Don Quixote: Orson Welles’ Secret
Given the very lively discussion about the various possibities of completing Don Quixote that is ongoing on the forum, here - as requested - is the complete text of Audrey Stainton's excellent article on the filming of Don Quixote and it's subsequent editing, that appeared in Sight and Sound in 1988.
********************************* The Inside Story of the Film Orson Welles called Il Mio Bambino
By Audrey Stainton
Sight and Sound - Autumn 1988
A great deal has been said lately about Orson Welles film of Don Quixote. Scraps of it (in pitiful condition) have been exhibited in Rotterdam, Cannes and Barcelona, as if to deliberately confirm the general belief that Welles never finished the film, that he wasted hundreds of thousands of dollars (as Charles Higham wrote in his recent book) on a dream he had not the constancy to complete. But this is not true. Welles efforts to make Don Quixote are common knowledge. How far he succeeded seems not to be known at all.I worked for Welles, on and off, as his secretary, more or less, throughout 1958 and 1959. I was lucky enough to see some of Don Quixote being shot. I typed some of the script, I saw some of the film on the moviola and I have talked at length to some of the others who worked on it at one time or another.I do not claim to know the whole story. I doubt if anyone does. Not one of his collaborators worked on the film from beginning to end: either they gave up after a while, or he dropped them or left them behind when he moved on to a different country. Hardly any of them were allowed to know more than the minimum indispensable to their work and he was often reluctant to tell them even that. Imparting information was against his principles. He once stopped me explaining to a driver where we wanted to go. Dont confuse these peoples brains with explanations, he told me. Just wait and then say, Turn left.As a result, the facts concerning Welles are hard to ascertain. He had such a mania for secrecy that he resented any attempt to probe into his thoughts or his life or his work; and he delighted in telling stories about himself that were notoriously, sometimes fantastically, untrue. But of one thing at least I am sure: Don Quixote was his passion. Il mio bambino, he used to call it. Meet my twelve year old child, he told his young editor, Mauro Bonanni, dramatically opening the big black suitcase he used to carry it around in, the day Mauro started work with him in 1969.
He began shooting it in Mexico City in August 1957 and struggled on with it in spurts whenever he had enough money to shoot a bit more. It was his own money he was using and he hardly ever had enough. He hardly ever had any. But from the way he embarked on making Don Quixote, you would have thought he was a millionaire.
If it had been carefully planned and controlled, in those early days it could probably have been made for about $100,000. But Welles hated planning and controlling. He launched into Don Quixote without a shooting schedule or a production manager or even a definite script, and just went on an on, first in one country, then another, forced to leave the precious footage in storage here and there every time the money ran out, losing bits of it on the wayside, and above all losing time, year after year of invaluable time, while his actors grew inexorably older and the cost went up and up and up.
Some people say he didnt finish it because he was afraid of completion, but I doubt if Welles was ever afraid of anything. Dissatisfied, yes. It was his perpetual dissatisfaction that was his undoing, his perpetual craving for perfection. Theres always a better way, he used to tell another editor, Renzo Lucidi, who was the first to set his hand to the editing of Don Quixote, in 1959. And it was in search of that better way, in all his work, that Welles would go on chopping and changing, rewriting and recutting, till he spent more than he or anyone else could afford. Big producers would fire him and sometime dump the work he had done. Small producers crumpled and gave up. But Welles himself was well-nigh heroic in his persistent, fanatical endeavors to go on with Don Quixote year after year after year, when the practical odds against its ever being completed appeared to be rocketing day by day.
Francisco Reiguera Perez, who played Don Quixote, was 71 in 1959. But whether it was the make-up or his acting or because he really had aged beyond his years, he looked exceedingly ancient to me even then. One had the feeling he might die any minute, that his every shot might be the last. Akim Tamiroff, who was sixty, looked young by comparison, but how many years could he be expected to go on playing Sancho Panza while waiting indefinitely to get paid? Wheres the money? he used to groan every now and then, with his wry smile of everlasting resignation, but Welles knew he could count on his loyalty and friendship and that he would not have dreamt of stopping work. Reiguera, who was not a personal friend, may have taken a different view. A political refugee from Spain, resident in Mexico since 1940, he had not had exactly a brilliant career as an actor. Suddenly finding himself, in his old age, playing the part of a lifetime, he thought he was entitled to some money as well as fame.
But one formidable obstacle that stood in the way of completion was the unfinished role of Dulcinea, Don Quixotes idealized lady-love. Those who saw the footage of Don Quixote that was screened at Cannes in 1986 noticed that the role (to quote Variety) was to have been played by Patty McCormack, who appeared nowhere, however, in the scenes shown.
Patty McCormack actually did shoot most of the part, in Mexico City in 1957--when she was twelve years old. Quite a special twelve year old she was, too. She had made her debut on the stage at the age of ten, in a Maxwell Anderson play called The Bad Seed, and her performance was so outstanding that in 1956 she was called to Hollywood to play the same part in the film based on the play, which was produced and directed by Mervyn LeRoy. Orson Welles spotted her then and cast her as his Dulcinea.
