Notes on Orson Welles’ THE DEEP
By LAWRENCE FRENCH
THE DEEP (DEAD RECKONING) Written and Directed by Orson Welles. Based in the novel Dead Calm by Charles Williams. Cinematography by Willy Kurant and Ivica Rajkolvic (in Color). Music by Francois Rabath.
Cast: Lawrence Harvey (Hughie Warriner); Jeanne Moreau (Ruth Warriner); Orson Welles (Russ Brewer); Oja Kodar (Rae Ingram); Michael Bryant (John Ingram).
My hope is that it won't turn out to be an art house movie. I hope its the kind of movie I enjoy seeing myself. I felt it was high time to show that we could make some money. It's a good story called Dead Calm. It all takes place on the sea and in the boats. Were never on land from beginning to end. We started very early, a year ago. The weather closed in on us, and even worse, Michael Bryant had a commitment in the London theatre, so we had to stop.
Orson Welles, 1970
Working with Orson is an experience, all right. It is invention all the time. In the middle of filming, he might decide he needs to write a new scene. He sets the camera, he gives you the words. He tells you to turn your head or to walk or to sit down, and though it may sound unnatural, a most difficult situation for an actor, there is an incredible magic. You're spellbound, and something unpredictable comes alive.
This tense thriller was filmed off the Dalmatian coast of Yugoslavia on two separate yachts, between 1967 and 1969 and was very close to being completed. However, Welles reportedly needed to shoot a spectacular explosion on a becalmed yacht to finish the film, and as time went by, he appears to have lost interest in the film, as he never post-synced much of Jeanne Moreau's dialogue. At a press conference at the 2000 Berlin Festival, Moreau commented on The Deep, saying "it was a fantastic experience working with Welles. My relationship with Orson was, as usual, incredible. The only disastrous thing was that later on, the film disappeared." According to Moreau, Welles would also sometimes disappear when he was having problems financing the movie. "He was very fragile and could be self-destructive," said Moreau. "One time there was no news of where Orson was, and I was staying on the fifth floor of our hotel. Above me, was a huge suite where Orson stayed. While I was sitting out on the terrace watching the view, I could see big lumps of cigar ash falling down, so I knew he was up there smoking away."
In 1973 Laurence Harvey died, making the films completion even more problematic. Later the film negative was lost, leaving only two work print copies, one in color, the other in black-and-white. During his own attempts to finish the film, Welles prepared several trailers and short assemblies of footage. In one case, he provided his own voice over narration describing scenes from the film, which he sent on to Charlton Heston, who was going to re-voice the final narration:
The scene here (a fire on board a yacht, causing a torrent of billowing smoke), might be useful for the end of your voice-over narration actually the fire comes at the end of the picture.
We're out in the Atlantic Ocean. A newly wedded couple (Oja Kodar and Michael Byrant) are here on their small yacht (the Saracen), cruising up the west coast of Africa to the Mediterranean. Not a breath of air, so they're becalmed. To save gas, they're not using their auxiliary engine. Out in these waters they might expect to be very much alone. But there's someone else out there - another boat. Somebody is rowing over to them (in a dingy). The stranger (Lawrence Harvey) has a very strange tale to tell. He is alone - everyone else on that boat of his is dead.
(On screen we see a series of shots that show Johnny, the owner of the Saracen, getting into the stranger's dingy and rowing over to his disabled boat and climbing aboard, where he meets a man below deck who starts to attack him (Welles). Then Johnny hears his name being called by his wife - the stranger has overpowered her, started the engine of the Saracen and is sailing away).
Trapped there on a boat that's taking on water fast, and his young wife trapped on their boat with a raving maniac. What happens next
Well, we'll have to leave that to the ticket buyers.
Stefan Droessler, director of the Munich Film Museum notes that The Deep will now never be seen in the form intended by Welles, and in putting the existing material of the film together he was often guessing at how to proceed, despite having a copy of Welless script to guide him. Originally, Droessler hoped to finish the film by shortening it to about 90 minutes, and adding sub-titles where there is no existing vocal track for the actor's voices. Droessler also uncovered a live recording of music Welles used for his rough cut, written by a jazz musician, Francois Rabath. Droessler had planned to add more of Rabaths music to the film, but unfortunately, after getting a commitment for $300,000. to complete a restoration and assembling all of the extant material into a 122-minute rough-cut, complications developed that scuttled the entire deal. Result: Droessler is no longer contemplating any additional work on restoring The Deep.
