As a small tribute to the late George Hickenlooper, here's a few excerpts from threads he contributed to from the old Welles board. Some concern his film adaptation of Welles's screenplay for THE BIG BRASS RING:
Posted by George Hickenlooper on June 24, 1999 at 09:07:51:
This is excellent. I had no idea there was an Orson Welles message board. Bravo to the genius who started it!
I've read all the various entries regarding the film version of "Brass Ring" which I directed and adapted with my co-writer F.X. Feeney from the original script by Orson Welles. The film stars William Hurt, Nigel Hawthorne, Miranda Richardson, Irene Jacob, Ewan Stewart, Gregg Henry, Ron Livingston,and Jefferson Mays.
As I get more information about the future of my film I will post it. Once again, bravo to all those Welles fans and aficionados out there who keep his memory alive.
JW: Good luck with the film. I look forward to seeing it. As a fellow (albeit former) St. Louisan, I wish you the best. Hopefully, I can make it back home when the film plays there. I'm curious to know what attracted you to that script. I don't think it's one of his best, although it does have some interesting stuff in it.
HICKENLOOPER: Dear JW, thanks for your interest. First, BRASS RING will be screening in St. Louis as the opening night film of the film festival there. That'll happen sometime in November. Secondly, you might be interested to know that the film was shot in St. Louis which leads to my answer to you question about the script. The screenplay I used to shoot the film was actually an adaptation. Though I loved the dynamic of the story's central relationship between Pellarin and Mennaker, I felt that much of the original script felt incomplete, as if it were a thumb nail sketch that Welles were to flesh out as he shot. I would never be presumptuous in trying to second guess what Welles would have done. Stylistically that would have been like trying to shoot PSYCHO II.
Ultimately, what I loved about the original script, as flawed as it may have been was how richly drawn the characters were, and how Welles had so brilliantly made a beautiful poem about the state of America at the end of the 20th century. It was that essence which I tried to capture. When you go see my film, don't expect to see something directed by Welles. Though my own shooting style has many Wellesian flourishes, I tried to shoot the film with a certain mis-en-scene quality. I actuall thought more about John Ford and Renior when I shot the picture than I did about Welles.
I treated this project strictly as an adaptation. I've been criticized for this of course, but I was simply looking at Welles as the writer -- the brilliant writer that he was, regardless of Pauline Kael's insipid essay. Welles in many respects was the Shakespeare of the American cinema. So, if Welles adapted Shakespeare, why not adapt Welles. His characters are so timeless they lend themeselves beautifully to interpretation.
Thanks, yours, George.
JW: I had heard you had adapted the script Welles wrote, and I can imagine some people had a problem with that. Frankly, it's just a script, not a finished film, so one should expect it to be altered in production. Certainly Welles would have tinkered with it had he gotten the chance to film it. Nobody has really done anything of this sort yet, so you're really treading in uncharted waters to a certain extent. I'm looking forward to seeing what you've done with it. Hopefully, this will encourage other filmmakers and studios to make some of Welles' unproduced scripts.
RESPONSE TO JONATHON ROSENBAUM'S NEGATIVE REVIEW OF THE BIG BRASS RING:
Posted by George Hickenlooper on November 30, 1999 at 19:50:21:
Unfortunately, I do not have the luxury of broadcasting my opinions in a major alternative newspaper because I am not a world renowned famous film scholar like Mr. Rosenbaum. Over the years, I have enjoyed Mr. Rosenbaum's opinions (I think he is one of the better critics in the country), I have enjoyed his scholarship, and I have respected his perseverance in preserving an "unadulterated" memory of Orson Welles. However, at this point, I must object to his persistent bashing of my filmed ADAPTATION of the Orson Welles script "The Big Brass Ring". I regret that this is the only forum I have to do so, but nevertheless, here goes.
When Mr. Rosenbaum first learned of my intention to adapt BBR, he brought it up in his rather mediocre review of my film "The Low Life." I'm not sure what relevance BBR had to this film, nevertheless, Mr. Rosenbaum found the space to chastise me for even having the thought. Subsequently, I knew I was doomed in his eyes from the very beginning.