The unorthodoxy of this casting should make it plain that his Don Quixote was never a straightforward rendering of Cervantes book. Though the characters of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza seem to have stepped straight out of Cervantes pages; though they wear their usual seventeenth-century costumes and their dialogue is substantially Cervantes own, their adventures take place, not in seventeenth-century Spain, but in the chaotic streets of today. The film begins with Orson Welles himself reading the story to a little girl called Dulcie and, as it unfolds on the screen, we find the bedazzled old would-be knight errant astray in modern times, where he not only mistakes flocks of sheep for armies, but charges into a movie theatre and plunges his sword into the screen, slashing it to shreds in his effort to defend a damsel in distress in the film being shown.
Orson Welles imagination was unleashed on this novel approach to the story, there was no end to the paradoxical situations that sprang to mind. Yet it was Cervantes himself who made Don Diego de Miranda exclaim, How can there possibly be knight errants in the world today?--an exclamation that becomes all the more apt if Don Diego first encounters Don Quixote in our own world of today. And as it is to twelve-year old Dulcie that the story is being told, it is only natural that she should see herself (in her everyday modern clothes) stepping into the shoes of the legendary Dulcinea and doing her best to help and protect the bungling old knight.
Patty McCormack only vaguely recalls being in Mexico City with this terrifying man, Orson Welles--terrifying, that is, with everybody else, but astonishingly gentle with her. She gained the impression that he related better to children than to adults, which doesnt mean that he didnt drive her crazy by constantly changing the lines she had learnt. She never saw a script, only her own dialogue on loose pages that he kept rewriting and making her memorize all over again. Strangely enough, though she certainly did so, she does not remember shooting any scenes with Akim Tamiroff and Francisco Reiguera, but she does clearly recall that they were both in Mexico, as she was, for two months.
Two months? Hows that? Heres a man who is by no means rich trying to make a film with his own money and he keeps an actress and her mother in Mexico for two months when, according to Patty, he only had her shooting for several days. Pattys mother, Elizabeth Russo (McCormack is a stage name) says he wanted them there a couple of weeks ahead, and that when the fiesta of Independence got too rowdy for their liking, he packed them off to stay in Cuernavaca. Is this the man people say never had a cent in his pocket? Ah, but there are other stories, too, of his pulling out handfuls of cash and giving it away.
Elizabeth Russo quotes an example. One day when there was trouble on the set and the crew were all very tense, she says she stepped in herself and calmed them down, and Orson was so grateful that he pulled out a wad of notes and told her to go and buy herself a hat. But I dont want a hat! she protested. Go and buy whatever you want, then, he said--and she discovered he had given her four hundred dollars. Mrs. Russo was enchanted with this episode, but remembering how Welles abhorred interference on the set, especially if it was female. I cannot help wondering whether his Go and buy yourself a hat! as kindly intended as she thought.
The fact remains that he was handing out money without bothering to count it. Evidently he was feeling more like a millionaire than usual. He had been in Hollywood for quite a while, writing and directing Touch of Evil and acting in The Long Hot Summer, as well as doing a number of things for television, so presumably he thought he was in a position to throw money away. Unfortunately, he was wrong and his extravagance proved disastrous. Exactly what happened I dont know, but it must have been something drastic and unexpected, because foolhardy though he may have been in regard to finance, he was meticulous about whatever concerned his films. He knew that children quickly change and that it was madness not to complete all of Patty McCormacks part. Yet not only did he run out of money before he had done so; suddenly he was in such dire straits that he was obliged to shelve Don Quixote for two years and limit himself to earning what he could from assignments such as directing documentaries in Rome for American television.
He also acted in two or three films, but not always for cash. One of them, John Hustons The Roots of Heaven, was produced by Darryl Zanuck, to whom Welles owed a lot of money. Having nothing but his services to offer by way of repayment, he agreed to play a cameo in The Roots of Heaven for the token fee of a second-hand moviola worth no more than $1,000. Zanuck had taken it out of Twentieth Century-Foxs office in Rome and sent it to Fregne, on the coast, outside of Rome, where Welles then lived (and where Federico Fellini was a neighbor). I know this from Signor Pescerelli (of Prevost, the moviola suppliers), who delivered and installed it personally and later went several times to repair it when it broke down. He clearly remembers the shed in the garden that Welles had turned into a cutting room, where I subsequently worked at that same moviola myself. The reason Welles needed the moviola there was so that he could work on the editing of Don Quixote during the time he was unable to shoot.
Incidentally, Welles only took the part in Roots of Heaven on condition that he never had to set foot in Africa, where the entire film was being shot. In this he proved doubly wise: not only did he avoid the murderous conditions of Chad, which cost several members of the crew their health and sanity, but the scene he is in, which was shot in comfort at Fountainebleau, near Paris, looks more convincingly like Africa than anything else in the film.
