Friday, October 1, 2010

Orson Welles: Unfinished Genius

“I think I made essentially a mistake, in staying in movies. But it’s a mistake I can’t regret because it’s like saying, ‘I shouldn’t have stayed married to that woman. But I did, because I love her.’”
-Orson Welles

I would argue Welles was never diminished in his old age. He was just too talented. Even when he did things some felt were beneath him, I think it is respectful to do what you have to for your art. Welles could have been a wealthy man we would assume. But he never was, precisely because the only thing he made money to do, was to keep making movies.

It is tragic he never was able to finish most of these projects for lack of funding. The Saw franchise is about to release its 7th film, yet Hollywood deemed Welles to be unbankable. Maybe it says less about the studios than it does about the general movie going public in general. But of course Welles is not without fault. If he had only been a better businessman, some of this work would have surely been seen. If he had only been more self-effacing when attempting to schmooze financiers.

The number of uncompleted Welles’ projects are about as long a list as the completed list.

Heart Of Darkness:  A screenplay is complete that is probably the most camera specific one Welles ever wrote.  Welles desired for this to be his first film, but the cost of his vision would have been well over 1 million dollars to shoot at the time.  A version using Welles' script seems a much more worthy project for a director to tackle, than the remake of Hitchock's, Psycho, for example.

The Other Side Of The Wind:  98% complete. Welles had to gain financing from two Iranian Sheiks. Somehow, this proves to be a mistake and the film is tied up in legal issues for years. It has still not been released, save for a couple of scenes. Filmmaker and Welles’ friend, Peter Bogdonavich vows to have it released, through Showtime.

The Deep: Welles hoped the success of this more commercial film, would give him the money to finish other projects. But while mostly finished, it had to eventually be abandoned, as its star, Laurence Harvey, died before Welles could finish. The same source material would be used later in the film, Dead Calm.

Moby Dick: 22 minutes are known to exist of Welles reading all parts from the novel. He had years earlier done a stage play of Moby Dick.

The Merchant Of Venice:  Much work was completed, but 2 of 3 reels of audio were stolen.  Welles would redo the famous Shylock monologue in the Arizona Dessert, wearing a trench coat.  The emotion he gathers while standing perfectly still, is amazing.

Don Quixote:  Arguably the film project most dear to Welles' heart.  Welles would have the two main characters, Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, stuck in the modern age.  Financial support was a struggle from the beginning, causing various starts and stops.  One role had to be cut, as the young actress had grown up before shooting her part was finished.  having begun in 1955, Welles was still attempting to complete the film at the time of his death, in 1985.

Despite his failure to reach the masses at the time, Welles’ struggle to continue working shows a true nobility.

He starred in commercials, with that brilliant voice of his he was more sought after for saying “We serve no wine before its time,” than his version of Shakespeare or Conrad or Kafka. He famously pointed out to a director for an ad about frozen peas, that the copy he was to read did not make sense.
"That's just idiotic, if you'll forgive my saying so."

The Brain character on the animated “Pinky and The Brain” cartoon sounded like and was an homage of sorts to Welles. I actually think he would have liked it. The man had a sense of humor.

One of his uncompleted works is him dressing up in multiple costumes, playing multiple parts, even women. Another is a skit that has tailors measuring his renowned circumference and making snide comments.

Yet he never abandoned his serious work. The Other Side Of The Wind was surely not going to be an easy film. The Deep, while more commercial, was never going to be as accessible as Speed or any other standard action film. It would have surely been a better film of course.

George Lucas is a good business man that has produced numerous good films. He has not directed a classic since 1977. He is worth by some accounts 5 billion dollars, because he knew about money and how to raise it and what to demand more than Welles.

Orson Welles was one of our greatest actors, directors, an accomplished screenwriter, radio legend, and stage director.

He never saw one of his films turn a profit while he was alive.

He died alone in 1985. Still trying to edit together The Other Side Of the Wind. But is this a sad way to go out? Might it be noble? As Welles’ historian David Tomson wrote, “real sadness is being worth 5 bn and not knowing what to do with it.”

Me and Orson Welles a film directed by Welles’ fan Richard Linklater, was released in late 2009 to very positive reviews. Budgeted at 25 million dollars, the film has grossed about 1.2 million.

The Other Side Of The Wind remains tied up in legal entanglements.

In 2011, George Lucas will release The Phantom Menace, in 3-D.

"I would have been more successful if I had left movies immediately. Stayed in the theater, gone into politics, written; anything. I’ve wasted a greater part of my life looking for money and trying to get along. Trying to make my work from this terribly expensive paintbox, which is a movie. And I’ve spend too much energy on things that have nothing to do with making a movie. It’s about 2 percent movie making and 98 percent hustling. It’s no way to spend a life.”

“Hearts of Darkness: Joseph Conrad and Orson Welles,”   James Naremore

“Orson Welles: The most glorious film failure of them all” David Tomson Oct 22 2009

"Peter Bogdanovich and James Naremore to discuss Orson Welles and screen TOUCH OF EVIL at the Indianapolis Museum of Art on January 29"
by Lawrence French  January 29, 2010

"Orson Welles: An Incomplete Education"  by Jaime N Christley  January 2003
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