Although In the Land of Don Quixote is essentially a travelogue about Spain, it’s done by a film artist, and as such, it is possibly one of the most poetic documentaries I’ve yet to see on any country. Seeing it today, years later, it still seems quite unique. Unfortunately, like most of Welles work, it’s no real surprise that it has never been widely seen. It was first broadcast on RAI, the Italian TV station in 1964, and afterwards seems to have disappeared almost entirely. As far as I can tell it was never shown in America until 1986, when it appeared as part of the AFI’s National video festival, which offered a comprehensive survey on most of the work Orson Welles had made for television.
However, back in 1964, RAI supposedly felt that using Welles own voice as the narrator would be too "American" so they added a new narration, written by the Italian playwright Gian Paolo Callegari with the assistance of Antonio Navarro Linares. It was spoken by the actor Arnoldo Foa, who had appeared in The Trial. Naturally, Welles had wanted to either use his own narration, or else have none at all! Based on seeing the first episode, I think having no narration at all works quite beautifully.
Recently RAI restored the series closer to Welles original intentions, by re-working the soundtrack so that the offending voice-over track was eliminated and the music and effects tracks are now much closer to the plan indicated by Welles. Hopefully, some enterprising DVD company will attempt to buy the rights to this series for an eventually DVD release in America. It would certainly be a welcome addition to the Welles oeuvre!
Meanwhile, to fill in the gaps on this seldom seen Welles documentary, I asked Juan Cobos, the assistant director to Orson Welles on Chimes at Midnight, to provide Wellesnet with some details. Juan wrote back in great detail, both before and after he viewed his own sub-standard video copy of In The Land of Don Quixote, that he had recorded from Italian TV (with the offending narration intact.)
Below is Juan's report. Also, there is a link to Juan Cobo's article THE SAD STORIES OF A NOBLEMAN FROM WISCONSIN. The article follows the efforts of Orson Welles to make his film version of DON QUIXOTE from 1956 in Mexico until the last days of his life in Hollywood. Juan tells me he gathered all the facts about DON QUIXOTE from the very best sources, including letters Welles wrote to his leading players Akim Tamiroff and Francisco Reiguera. Unfortunately, the article is entirely in Spanish - So if anyone out there is fluent in Spanish and would like to help translate the article, please get in touch with me at: (email@example.com ), as Juan would like to add a few corrections and additions to the piece, if someone can help us translate the piece for posting at Wellesnet in English! The article also has many rare pictures from Welles's Don Quixote:
IN THE LAND OF DON QUIXOTE
By JUAN COBOS
In the Land of Don Quixote is nearer in approach to Welles first trip to Spain as a young man in the early thirties, than to the present day Spain, but some of the things in the series are very nice. It was produced by RAI (Italian State TV) but was never shown in Spain. Welles always liked to visit many places in Spain, which I discovered after he sent me looking for locations he could use for Chimes at Midnight. However, Andalucia (in the south of Spain) was undoubtedly his favorite destination. In the beginning, Welles thought of In the Land of Don Quixote as a visit to Spain by an American family, which explains the presence of (his wife) Paola and (daughter) Beatrice in many of the shots. It also shows Orson’s proud regard for little Beatrice, who was only six years old.
The first time I asked Welles about the series, he said to me, “Juan, it’s just a travelogue.” I agree and I cannot imagine that he ever approved the final cut that was shown on RAI-TV in 1964. I think he only partially cut the series, and he certainly didn’t want the spoken narration that was used.
It seems the main reason he made In the Land of Don Quixote was to get help and travel expenses for financing the making of his film version of Don Quixote. In fact, there was a whole episode with Akim Tamiroff that Welles filmed twice for Don Quixote, first in Mexico in 1957 and then again in Spain, in the early sixties at the festivities of San Fermin in Pamplona (that Hemingway made famous with his novel The Sun Also Rises).
I included some explanations about it in my book, Orson Welles: España Como Obsession, published in 1992 by the Filmoteca de España. Unhappily, I only have a rather poor video copy of In the Land of Don Quixote, taped from Italian TV. It has never been for sale in Spain in any format, including DVD.