So the whole of 1958 passed and after that Welles went to China to shoot Ferry to Hong Kong. He returned to Rome with a house full of Chinese furniture in the summer of 1959, when he immediately began preparing to resume the shooting of Don Quixote.
Patty McCormack was by then fourteen. As it was no use hoping she still looked the same as when she was twelve, Welles found a girl in Rome who bore some resemblance to her and had her dress copied from a photograph by an Italian seamstress. He went so far as to give the girl a screen test, but all that came of it was a very long shot of her on a balcony. How was he to find a girl of twelve who not only looked like Patty McCormack but also possessed some of her talent? Certainly he had no intention of reshooting those early scenes with a different girl, and for the moment he put the problem out of his mind and concentrated on writing the scene he was about to shoot with Akim Tamiroff and Francisco Reiguera. All he cared about in August 1959 was that he had them both in Rome and had found a way to finance a few more weeks shooting.
He had agreed to play the part of Saul in an Italian epic called David and Goliath, on condition that he directed his own scenes and shot them after 5pm for a fee of 5,000,000 lire per night (roughly $8,000 then). Plus me as his secretary.
I had no wish to be his secretary and he knew it. Looking back, I am as much amazed by his determination to make me work for him as by my own determination not to. This strange tug-of-war between us had been going on since February 1958, when I first was asked to take down some dialogue in short-hand for him from the moviola. Then he started asking me to type things for him--scraps of dialogue, notes, ideas--and though I already had a full-time job as executive secretary and rated mere typing as somewhat beneath the level of my capabilities, it was such fascinating stuff that I was easily tempted into doing any amount of it in the evenings. But I steadfastly refused his repeated requests that I drop everything else and work permanently for him.
It seems incredible now that I did not snatch at the chance to bask all day long in the shadow of that frequently obnoxious charmer, that irresponsible, unforgettable giant. But I was young enough then to think that genius was no excuse for bad manners. In small doses, he was exhilarating, inspiring, extraordinary, but totally unbearable for any length of time. He drove me berserk with his tantrums, his never doing what he said he was going to do, his ringing up and demanding my urgent presence and then not being there when I arrived, or deciding he didnt need me after all, or flying into a fit of rage if I said I was too tired to work all night. But this is an emergency! Shes got to do it! I heard him shouting at his wife one evening when I had been coaxed into coming on condition that it was only for a short while. Paola Welles was doing her best to soften the impact of one of his bad moods, but I could hear him stamping about slamming doors and when she returned it transpired that what he said I had to do was spend all night at the moviola with him while he wrote the dialogue he was going to shoot the next day. I walked out that time, swearing never to work for him again, but my resolution was fairly short-lived, like that of so many other people who walked out on him in despair and later went running back.
Now that the tantrums have faded to irrelevancies lost in the past, I know what a privilege it was to type and retype all those pages, to have the opportunity to watch and learn from the way he corrected and corrected again, shooting out spikes in all directions pointing to new words and new ideas, until the original snippet of text began to look like a hedgehog and it took a certain gift of telepathy to decipher the mess.
All his writing was done in this way, each page a kernel of inspiration. He never began at the beginning of a script and worked through to the end; he went straight to the heart of the drama and gradually developed it outwards from the core. Or lost interest and dropped it almost at once. The curious thing is that he insisted on my using a new carbon for every page that I typed. This small but significant fact leads me to wonder if he was more orderly than he allowed anyone to know. Even when he was finally satisfied with any single page of a script, he would let no one see it. But somewhere, hidden away, he kept an immaculate carbon copy of everything he wrote, a habit in striking disaccord with the legend of a man so untidy that he even lost his own films.
Before long I relented and started typing for him again. I was newly married and had given up my job and the fascination of Welles writing was irresistible. But to be his full-time secretary, even only on David and Goliath, was a different matter altogether. When I persisted in turning the invitation down, the producer, Mimmo Salvi, told me he was ready to pay me whatever I cared to ask, in order to make Mr. Welles happy. And as just then I honestly had no room in my life for Mr. Welles, I named the giddy figure of $200 a week, a sum unheard of in Italy in 1959 for a secretary, no matter how high-powered. I was amazed and flattered when Signor Salvi promptly agreed, but then there I was stuck with the job. Or rather the two jobs, because from that moment on, Welles assumed I was working on Don Quixote too. In fact, until David and Goliath started, it was Don Quixote and nothing else.
The first day I found myself on the set of Don Quixote, Welles was working out in the wilds, near Manziana. It had been agreed that I was not to join him there until the following day, but then came the usual frantic message, with a car ready to rush me out of Rome at top speed, to where a jeep was waiting to race me over the last lap, across country that got rougher and bumpier all the way. By the time I reached the spot where they were shooting, he had entirely forgotten what it was that he needed me there so urgently to do. I did nothing that day except comfort Colombina, his miniature dachshund, when she became particularly distressed by the confusion and the heat. But not for anything in the world would I have missed being there.
