Tuesday, December 25, 2018
The Auteurs #69: Orson Welles (Part 2)
(Part 2: 1958-1985 and beyond)
Touch of Evil
Following a long period in Europe and the desire to return to America, Welles would appear on the hit TV show I Love Lucy in 1956 for an appearance as well as act in Jack Arnold’s western Man of the Shadow. The film’s producer Albert Zugman enjoyed what Welles had done in the film as he approached him in starring in a project based on Whit Masterson’s novel Badge of Evil that would also star Charlton Heston and Janet Leigh. Welles would play the role of the Hank Quinlan while Zugman was searching for someone to direct the film as Heston suggested Welles should direct it. Welles agreed to direct only if he would re-write the script as Zugman agreed to Welles’ demands as Welles would reunite with cinematographer Russell Metty from The Stranger while also getting Akim Tamiroff as a drug lord’s brother and a cameo from Joseph Cotten as a coroner.
The cast would also include an array of actors including Joseph Calleia as Quinlan’s partner, Mercedes McCambridge as a hoodlum, Dennis Weaver as a motel night clerk, Zsa Zsa Gabor as a strip club impresario, and Marlene Dietrich in a small role as the brothel madam Tanya as he casting shocked Zugman and many others. Welles decided to rehearse with the cast just weeks before the shooting began in mid-1957 as Welles wanted their input while writing the script to give the film a sense of realism even though the story is more akin to film noir. While Welles knew that the film is being presented as a B-movie rather than a Hollywood release which meant having to use a smaller budget and appeal to niche audience. Welles did have ideas of wanting to stray from the B-movie conventions while wanting to keep the $829,000 budget intact.
Among these ideas was the film’s opening tracking shot that lasted three-minutes and twenty-seconds which was an elaborate scene shot in wide and medium shots on a camera crane as it remain uninterrupted on a single take. It’s a moment that allowed Welles to create something that would feel different while also emphasizing on the attention to detail in scenes as it would help play into the suspense and drama. While Welles had misgivings about Heston playing the role of a Mexican narcotics officer, Heston was able to provide the sense of morality in his role as Vargas as a man trying to do what is right as opposed to Welles’ performance as Quinlan who has his own ideas of justice as he represents a man that is becoming more out of step with the times. Welles finished a rough cut of the film in late 1957 hoping it would put him back in the good graces of Hollywood but the film’s distributor in Universal-International were not impressed as they brought in Harry Keller for re-shoots without Welles’ consent though he did leave behind a 58-page memo about his final version of the film which Universal-International threw away.
The film in its 93-minute running time was released in February of 1958 where it received mixed reviews in the U.S. as it was presented as a double-bill with another Zugman production in The Female Animal starring Hedy Lamaar. Though it did OK commercially in America, the film was better received critically and commercially in Europe despite the fact that the film wasn’t presented with what Welles intended. In 1976, Universal Studios found a version at 108-minutes as a version that felt more true to Welles’ version despite the fact that it didn’t look like it had been restored despite its claims. Then in 1998, film preservationist Rick Schmidlin decided to create a restored version with the Universal’s film restoration head Bob O’Neil, and the studio’s vice president of sound operations in Bill Varney that was based on Welles’ 58-page memo. They contacted renowned film editor Walter Murch, known famously for his work with Francis Ford Coppola and Anthony Mingella, as it would have a 111-minute running time as many considered it to be the definitive version of the film.
Following the troubled release of Touch of Evil as well as the first of many attempts in trying to produce a version of Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote. Welles would return to Europe to shoot the project while taking on acting jobs to fund his film as well as do a TV series shot in Spain that chronicled the country where de Cervantes’ story was told with wife Paola Mori and daughter Beatrice. The TV project wouldn’t be unveiled until 1964 as Welles was approached by film producer Alexander Salkind about doing an adaptation of any public domain literary work. Originally, Salkind wanted Welles to do Nikolai Golgo’s Taras Bulba but a production of that story was in the works with Yul Brynner in the titular role directed by J. Lee Thompson. Welles instead chose to do Frank Kafka’s story about a man who is accused of a crime he is unaware of as he’s targeted by a futuristic society.