Now that BBR is finished, I don't mind that Mr. Rosenbaum doesn't like it. I know for a fact that he saw it at a screening at the Toronto Film Festival. A screening in which, by the way, the film broke, there was a twenty-minute forced intermission and when the film re-started three minutes of a crucial, expositional scene was not shown (a nightmare for any filmmaker, believe me). And whatever Mr. Rosenbaumís opinions may be about my film, let me make it clear that I am not pining away to be celebrated by his inner circle of aesthetes, a circle that includes mostly publications of leftist leanings that have insidiously contributed to the debasing of American art in literature, fine art, and most blatantly, the cinema. I would equate the current state of film criticism and independent film in general to that ridiculous "Sensation" exhibit at the Brooklyn museum. We live in a kind of Hellenistic, hedonistís age where aesthetics and criticism have become bankrupt (like the avant garde) to the point of becoming a celebration of meaningless shock value -- kind of like a fart in the wind. Now, I would say that Mr. Rosenbaum is less guilty of this than most. Most of the blame frankly exists with Janet Maslin and all of the other solipsistic sycophants of Pauline Kael, but here I digress, so let me get back to the point.
Mr. Rosenbaum is welcome rip apart my movie, I only wish that he would look at the film on its own terms. ITS OWN TERMS. Critics who have successfully done this are Stephen Hunter of "The Washington Post" and Howard Rosenberg of "The Los Angeles Times" among others. But in a way, I can understand why Mr. Rosenbaum is doing this, because after all, he is the most persistent keeper of the Wellesian flame, and fancies himself a purist, no doubt. And here let me challenge Mr. Rosenbaum with the word "hypocrisy" by asking the question IS Mr. Rosenbaum more guilty of aesthetic arrogance by pretending he can step into the shoes of Mr. Welles and properly reconstruct "Touch of Evil" from a 58 page memo. Welles was known to be highly improvisational, even in the cutting room, so wasn't this memo a simple reaction to the changes that the studio wanted? In other words, did this memo reflect pure changes, pure Wellesian changes, or were they a frightened reaction to what Universal was doing to his film? What I'm trying to say is that Mr. Rosenbaum is just as guilty for tampering with the Welles memory as anyone (and let us not forget that he was paid money for his consultation), and perhaps more guilty of hubris by his repeated insistence that "Touch of Evil" is an honest reflection of Welles' vision.
I, on the other hand, never pretended to be stepping into Welles' shoes. If Mr. Rosenbaum had bothered reading any of the press material to BBR, he would have learned that my writing partner F.X. Feeney and I treated this as an ADAPTATION. We adapted this like we would adapt any great piece of literature, from William Shakespeare to T.S. Elliot. We looked at the script as a kind of unfinished poem that only Mr. Welles himself could have realized (so unlike Mr. Rosenbaum and the "Touch of Evil" crew, we were not trying to assume to have the genius touch of Mr. Welles). We were simply being inspired by him and the timelessness of his great writing, as Mr. Chaplin was on Mssr. Verdoux.
However, I am being dragged through the coals because I am not Mr. Chaplin (nor is BBR Mssr Verdoux), nor am I Mr. Welles, but I am rather a no name documentary filmmaker who has virtually no reputation in the crititical world. And since most critics (not Mr. Rosenbaum) are sheep and have very little ability to judge movies on their own terms, unless they come out of Cannes, Sundance, Toronto, or New York or unless they are by a "name" director, or unless they fit some hedonistic or political chic, then they ultimately will be dismissed, because critics' editors of these various newpapaers and alternatives won't be interested in giving those unknows filmmakers space, because after all, space is limited and advertising revenue is more important than ever (again here I digress, but all things are relative to even those leftists who pretend to be the sole perveyors of integrity in the capitalist world).
So, in the end, I only ask that BBR be judged on its own terms. And as difficult as this may be for Mr. Rosenbaum to do (after all he published the original BBR screenplay in 1987 with an invaluable essay on the history of the project), it is only fair. I never set out to try to assume Mr. Wellesí vision. I was trying to make my own film (as brazen as that might be) inspired by his idea, and idea that personally struck a chord with me. If anything, in the end, I would hope that my film would only bring more attention to the SOURCE material, to the ORIGINAL Welles script, and to Welles as a writer, a reputation that was substantially diminished in Pauline Kaelís unscholarly essay "Raising Kane." If anything, I hope that this dialogue will be a healthy one between me and Mr. Rosenbaum and in the end, will only draw more attention to the great master Orson Welles. And if Mr. Rosenbaum continues to have problems with young filmmakers taking on Mr. Welles, then he should go to the source of the estate itself, Oja Kodar, and ask her not to license the rights to any of his work. But then, I doubt he would ever do that, for he cannot afford to alienate Mrs. Kodar for that would negatively affect his own pursuits, many of which are monetary regardless of their honorable intentions.