It was a sweltering day in August and I had come without a hat, never suspecting that, less than an hour from Rome, I would land in the desert. But there it was--if not quite the Sahara, certainly the nearest thing to it: a parched and barren plain that was perfect for the scene where Don Quixote attacks a flock of sheep declaring that they are armies, but not much fun for the poor sheep, who, when I arrived, had gone into a scrimmage, huddling together with their heads inwards to try to protect themselves from the heat. Sancho Panzas donkey had lain down on its side and looked about to peg out any minute. I got sunburnt just walking across the stretch of ground where the overheated and by then pretty surly-looking crew was clustered around one umbrella that was shading no one.
The crew, obviously, was not very big. In the course of the years, a number of different technicians worked on Don Quixote with Welles, but in 1959, when he was having to squeeze the most out of every lire he had, he was doing most things himself, with the help of a wrangler and a grip, two drivers and a camera operator. There was neither an assistant director, nor an electrician, nor any lights. Two years later, in Spain, he was able to afford all these things, and also a soundman to record the dialogue, a luxury sadly lacking in 1959, when even his wife (who in Confidential Report had played one of the leading parts), had been roped in to act as a script girl, cashier and provider of sandwiches, none of which she had ever dreamt of doing before, nor was it, I think, her idea of heaven to be doing them then, least of all for such a merciless taskmaster as her husband.
No sooner had I arrived than we proceeded to have lunch, all crammed into about one square yard of shade behind a haystack: Akim Tamiroff and Francisco Reiguera, Orson Welles and his friend Hilton Edwards of the Gate (renamed the Gaiety) Theatre in Dublin who was to play Samuel in David and Goliath, shepherds and sheepdogs, one driver and his car, the wrangler, the grip, the camera operator, Colombina and me. Paola Welles preferred the sun to the flea-ridden look of the shepherds dogs, who refused to be removed from the only scrap of shade for miles around.
The location Welles had chosen for right after lunch was on top of a mountain. It was only a small mountain, but perpendicularly steep, almost stalagmite-shaped. Everyone looked askance when we realized he had decided we would all have to clamber up there in that heat. Then we spotted a rival crew setting off to scale the very same peak.
I should explain that the area around Manziana is unusually varied, unspoilt and useful to people making films. You can find practically anything there: mountains and caves, ruins and cliffs, rocks, woods, desert, a stream with a quaint wooden bridge--and not a house or a telegraph pole in sight. The only snag is that it has become a kind of annex to Cinecittŕ. No crew can count on being the only one in any particular spot.
But it was no use hoping we might now be spared mountaineering at siesta time. Welles set off on his own, announcing that he was going to see if there was room up there for two crews. Quite a vision he was too, sailing solidly upwards, that enormous man in a bright boiler suit, with a large straw hat planted on his head and a dainty Japanese sunshade in his hand. Orson Welles is about to get lost in a mountain, Hilton Edwards remarked in his jovial way; and Paola added with a wistful sigh, If only he would get lost--for a month!
He didnt. He sent the order back to follow him and we braced ourselves for the climb. The path was not only steep, it was rocky and dangerously narrow--an ordeal for Akim Tamiroff, sweating under his Sancho Panza padding and heavy makeup. As for Francisco Reiguera, weighed down by a suit of armour, complete with lance and spurs, it was decided that the only way to get him up there at all would be to sit him on his horse and hope for the best. So between the grip and the wrangler, they hoisted him into the saddle and there he sat, looking frail and helpless and bewildered, as they jogged him up that perilous path with a sheer drop down from the edge. It must have seemed like a nightmare. By the time he reached the top, he was badly scared.
At that point, things began to take a comic turn. The rival film crew turned out to be shooting, not a film, but a photo-romance--one of those melodramatic picture-stories that specialized Italian magazines print like comic strips composed of still photographs instead of drawings, each frame showing the actors frozen in a tableau, with the dialogue in balloons. Fellinis film The White Sheik was about a simple girls passion for one of these photo-romances and its tinsel-and-paste sheik-hero. The hero and heroine we found on our mountain were two beautiful people in improbable costumes presumably meant to be some kind of cowboy and cowgirl. They were entwined in a romantic posture against a background of weird Etruscan caves and a ruined castle. This Piranesi-type decor looked fairly improbable too, but it was not the work of an over-romantic art director; it actually did (and does) grace the top of that mountain and Orson Welles, who planned to use it, considered it natures own special gift to him. As for the intruders, he simply ignored them and started setting up his first shot as if his contempt had blotted them clean out of sight.
I dont know what the photo-romance people made of it when this voluminous and, I should have thought, eminently recognizable world-famous genius suddenly loomed up over the cliff-side and began shooting a masterpiece bang on top of their own tawdry little tableau. As far as I recall, they did not appear overawed; and they clung willy-nilly to their priority rights (and to their modest daily pay) as the ones who had indisputably got there first. They had with them about half a dozen horses, several dogs and a mule. Add to this our own horse and donkey, plus Colombina and ourselves, and it should be obvious that the few square yards available on the top of a smallish mountain was a space quite inadequate to accommodate us all. Since neither side would give way, the two crews were soon inextricably intermingled. In the midst of the chaos that ensued, Orson Welles was lying on the ground with his eye to his Cameflex camera, calmly rehearsing his scene with Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, oblivious to the two beautiful cowpeople who were posing for their tableaux only a few feet behind.