Though Kafka’s story was not available for public domain making the property rights difficult to obtain, Salkind was able to get permission for the film to be made with Welles having complete control of the film as he would play a small role as the Advocate after Jackie Gleason turned down the part. With financing coming from various sources in Europe, Welles felt the film’s setting should be in Europe as he would have a diverse cast of actors to be in the film with Anthony Perkins in the lead role of Josef K. Along with Welles regular Akim Tamiroff, the cast would include Elsa Martinelli, Romy Schneider, and Jeanne Moreau in small roles as the collection of talent provided Welles with a lot of confidence in what he wanted to do. Welles got the services of cinematographer Edmund Richard and production designer Jacques Mandaroux to help him with the visuals as Welles wanted to create something that played into the imagery of Kafka’s novel while taking a few liberties with Kafka’s story to play into his own interpretation. Realizing that shooting in one city isn’t suitable for the story, Welles decided to shoot the film on various locations in Europe such as Rome, Milan, Paris, Zagreb, and Dubrovinik to give the film a mixture of old-school European architecture mixed in with this new futuristic world that is emerging.
Welles wanted to create something that is visually stylistic as well as play into the paranoia and confusion that Josef K. endures as he has no idea what he’s being accused of. Notably in some striking compositions such as Josef running through a hallway along with the shots of offices where Welles had 850 secretaries typing on 850 typewriters to create this abstract yet offbeat look for the film. While Salkind was unable to get some capital for the financing in securing a Parisian studio for the interiors, Welles was able to use the abandoned Gare d’Orsay railway station for the sets as it played into the many lessons Welles had done in filming with limited resources. Even as he used to his advantage given that he was also working on a modest 650 million Francs ($1.3 million in 1962 currency) for its budget.
The film was supposed to premiere at the Venice Film Festival in the fall of 1962 but Welles wasn’t finished as it finally premiered in Paris on December of 1962. The film would divide critics as some loved Welles’ visual style and abstract ideas while others had issues with what Welles had done with Kafka’s story. The film was a hit in France as well as being well-received in Europe with Welles winning a best film award from the French Syndicate of Cinema Critics in 1965. The film’s U.S. release came in 1963 where it didn’t really go anywhere yet the film would later find an audience with some critics calling it one of Welles’ best films.
Chimes at Midnight
While working on other projects, Welles met Spanish film producer Emiliano Piedra about doing a project in Spain that would be financially beneficial. Welles wanted to do a Shakespearean project but Piedra believed it wouldn’t work instead convincing Welles to do a film version of Treasure Island. Welles agreed to do it while also working on his new project that Welles had first staged in 1939 and had performed again in 1960 to great acclaim. While Welles would fool Piedra in thinking he was doing production for both the Shakespeare film and Treasure Island, Welles focused more on the former as he would play the role of Falstaff as the project was based on various plays of William Shakespeare and Ralph Holinshed’s Holinshed’s Chronicles. Welles would use the limited $800,000 budget to design the costumes himself as well as write, star, and direct while he was able to get a massive ensemble to appear in the film including Sir John Gielgud, Keith Baxter, Margaret Rutherford, Jeanne Moreau, Norman Rodway, Marina Vlady, and Fernando Rey as well as Ralph Richardson to do the narration.
Production began in September of 1964 and end in April of 1965 with breaks during December through late February as Moreau and Gielgud had to work on limited days due to other commitments while Rutherford was on set for four weeks. Working with cinematographer Edmond Richard and production designer Mariano Erdozia for the film as it was shot on location in Spain. The production went through difficulties with Welles low on finances forcing the production to be halted during the breaks until Welles was able to get money from film producer Harry Saltzman to finish the film that involved Keith Baxter’s monologues as he plays the role of Prince Hal who is caught between two men he admire who are trying to influence his decisions.
After the shooting finished in April of 1965, plans for the film to premiere a month later at the Cannes Film Festival was delayed as Welles wanted more time to edit as well as work on the film’s sound since it wasn’t recorded properly during production. With the help of Luis Castro, Welles was able to get the film finished where it premiered in Spain in December of 1965. Six months later in France, Welles presented the film at the Cannes Film Festival where Welles won the festival’s 20th Anniversary prize and a technical prize as it was well-received in Europe. A year later, the film was released in the U.S. where despite Harry Saltzman’s involvement to get the film released. It didn’t do well in America critically nor commercially although its reputation would become more favorable in the coming years with some calling it Welles’ best film leading to a widely-successful 2016 restoration following a period of legal issues on who owned the film’s rights.