John Koehler: It is difficult for any creative personality to accept criticism which seems all too high-handed, even arbitrary. Kael's purposefully sensational "expose'" of Welles' supposed plagiarism, his innate lack of writing talent, as she claimed, is an example. It hurt him deeply. When David Lean was once asked to be a guest at a conference of critics upon the release of Ryan's Daughter, he was told to his face (by a well known critic) that the film was "a bunch of bullshit." Criticism? Or jealousy? Or patent ignorance? Certainly a lack of basic courtesy.
Mr Rosenbaum has done more for the contemporary re-evaluation and appreciation of Welles than anyone, Bogdanovich a close second. Rosenbaum takes a no-nonsense and scholarly approach to his subject, clarifying many an apochryphal legend or misleading anecdote. Often, when someone in a position such as this takes on what too many others ignore, then by word and deed rights the critical wrongs, he sets his own terms for orthodoxy. Any interloper must be regarded as pagan, lest the work of Keeping the Flame be diminished. This is a natural attitude.
Consideration should have been given to your own personal esteem for Welles; a consultation with you, BBR's director, initiated by Mr Rosenbaum would at the very least have steered the criticism away from Welles Orthodoxy toward a film which claimed to be nothing more than a Welles adaptation, to be judged on its own merits.
As someone who has no authority or professional competence with respect to judgment of Rosenbaum or your picture, yet one who admires Welles as one of the century's greatest artists, it is regrettable to witness conflict where unity of purpose should play. You BBR is an *adjunct* to Welles, not necessarily an interpretation, or realization of his unfinished work. It should be viewed as such. Similarly the restored Touch of Evil, which I had the pleasure to see in a restored old movie palace: this is an exercise in Welles scholarship, not pure Welles (he did not edit personally). I am grateful for your film and for Rosenbaum's work to bring back TOE. Your audience, in the theater, at the bookstore, is the ultimate critic. That audience would have precious little to sustain them without people like Hickenlooper and Rosenbaum.
No. My only claim to respond is the fact that I was born and live in a town 33 miles away from Kensoha, Welles' birthplace! I fell for him big when I first saw Kane, when I was a callow 21 years old. I haven't lost my respect or admiration for him since. Just as I appreciate the efforts of you and Rosenbaum, Callow and Carringer, and Bogdanovich, certainly. In my eyes you are colleagues. High-handed criticism is a personal conceit and ultimately non-productive. You should have been extended the courtesy of input before the critique was written.
Robin: I'm looking forward to finally being able to see the film. Could you please tell us Mr. Hickenlooper, why the film is in such a limited release? With all of the talented cast, William Hurt, Ewan Stewart etc. I'm sure it will be worth the wait. If you have time, would you be able to tell us a little bit more about what your experiences were while making the film? Thank you and best wishes, Robyn
HICKENLOOPER: Dear Robyn, thank you for your interest in THE BIG BRASS RING. Though the film has already garnered several outstanding reviews, and the overall audience response has been overwhelmingly positive, it still will not get a decent theatrical release. Why? The only answer I can give is that people who work in acquisitions are afraid of the picture, I believe. One top level studio person told me that the film was "brilliant," but that it was "too intellectual." In fact, THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER, which gave it a favorable review, called the movie uncommonly erudite."
Unfortunately, in my opinion, the American cinema in general has reached an all time low in quality. Call me a sour grape, but if you just look at the movies that are released into the market place today versus 25 years ago (i.e. NASHVILLE, RAGING BULL, FIVE EASY PIECES, THE CONVERSATION, TWO LANE BLACK TOP, etc.), well,
there is no comparison. Anything that has an ounce of intelligence or originality tends to get quarantined into obscurity.
I'm thinking of making a film about lesbian pornographers who swing between heroine and meth-anphetamines. Then,
perhaps I'll pique somebody's interest.
Anyway, see the film if you can. Let me know what you think. I hope you like it, and if not, I'd love to hear why.
NOTE OF THANKS TO GEORGE HICKENLOOPER:
John Koehler: With all the criticism coming from certain self-anointed Defenders of Welles, I didn't know what to expect in George Hickenlooper's Big Brass Ring. After months of working overtime, catching only snatches of the film on Showtime, I finally last night, at 9 p.m., put on my new DVD version of the film, intending just to see if the transfer was up to par. I was so damned exhausted from the mundane office labors. Then, the film brought me back to life. I had to stay with the picture until then end, then listen to about 30 minutes of the GH/Feeney commentary.
