn. Then a year or so later I was going to hire Donn for a picture and he wanted to charge me an arm and a leg, so I said, “Donn… just forget it!” No good turn goes un-rewarded.
Left: Welles oversees Gary Graver's shooting of Oja Kodar walking through a maze of buildings in Century City, while Bob Random watches from his motorcycle in the foreground. Right: Welles directs Gary Graver and key grip, J. Michael Stringer on how to shoot Bob Random on his motorcycle for the Antonioni-like film within a film directed by Jake Hannaford: The Other Side of the Wind.
GLENN ANDERS: What would be nice is when The Other Side of the Wind is finally finished, if Orson Welles got an Oscar nomination for best director and John Huston got a nomination for best actor, like Charlie Chaplin got for Limelight, twenty years after that film was made.
PETER BOGDANOVICH: It would be wonderful, wouldn’t it? I don’t think it would ever happen though. It would be too much for the Academy.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: If you can somehow get the picture finished by 2009, it would also be a wonderful way to celebrate your own 70th birthday! So on behalf of every one at Wellesnet, we’re wishing you the best of luck on finishing the picture.
Orson Welles watches a run through.
I'm sure most of you are aware that last year the most definitive study we are likely to ever get about Welles's Brazilian/Latin American period was published: "It's All True: Orson Welles's Pan-American Odyssey", by Catherine Benamou, (University of California Press ISBN-13: 978-0520242487) . Here's a link to a terrific interview with Ms. Benamou about her book and Welles:
And here's a wonderful quote from Grande Otelo, citing Welles's Brazilian/ Latin American experience as the beginning of something in his art and life:
"In Rio, Orson began his roaming journey that never had an end."
Peter Bogdanovich on ORSON WELLES; noted director will be appearing at the historic Castro Theater in San Francisco March 7 – 9Monday, March 3rd, 2008
Director and Orson Welles authority, Peter Bogdanovich will be in residence this weekend at San Francisco's historic movie palace, The Castro Theater, where he will be introducing a mini-retrospective of his films.
Here is a link to the schedule of Mr. Bogdanovich's in-person appearances. The Bogdanovich movies scheduled to be shown, include: Targets, The Last Picture Show, At Long Last Love, What's Up Doc?, Paper Moon, Nickelodeon, Mask and They All Laughed. Of special note, Nickelodeon, Mask and They All Laughed will be presented in new director's cuts, with Nickelodeon being shown for the first time in the black and white format that Welles had urged Bogdanovich to use against the studio's wishes. As a result, the original studio backers canceled production of the film!
AN INTRODUCTION TO ORSON WELLES
By PETER BOGDANOVICH
'I think Orson Welles is the only American director,' Woody Allen was saying to me over dinner in Manhattan the other night, 'who goes up there alongside of Bergman and Fellini, Renoir and, you know, those guys.' I said Orson would have loved to hear that, and agreed that Welles was the only full-out conscious American artist who directed movies on a level with the greatest of the Europeans. It is true that, as Orson used to joke: 'I kept myself virginal only as a film director,' meaning that in other areas of his career as film, TV, radio and theatre star/actor/producer/writer, TV talk show and variety personality, novelist, professional magician, newspaper and magazine columnist, and show-biz jack-of-all-trades, Orson did allow the unmistakable taint of 'Hollywood' or 'Las Vegas' or perhaps simply US mega-success to sometimes color the work. But never as a picture-maker. Well, maybe just once: Orson always used to disown The Stranger from his personal oeuvre. Yet that picture was also the single one of his films that was successful at the box office. Welles used to say that 'he could have gone on making films like that for the rest' of his career but he 'didn't want to.' Maybe that only further confirms Woody's point: in Europe they tend to judge a film's qualities more on lasting artistic merit than on attendance figures. There isn't universal agreement today with Woody's opinion of Welles, but more than there used to be, say, in the late 60s through the mid-80s when I knew Orson, sometimes fairly intimately, during those final 17 years of his life.