The Immortal Story
Following a break between films where he did a series of short sketches known as One Man Band that had Welles travel around Europe and play various parts himself. The project would have Welles be accompanied by Olga Palinkas who would be re-named Oja Kodar as she would become not just one of Welles’ closest collaborators but also his life partner while still being married to Paola Mori. Along with an appearance in the James Bond spoof film Casino Royale and Fred Zinneman’s Oscar-award winning film A Man for All Seasons, Welles had interest in working on another project relating to the works of Karen Blixen. Wanting to make a series of films relating to her work, Welles traveled to Hungary to make a film based one of Blixen’s story about a merchant who decides to fulfill a legend by paying a sailor to impregnate a woman for his own pleasure. The film was meant to be part of a two-part anthology film series along with another Blixen story in The Deluge at Nordenay but Welles only had enough money to make one film.
Though he initially wanted to shoot the film in Hungary, Welles ended up shooting the film in the small Spanish town of Chinchon as well as at his own home in Madrid in order to keep the budget low. With a cameo appearance from Fernando Rey, the film would have Welles play the merchant Mr. Clay while its small ensemble included Jeanne Moreau as Miss Virginie, Roger Coggio as Clay’s accountant Elishama Levinsky, and Norman Eshley as the sailor Paul. The shooting began in late 1966 with Welles setting the film in 19th Century Macao as it play into this man wanting a legend to be fulfilled while being aware that he’s dying. Welles chose to use the music of Erik Satie as its score rather than hire a composer to create an original score.
The film premiered on French television in a slightly-shortened version of 48 minutes in French in late May of 1968 that was followed months later in an expanded one-hour version in English for its premiere at the New York Film Festival. Though it was well-received in Europe and was given a lavish premiere in June of 1968 at the Berlin Film Festival. The film wasn’t given a wide release in America though its theatrical release was part of a double-feature bill with Luis Bunuel’s Simon of the Desert as it only attracted an art-house audience. The film would be the last narrative-based film Welles would release in his lifetime just as the filmmaker was venturing into more experimental territory.
Attempted Productions of The Deep and Don Quixote
For much of the late 1960s, Welles would create a series of projects that were unreleased or unfinished such as another Karen Blixen adaptation in The Heroine with Oja Kodar as it was shot on one entire day in April of 1967 with cinematographer Willy Kurant and an inexperienced Hungarian film crew that proved to be problematic making the film lost after Welles left the production after a one-day shoot. It would be one of several projects during the late 1960s that was left unfinished including a dramatic short film version of William Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice that had Welles in the role of Shylock as it also starred Charles Gray as Antonio. Though the latter would have a premiere in its unfinished version in 2015 despite its restored and reconstructed version, it remains another of many unfinished projects of Welles as he was struggling to get projects made with the limited funding he would have from acting gigs. Among them was an adaptation of Charles Williams’ novel Dead Calm that he would re-name as The Deep which Welles felt would be a film that had a lot of commercial potential.
The project would star Kodar, Jeanne Moreau, Michael Bryant, Laurence Harvey, and Welles as it would be shot sporadically off the coast of Yugoslavia in the course of three years with cinematographer Willy Kurant shooting the film. The production was fraught with financial and technical problems during the sporadic three year shoot as Welles would halt the shooting in 1969 with hopes to come back to it. Yet, it would eventually be shelved due to Laurence Harvey’s death in 1973 as the film never released though footage of the film would be shown in various documentaries about Welles in years after his death.
One major project Welles had been working on since 1957 was an adaptation of Miguel de Cervantes’ novel Don Quixote that starred Francisco Reiguera in the titular role with Welles regular Akim Tamiroff as Sancho Panza. Rather than make the film with a script, Welles would use the book as an outline wanting to create something that relied more on improvisation rather than the traditional stage and dramatic elements of acting. Early aspects of the production was shot in Mexico but financial reasons would halt the production for the next 12 years as Welles would shoot sporadically with different cinematographers and editors on board to assemble the film. Welles would move production to Spain and Italy as it would include elements of surrealism such as Quixote and Panza riding on the streets of modern-day cities as well as a scene of Panza and the character of Dulcie, who is portrayed by Patty McCormack, watching a film that has Quixote attacking the screen.
