Orson Welles at Work: a joint statement by the authors
Yes, we are ready to explain to you why we refused to take part in the promotion of our book Orson Welles au travail when it was published in France in 2006.
The text is 100% ours, except the one on the jacket. However, our original concept for the illustrations was rejected by the publisher.
We had three principles:
1. The book is called Orson Welles at Work, so let’s have as many production documents and photographs showing Welles and/or his team at work as possible. Let’s also have stills and frame enlargements allowing to better understand the working methods on a particular project.
2. We had gathered a tremendous collection of rare or never published photographs and production documents, regarding the American films as well as the European ones. Inasmuch as there are so many Welles books, including albums, let’s use these rare or never published items. Although we must also have some better-known photographs so that the reader recognizes the Welles he already knows and which will facilitate his entry into the new material.
3. We conceived the text and the illustration as a whole, even in the writing procedures. There would be no need to develop certain aspects since they would be explained by the documents and captions. Our written explanations on a double-page spread would lighten up because of the documents on the same double page. Conversely, the documents and their captions would give a certain immediate information, which would be enhanced once the reader reads the double page.
In the final book, there is a huge number of stills (many of them not particularly related to Welles at work), and even publicity material (that has nothing to do with Welles at work). A lot of them are very well-known or found their way in every Welles book, so that we really are ashamed of some chapters. We did not find the choice very apt, at that: many bland photos found their way into the book.
Above all, any direct link between the text and the illustration has been cut out. The text and the illustration give separate discourses, and, in some cases, conflicting discourses. (This is especially true of The Lady from Shanghai: we insisted that Welles wanted stark realism, the publisher insisted on glamour, so that they were true to Harry Cohn’s conception of the film, not Welles’s.)
Also, there are fewer production documents. They don’t match the text, so you may have to turn ten pages to find them.
We refused to take part in the promotion of a book we no longer considered ours. Orson Welles at Work is a book written by Jean-Pierre Berthomé and François Thomas and designed by the editor from Berthomé’s and Thomas’s photograph and production document collections.
As far as we know (we did not receive a copy), the British edition simply duplicates the lay-out from the French edition. Actually, the illustrations were sent by the French publisher to the British one. The latter had apparently little or no say in the selection. Six months before the British edition appeared, we offered to replace at our own cost a dozen photographs by new ones that we had discovered in the meantime, but the French publisher did not take the offer. We have the same feeling toward the British edition as the French one, but we were grateful to Phaidon for allowing us to carefully check the translation. From our experience, they really respect authors.
All this was an interesting experiment. It helped us understand how directors can survive losing battles over the final cut: what matters is the next project. And we can love certain films by Welles even though we know that he did not see them as his anymore, so we just hope that part of our original dream still filters through the book.
That’s the story. Thanks for asking !
Very best wishes,
Jean-Pierre Berthomé and François Thomas
I would like to thank the authors for their direct and informative statement; nevertheless, regardless of the book's shortcomings and however short it falls from their original conception, I feel the book is still well-worth getting, for both the neophyte as well as the Wellesian: for the neophyte, it has both textual and visual beauty with an accessibility and clarity of expression. And for the Wellesian, it is, again even with its shortcomings, one of the most beautiful books on Welles ever produced, and in addition it has some information that has not been published before. In other words, I can enthusiastically and without reservation, recommend this book.