This is regrettable, since The Deep, is full of interesting bits, and is probably the easiest of Welles unfinished films to put together. It would also be the most commercial, since its a fairly straightforward thriller, with many amusing sequences. In fact, Welles and Jeanne Moreaus scenes of constant bickering are quite hilarious, as they devote all their energies to tormenting each other rather than attempting to save their sinking yacht. Laurence Harvey also gives a marvelous performance, putting on his best southern accent from Summer and Smoke, as he combines the traits of a deranged psychopath with the innocence of a unruly child. Harvey gets off some choice lines, such as telling the frightened Oja Kodar: you have such beautiful feet and women so seldom do especially European women. In fact, Ive often wondered if Gauguin didnt run away to Polynesia simply because he was revolted by the feet of European women.
Apparently Welles never filmed any of the scripts underwater scenes, which might leave a few gaps in the film, but there is a marvelous sequence which could almost be called psychedelic. In order to attract attention to their sinking boat, Welles, Moreau and Michael Bryant decide to take buckets of flammable paint and splash the colorful liquid all over the deck, turning the scene into a Jackson Pollack equivalent of the hall of mirrors sequence in The Lady From Shanghai. Droessler has also cleverly bookended the film with wrap around sequences that Welles evidently improvised, as they were not in his script. These scenes give the film the possible interpretation of it all being a Kafka-like nightmare for the two young honeymooners. What is especially intriguing, is the alternating use of black and white and color footage thoughout the rough cut. It recalls Lindsay Anderson's seminal 1968 movie IF... although Stefan notes it was simply a matter of his working with both a black and white and color work print. Still, one can't help but wonder if Welles might not have used black and white for the opening and closing scenes, which would seem to make perfect sense if he had ever finished the editing and planned to structure it, as Stefan has done, with the black and white footage. Then, presumably the main bulk of the movie would have been seen in vivid Eastmancolor. Unfortunately, since the negative was lost, the colors from the color work print will soon be faded beyond recovery, making the collapse of the initial restoration money all the more unfortunate. Perhaps Oja Kodar should consider letting the color print be copied to at least perseve it's colors before it's too late to save them.
It also remains unclear if Oja Kodar still retains the rights to the Charles Williams novel the film is based on, since Warner Bros. acquired the rights to make their own version, entitled Dead Calm. Directed by Phillip Noyce in Australia, this 1989 version reduced the characters to only three, now played by Nicole Kidman, Sam Neill and Billy Zane.
WILLY KURANT on THE DEEP
Excerpts from an interview by
BERNARD PAYEN and GLENN MYRENT
My third and final collaboration with Welles was The Deep, whose script neither Jeanne Moreau nor I had read. I had only read the novel by Charles Williams
Welles had acted in Veljko Bulajic's The Battle of Neretva, with Sergei Bondarchuk, which was made in Yugoslavia. Welles cost that production quite a bit, and instead of being paid a salary he asked for the equivalent in production costs for a film he wanted to shoot there. The Yugoslav film company supplied the equipment and technicians. Only Oja, Jeanne, Orson and I came from Paris.
We shot very little. What I saw of it in Los Angeles wasn't very impressive. I later received telegrams and phone calls asking me which filter I had used on some of the shots of Jeanne Moreauthey wanted to buy the filters from me! In fact all I used was a piece of sheer black nylon stocking, number 5 from Dior! Later I used to go to some Mexicans in Los Angeles to buy an old-style diamond shaped knit that gave a gauzy effect almost like the images from Hollywood's golden age. There wasn't a script available, but one day Orson's secretary left her copy on the side of the boat and Jeanne read it. She realized her role wasn't as big as Oja Kodar's. So the work stopped for one day while the two actresses spoke via their agents! I didn't shoot the scenes with Oja Kodar. I had already left the film because in fact I was under contract to shoot Hubert Cornfield's The Night of the Following Day, with Marion Brando. The reverse angle shots on Oja Kodar were filmed by my assistant, or perhaps even by Welles himself.