Filming ended in early 1969 just before Reiguera’s death in March of that year as Welles would go back and forth into trying to finish a version of the film for a possible release. Yet, Welles was distracted by other projects and such to ever get the film finished as Welles even suggested making a project entitled When Are You Going to Finish Don Quixote? In 1986 just one year after Welles’ death, a portion of existing footage of the film was shown at the Cannes Film Festival that year under the supervision of filmmaker Costa-Gavras as it consisted of 45 minutes of material that was shown. In 1992, Spanish filmmaker Jesus Franco got the permission of Welles’ estate including his longtime partner Oja Kodar in assembling a version of the film that would include new footage Franco would create as the eventual version was poorly-received by audiences and critics during its premiere at the 1992 Cannes Film Festival. While there is no word into whether the film would be released publically, the legend of its production would continue to grow among film buffs and filmmakers who believe Welles would’ve made an incredible version of the novel.
F for Fake
Seeing the work that is happening in American cinema, Welles returned to Los Angeles in 1970 where he met cameraman Gary Graver who would become a key collaborator for Welles for much of the 1970s and 1980s as Welles and Oja Kodar took part on a project that became The Other Side of the Wind as would have a sporadic six-year shoot. During a break from the production, Welles was asked by French filmmaker/producer Francois Richenbach to help him make a film about the art forger Elmyr de Hory. With Kodar’s help in writing an outline and script for the documentary, the film would eventually grow into Welles’ own project that he made in France where it took on a life of its own. With Graver on board as a cinematographer as well as direct some scenes with Richenbach and Kodar providing some un-credited work in the directing. Filming on various location in Europe and at the Beverly Hills hotel in Beverly Hills, Welles would create something that played into the art of forgery and the idea of reality and fantasy.
Along with the story on de Hory, Welles would also shoot profiles on Kodar, himself, and author Cliff Irving as he believes that three individuals he’s profiling all have something to offer. Kodar herself who had attracted the attention of artist Pablo Picasso while her grandfather is known to have painted forgeries himself. Welles would also play into the fact that he’s known for playing with the ideas of reality and fantasy where he would film his own magic tricks while having Kodar walk around Paris with men getting a glance at her as they’re unaware they’re being filmed. The material de Hory would show a man who lives in Ibiza creating these forgeries despite the fact that he’s being watched by authorities where de Hory would live a life of being watched until his death in December of 1976 just three years after the film’s premiere.
The story on Cliff Irving would prove to be the most recent and shocking event of the film as it relates to Irving’s claims he met and would write a biography on Howard Hughes. Throughout the entirety of the film, Welles ask big questions and then dares to challenge the audience into everything they had just seen whether it was true or it was false. The film’s presentation definitely played with the form of what a documentary is while Welles would utilize a cutting style with the aid of editors Marie-Sophie Dubus and Dominique Engerer as it would be considered an innovation that would later pre-date the editing style common with 1980s mainstream cinema and music videos.
The film premiered at the 1973 San Sebastian Film Festival in Spain as it confounded audiences and critics into what they were seeing. The reaction polarized audiences while Welles created a nine-minute trailer to appeal to U.S. film studios in distributing the film as it would come out in the U.S. in 1976 but the film didn’t go anywhere upon its release. Like several of Welles’ films from before, the film was considered ahead of its time as it introduced to the concept of the film essay as many would cite the film as a key influence in non-fiction filmmaking.
A year after the premiere of F for Fake and three years into the on-going production of The Other Side of the Wind, Welles would take a break from the project to create a project that was meant to be a series of film essay documentaries about his experiences in making films. The first of these projects would be a documentary about his time making Othello as he and cinematographer Gary Graver spent nearly three years filming at Welles’ home with a moviola editing machine as Welles talks about his experiences in making the film. The film would also have Welles travel to Venice to discuss his attempts to shoot the film there as well as the many troubles the production went through that forced Welles to create a film that took years to make.
