An interview with Marguerite Rippy on her new book, ORSON WELLES AND THE UNFINISHED RKO PROJECTS by Jake HinksonSunday, October 18th, 2009
Jake Hinkson who frequently writes about Orson Welles at his blog, The Night Editor, has sent along this informative interview he conducted with Marguerite Rippy for Wellesnet readers to enjoy.
By Marguerite Rippy
Interviewed by Jake Hinkson
Inttoduction by Jake Hinkson
Southern Illinois University Press has just released Orson Welles and The Unfinished RKO Projects: A Postmodern Perspective by scholar Marguerite Rippy. In it, the author provides an in-depth look at the many projects Welles worked on but never brought to fruition during his tenure at RKO. There aren’t many filmmakers whose uncompleted films could sustain such a thorough investigation, but Rippy deftly demonstrates that Welles’s work during this period was intriguing both in terms of subject matter and proposed execution.
Rippy begins with an examination of Welles’s often overlooked innovations in theater and radio and seeks to explain their impact on his novice forays in film. Drawing on archival materials from the Welles Manuscripts housed at the Lilly Library in Bloomington and the Richard Wilson collection at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, she investigates the origins of Welles’s attempts to film a subjective camera version of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, his plan to film a version of the gospels set in the Old West, and his proposed adaptation of Dickens’s The Pickwick Papers with W.C. Fields. She also provides an interesting look at the way in which Welles’s burgeoning interests in documentary film and South American culture created the perfect storm of It’s All True. What The Unfinished RKO Projects makes strikingly clear is that Welles used his time at RKO as a kind of laboratory training period. Throughout his career Welles was a constant experimenter. With her new book, Rippy has given us a valuable look at his first experiments.
I recently had a chance to discuss Orson Welles and The Unfinished RKO Projects with its author, Marguerite Rippy.
JH: What was the impetus for this book? Why Welles, and specifically, why Welles during his relatively brief tenure at RKO?
MR: Originally, I was working on a project regarding Welles and his 1938 radio adaptations of Charles Dickens—I was interested in Welles’s experiments with mass media adaptation and his techniques of interacting with a broadcast audience. While working in the archives of Indiana University’s Lilly Library on that project, I was overwhelmed by the amount of previously unstudied archival material on Welles during this formative phase of his career. Welles’s first interactions with Hollywood reveal his struggle to translate his performance theories from radio and theater onto the screen, and this struggle is key to understanding his later cinematic styles and themes. I think people tend to privilege Welles’s work in cinema over his stage and radio work, even at this early stage when he was clearly working with all three media simultaneously. It’s fascinating to watch his ideas regarding mass media and performance evolve during this period in his career.
JH: The subtitle of your book is “A Postmodern Perspective.” Do you consider Welles a modernist or a postmodernist?