The tricks that we have today for filming on a boat didn't exist back then. I shot most of the film with the handheld Cameflex, and backlit so the light levels would match up. I remember some hilarious moments when Welles yelled at the captain: "Turn that boat. Stop your Mediterranean discussions and turn the boat around." "Butwe're going: sink!" the captain shouted back. All that because we wanted it backlit.
There were nonetheless some rather dangerous moments on the shoot. Sometimes I was on a raft made from four boards on top of four barrels, with camera in hand, trying to shoot the boat in the distance, because, unfortunately the Steadycam and all those gyroscopic systems had not been invented yet.
I didn't shoot the entire film. Production stopped, and when it started up again Yugoslav assistant, Ivica Rajkovic, was part of it. They called me but I was no longer free; Six year later I was living in Los Angeles and one day I got a call: "Can you come by the day after tomorrow to match up some shots for The Deep? I had to say no, since I was working on another film.
Later on, Welles called me to shoot some films on magic in the United States, which were never made, and then he got caught in another system and started making films in 16mm. I think I was one of the last to have worked on his "professional" films (in 35mm with a planned release in theaters).
You worked with Orson Welles on The Immortal Story (1968) and later on The Deep (1970), which he didn't finish. How did that relationship begin? WILLY KURANT: I knew Orson Welles was going to do a color movie co-produced by French TV. In my wildest dream, I never thought that I would have an opportunity to work with him. Then, one day I had a phone call and the producer asked if I could come in for an interview. I met Orson Welles at the Hotel Raphael very late at night. He was wearing pink pajamas and smoking a big cigar. My English was not the best, but it was okay. He asked how I would do this movie in 28 days? I asked a few questions, and told him that since television doesn't transmit contrast very well, I would concentrate on creating opposing color values. I would use Color Tran lighting equipment to move faster and I would play with the color values. He was seduced by that idea. He spoke to me about lighting in Citizen Kane, and then he said, you're hired.
What was it like working with Welles?
WILLY KURANT: The first day we filmed a scene with Jeanne Moreau in a bedroom, where she blew out some candles and opened the curtains. I made the light from outside very warm. A guy from the lab apologized, because it was so warm. In a very loud voice, Orson called him an idiot, and said it looked wonderful. I always felt he was behind me. One day, we were shooting in Spain, and the truck carrying the dolly equipment didn't show up on time, so I did a lot of handheld shots with a very heavy camera. We got along in every way. I was always one of the first people on the set in the morning, and Orson was always early, too. I was staying in a motel in Madrid. Orson said you can't stay in a motel and brought me home with him to stay in his house.
Is your lighting typically planned or is it intuitive?
WILLY KURANT: I believe very much in lighting at the spur of the moment. Very often I see something on the face of an actress or actor or in the way they are moving that wasn't in the original plan, and I will decide to do something different. Maybe I'll turn off the backlight and show the actors in silhouette or I'll create highlights to draw attention to a face. Maybe an actress shows up with bags under her eyes, and I have to use flat light on her that day. That's the reality of the moment. You have to deal with the face you have in front of you, because after all you are photographing an actress who is telling a story. The cinematographer is usually responsible for choosing the lenses, angles, lighting and coverage, so we are creating the visual language of the film. That's why we should be considered authors of the images and co-authors of the movie.
Your work with Welles on The Deep was never seen, unfortunately.
WILLY KURANT: I only shot part of The Deep, because I was committed to shoot The Night of the Following Day with Marlon Brando. The story takes place on two boats. We started shooting in Yugoslavia on a boat. We had to loop the sound because of the noises on the boat. I was shooting handheld and Orson was letting me frame the movie. That was like winning the Legion of Honor, because normally when you were working with Orson, he checked your framing right down to the millimeter, and also how you were balancing light. He talked to me a lot about asymmetric composition and how to unbalance the image in a very strong way. This is the subject of an article I have written for the art museum in France. It is called Framing for Orson Welles.