Oja Kodar on Orson Welles’ DON QUIXOTE
Since the first public glimpse of Orson Welles Don Quixote was presented thirty years ago this month at the Cannes film festival�less than a year after Welles had died�I thought it would be interesting to present some background material on that very first public showing.
The Don Quixote footage shown at Cannes was apparently entrusted by Ms. Kodar to Costa-Cavras, who had only a few weeks to try and make a rough assembly out of the film he received. In fact, the original screening was postponed by a week, as is noted below in the report on the showing in Variety.
Following that report, is the text of the address that Oja Kodar gave before the film was shown at Cannes, which is followed by excerpts of my 1994 interview with Oja Kodar, done after Jess Franco had completed his 1992 editing of the Quixote footage.
It should be noted, that Oja Kodar was never consulted about the editing that Jess Franco did on his version of the film, and in fact, she was so displeased with how it turned out, she has never allowed that version to be shown commercially outside of Spain.
Existing Footage Of Welles' Don Quixote Shown At Cannes
Variety � May 23, 1986
After a week of waiting, film buffs attending the Cannes festival were finally rewarded with a screening May 18 of the existing footage of Orson Welles' Don Quixote. Production of the film originally commenced in Mexico in 1957, was abandoned, then restarted, and abandoned again. Just 35 minutes of the film was shown here in a very rough state with white spacing inserted between shots. Some of the sequences were seemingly edited, while other scenes were merely rushes. Only the two principal actors, Francisco Reiguera as Don Quixote, and Akim Tamiroff as Sancho Panza, appear.
The assembly of the footage seemed haphazard, and it was not even certain that it was in the corrrect order. There was no direct sound: some footage was shown silent, and in other scenes the voice of Welles was heard speaking for both actors, using different accents.
One point that immediately becomes apparent is that Welles was making the film in a deliberately anachronistic style: in one scene, Quixote and his squire ride into a modern city, filled with cars and TV aerials; gawking bystanders cheer them on. A wry joke has a poster for Don Quixote beer prominently displayed.
The photography was handled by various cameramen at different times, and the differences tend to show, especially in varying grades of stock. Much of it is visually splendid, with classical images of the pair riding across arid landscapes reminiscent of the work of some Soviet directors, such as Alexander Dovzhenko. One especially good scene has Quixote, standing in a wheat field, making an exhortation to the absent Dulcinea.
It's also clear that Welles was being very faithful to the text of the novel, sticking closely to the original dialogue. Reiguera and Tamiroff are perfectly cast, each looking exactly like one's idea of how the characters should be.
Would it have been a masterpiece? The best moments look as striking as Welles' finest work, but there are a few clumsy bits, and unsightly use of the zoom lens, not usual for Welles. Possibly these bits wouldn't have found their way into the finished film if it had been completed. Footage as shown managed to be both fascinating and, for obvious reasons, frustrating.
Film was introduced by Welles' long-time companion, Oja Kodar, who gave a moving address, almost breaking down at one point. Afterwards, in conversation, Kodar said she intends to dedicate her time to getting the remaining unseen Welles footage shown.
The Other Side Of The Wind, toplining John Huston among others, is "nearly ready." She also revealed that some 40 minutes of footage exists from an equally rare uncompleted Welles: The Merchant Of Venice, shot in the Italian city in the mid-1970s, with Welles himself as Shylock.
Two boxes of the film have apparently been lost, but Kodar hopes to unveil the footage that survives, appropriately enough, at the Venice fest this September.
Address by Oja Kodar before the screening of Don Quixote footage at Cannes in 1986:
Orson was born on the 6th of May and of course, it can only be coincidence that his birthday and the tribute being paid to him today by the Cinematheque of France and the International Film Festival of Cannes follow each other by only a few days.
Orson had a principle: he did not wish to receive any presents on that special day. He thought it was up to him to give presents to all the people he loved, and God knows he loved the people of France. I know the feeling was mutual.
I remember a particularly significant anecdote: we were stuck in the usual traffic jams in the Place de la Concorde when a man on a bicycle stopped level with our car door, leaned over towards the window, made a �thumbs up" sign and with a big smile said, �Bravo Falstaff!� Orson was delighted and turning to me said: "It was really worth making that film, if only for that man there!."
Today�in Orson's name�I bring a present to "that" man, to "that" friend, to "that" unknown spectator who�I know�is out there waiting in this theatre.
I would like to thank him from the bottom of my heart for his gesture of appreciation and encouragement. Of course, I do not know his name or his profession, but I doubt if he is in the cinema profession. That is why�with your permission�I owe him two or three explanations of what we shall be seeing in a few minutes.