As a devout Wellesian, I discovered all I could hope for: Welles' preoccupation with male/male relationships, the homoerotic undertones which became more apparent in his later writing, though they had been there as early as Bright Lucifer, the political commentary, the literary quotations so dear to him, the ponderings on love ("I hate love, because I need it." CK: "Here's to love on my terms. Those are the only terms anyone understands."), the nods to Wellesian camera angles, the Richard Welles allegory, the part of each human life which is dark or hateful yet which is one of the only things we each of us can truly call our own...on and on the spirit of Welles was called, acknowledged, indeed sanctified.
Finally, a picture with substance, cinematic skill, genuine talent in front of and behind the camera (Hurt is nothing less than superb). This is a work of art I have longed for since Mr Welles' death. A perfect homage to one of the 20th Century's truly genial men (the denotation meaning infused with genius). Those critics who cannot understand the film, who complain about a muddled story linearity, or unclear flashbacks, or poor construction generally would undoubtedly say the same of Kane were it premiered today. BBR is not passive entertainment. The viewer must pay attention, not eat popcorn. The director and Feeney and Welles assumed some literacy in their audience as well. Watching the film is an intellectual challenge, not a shoot-em-up light show.
I discovered Welles when I was 21, just at the time the shrewish Pauline Kael asserted that Welles was only a buffoon, a plagiarist, a man who stole credit from Herman Mankiewicz. Of course I knew who he was from his appearances on TV and in the movies of other directors, stints of "buffonery" undertaken solely to finance his own projects. He was then and still is to many a jovial big man, a raconteur, a magician of practice and of guile. To those who saw what he actually was, first revealed with Kane and its myriad autobiographical clues, and who took the time to learn more about him, all that jocular public posturing covered a much deeper intellect, a more profound and philosphical real Welles. This aspect is amply reflected in Hickenlooper's Ring.
It is NOT a Welles film. It is a respectful homage. It is Wellesian enough to take the place of what could have been had the Master himself been able to direct it. It is the understudy to this "lost" Welles film. It is welcome reward to one such as me, hungering for more from his dead hero.
Few movies leave me with impressions that take days to digest. Kane was the first to have that effect on me, Vertigo another example. BBR is now added to that short list.
Mr Hickenlooper, I can't thank you enough for this effort, so many years in gestation. Because of you, your evident devotion to a great artist, the shade of Orson Welles is brought back to life.
And yes: You are correct about that bloated soap opera Titanic. Ewan Stewart was the best thing in that movie! And he is a most appreciated addition to your Ring cast.
THREAD ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND:
Phil: Surely a copy of this nearly completed film must be in circulation somewhere. Has anybody seen anything other than what was in the documentary 'THE LOST FILMS OF ORSON FILMS' (containing scene in a car and a load of press interviewing star). I would infinitly grateful on any information about this film and the possibility of me ever seeing more.
The car scene rates as one of the best I've seen from any film. Thanks for any help.
Tom Novak: In 1988 at the 50 Anniversary Celebration of The War of World's Broadcast I had an opportunity to speak with the late Richard Wilson (hopefully he was alive at the time I was talking with him and someone wasn't squeezing the back of his neck to move his mouth). Wilson of course worked with the Fat Man. I asked him whatever happened with The Other Side of the Wind. At first he told me with a degree of sadness that it could not be released in it's unfinished state. I told him that was a shame because of all the great actors in it...John Huston etc. He became nostalgic, and reminisced about all those talents in that uncompleted movie. He had a lost but uplifting look to his face as if the movie could be raised from the ashes. Then I added that Edmund O'Brian was in the movie. He thought of him, then said he was going to look up Oja Kodar to see what was going on with that movie.
I have a number of wishes. In movies before I die I would like to see The Other Side of the Wind and the director's cut of The Magnificient Ambersons. These wishes are unlikely to be fulfilled, but I'm sure it's possible with the new technology to clean up the soundtrack of Chimes At Midnight, and if that is possible, it would be quite possible to computerize the ending for The Other Side of the Wind.
HICKENLOOPER: I was recently at a screening with Oja Kodar and Gary Graver in which 2 hours of "Other Side Of The Wind" was shown. It was a compilation of scenes (some of which appeared on the 1975 AFI tribute to Welles), many of which no one had ever seen before. The footage was visually brilliant and it was fascinating watching John Huston play Orson Welles' alter ego. Even though many of the costumes and looks of the characters dated back to the early '70s, the footage nevertheless had a timeless quality. One could say that Welles' use of fast cutting, hand held camera and overall cinema verite style was two decades ahead of the kind of MTV approach to storytelling which is now the style du jour as seen in such pictures as "Trainspotting" and "Run Lola Run."