Francisco Reiguera looked more dazed than usual that day and no wonder, at his age and in that heat, after being carted around the countryside in full armor, hauled on and off his horse and frightened to death. As he was incapable of memorizing a single word, his part had to be written up on huge boards for him to read out, line by line. I dont know if he was a good actor; an old man mouthing words he can hardly pronounce is apt to give the impression that he is not. At the time, I thought Welles genius was rarely more evident than in the way he transformed that old man I saw on the set into the splendid Knight of the Sad Countenance I saw later on the screen, imbued with all the poetical pathos of Cervantes Don Quixote. But at the Churubusca Studio in Mexico City they have preserved a note that Welles wrote to Reiguera, complimenting him on his performance; so perhaps I was wrong in thinking that Welles moulded that performance out of thin air and brought it to life with the magic of his own voice.
Yes, he post-synched both parts himself and he did it superbly, giving Don Quixote a distinguished British accent and Sancho Panza a homelier, more American type of speech. I cannot imagine anyone doing it better, nor who but he could have handled the section he had shot without a guide track. Who but he, carrying the script in his head (for it appeared to exist nowhere else) could have caught the pauses and the faltering words that Reiguera was seen silently mouthing on the screen and miraculously matched them with his own powerful rendering of the same lines?
On Don Quixote his method of post-synching was so unorthodox that it would be more accurate to call it prevoicing. Mauro Bonnani described the process to me as follows. First, before editing, Welles recorded the dialogue, sequence by sequence, wild, which means without screening the film and regardless of the actors lip movements. In this way, he established the rhythm he wanted his editor to follow in cutting the film. The editor had to adapt the image to the voice, instead of vice versa. Only after this was done and Welles was satisfied with the rhythm of the sequence, would he study the lip movements on the moviola and adapt his own speech accordingly, while recording an improvised guide track of his own on a small Philips tape-recorder.
This, according to Mauro, served as a guide that he used in rehearsing his dialogue in tune with the lip movements he had now established. The next day, when he recorded the dialogue again, he would run over it first with his tape-recorder switched on; then he would always switch it off and record from memory, but always wild. Afterwards, he checked the result with the image and if he found anything unsatisfactory he would record it again and again (changing the words, if necessary) until he got it in synch; but Mauro says it was extraordinary how close he could get to perfect synchronization with this unique method of his.
Mauro is convinced that it was entirely for reasons of secrecy that Welles refused to follow the customary post-synching procedure by having loops made and screened. He would allow no one to see bits of Don Quixote for any reason whatsoever. He even locked the door of the cutting room when they were working on the editing. For the same reason, he refused to involve outside experts in the execution of opticals. Whether these were speed-ups or slow-downs or any of the devices that modern technology handles with ease, he and Mauro laboriously achieved the required results by hand, removing alternate frames for speed-ups or inserting alternate white frames to slow the pace. Whatever had to be done, they did themselves, so that no one else need enter the enchanted circle.
Small wonder that I know of no one who ever saw a screenplay of Don Quixote, only loose pages, like those I typed myself, the ones he was writing and rewriting as he went along, and the post-synched dialogue I took down in shorthand from the moviola. I doubt if he ever bound them together. Why tie himself down?
This loose-page method of his exceeded all limits on David and Goliath. Ignoring the Italian screenplay, he just picked up the Bible, had me type out episodes concerning Saul and turned them into scenes--which he refused to hand over to the crew, either before, during, or after shooting. The assistant director was in despair at being left in the dark and, seeing his point, I finally yielded to his entreaties and took to making extra copies of those Top Secret pages of pure Bible and furtively handing them over, like a Russian spy in Berlin.
One night Welles caught me doing this and was enraged--as well he might be, I admit, for his scenes made mincemeat of the plot. He had killed off a character who was alive in the final scene (which had already been shot) and made another character turn up alive after he was dead. He had turned a deaf ear when I tried to point this out. Nor did he care if an Italian actor had been hired to play Samuel and had already shot some scenes. The part of Samuel was ideal for his friend Hilton Edwards, and by bringing him over and making Mimmo Salvi pay him a salary, he was not only giving Hilton some help with his disastrous financial situation, but also giving himself the combined pleasures of Hiltons witty, convivial company and dependably fine performance, together with a chance to discuss their plans for a production at the Gaiety Theatre in Dublin of what was to become the stage version of his Chimes at Midnight. How many birds can you kill with one stone--and all at Mimmo Salvis expense? Later he had an idea: to let Francisco Reiguera earn some money by playing the Witch of Endor, a brainwave that wreaked havoc on Salvis budget and shooting schedule and compelled him to build an entirely new set in another studio (the De Paolis), since there was no room for it at the Safa Palatino Studio, where the rest of the film was being shot.