I am a little worried about having agreed to show some extracts of Don Quixote which Orson never wished to show anybody before it was finished.
But it was easy for me�thanks to the warm and friendly presence of Costa-Gavras�to give the Cinematheque�which Orson liked and respected�the negative of Don Quixote. It was much more difficult for me to accept that certain portions of the developed film should be shown on the occasion of this tribute�portions which I was able to find quickly in our place in Los Angeles.
But I understand why the Festival and the Cinematheque should ask me to do this. In fact, Don Quixote has been a mystery and a myth for more than 30 years. Many people who considered themselves Orson�s close friends even doubted its existence. But, in fact, whenever it was financially possible�all alone, without real technical means, without synchronized sound�he would make some more bits. Sometimes months and years would go by, but he always came back to it.
For Orson, making a film held the excitement of the painter's first brush strokes on a canvas. But, for him, the final gesture could only be accomplished during the editing of the film: here lay the essence of his creation.
For this reason, I hope you will feel a sense of discovery when you see these pictures, for this is not even a first editing. At times, you will see rushes where Orson had not yet made his final choice. It is a sketch, a quick study, a rough of a working copy that is old and well used, scratched and not even marked off.
In this work, you will see scenes between Don Quixote and Sancho Panza wonderfully played by Francisco Reiguera and Akim Tamiroff, where Orson wished to dub the voices himself. Forgive me for repeating myself, but this is only a fragmented view where, in spite of everything, flashes of his genius, of his humor, of his incredible appetite for life, will be apparent to those who loved Orson. And I know many of them are here in this theatre.
All I hope is that in this work you will be able to recognize�as does any cutter of precious stones�the diamond in all its brilliance. In effect, Don Quixote is a dream which Orson never finished, a dream from which he was never able to rouse himself.
OJA KODAR INTERVIEW � 1994
LAWRENCE FRENCH: You had most of the existing footage of Don Quixote and then Jess Franco, who was an assistant director on Chimes At Midnight got the Quixote footage from you and tried to edit it into a finished movie.
OJA KODAR: I'd rather say he just threw it together. He got 40 minutes of edited material that had already been put together by Orson, but I'm sorry to say he cut out something that Orson had put in. It's when Don Quixote sends Sancho Panzo to look for Dulcinea, with a letter to give to her. Sancho goes through a village looking for her, talking to himself, saying, "what am I going to do, where can I find this woman. Does she even exist? Who am I going to give this letter too?" When he's far away, and out of Don Quixote's sight, Sancho finally stashes this letter into a stack of hay. He hides it there, and he thinks now it's been delivered. It was very cute, but it was cut out. They also changed other things: there�s a scene where Orson's voice as the narrator talks to Sancho Panzo, and Sancho Panzo turns towards the camera and talks to the audience. It's a very wide shot, but they did an optical zoom-in on that shot, and it's not in the spirit of Orson. It's something that jumps out at you. They shouldn't have done that. Who are they to change Orson's material?
LAWRENCE FRENCH: When you gave the Don Quixote footage to the Spanish minister of culture, did you know that Jess Franco was going to be the one editing the footage?
OJA KODAR: Yes, and at the time I thought he'd probably be one of the best people to help. He had worked with Orson, he's a cultured man who knows Cervantes, and he actually loved Orson, but I don't know what happened. Maybe in his old age he became a cynic and just wanted to make some money. Who knows what goes on in the minds of people, but at the time, I did not feel I was doing wrong to Orson's material. We had the Minister of Culture of Spain behind it, we had Jess Franco, a man who worked with Orson and loved him�or at least he proclaimed he loved Orson. Orson never talked to me about him, so I assumed he loved Orson. I wish he had a vision, but what we ended up getting from him had no vision at all.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: When did you first see the Jess Franco version?