What is the fate of the footage? Gary Graver, who came to a screening of my film "The Big Brass Ring," says that he has found the $5 million necessary to bring the project to fruition. Bingham Ray, the former head of October Films, told me at this year's Independent Spirit Awards, that it might be more practical to try to make a documentary about the making of "Other Side Of The Wind" in the same way that Bill Krohn so successfully made "It's All True." Who knows what will happen? But whatever does it certainly will be interesting.
JW: I think the documentary approach might be more interesting, if for the sole fact that no one knows what exactly Welles would have done with the footage. How much did Welles shoot in total? I would think a good deal more than 2 hours. He was constantly revising the film as he went along, so there really isn't much to go on as far as editing and post-production work, is there? My basic fear is a repeat of the Quixote sitiation, where someone else slaps together the footage and it doesn't add up to much.
THREAD ON THE 1999 MUNICH WELLES CONFERENCE:
Posted by R. Fischer on July 05, 1999 at 23:14:39:
From October 20th through October 24th, 1999 an Orson Welles Conference will take place in Munich, Germany at the film museum (located in the Stadt Museum).
Some 1.8 tons of footage, left in a Los Angeles storage room after Orson Welles' death, is being sifted through and partly restored by the Munich Film Museum, will host the conference on the legendary filmmaker's career.
Much of this material will be screened in up to 15 programs that will include never-seen-before footage from THE DEEP, THE MERCHANT OF VENICE, THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND, DON QUIXOTE, among other incomplete treasures.
Among the guests participating will be Oja Kodar, Welles scholar Jonathan Rosenbaum, Welles cinematographer Gary Graver, and filmmaker George Hickenlooper.
For more information, contact the Munich Film Museum.
THREAD ON THE DEEP:
Posted by Peter Tonguette on December 01, 1999 at 17:23:06:
Hi everyone, Long time lurker, first time poster and huge Orson Welles fan...
I read a while back about Oja Kodar's plans to finally release Welles' film "The Deep," filmed in the late '60s. In "This Is Orson Welles," the book by Welles and Peter Bogdanovich, I get the impression that "The Deep" never finished shooting. Has anyone ever determined what the actual state of the film is in? Of all of the various OW projects out there, this would seem to be one of the more promising if indeed most of it was shot and edited.
Look forward to whatever insights you might be able to provide,
Peter, age 16
HICKENLOOPER: Last June had a conversation with Robert Fischer, who is the archivist in charge of THE DEEP footage which is held at the Film Museum in Munich, also the location of the recent Welles conference. If I remember correctly, according to Mr. Fischer, much of the negative of THE DEEP has been lost. In other words, the footage that does exist, only exists as a work print (the material the editor works with before the negative is cut). This would not make it impossible to finish THE DEEP, but it would make it very difficult, and very expensive, because you would have to digitally restore or clean that footage that no longer has negative.
Peter Tonguette: Mr. Hickenlooper -- Thank you for your reply -- I appreciate it. I guess the main question I would have as a follow-up is, was all of the footage actually shot? Although, as you note, it would be very costly to restore, THE DEEP would seem to be one of the more promising un-finished OW projects out there if it was indeed completely shot.
BTW, I haven't seen THE BIG BRASS RING yet, but, as a very big admirer of Peter Bogdanovich's THE LAST PICTURE SHOW, I really enjoyed your documentary on the making of the film, PICTURE THIS. Thanks again.
HICKENLOOPER: Thanks for your comments regarding Picture This. With respect to The Deep, yes, it is my understanding that all the footage was shot. Unfortunately, not all the sound was recorded. Consequently, a good impressionist would need to finish the dialogue work of Lawrance Harvey's character.
HICKENLOOPER: For anyone interested, who has a DVD player, I shot two scenes from THE BIG BRASS RING (a version of my adaptation which was a lot closer to Welles' original script, but which I ultimately didn't use). The scenes star Malcolm MacDowell as Kimball Mennaker. MacDowell ultimately didn't play the part in the feature, Nigel Hawthorne did, nevertheless, the scenes might be interesting to look at for those interested.
The scenes are also accompanied by a short documentary about the project. They are available the the DVD magazine, SHORT CINEMA JOURNAL, NO. 2. Also, for those interested, my short version of SLING BLADE with Billy Bob Thornton is on SHORT CINEMA JOURNAL, NO. 1.
Take care, all.
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