Mr. Arkadin – The Novel that Orson Welles Never Wrote
Harper Collins has come out with a trade paperback edition of the novelization of Orson Welles's movie Mr. Arkadin, which contains a new Foreword by John Baxter. Jonathan Rosenbaum has written an essay about the book for the Barnes and Noble website, noting that "Baxter's Foreword, which starts off quite reasonably, winds up with the usual boilerplate vilifications, claiming without much basis that Welles habitually walked away from films when the budgets ran out, ended his life on charity, and, 'For diversion, he dined out -- always assuming someone else picked up the check.' "
Given Baxter's penchant for getting his facts incorrect, it would seem there would be little reason to buy the book, since the marvelous Criterion DVD set includes the novel along with a much better preface by Robert Polito. Interestingly enough, I first discovered that writers like John Baxter often don't check their facts when I interviewed director Stanley Kramer and asked him about his "three-hour cut" of On The Beach, which Baxter cited in his book Science-Fiction in the Cinema. To my great embarrassment Stanley Kramer asked me where I had heard such a ridiculous canard, telling me that On The Beach had never been cut by anyone! Sadly, as Rosenbaum points out, Mr. Baxter is still getting his information wrong.
It's fairly well known that Welles's friend Maurice Bessy wrote the novelization of Mr. Arkadin, and Robert Polito's introduction to the Criterion edition of the book goes into many of the details about the contradicting stories regarding his authorship. Robert Arden claims in the audio interview with Simon Callow on the DVD that he saw Welles typing manuscript pages for the novel, but most probably he was misremembering. It seems clear that Bessy wrote the novel just by the many changes that have been made from the film in several details. For instance, Mr. Arkadin's castle is identified in the book as being in Santo Tirso, a city located in the north of the Porto metropolitan area of the Oporto district in Portugal! In fact, on the Criterion DVD commentary, nobody bothers to mention that Mr. Arkadin's castle is actually located in Segovia, Spain. James Naremore says Welles based a long shot of the castle on a famous El Greco painting, "View of Toledo," but that is most unlikely, since Welles used the famous Alcázar castle outside of Madrid for his location. Alcázar castle was also a source of inspiration for several of Walt Disney's fairy tales and in the novel, Mr. Arkadin buys the castle on a whim after his daughter Raina sees it as a child and says "it's just like Sleeping Beauty's castle." For the movie, Welles also makes dramatic use of the local medieval streets in Segovia, including the fabulous 2000-year old Roman aqueduct known as "The Devil's Bridge."
What would have been far more exciting than re-issuing Maurice Bessy's novelization, is if HarperCollins had asked Francois Thomas or some other Welles scholar to write a introduction to Welles's actual shooting script and his 90 pages of cutting notes for Mr. Arkadin.
Both exist and have been sold at auction. Here is the Christies description for:
Orson Welles' cutting instructions for his film Mr. Arkadin
(signed Orson or O.W. in several places) - 90pp.
Majority entirely in Welles' hand, plus 17 typescript pages with underlinings or annotations by Welles, erratically paginated, incorporating several autograph pages of instructions addressed by Welles to "Renzo" Lucidi, his film editor. Some pages with notes or markings in other hands, possibly Lucidi's; and ten pages of carbon typescript continuity with annotations and revisions by Welles and others employed on the film, most pages with markings relating to the filming process. Accompanied by seven pages of carbon typescript detailing a list of music cues to be inserted throughout the film, numbered one to seven in Welles' hand.
These manuscripts provide revealing documentation of Welles' working methods, and show the remarkable degree to which he controlled all aspects of the film's creation. The editing was overseen by Welles in a film laboratory at Saint-Cloud. However, when financial problems surfaced, the backers of the film took control away from Welles and it was extensively re-edited for commercial release by Warner Bros. Welles refused to take credit for the released version, which he maintained was not faithful to his conception. Peter Cowie comments in his book The Cinema Of Orson Welles: "It is a great pity that Confidential Report should be of all Welles' films at once the one truly original work and -- in the end -- the furthest removed from his intentions as a director.”
Sold in London on December 19, 2007 for $6,764.