OJA KODAR: We had the first showing of Don Quixote in Seville in 1992, when they had a big exhibit for the 500th anniversary of Christopher Columbus. I was invited to that and saw the Spanish language version that they had put together in a big open cinema, with fireworks going on, but the screen was so big it was a really bad projection, because the picture is already very fragile and blurry. I was really quite disappointed. Also, the film ran for about two hours, and it was too long. I complained about it, because I was supposed to be the artistic supervisor. I don't think of myself as a genius, but the fact is, I worked on Don Quixote with Orson, and was present when he was editing it in Rome, in the early sixties. So if nothing else, they should have asked me to come and tell them the things I knew about the film when they were trying to put it together. They said that since they got the money from the Minister of Culture in Spain, they wanted to make them happy, so for the initial Spanish version they put all this additional material into the picture. So it wasn't done to do justice to Orson's work, it was done to satisfy the money people in the Spanish government. I understood how Palace politics works, so I said, "fine, but when it comes time to make the English version, this cannot go on." Then, I didn't hear from them, so I thought they were having problems with money, and I called them a couple of times, but I was making a film about the war in Croatia, and I couldn't follow-up on what they were doing. Then suddenly I got a call from Juan Almalbert, and he said he had an English version of Don Quixote and he was going to show it at the Edinburgh Film Festival and the Museum of Modern Art in New York. They had prepared this English version, but had never bothered to call me for advice or anything. I thought it would be a good idea to see what they did, so I went to New York, and introduced the film to the audience, but when I saw the film, I was appalled! It was the same as the Spanish version, only spoken in English. The fact is they chose the wrong actors to dub the material. In the version that they screened, you have in many places Orson's own cutting, as well as Orson's voice being used for Sancho Panza and Don Quixote, as well as the narration. He did all three voices. But they didn't find an actor with an older voice to match what Orson had already dubbed for Don Quixote, so now it's terrible, because Orson is speaking like an old man for Don Quixote, and then suddenly you have this very energetic voice popping in, and continuing Don Quixote's dialogue. It's very distracting, and it's really terrible. The version they made was really overlong and repetitious, without any rhythm. Orson had shot a sequence in Pamplona, where they empty the streets for the running of the bulls. It's very exciting footage, because the bulls are running through the streets to the arena, and the boys are jumping on them, and people get hurt, because there's crowds of people mixing with the bulls, and they crowd around trying to get into the entrance of the arena. So after this breathtaking footage, of the bulls climbing over people and themselves, suddenly there's a long shot of the arena, with a tiny figure of a toreador and a little bull, that just doesn't work. After all the wonderful excitement of the running of the bulls, you have this deadly silence, with these two tiny figures lost in the sand. It just doesn't function.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: Is Orson Welles' voice still used in the narration?
OJA KODAR: He's the narrator just a little bit, in short places, and then his voice is dubbed in for Don Quixote and Sancho Panzo. There's something else they did, which is not in the spirit of Orson's work. They added four-letter words, which Orson was very much against. If somebody was sitting at Orson's table and said, "Fuck," Orson would say, "this is the last time you say such a thing at my table." And if you forgot yourself and said it again, you were out. He didn't want you sitting with him. Now, they've added these four letter words in an attempt to modernize the film. That's the only reason I can see for it.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: In one interview, Welles said he was worried about releasing the film, even though it was almost finished, because he felt it would please no one. He thought it would enrage people, so I imagine he certainly wouldn't approve of this bastardized Jess Franco version.
OJA KODAR: Yes, Orson had a very carefully worked out editing plan, which this version is only a shadow of. As I said, they even changed things from the footage that Orson had already edited. Right now, they cannot sell the film, or give it do a distributor without my authorization. I did sell the material to the Spanish Minister of Culture, but I was afraid that it was going to get out of my hands, and my lawyer was smart enough to make sure I had to authorize the final version of whatever they came up with. I wasn't just going to sell them this material and say goodbye to it. I'm not a cynic; I wanted it to be finished as close as possible to what Orson had in mind. We cannot really know how Orson would have done it, because we're just crawling behind him, but at least give an honest effort to do what Orson wanted. Now they're stuck with me. I don't know what will happen next.
Finally, here are the press notes prepared by Blackwood International and Juan Almalbert for the Jess Franco version of Don Quxiote in 1992, which they had hoped to sell internationally before Oja Kodar put a stop to it.
Against all the odds and thanks to a few visionaries, here at last comes Orson Welles' Don Quixote. This man whose spirit certainly rests next to Leonardo da Vinci's, Picasso's, John Fords, Duke Ellington's, and J. S. Bach, to name but a few, and whose ashes rest in Andlucia.
May he be indulgent with his modest disciples, that's all we ask him, especially since he had alwasy lived guided by the same feeling that made us see it through: love.
Visions and Visionaries
Maybe DON QUIXOTE OF ORSON WELLES should have been left undiscovered and unfinished along with all the unfinished masterpieces of the world. In Spain, when an attempt was made to finish the famous GAUDI CATHEDRAL it was a dissatisfying disaster, and today it remains unfinished. But because of visionaries and an adventuristic spirit, attempts continue to be made to finish the dream of GAUDI.
ORSON WELLES spent at least 15 years (stop and start) with DON QUIXOTE. The film has been sitting in garages and cellars all over the world for another 20 years. Then producer Patxi Irigoren and director Jess Franco came along to do what has been attempted by many.