Poor Mimmo Salvi was no match for Welles, who took the attitude that anyone who dares involve a genius in a piece of trash can expect to be punished for his impudence. And punished Mimmo Salvi was, with a vengeance. I dont think Welles considered David and Goliath a film at all, only a source of finance for Don Quixote, and as such to be pumped dry without a qualm in the name of true creativity.
I never saw David and Goliath after it was finished, but I understand they somehow managed to make sense of it by cutting and changing the dialogue and reducing it all to the lowest common denominator. On this level it was released, in second and third run cinemas, like any other undistinguished Italian epic. No one pounced on it as a curio. No one appeared to be startled by the effect of routine historical stodge amazingly interspersed, whenever Saul appeared on the scene, with snatches of biblical poetry and low angle photography in the inimitable style of Orson Welles.
But some of it must have been striking, because at first, for a while, Welles gave in to his irresistible urge to do all things well and seemed to forget that he was filming anything other than a deep psychological study of the character of Saul. For several nights he was all smiles; he charmed the crew. They kept on saying to me, But hes so nice! Whats all this talk of him being a monster? Indeed, when he wanted to be nice, no one could be nicer. But he soon became bored and his boredom increased his behavior got worse and worse.
He was also making unreasonable demands on his exceptional stamina, shooting Don Quixote out in the country every day from 6 am to 4 pm and then driving straight into Rome to shoot David and Goliath from 5 pm until 2 in the morning. It then took him forty minutes to reach his home. The fact that this crazy schedule left him with only one or two hours sleep did not, on the face of it, seem to bother him much. In the daytime he was never tired, so driven was he by his love for Don Quixote. But those long nights playing Saul were heavy going. To help himself through, he drank a whole bottle of brandy each night, and as the level of the liquor went down, his temper flared up. He would lash out at the slightest provocation, such as when the wardrobe assistant handed him a moonstone ring to wear. Dont you know moonstone brings bad luck? he screamed, hurling the ring to the far end of the stage and terrifying the culprit out of his wits. At other times, he would sink into glowering taciturnity and the venom in his eyes would be more frightening than his screams.
Towards the end, he was loathing every moment of what had become a self-imposed ordeal. At the same time, he was intent on dragging it out. He adopted all kinds of ruses to slow up the shooting, because the more nights it lasted, the more days he could afford to go on shooting Don Quixote, thanks to Mimmo Salvis incautious agreement to pay him five million lire per night, without limitation. He would excogitate complicated set-ups that took two hours to prepare, such as a great tower of scaffolding by virtue of which, while David was playing his harp, he and Saul were inexplicably perched high up in the air instead of on the ground. This had everyone baffled, but the whole crew kept a straight face until Paola Welles came breezing in and said, What are you doing up there? and just for once Welles looked like a little boy caught stealing the jam.
But if he was momentarily fazed by Paolas candour, this did not deter him from having the scaffolding shifted to the far end of the floor for the next set-up. This gave him another two hours with Akim Tamiroff, who used to spend his nights out there in his Sancho Panza costume, sitting hunched up on a table with a blanket over his head, waiting for Welles to pop out and shoot a few close-ups whenever he could snatch the time.
Welles used to hoard close-ups the way a squirrel hoards nuts for the winter. It is a pity he was not equally provident with his money. But a good stock of close-ups was worth more to him than gold, when his actors were gone and he was sitting at the moviola with nothing to play with but his cans of film.
After David and Goliath, I gave up working for Welles. Actually, I collapsed in tears, muttering, Never, never again! at the end of the last, long, relentless night. I had tried in vain to point out that, unlike him, I needed more than one hours sleep. So how many hours a day can you work? he had asked in a tiredly tolerant tone, as if I was starting a campaign for a thirty-hour week. In any case, we went on exactly as before. My admiration for him remains unbounded, but as an employer he was impossible. There came a time when I could stand his rudeness no longer. But he has such a high opinion of you, Paola protested when I told her so. He certainly doesnt show it, I retorted. I know, she said, but you see, he always has to unloose his venom on someone. If its not you, its usually me, when Im around.
I had quite forgotten this until I read about it in an old letter of mine. There is no trace left in my memory now of the rudeness I complained of then. The image of Welles I retain is of a man devastatingly alone. In his good moods, in company he enjoyed, no one could be wittier or more charming, but what I remember most are his long silences, his impenetrable scowls. I see a solitary man in the back seat of a hired car, driving here and there to collect missing shots one by one, an image recently brought to mind by a driver called Aldo De Luca, who says he worked for Welles for two weeks in 1959.
This must have been after I left, at the end of September, when Tamiroff and Reiguera had departed and Mimmo Salvis driver was no longer at his disposal. It was Romolo Spada, a man who normally supplied horses, who hired Aldo De Luca to drive Welles out into the country every day, to a place where, alone with his camera operator and the wrangler and one grip, he devoted two weeks to shooting close-ups of the horse and donkey and long shots of Don Quixote on horseback, with the wrangler as a stand-in for Reiguera.
