Difficult Wellesian Period

Orson Welles, Volume 3: One-Man Band - Difficult Wellesian PeriodKnowing that I had this difficult Wellesian period in my sights, friends sympathized with me — “how sad it is,” they said, “such a terrible decline.” But I have never shared that view. Welles did it his way. If he had modified his behavior — if he had trimmed his sails, if he had pulled in his horns — he could have made many more films. But he would not then have been the force of nature that he was. He would just have been another filmmaker. As it was, this period in Welles’ life left behind him at least two films, Touch of Evil and Chimes at Midnight, that are remarkable by any standards, plus extraordanary work in several other media — but above all I looked forward to tracing that arc as Welles struck out towards the unknown region.

Such was my plan. But I was baulked by Welles himself. His prolificity during these years was so immense, the circumstances surrounding every venture (successful or unsuccessful) on which he embarked were so complex and extraordinary, and the ambitiousness of his approach to each was so unfettered, that had I attempted to encompass nearly forty years from 1947 till his death, the book would have run to considerably more than a thousand pages…

–Simon Callow
Orson Welles, Volume 3: One-Man Band

9 thoughts on “Difficult Wellesian Period

  1. People underestimate the benefits of challenges and problems in their lives. Maybe that is the moral of the story?

    Anyway he made good films. He had a couple of really good relationships (ie Rita Hayworth being one). Ummm people often called him a genius.

    I’d say his life was not all that tragic really. And maybe he actually in fact was a genius?

    Oh what does it all mean?

    Sorry I am having an existential lapse.

    Wait I know.

    Rosebud.

    • You’re right! His life wasn’t tragic at all. It was a loss for the rest of us that he stopped getting decent budgets for his films. And probably annoying for Welles that he had to grovel before idiots. I doubt he minded the challenges of working with low budgets, though. He thrived on challenges. If he had bigger budgets, he would have tried trickier technical problems. Welles’s sensibility and style couldn’t be more removed from Stanley Kubrick’s, but could I envision Welles building a huge revolving set to simulate a centrifuge? Yeah, I could.

      God, imagine what he could do with the modern movie toys …

        • No, I didn’t know about that. Was Welles drunk? At his size?

          That’s another sad thing for us — Welles had to appear in so much dreck. He was a great actor. He got the awful parts at the end of his career that struggling performers usually get at the beginning. Kept him financially cozy, I’m sure. But Ian McKellan doesn’t have to do that shit!

          • Well, I would say that Welles chose to appear in so much dreck. The truth is, he didn’t think much of himself as an actor. And he saw himself as a director above all — of movies and plays. There’s no doubt that he was not easy to work with when he was acting for someone else. I suspect that he felt much like a whore — a whore turning tricks to support his directing addiction. It’s just a means to an end. So if he was selling peas or making The Third Man, it doesn’t much matter as long as he walked away with the money. (Although it was actually The Third Man that made him a star — and indirectly funded most of the films that came later — and directly funded Othello.)

  2. Sigh! It’d be a wonderful thing to have a thousand page long biography of Orson Welles. The world would be a better place.

    • Well, by the time Callow is done, he will be over 2000 pages. He’s gotten a lot of guff from Welles lovers because he does see Welles as a real human who — like most of the really brilliant people — was difficult. It’s been interesting though. After reading the first book, I thought that Callow kind of disliked Welles. But as time has gone on, I’ve come to see that he is absolutely fascinated with him — in a good way. He certainly cares more than I do. I’m more an Orson Wells at Work kind of guy.

  3. If Orson Welles was such a bum,such a failure then why isn’t he forgotten?
    Why was everything he put his hand to infinitely more interesting than any ten artists you can name? His post Kane work fascinates me the most. A tireless,independent, guerrilla film maker who set the tone for everyone who followed. I’d rather sort through his trash than sit through others’ films.

    • Did you read the quote? It is laudatory! And it is interesting to see how Simon Callow started his research on Welles being quite skeptical and has become what I can only now call a fan. How does this quote say in any way that Welles was a bum? “Welles did it his way. If he had modified his behavior — if he had trimmed his sails, if he had pulled in his horns — he could have made many more films. But he would not then have been the force of nature that he was. He would just have been another filmmaker.”

      I fear you are reacting to Callow and not the quote. I think Callow did start his project to take some of the air out of Welles because Welles was somewhat homophobic. But even in that first book, Callow goes on and on about Welles’ greatness. Too many people want to see Welles as some kind of perfect being. He wasn’t. Like every great filmmaker I can think of, he commonly abused people in the name of his artistic vision. And Welles did fabricate anecdotes — by his own admission. But who cares?! Most people are bigger assholes than Welles and never did anything to improve the world as he did.

      As for me, I’m a Welles fanatic. I own all of his films that I’m allowed to — multiple copies in many cases. (I hope I live long enough to see The Other Side of the Wind, which I have been waiting for decades to see.) Only last week did I find that Criterion finally released Chimes at Midnight. Before, I had to settle for a so-so print of it on DVD-R. So I’ve watched that twice in the last week.

      See Rotten Tomatoes for Orson Welles for my general feelings on his work. F for Fake has had a profound influence on my playwrighting. What’s more, you make Welles out to be just a filmmaker, but I am equally interested in him as a theatrical director. Sadly, I was never able to see any of his productions, but I’ve learned a great deal about them just from descriptions of them — in some cases from Callow himself.

      But, as a film fan, we both live in a lucky time because Welles has received far better treatment since his death than ever during his life.

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