The project would also include a conversation Welles would have with Micheal MacLiammoir and Hilton Edwards who both appeared in the film as their footage was shot both in Paris and in Beverly Hills to get insight into their experiences on the production. In 1977, Welles attended a screening of Othello where he did a Q&A as it was filmed where Welles would use the footage to have audiences discuss the film and also dispel myths that had been created about himself. The screening and Q&A session would prove to be an enjoyable experience for Welles who is aware that there are audiences who are still interested in his work.
Produced for West German television, the film made its premiere at the 1978 Berlin Film Festival where it was well-received and lead to a brief limited release a year later in the U.S. as part of a double-bill with a re-release of Othello. The film would be the last completed projects Welles would release in his lifetime as well as the last film shown in theaters that he would see. In 1981, an attempted documentary on the making of The Trial was made following a Q&A screening for the film that Welles and Gary Graver filmed. Yet, Welles never got around to edit the film as he was struggling to juggle various projects and other issues both creatively and personally.
Final Unrealized/Unreleased Projects
Throughout the 1970s and the first half of 1980s, Welles had tried get a bunch of projects going that never came into fruition while his attempts to finish The Other Side of the Wind were hampered by legal issues. While Welles would continue to act in appearing various films and TV projects as well as be offered a key role in Alejandro Jodorowsky’s attempted production of Frank Herbert’s Dune. Welles would still work on projects of his own as one of them was an unfinished TV special relating to his mastery in magic as it would lead to an unsold TV pilot Welles did in 1979 that was part talk-show and comedy act. Yet, various TV stations were uninterested as the magic projects would remain unfinished and unreleased.
In the early 1980s that was shot in the span of two years was a project that was based on the stories of Karen Blixen. The project entitled The Dreamers, the film would star Oja Kodar and shot by Gary Graver as Welles received support from filmmakers Henry Jaglom and Hal Ashby as the latter had a production company that was interested in Welles work but stopped funding once they read Welles’ script. Welles still did the film at his Hollywood home with Kodar for the span of two years in sporadic moments as it would be a project that was close to Welles’ heart as he worked closely with Kodar whom she had become his closest collaborator and person in his life. The project was put on hold in 1982 as Welles hoped to get more money to create a full-length version as 20 minutes of material with Kodar had been shot. Yet, nothing came on board as the project would remain unreleased and unfinished.
In 1984, Welles made a three-minute short film with Gary Graver shooting the project entitled The Spirit of Charles Lindbergh as it was intended to be a private short film for a longtime friend in accountant Bill Cronshaw who was ill at the time. The short had Welles on a typewriter typing a letter to Cronshaw and quoting journal passages from the famed aviator Charles Lindbergh. The short wasn’t meant to be seen publicly as it was something private for Cronshaw as Welles was also becoming ill by the time of the shoot and its completion. Welles in his remaining years would appear in films, TV, and do voice work including for such films as Transformers: the Movie and an appearance in Henry Jaglom’s film Someone to Love. On October 9, 1985, Welles appeared on The Merv Griffin Show for an interview as he would die the next day at the age of 70 of a heart attack. Less than a year later on August 12, 1986, Welles’ widow Paola Mori died in a car accident just before she and Oja Kodar were making a settlement that eventually lead to Kodar and Welles’ youngest daughter Beatrice to watch over his estate.
The Other Side of the Wind
In the years since Welles’ death, there have been many stories about the making of a comeback Welles was doing in the 1970s as there had been desire by many who were close to Welles that wanted to finish the film as Welles had only 40 minutes of the film completed until legal, financial, and political issues prevented him from finishing it. Upon Welles’ return to Los Angeles in the early 1970s and seeing what Hollywood was becoming, Welles who had this idea dating back in the 1960s about a filmmaker trying to present his comeback film at a screening party in the hopes of getting more money as the day would be his last day in life. Having made friends and admirers who were part of the New Hollywood era that included Henry Jaglom, Dennis Hopper, Peter Bogdanovich, and many others. Welles asked the filmmakers if they would be part of this project as Welles would try and get funding.
