Peter Bogdanovich on ORSON WELLES; noted director will be appearing at the historic Castro Theater in San Francisco March 7 – 9
Director and Orson Welles authority, Peter Bogdanovich will be in residence this weekend at San Francisco's historic movie palace, The Castro Theater, where he will be introducing a mini-retrospective of his films.
Here is a link to the schedule of Mr. Bogdanovich's in-person appearances. The Bogdanovich movies scheduled to be shown, include: Targets, The Last Picture Show, At Long Last Love, What's Up Doc?, Paper Moon, Nickelodeon, Mask and They All Laughed. Of special note, Nickelodeon, Mask and They All Laughed will be presented in new director's cuts, with Nickelodeon being shown for the first time in the black and white format that Welles had urged Bogdanovich to use against the studio's wishes. As a result, the original studio backers canceled production of the film!
AN INTRODUCTION TO ORSON WELLES
By PETER BOGDANOVICH
'I think Orson Welles is the only American director,' Woody Allen was saying to me over dinner in Manhattan the other night, 'who goes up there alongside of Bergman and Fellini, Renoir and, you know, those guys.' I said Orson would have loved to hear that, and agreed that Welles was the only full-out conscious American artist who directed movies on a level with the greatest of the Europeans. It is true that, as Orson used to joke: 'I kept myself virginal only as a film director,' meaning that in other areas of his career as film, TV, radio and theatre star/actor/producer/writer, TV talk show and variety personality, novelist, professional magician, newspaper and magazine columnist, and show-biz jack-of-all-trades, Orson did allow the unmistakable taint of 'Hollywood' or 'Las Vegas' or perhaps simply US mega-success to sometimes color the work. But never as a picture-maker. Well, maybe just once: Orson always used to disown The Stranger from his personal oeuvre. Yet that picture was also the single one of his films that was successful at the box office. Welles used to say that 'he could have gone on making films like that for the rest' of his career but he 'didn't want to.' Maybe that only further confirms Woody's point: in Europe they tend to judge a film's qualities more on lasting artistic merit than on attendance figures. There isn't universal agreement today with Woody's opinion of Welles, but more than there used to be, say, in the late 60s through the mid-80s when I knew Orson, sometimes fairly intimately, during those final 17 years of his life.
Since his death (though this was true even before) there have been numerous personalized reinterpretations of Welles, often by people who knew him only for one portion of his tumultuous life (like me) or who knew him only toward the beginning or only toward the end, but largely by people who never knew him at all. None of these Orson’s bears a true resemblance to the man (or the director) I knew, though there are distorted similarities. But, finally, isn't that the essential dilemma of Citizen Kane: how do you find out the definitive truth about a man who has died? Orson's case proves that often it isn't even possible when the person is alive. Certainly, no one else in American pictures in 1941 was illustrating the thesis that capitalism and worldly success could in some cases lead to spiritual impoverishment and the failure of emotion. In its style Citizen Kane had something else that was unique: an absolutely certain sense of the sound, look and feel of the United States combined with a worldly, aristocratic sophistication and intellect. Among the most complicated aspects of Welles' work is the tension between the essential pessimism of his outlook and the exhilarating optimism inspired by the brilliance of his style. In a poetic way he summed this up at the end of his essay-documentary F for Fake by saying, in effect, that all man's achievements finally turn to dust but 'keep on singing!' To make that possible for Orson was, finally, the central motivating factor behind everything we did, and, unspoken behind that, was one of basic cause: good pictures.
There was tremendous assurance combined with tremendous insecurity. Yet at his deepest level Orson had an ever-valiant nature that seemed all the more indestructible in the face of the odds he fought all his life. He died at his desk writing a screenplay. The one thing most people still ask about Welles is: what happened after Citizen Kane? Now a far better question to ask about him would be: how did he accomplish so much in a commercial medium without ever having a big commercial success? One time while I was bemoaning the end of the golden age of pictures, Welles laughed and said, 'Well, come on, what do you expect? Even the height of the Renaissance only lasted 60 years!' Along those same lines, we shouldn't be consumed by thoughts of how much we didn't get of Orson Welles, but rather by how much he did manage to achieve that has lasting value.