After that, Don Quixote suffered another two-year suspension while Welles was busy on other things: theatre in Dublin and London and acting in films, mostly in France. One film (The Tartars), with exteriors in Yuogoslavia, brought him back to Rome for interiors in August 1960, when he seized the chance to grab a few extra shots of Don Quixote without the actors, or so I am told by Renzo Lucidis son, Maurizio, now an established director himself, who at that time worked with Welles for about three years. All the shooting of Don Quixote was done in August and September, because, as Welles explained to Mauro Bonanni, only then do you see those particular cumulus clouds that are almost a leitmotif throughout the film. He was only once obliged to shoot in July, in order to catch a scene with the bulls running wild in the streets at the fiesta of San Fermin in Pamplona, in Spain.
In the summer of 1961, he summoned Tamiroff and Reiguera to Spain and shot a good deal, with what was for him a sizeable crew. That year he had a soundman, an electrician to assist his Spanish camera operator, Ricardo Navarete, and some days a couple of assistants to help with make-up. He had music recorded for the title background by the guitarist Juan Serano, and he had Maurizio Lucidi as his assistant director-cum-editor, whom he expected, as a matter of course, to do the job of script girl, trouble-shooter and general dogsbody too. If he was still loath to pay his actors, it was only because he thought it more important to spend what had to be spent on basic production costs, in order to shoot as much as he could while the actors were there, rather than hand over cash that, as he saw it, they could easily do without until he could afford to pay them without jeopardizing his chances of finishing the film.
He had still not finished it by the end of September 1961, and in 1962, when he was mainly busy shooting The Trial, his work on Don Quixote was limited to editing. After that, he moved permanently to Spain and, though I know he continued to shoot Don Quixote there, I have nothing precise to report until the end of 1968, when he came back to Italy to start shooting Shylock, a half-hour television film that is actually just one section of a seven-part TV special that he shot in Italy, France, Austria, England and the United States, for the BBC.
In 1969 this kept him immensely busy, but in among the constant comings and goings it involved, he spent two days at Civitavecchia (on the coast 48 miles north of Rome) with his camera operator Giorgio Tonti, shooting pan shots of the countryside for Don Quixote. These seem to have been positively the last shots of the film. By then Reiguera was 81 and in November that year he died. But Welles was still reluctant to give up. As late as 1970, Giorgio Tonti tells me, he started to search for yet another girl who looked like Patty McCormack. Had he found one, it would have been a good excuse to shoot some more. If he could have dug Reiguera out of his grave and discovered some potion to rejuvenate Tamiroff, Im sure he would have gone on shooting new scenes forever. But alas, that glorious game was over. All he could do now was edit and re-edit what he had shot.
Mauro Bonanni worked with Welles as assistant editor from April 1969 until March 1970, ostensibly on the BBC television special, but alternating with spells of editing Don Quixote, and experience that has left him with a lasting veneration for Welles and immense nostalgia for the time they spent together in the cutting room.
It came to an end, he tells me, when an Italian magazine published a salacious indiscretion about Welles private life, with a photograph of his wife, Paola, looking sad, and one of Oja Kodar, Welles constant companion, supposedly looking radiant. Always fanatically jealous of his privacy, Welles dodged personal publicity like the plague. And here was some unknown paparazzo trying to ferret out his emotions, splashing his intimate secrets all over a scandal rag.
His rage was so immense that he decided to leave Italy, taking all his work with him, as a dramatic protest against the insult he had received. Since he was in fact obliged to stay until he had finished the work he was doing, he took care to nip the scandal in the bud by checking out of the Hilton Hotel, putting Oja Kodar on the first plane out of Rome, and installing himself in a dressing room at the Safa Palatino Studio, where he remained for a week, virtually in hiding. He stayed on for another two weeks at the unobtrusive Anglo-American Hotel in Via Quattro Fontane and after that he departed, leaving the cut copy of Don Quixote with Mauro. Im entrusting my child to you, he told him. Take good care of him.
More than a year passed before Welles phoned to say he was sending his sixteen-year old daughter Beatrice to collect the cut copy. Mauro met her in the late summer of 1971, in Piazza del Popolo in Rome, where he helped her load Welles big black suitcase containing the cut copy into the trunk of a silver-grey Austin Mini Minor.
Mauro assures me it was a complete film lasting one and a half hours. Some parts of it were not post-synched and some parts needed to be revoiced, because Welles had repeatedly changed his mind regarding the editing and inserted different close-ups that were out of synch. There was no music or sound effects. But all the principal photography had been completed; Francisco Reiguera had finished shooting his part long before he died; and Welles had solved the problem of Dulcinea by a masterly combination of close-ups of Patty McCormack and long or half-concealed shots of a girl resembling her whom he had found in Spain.
