Searching For Orson
Here are two reviews on the new Croatian film Searching For Orson.
SEARCHING FOR ORSON
(Documentary - Croatia - U.S )
By Robert Koehler Variety
A D&J Prods /Filmind/Studio Guberovic presentation. Produced by Jakov Sedlar. Executive producers, Richard Weiner, Stephen Ollendorff . Co-producers, Harold Snyder, Boris Miksic, Ron Assouline, Natali Schlesinger. Directed, written by Dominik Sedlar, Jakov Sedlar. Camera (color, DV), Gary Graver, Igor Sunara, Zelko Guberovic; editor, Zdravko Borko CQ; supervising sound editor, Ivika Drnic CQ. Reviewed at AFI Los Angeles Film Festival, Nov. 2, 2006. Running time: 79 MIN.
With: Orson Welles, Oja Kodar, Peter Bogdanovich, Steven Spielberg, Jonathan Rosenbaum, Frank Marshall, Paul Mazursky, Henry Jaglom, Gary Graver, James Earl Jones, Merv Griffin.
Narrator: Peter Bogdanovich.
With nearly a half-dozen new and upcoming books and the new docu, "Searching for Orson," 'tis the season of Orson Welles. Pic by Croatian filmmaking father and son Jakov and Dominik Sedlar ("Syndrome Jerusalem") marks an essential contribution to Wellesiana, as it's the first docu to dip into the rich archives of the director's longtime partner/lover, Oja Kodar. Substantial enough to make some critics of Welles eat their words, pic is unfortunately too crudely assembled as it stands to air on prime cable or screen at major fests. Fine-tuning will be needed for wider worldwide distribution.
Critics who have depicted Welles as a failed talent who abused his gifts with laziness and lavish living should not ignore the thoughtful arguments and evidence in this pic. Only the most myopic will be able to come away from viewing this docu without concluding Welles was not only a key -- perhaps the key -- innovator in narrative cinema, and that he carried on an extremely lively and productive career as an avowedly independent filmmaker.
However, "Searching" is less a scholarly work than an emotionally grounded film that circulates around Kodar's memoirs and film material, including scads of home movie footage and such rarities as footage from the unfinished seaborne thriller, "The Deep," starring Kodar and Laurence Harvey. (Harvey's tragic death halted production.)
At the same time, some of the best Welles critics and observers (including critic Jonathan Rosenbaum, producer Frank Marshall and directors Peter Bogdanovich, Steven Spielberg, Henry Jaglom and Paul Mazursky) firmly establish Welles' supreme importance. Spielberg perhaps goes too far by crediting Welles with discovering depth-of-field, which would be news to those who've watched Jean Renoir or Fritz Lang's pre-"Citizen Kane" films.
Yet Spielberg also rightly observes how Welles took his experiments in theater to create a complex narrative artistry within the master shot that would often be continuous without edits. (Welles' other experiments in radio and his radical re-thinking of the film soundtrack, though, are never mentioned.)
Kodar's own importance is stressed by Rosenbaum, who notes that she was sometimes his main writer or co-writer, as well as his central muse in the latter half of his creative life. Kodar's recollections of first meeting and then falling in love with Welles, and Bogdanovich's graceful narration of their impassioned love, help humanize the director and strip away the several gross stereotypes that have marred Welles' rep.
Kodar's personal collection of clips and stills beautifully match these memories and form the core of doc's novelty and potency. In this regard (among other factors), "Searching" is vastly preferable to the recent, factually flawed Welles doc, "The Well."
Bogdanovich's narration provides a pleasant and highly informed thread to the Welles-Kodar love story, as well as to such little-known stories as that of Welles' daughter Rebecca and her illegitimate son, Mark, who was given up for adoption.
The Sedlar brothers' editorial choices can be fascinating, such as a section including Welles' many different interpretations of Shylock (including several takes of a seaside version shot by lenser and friend Gary Graver), but pic is full of starts and stops, with too many abrupt transitions.
In order to become the widely viewed doc it deserves to be, the Sedlars need to take a page from Bogdanovich's own superbly assembled and freshly expanded "Directed by John Ford" and refine pacing and editing of their captivating material.
Images and sound of talking heads portions are mediocre, but fortunately take up little of overall running time. Nevertheless, these sections include such gems as Jaglom and Mazursky being intercut as they talk about playing a famously rowdy scene for Welles' last, unfinished film, "The Other Side of the Wind." For the record, Graver and Jaglom's names are regularly misspelled on screen.
SEARCHING FOR ORSON
By Kirk Honeycutt - Hollywood Reporter
Apparently we are entering a season of Orson Welles discoveries. Two major biographies have hit bookstores, Joseph McBride's "What Ever Happened to Orson Welles?" and Simon Callow's second volume of his three-book work on Welles.
At AFI Fest in Los Angeles, Peter Bogdanovich is reprising his Sacred Monsters monologue about his legendary Hollywood friends including Welles. Also at AFI is the world premiere of "Searching for Orson," a documentary by Croatian filmmakers Jakov and Dominik Sedlar.
The Croatian connection is no surprise to Welles scholars and admirers who know that Welles spent his declining years -- despite being married to another woman -- with a beautiful, exotic and much younger Croatian actress-sculptress-writer, Oja Kodar, who helped write many of his scripts and appeared in his films.
Naturally, Kodar gave her fellow countrymen access to her Welles film archives and herself for an interview. The Sedlars return the favor by never mentioning Welles' wife or the battles Kodar has had with one of Welles' surviving daughters (Beatrice) over the ownership of his most legendary unfinished film, "The Other Side of the Wind."
"Orson" devotes much of its running time to this love affair, ignoring nearly all of Welles' early life and career. By default then, this is a film about Welles' late life and the saga of "Other Side." In an interview, Bogdanovich insists that "Other Side" is the one film of Welles' many unfinished projects that could be completed without the master and indeed that Welles once asked him to do so after his death. (Bogdanovich plays dual roles in this film as its narrator and an interviewer, which confuses the issue of the film's point of view.)
At the first screening Thursday night, Dominik Sedlar claimed that Showtime is poised to sign documents to fund completion of the film by Bogdanovich but was vague about the ownership of the footage. But hope springs eternal. "Orson" contains much tantalizing footage from "Other Side," originally shot about 36 years ago, but it appears in a disjointed manner, making any critical judgment impossible.
The film's other "revelation" is that Welles had a grandson he never knew existed. Daughter Rebecca Welles Manning, who died in 2004, apparently had an illegitimate son, Marc, she gave up for adoption. This fact actually does appear in McBride's book but isn't given as much weight as it is in this film. Marc appears onscreen, his face unmistakably reminiscent of his grandfather's. Tragically, a car crash has impaired his mental facilities. Of the talking heads, Steven Spielberg offers the most cogent and articulate assessment of Welles' greatness and his influence on current image-makers. Paul Mazursky and cameraman Gary Graver, among others, supply amusing anecdotes but never fully put their finger on what made him great.
The film mentions things like Welles' belief that he was Jewish despite all evidence to the contrary but never follows up. Nor does it get to the heart of why so many projects were left unrealized. Nevertheless, "Orson" is often fascinating. Nothing about Welles was ordinary, and this film does capture the love and admiration so many people still maintain for this Renaissance man, who was so adept in radio, stage, film, art and the art of living.