Since his death (though this was true even before) there have been numerous personalized reinterpretations of Welles, often by people who knew him only for one portion of his tumultuous life (like me) or who knew him only toward the beginning or only toward the end, but largely by people who never knew him at all. None of these Orson’s bears a true resemblance to the man (or the director) I knew, though there are distorted similarities. But, finally, isn't that the essential dilemma of Citizen Kane: how do you find out the definitive truth about a man who has died? Orson's case proves that often it isn't even possible when the person is alive. Certainly, no one else in American pictures in 1941 was illustrating the thesis that capitalism and worldly success could in some cases lead to spiritual impoverishment and the failure of emotion. In its style Citizen Kane had something else that was unique: an absolutely certain sense of the sound, look and feel of the United States combined with a worldly, aristocratic sophistication and intellect. Among the most complicated aspects of Welles' work is the tension between the essential pessimism of his outlook and the exhilarating optimism inspired by the brilliance of his style. In a poetic way he summed this up at the end of his essay-documentary F for Fake by saying, in effect, that all man's achievements finally turn to dust but 'keep on singing!' To make that possible for Orson was, finally, the central motivating factor behind everything we did, and, unspoken behind that, was one of basic cause: good pictures.
There was tremendous assurance combined with tremendous insecurity. Yet at his deepest level Orson had an ever-valiant nature that seemed all the more indestructible in the face of the odds he fought all his life. He died at his desk writing a screenplay. The one thing most people still ask about Welles is: what happened after Citizen Kane? Now a far better question to ask about him would be: how did he accomplish so much in a commercial medium without ever having a big commercial success? One time while I was bemoaning the end of the golden age of pictures, Welles laughed and said, 'Well, come on, what do you expect? Even the height of the Renaissance only lasted 60 years!' Along those same lines, we shouldn't be consumed by thoughts of how much we didn't get of Orson Welles, but rather by how much he did manage to achieve that has lasting value.
The Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley, California is presenting a nearly complete retrospective of films directed by Orson Welles, including rare screenings of Chimes at Midnight and The Immortal Story. Unfortunately, these two films will be shown in 16mm versions. Also, there will be no rare material from the Munich archive, and quite sadly, no showings of Fountain of Youth or Filming Othello. Otherwise, it will comprise all of Orson Welles completed movies, shown in vintage 35mm prints.
THE MAGNIFICENT MR. WELLES
March 7, 2008 - April 13, 2008
Like the movies of Renoir, Chaplin or John Ford, the films of Orson Welles are distinctively autographed by their maker. "Film is a very personal thing," Welles has said, "Much more than the theatre, because the film is a dead thing—a ribbon of celluloid—like the paper on which one writes a poem. Theatre is a collective experience; cinema is the work of one single person—the director." In twenty years, Welles has made just seven pictures that can fairly be called his own, but there is a personal unity in his work that can be found in only the very greatest poets of the cinema. ("I believe that any work is good only in the measure it expresses the man who created it.") One may enter at any point in a Welles film and never doubt who its director is—not only because of his darkly lyric imagery, his mysterious, brooding sense of the evil in the world, his remarkable technical ingenuity and originality, his witty, probing dialogue, or indeed his own physical presence as an actor, but also because of the profound theme that runs through all his work, man as a tragic victim of the paradox between his sense of morality and his own dark nature. All the leading Welles characters are damned, from Charles Foster Kane to Hank Quinlan (in Touch of Evil), all of them larger-than-life, morally detestable men for whom, somehow, one has deep sympathy. As Welles put it: "I don't detest them, I detest the way they act—that is my point of tension. All the characters I've played are various forms of Faust. I hate all forms of Faust, because I believe it's impossible for man to be great without admitting there is something greater than himself—either the law or God or art—but there must be something greater than man. I have sympathy for those characters—humanly but not morally." And because of this compassion, Welles refuses to judge his people. He shows them for what they are, but his jacks are never one-eyed; he withholds judgment on the "great bastards" he portrays. "One has no right to judge except by a religion," he has said. "To decide if someone is good or bad is the law of the jungle."
The dark poetry of Orson Welles is peopled with men who in some form or another have made themselves a world over which to reign—have placed themselves above the law or God or art: Kane, who tried with his newspapers and money to win the love of the people; the Ambersons, symbols of the false pride of a useless, decaying aristocracy; Arthur Bannister, the lawyer (in The Lady From Shanghai) who placed himself above the law; Macbeth, with his "vaulting ambition"; Othello's "green-eyed monster"; Mr. Arkadin, the adventurer who created a world unto himself and tried to destroy his past; Quinlan, the cop who thought he could be the law and final judge. These are the doomed, classic characters of a Faustian world, the leading figures in the seven tragic poems of Orson Welles. For, more than anything else, the cinema of Welles is a poetic one—painted with dazzling, florid, bold strokes. Not to speak of his accomplishments in the theatre or radio, Welles is, perhaps, the most striking moviemaker of our time—his films sing, flow and vibrate with the vision of a thrilling, original talent and a consummate, inspired artist.
—Peter Bogdanovich, The Cinema of Orson Welles (1961)