A three continent search for all existing footage and material was made and purchased by two visionaries and admirers of ORSON WELLES. Many problems arose, as they always do when one takes on the impossible. I am sure after working on the project of DON QUIXOTE, Jess Franco and Patxi Irigoren asked themselves "what the hell did I get myself into?" If finding the material wasn't hard enough, the condition of the footage was an even greater disaster. The film was shot on every different millimeter invented at the time. It was in such bad condition that most of us would have abandoned the project, counted our blessing and moved on. Instead the film went to Munich to be cleaned, sometimes frame by frame, practically having to be unglued to be saved. The entire process took two years of continuous labor.
Eventually, DON QUIXOTE OF ORSON WELLES was presented just in time for the Spanish Expo in Sevilla in 1992.
It seems to me the world is full of visionaries and dreamers; MIGUEL DE CERVANTES, the author of the half lunatic and beautiful spiritual DON QUIXOTE, ORSON WELLES who attempted a half hour film of DON QUIXOTE which was rejected in 1955, and Jess Franco and Patxi Irigoren, who nearly 40 years later for dare to continue in the spirit of CERVANTES and WELLES.
Ultimately, I will leave the outcome in the hands of SANCHO PANZA, the squire of DON QUIXOTE, who followed blindly having nothing more than his instincts and a dream. A promise made by DON QUIXOTE of one day having a little piece of island for him and his family. Enjoy.
Orson Welles began filming DON QUIXOTE in 1955 and continued to shoot, stop and starting for over fourteen years. More than once it has been documented that Welles shot so much material that three movies could have been made. For all intent and purposes, all the principle shooting was completed in the early seventies.
When asked about the release of DON QUIXOTE, Welles would reply with one explanation after another, as to why it wasn't the right time to unleash such a film. There is the story of a fantastic explosion destroying the whole world except for Don Quixote and Sancho Panza and Welles not having the money to shoot this scene. Naturally, there would be a delay. It has also been repeatedly documented that Welles felt it was important that one of his more commercial attempts have some measure of success before unveiling DON QUIXOTE. Depending on who you ask, or which biography you read, the story changes and gets more interesting. The fact is, this is the only film done completely with Welles own money, and it is doubtful whether he would have accepted any money to complete it; if it meant giving up any creative freedom. So filming continued with intervals of months or years between shoots. DON QUIXOTE was also shot in at least four different countries. Because of Welles determination and love of his subject, DON QUIXOTE evolved as a very important part of his life and like an overprotective parent, Welles guarded the film from the media; that had shown Welles in the past how brutal life can be with the flick of a pen.
Weeks before the passing of Francisco Reiguera, he pleaded with Orson; that so much of their lives were invested in the film, "that it must be released." He knew his days were numbered. In any event, the actor died, and so did Welles, never having shown DON QUIXOTE to the public � perhaps as his ultimate revenge against those who thwarted his enormous potential. Thirty-eight years have passed since filming began, and all the principle cast members have passed on as well.
In 1989 Patxi Irigoyen and Jess Franco began gathering the material of DON QUIXOTE. Everyone they spoke to about the project described the hurdles encountered in previous efforts to do the same (the most complete was a 40 minute version edited by Costa Gavras under the auspices of the Cinematheque Francoise and shown at the Cannes Film Festival in 1986). In early 1990, Oja Kodar, owner of the rights to Welles unfinished works, together with Mr. Irigoyen and Jess Franco, began to locate material above and beyond the many negatives and positives. All the original sound Kodar had in her possession was used. Kodar confirmed that Suzanne Cloutier and Mauro Bonanni had footage as well. Suzanne Cloutier was extremely cooperative, which was not, however, the case with Mauro Bonanni. Bonanni held back one sequence - Don Quixote lancing a cinema screen - which, in spite of repeated negotiations, could not be included in our version. It is a near certainty that this is the only material filmed by Welles which is missing.
Don Quixote was a inseparable part of Orson Welles' life. When he left Italy and had to leave the material there, he told Bonanni to take care of them as he would his own son. The material which has been found has lead to a film which reflects Orson Welles' profound vision of the characters, the work of Cervantes and of Spain itself. This is an extraordinarily beautiful film with outstanding performances by Reiguera and Tamiroff. We are drawn into a world of imagination brought to life by the genius of Orson Welles.
Jess Franco, second unit director of Welles FALSTAFF, and the uncompleted TREASURE ISLAND as well as a personal friend of Welles, was present for much of the Spanish shooting of DON QUIXOTE. He explains that some of the notes Welles left were sometimes handwritten, some jotted on the film celluloid itself, others on the clappers and still more in the 62 minutes of narration which Welles had done for the soundtrack and for the voices of the main characters.
We hope that this version presented by Blackwood International Film Inc./El Silencio with the invaluable participation of Jess Franco. will introduce the world to one of the most beautiful works conceived by Orson Welles.