Henry Jaglom talks about those tapes, ‘Big Brass Ring’ and leaked footage from ‘The Other Side of the Wind’
Filmmaker Henry Jaglom, whose recorded conversations with Orson Welles form the basis of an upcoming book, graciously agreed to field a few questions about his late, great friend.
Jaglom's relationship with Welles dates back to his freshman 1971 film "A Safe Place." In the interview, he discussed those legendary lunches with Welles and the ill-fated "The Big Brass Ring," as well as footage from the unfinished "The Other Side of the Wind," which has made the rounds on the web.
The tape recordings have been edited by Peter Biskind into "My Lunches with Orson: Conversations Between Henry Jaglom and Orson Welles," due out July 9 from Macmillan/ Metropolitan Books.
"It is altogether Mr. Biskind's book and has turned out to be quite terrific, I feel (in) actually capturing the real Orson, my most wonderful friend and mentor, who so few knew and who so many misunderstood and thought they knew..."
What do you think will surprise readers of these lunchtime conversations the most?
How truly sweet Orson was. And despite that sweetness how silly and judgmental and even "bigoted" he could be about some people and about some of their work. Though in his always charming way, frequently so playful one couldn't be certain that he really meant what he was saying, for instance, about "short people."
I think some people will be surprised by some of the negative things he feels about some actors and some filmmakers whom he trashes – those unflattering portraits may shock and surprise some.
I am indeed very, very happy with Mr. Biskind's work, as I feel it so entertainingly, truthfully, and in Orson's own words, hides no warts from this very complex man, but blows away all the smoke and the crap, the myths and the lies – all the misunderstanding that have clung to the name of my great friend, his image, his wonderful and unique work, and his reputation. And I am absolutely certain that you will enjoy it.
Why were the conversations taped? There have been friends of Orson Welles who claim he was unaware he was being recorded. How do you respond to that?
Those "friends" of Orson's don't know what they are talking about, but I can understand why they think so. The tapes were Orson's idea, not mine.
Orson said to me one day – after about two years of our frequent lunches – during which I asked him so many questions and got him to talk about so many things, that he wanted to write an autobiography one day ... He had started to do so in a Christmas issue of French Vogue and really got into it.
"When will you start working on that?," I asked.
"When I'm too old to make movies", he said. "But I'll forget so many things. Why don't you tape our lunches, I talk about everything with you."
"How can I do that", I asked.
"Easy", he said, "Just don't let me be aware of it and I'll forget about it."
"How?," I asked him again.
"Simple", he said. "Put a little tape recorder in that little black shoulder bag you always have with you, and put it hanging from the back of your chair, like you do, with it sticking a little bit out. Not too much, I don't want to see it and be reminded about it. They make them so small now, it's easy. Just don't let me see it or be reminded of it, okay?"
"Okay", I said. "I'll try."
"It will put my mind at ease, and my mouth going" (I remember that weird phrase especially.) "If I know in the back of my head somewhere that it's not all being lost, that someday I'll be able to use them as reminders, when I write my book. There is so much I want to set straight. I'm beginning already to forget too many things..."
So that's what Idid.
Only once in the five years after that did he ask about it, after telling me something about his childhood, I don't remember what. He said, "Is that thing working?" and pointed at my bag and I assured him that it was. That is on the tapes.
But still, I didn't feel it was right for me to make any money from all of my wonderful lunches with my great friend, so I have given 100 percent of all the rights and all the profits to Peter Biskind, who has done a really terrific job ... I asked him that - if the book really made any money - he should give whatever he thought I should have gotten to Oja Kodar, because that's what I know Orson would have wanted. The only stipulation that I made about this book was that nothing about Orson's relationship with Oja should be included. Everything else, I believe, is fair game.
What is your favorite lunchtime memory?
I have no one favorite memory, just all of them together! That's why i agreed to let Biskind do the book after many offers from other people, which I had turned down.
Biskind had ... all the tapes transcribed, which I had never done and which wasn't easy – so much noise and restaurant clatter, other voices, distortions, etc. And then he spent over a year putting this book together. I had forgotten so much, so many wonderful details, but as he transcribed them and came across something indistinct or confusing, he'd send me sections of the transcribed pages and it was heaven for me to read them, like being back at all those wonderful lunches with this wonderful man.
What remains the greatest misconception about Orson Welles?
There are so many that I think reading the book will clear up. The worst is that he somehow didn't want to finish his work for some psychologically crippling reason.
it is true that he might have sabotaged himself in certain ways by his need for absolute perfectionism, by his need to do things exactly as he wanted, but no one would criticize an artist in any other art form for this. Only in films are you supposed to "compromise." In music or painting or a novel or a play, no one would criticize the artist for not wanting to compromise and to insist on having things creatively his or her own way. But Orson worked and worked hard till the day he died.
I spent a lot of time and energy trying to get him financing in those last 6 or 7 years, even got him to write an entire new movie, "The Big Brass Ring," which – if we'd been able to get it done – would, I believe, have been a sort of bookend to "Citizen Kane", about the end of the 20th century, the way that ''Kane'' was about the beginning of it. But no one, absolutely no one, would, in the final event, finance it. They all wanted to have lunch with him, and they did, so many who could have helped him get a film made.
But no one came through except for one person; Arnon Milchan, who had just one very realistic and understandable requirement – that one of several stars be in it. He gave us a list of seven stars. We celebrated, so sure were we that this was it! Orson said he knew (and even understood) that the studios and money people would turn him down as his films never made any money but he never could believe that his fellow actors would turn him down. We tried but each one, in one way or another, did turn him down. Only Jack Nicholson accepted, but his price couldn't be met under the terms of Arnon's deal.
And yes, as you will read, there were other possible alternatives after those seven, some of the very best actors of our time. Three other terrific stars that I believe would have done it but that Orson rejected before I could ask them because he believed that they were all "too ethnic'' for what he wanted the character to be. Now, arguably, that was Orson being unreasonable or self-defeating and I fought him very very hard on that, as is shown in the book, but a purity of vision cannot be put down as "sabotage,'' even if it was very unfortunate.
You caused a bit of a stir a few months ago when you posted scenes from the unfinished "The Other Side of the Wind" on YouTube. What prompted you to post these and why were they later removed?
Here is an interesting mystery. I never posted those scenes from "The Other Side of the Wind", though I would have been happy to had I discovered them. I don't think those outtakes were a secret,
but I had absolutely no access to any of the scenes from that film and I never had even seen any of it until they were sent to me by someone, and I have no idea who.
Only Peter Bogdanovich, that I knew of, had seen them. He was – and I believe still is – trying to arrange to make a deal to edit them according to Orson's wishes. I have no knowledge of any of it except for what Peter has told me. But I was excited when I saw the scenes with me in them, I must admit, and I happily shared them on my Facebook page and emailed them to many friends.
But how and why they were posted on YouTube under my name, I have no idea.
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