With Oja Kodar co-starring in the film as an actress in this movie that this filmmaker is making, Kodar would also co-write the project as she helped Welles come up with a concept of a film-within-a-film as that film would emulate the European films of the 1960s and 1970s that had been dominating the art house circuit. While Welles would film footage with cinematographer Gary Graver from 1970 and 1971 with Bogdanovich playing a cameraman. Welles would get funding from various sources including money from businessman Mehdi Boushehri who was the brother-in-law of the Shah of Iran in the 1970s. Welles would halt productions periodically to get ideas going as he wanted to create something that felt improvisatory with actors given more freedom to act in the film.
Production went into full-swing once John Huston agreed to play the lead role of filmmaker Jake “J.J.” Hannaford after years of trying to find the right person to play the role while comedian Rich Little was cast as Hannaford’s protégé in filmmaker Brooks Otterlake. Little’s inexperience and scheduling conflicts in his work as a comedian forced Welles to get Peter Bogdanovich to play the role with Little making a cameo appearance in the film. The film had a documentary feel to the project as Welles would shoot the film at various locations as well as on studio sets for the film-within-a-film. Production was mired by set-backs due to finances where Welles would present a clip of the film at the American Film Institute in 1975 where he was honored as it was a moment of Welles needing money to finish the film.
In 1976, shooting was finished as Welles would spend time trying to edit the film yet by 1979 as he had forty-minutes of footage completed. Problems emerged with the Iranian Revolution of 1979 with Boushehri out of the picture and legal issues emerged with all of the footage of the film locked in a vault in France forcing Welles to be unable to finish the film. After his death in 1985 where all footage of his unfinished work went to Oja Kodar, attempts to finish the film was mired by legal issues including a lawsuit from Welles’ daughter Beatrice believing it would be disastrous following the troubled 1992 release of Welles’ unfinished version of Don Quixote by Jesus Franco. In 2004, Peter Bogdanovich expressed interests in completing the film with help from cinematographer Gary Graver who had a work-print version of the film as well as other footage yet it would be stalled by legal issues and Graver’s death in 2006.
Finally in 2014 after years of legal battles and ownership rights, plans to finish the film went underway under the supervision of Bogdanovich, producer Frank Marshall who was a unit production manager during the making of the film, and Polish filmmaker Filip Jan Rymsza. With Beatrice Welles and Oja Kodar setting long-standing issues, they gave the trio permission to finish the film as they were aided by film editor Bob Murawski, sound editor/mixer Scott Millan, and visual effects supervisors John Knoll, Joe Ceballos, and Brian Meanley to finish the film. Though there were plans to release the film in 2015 to celebrate Welles’ 100th birthday, financial issues once again halted its progress forcing Bogdanovich, Marshall, and others to seek other sources including crowdfunding. Then in 2016, Netflix offered to help finish the film with a deal in place for a documentary about the making of the film entitled They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead that would be directed by Morgan Neville as an accompanying release.
In March 2018, music composer Michel Legrand who had written music for F for Fake announced that he was making new score music for the film as ultimately lead to the film’s world premiere at the Venice Film Festival on August 31, 2018. Following screenings at the Toronto Film Festival and the New York Film Festival in the intervening months, the film ultimately premiered in a limited theatrical release in November that year with a wide release on Netflix. While critical reception has been mostly positive, some felt the film didn’t live up to the hype in its final form yet many were relieved that film had finally come out and felt that it’s the closest thing to what Welles would’ve intended it to be.
More than 30 years since his passing and with a legacy that is unmatched in the world of cinema. There’s no question in what Orson Welles had done to the medium through the stories he told as well as the innovations he’s created. There is no question that like many before and since the release of Citizen Kane that had made an impact in cinema were influenced by him. While he never had the kind of support that other filmmakers in Hollywood would’ve gotten. His willingness to do things himself and not compromise despite the many trials and tribulations he faced makes him a towering figure that remains inspirational. Yet, Welles was more than just a man who played roles, staged plays, did magic tricks, and make films. He was a true artist that had a love for performance and wanted to share that as well as tell stories of those who wanted to matter in a world that of immense expectations and ideas. There are few that can be called giants in the world of cinema and one of them that lives up to that stature both literally and figuratively is Orson Welles.
Related: Orson Welles: The One-Man Band - The Eyes of Orson Welles - They'll Love Me When I'm Dead - The Auteurs #69: Orson Welles: Part 1
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