Orson Welles in Madrid, June, 1966 talking about ‘The Sacred Beasts’
There is one town that would be better than Aranjuez to see your first bullfight in if you are only going to see one and that is Ronda. That is where you should go if you ever go to Spain on a honeymoon or if you ever bolt with anyone. The entire town and as far as you can see in any direction is romantic background... If a honeymoon or an elopement is not a success in Ronda, it would be as well to start for Paris and commence making your own friends.
— Ernest Hemingway, "Death in the Afternoon" (1932)
A man is not from where he is born, but where he chooses to die.
— Orson Welles
By LAWRENCE FRENCH
Listening to Orson Welles talking about Spain and bullfighting in the Maysles brothers short film, Orson Welles in Madrid, 1966, and in the 1974 Michael Parkinson interview, (both on the Wellesnet Messageboard under Orson Welles interviews) got me to thinking just how important Spain really was for both Welles and Hemingway.
Having visited Spain several times, I was always extremely impressed by the many historic sites and also the extraordinary quality of light, which any cameraman would notice immediately. That may be one reason Welles loved Spain so much and shot most of his later films there. It's also where many other films have been shot, especially in and around Almeria.
The first Welles location I visited after departing from Madrid, was Gregory Arkadin's castle in Segovia, along with the impressive ancient Roman aqueduct that straddles the middle of the town. Then, traveling south to Ronda, it was easy to see why Welles wanted to be buried there. It was my favorite spot on my journey through the land of Don Quixote. Ronda is quite a spectacular little town rising out of the plains on a plateau that is perched on the edge of a huge gorge, like something out of Conan Doyle’s dinosaur filled plateau in The Lost World.
Welles ashes are interred in a well on the nearby farm, El Recreo, of the great bullfighter Antonio Ordoñez, who was born in Ronda in 1932, just a year before Welles first visited the bullring at Ronda (and what a truly beautiful building the Ronda bullring is). The property is currently owned by Ordóñez's grandson, Cayetano Rivera Ordóñez, who is also a matador.
Walking through the streets of Ronda, I was rather amazed to see Welles face peering out from various shop windows. He seems to be very much admired here, as a famous photo of Welles with Antonio Ordoñez (taken outside the Ronda bullring in 1960) is not only on display in several shops, but is also featured prominently on postcards and most of the tourist literature about Ronda. There is also a street in Ronda named the "Paseo de Orson Welles."
Here's a short piece about Orson Welles in Spain by the Spanish authority on Welles, Juan Cobos, followed by a transcript of Welles comments from the Maysles brothers 1966 film.
ORSON WELLES in SPAIN
By JUAN COBOS
Welles traveled throughout Spain for years. Pamplona, known for the running of the bulls, and Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises, was a place he loved and there Welles shot some scenes for Don Quixote (Pamplona is in northern Spain, close to France, and not far from San Sebastian).
On his first stay in Spain in the summer of 1933, Welles lived in Seville, in the Triana neighborhood of that city. As a fan of bullfighting, Welles traveled to any summer place where his favorite matadors might be appearing on a certain day. Welles had read Hemingway’s Death in the Afternoon, a non-fiction account of bullfighting that had come out the previous year, and visited the estate of Cayetano Ordóñez, know as “Niño de la Palma,” who was the prototype for the matador Pedro Romero, in Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises.
In the sixties, Welles brought a villa in Colonia Camarines, Aravaca on the outskirts of Madrid, where he also shot some scenes for The Immortal Story. Other scenes were shot in Chinchon and in Pedraza, also outside of Madrid. In the editing room, Welles combined Pedraza and Chinchón to make the Macao setting of The Immortal Story.
Here are the comments made by Orson Welles in June, 1966, to a group of American tourists in and around the Las Ventas bullring in Madrid, filmed by Albert and David Maysles. Welles talks about his film story The Sacred Beasts, which metamorphosed into the script that would become The Other Side of The Wind.
ORSON WELLES: It goes without saying that to be a bullfighter takes guts and skill, because if a fighting bull can kill a tiger or an elephant, he can obviously kill a man, and very easily. Bullfights aren't a from of sport, they are a tragedy. A bullfight is a tragedy in three acts. These noble creatures, who are waiting for their death this afternoon are the heroes of that tragedy. The tragedy of the bullfight is based on the innocent of this creature. Of course, his innocence, his perfect virginity, is the basis of the tragedy of the bullfight.
I think I should emphasize now, that the picture we are going to make is not the story of a bull or the story of a bullfighter. It has this world, this world of brave fighting bulls and bullfighters as it's background, or rather as it's scenery, as our story is really the story about the people who follow bullfights, the kind of people who live off bullfights, economically, and also emotionally, because there is now a whole new generation of foreigners as well as Spaniards who spend the entire summer going from country fair to country fair, following these corridas, in big bullrings like this one, and in very small ones in the country. Our story is about a special group of these. The richest and smartest and chicest, the jet set ones. It has to do with a kind of voyeurism, a kind of emotional parasitism, and it has to do with the whole mystique, not of the bull, about which we read so much, perhaps too much, but the whole mystique of the “He-man.” This picture we’re going to make is against “He-men.”