According to Mauro, the only image lacking was one special effect: a newsreel shot of some spectacular up-to-date event, which Welles intended to add later to the screen of a television set that Sancho Panza discovers in the plaza at Pamplona. Welles told Mauro that if he had added this in 1970, it would have shown the men landing on the moon, but he preferred to wait, so that what was showing on the screen would be highly topical at the time the film was handed over for release. Even then, evidently, he did not expect that to happen soon. When Im finished with it, Ill release it, he had said on Italian television in 1964. Not when Ive finished it, but when Im finished with it. He loved playing with it at the moviola, trying it this was around and then that. When was he ever going to stop?
In the meantime, incredible as it may seem, he left the negative lying apparently forgotten in a Rome vault, where, but for an extraordinary fluke, it would have suffered the fate of all abandoned material and been destroyed. Luckily, it so happened that Mauros wife worked at the laboratory in question and in 1974 she caught sight of a letter to Anne Rogers, Welles one-time secretary in London, informing her that as Mr. Welles had omitted to pay long overdue storage costs or communicate with them in any way, and as all efforts to trace him had failed, they were obliged to proceed with the routine destruction of the negative.
Alerted by his wife, Mauro rushed to the rescue, but without authorization he was not allowed to take charge of the negative, only to pay a cautionary deposit and postpone the destruction for three months. It took him all of those three months to locate Welles, but in September 1974 Welles sent a letter authorizing him to take the negative into custody. Mauro has been guarding it ever since with loving care, along with the secret of its whereabouts, shouldering the expense of its storage out of his own pocket all these years.
Mauro may be the only person this side of the Atlantic who has seen the whole film, fully edited. His love of it is hard to distinguish from his devotion to Orson Welles, but when asked for his professional opinion, he told me he felt that, after shooting Kafkas The Trial in 1962, Welles returned to Don Quixote charged with a new excitement generated by Kafka. It was as if from then on he set out to recreate Kafka within Don Quixote. That is why nothing in the film is clear or easy to follow. The dialogue is enigmatic and in the editing he deliberately shuffled sequences to create a sense of mystery. Think of a jigsaw puzzle, he once told Mauro. Thats what Im trying to do.
Im not sure that this approach was really the result of his making The Trial. I had the feeling myself, even from what little I saw of the film in 1959, that it might be hard for audiences to understand. Though by no means abstruse, it possesses, as Mauro says, the kind of delicate non-clarity that is peculiar to the theatre rather than the cinema. Welles reluctance to let audiences see it may have been partly derived from his dread of the kind of pseudo-intellectual talk that this was liable to provoke.
What is certain is that he was intensely jealous of it, utterly unwilling to let it out of his loving hands. Why should he? It was his. He had made it with his own sweat and blood. He had no commitments to any distributors or investors. There is no law that says a film, once made, must be turned into a public thing that anyone may feel entitled to discuss, any more than there is a law that can compel a father to expose his son to the ribald remarks of an ignorant crowd. He loathed the theorizing of self-important critics, the bombast of experts who think they know it all. What had they to do with his Don Quixote, which was intensely private and personal--almost a secret psychoanalysis of Orson Welles.
Besides, he was not a hundred per cent sure that Don Quixote was the masterpiece the world expected of him. It had been a very long time since he directed a truly great film and he was almost sure that Don Quixote was precisely that. But suppose it was not? Even back in 1959, Akim Tamiroff had said to me, this is either going to be one of the greatest masterpieces in the history of the cinema, or the biggest piece of trash ever known.
Whatever it was, beloved child or favourite toy, he never could bring himself to decide he had finished with it for good. As late as June 1985, four months before he died, he was on the phone to Mauro, inviting him to Los Angeles so that they could have some more fun together with the editing. In other words, he was still engrossed in the passionate problem of editing Don Quixote right up to the end of his life.
But if the film is virtually finished, why doesnt somebody say so, one may ask, now that Welles is no longer here to keep it to himself? Well, it is not as easy to say so as one might think. A film is not like a book, with all its pages numbered and The End written irrefutably on the last one. True, its reels are usually numbered, and its shots, and every take on the clapper board. But Orson Welles had a superstitious hatred of numbers; hence his aversion to script girls, with their irritating insistence on counting footage and numbering things. He never numbered anything: neither his scenes nor his composers musical themes. Instead, he gave all these things names, such as Sheep, Television, Dreamers, False.
On the clapper board, in place of the title of the film, there would be something enigmatic like Q1" or just Orson Welles, followed by the name of the take. He did, of necessity, number the takes, but in a manner peculiar only to himself. For instance, the first take of a close-up of Sancho Panza would, logically enough, be marked Sancho-1. But if the second take of the same close-up happened to include a wall, he was liable to mark it, not Sancho-2, but Wall-1. Welles himself always knew which take was which, but for others it remains decidedly confusing.
It is only to be hoped that someone, soon, will embark on trying to read Welles mind in retrospect. Because Don Quixote is more than just a beautiful film. Welles wanted it kept secret in his lifetime, but it had become the very center of his life. It is the truest expression of his own secret person, and if he was a genius, that secret belongs to the world.