The people who go to bullfights, not occasionally, as tourists do, but who are passionately addicted to it, as aficionados. That part of the aficionados who have the Hemingway mystique, who got hooked through Hemingway. Our story is about a pseudo-Hemingway. A movie director who belongs to that league, which in Spain they call them macho. That means very masculine. Muy macho, with a lot of hair on the chest. So the central figure in this story is the fellow who can hardly see though the bush of hair on his chest. He was frightened by Hemingway at birth, and this fellow, he is a tough movie director who has killed three or four extras in every picture he's made—whatever the picture is—it’s his pride that three or four of them die. That's his stuff, and he's full of charm. Everybody thinks he's great. In our story, he's riding around following a bullfighter and living through him. You know, he's become that lovely young fellow in the beautiful costume, and that fellow’s danger is his danger, and that fellow’s success is his, and so on. He's become obsessed by this young man, who has become, in a way, his own dream of himself.
He's been rejected by all his old friends and he's finally been shown up to be a kind of voyeur—a peeker, a second hand guy, a fellow who lives off other people's danger and death.
...And then of course, the way we're going to shoot it is without a script. I've written a script, and I know the whole story, I know everything that happens. But what I'm going to do is get the actors in every situation and tell them what has happened up until this moment—who they are, and I believe that they will find what is true and inevitable, from what I've said. We'll photograph that and go onto the next moment. We're going to make the picture as through it were a documentary, and the actors are going to be improvising.
You either get it or you don't. It can't take too long. I think the whole thing is eight weeks at the most, because it's got to be just that time, the time it really took.
Q: Have you done that kind of thing before with other films you've directed?
ORSON WELLES: Nobody’s every done it before. No, I've improvised a scene with an actor before, so let's see if it will work. All I really know is how it begins and how it ends. I really know what I would make if I were photographing it and giving them the script page by page, but I'm going to hide the script—I don't want them to know that. I think if the actors are right—and they have to be people of a certain kind of substance—they have to be actors used to “being people,” because it's all important people, people who are images (a terrible word) and all of that. So we get those kind of actors together and say, "Here is the situation, here's what you did yesterday, here's what you did twenty years ago, here's what you think about him (Jake)," and start shooting.
Because we’ve been cranking along in movies for too long in the same way. It’s the most old-fashioned business on earth. It’s a wonderful medium, but nobody’s done anything new in it. And they’re beginning to now, in France and elsewhere, but they take a kind of basic situation, and I would like to take a whole story, give it to a group of people and see what happens within that group. What I’ve got is a very nice solid framework. Which is a temperata, you know...
The greatest things in movies are divine accidents. Sometimes I’ve had those accidents. I made a picture, where I reached through a window in Touch of Evil, and found an egg, in a pigeon’s nest. We made a whole scene about it, so you can do those kinds of thing and then control them. But I want to go further. I want to find out what skilled, intelligent people, the actors can really do, being themselves, acting.
Q: Aren't you afraid through the end result won't have any control, or any form?
ORSON WELLES: Not a bit, no, I really am not, not with all that going around it, not with a firm line of... If you see a man on his way to death... you must have known people like that. I don't mean by way of a fatal disease, but on his way to death, truly. You see that man... I think you may have many choices about how it will happen, but that end is as clear as anything in the world. When people have decided on their death, they've got it and there is a terrible pull toward it. And you have two people and this is a picture about the love of death, because it is a spectacle which has it roots in the old Roman circuses, and the old Roman circuses must have been pretty good shows, still no matter how noble the gladiators were, there must have been very perverse people watching those gladiators.
So we have a picture about those people who watch a bullfight, following one bullfighter or another. What are they doing? They are waiting for his death. They are waiting for him to rise into heaven like a saint. What strange instincts are motivating these people? Those people who are lightheaded and nonsensical and seriously evil, who are living off the idea of death.
So we have a picture about the people who live off bullfighting, because they want money, and the people who live off of bullfighting for emotional reasons, because they are living second-hand. They are experiencing life and death and sex, in a second-hand way. And those people are our cast.
SHANE HAZEN interview with ALBERT MAYSLES
ALBERT MAYSLES: Godard is the only fiction filmmaker I've ever worked with, except for Orson Welles. My brother and I met Orson Welles in 1965, the same year I made the film with Godard. I met him in Cannes and he invited us to spend the week with him in Madrid. Then, once we got there, we went to a couple of bullfights with him and he said, "Look, there's a film we have got to make together." So we filmed Welles talking about the film we would make (The Sacred Beasts). In that little documentary film, at one point, he explained the rare opportunities you have in making a movie, what he called, "those divine accidents" that take place. And of course, a really good documentary is loaded with divine accidents. It's all accidental.
SHANE HAZEN: Nothing I’ve read said you ever worked with Orson Welles. What movie was it?
ALBERT MAYSLES: It was a film that was never quite completed or distributed (since titled, Orson Welles, Madrid, June, 1966).
SHANE HAZEN: He did a lot of documentaries that weren't widely distributed and a lot of his films weren’t finished.
ALBERT MAYSLES: And by coincidence, I was in Toronto at a film festival a year or so ago, and I met Peter Bogdanovich. I invited him to come to the studio, and before he came to the studio, I found out that Peter is a Welles aficionado. So when he came to the studio, I showed him the Welles film and he sat on the edge of his seat, just taking it all in. And when it was over, he said, "When was this film made?" I said, "1966." Well in 1970, four years later, Orson Welles, John Huston, and Bogdanovich made The Other Side of the Wind along the lines of how Welles would've made The Sacred Beasts with us. That was interesting because at the moment—this was months ago—Peter said, "I'm trying to find the material so I can finish it because Welles said, 'Look, if we never finish this film, Peter, you should get the material and finish it." And here it is, thirty years later, and he hopes to get all the material and all the rights—which might not be easy to get from the estate.
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