Posted on the web site Wellesnet. I’ve added a few illustrations of my own to the original. — J.R.
Jonathan Rosenbaum has long been an astute critic on the cinema of Orson Welles, frequently writing about Welles’ films. He served as the consultant for the re-edited version of TOUCH OF EVIL, and edited THIS IS ORSON WELLES, the seminal book of Welles interviews, conducted by Peter Bogdanovich.
The following interview has been combined from two separate conversations. The first took place in the fall of 1998, after the release of the re-edited version of TOUCH OF EVIL, and focused on the problems inherent in changing TOUCH OF EVIL to what Welles requested in a memo written 41 years earlier. The second interview occurred in January, 2003, and covers Welles’ two major unfinished films: DON QUIXOTE and THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND.
DON QUIXOTE: THE MAJOR UNFINISHED WELLES FILM
LAWRENCE FRENCH: Does the film museum in Munich now have most of the unfinished Welles films?
JONATHAN ROSENBAUM: Yes, Oja Kodar has given them — or is letting them store — all the unfinished Welles films she had in her possession. But there’s so much material, in some cases it’s just scratching the surface. I was in Munich twice, and it was a very interesting experience, being able to go through the collection, along with other people, for about a week. I’m now much closer to a sense of what they have. But, for instance, they still haven’t gone through every box on THE DEEP. They’re still missing a lot of sound, which they think they have, but they haven’t been able to get through everything. Also, they were too late on some film elements that needed to be saved. The reels they had for MOBY DICK- REHEARSED are gone, at least if they were labeled correctly. You never know for sure, because there were some cans marked MOBY DICK, and when we looked at it, it was something else. So who knows for sure? The guy I know best at the archive is Hans Schmid. He’s done a lot of work on MR. ARKADIN, which is great because he gave me an ARKADIN tour of Munich. He knows everywhere in Munich where the film was shot. He also did a lot of research on the Harry Lime radio shows that Welles did, and he’s sure, even though Welles isn’t credited, that he also directed the episodes that he wrote.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: What stood out for you, from all the unfinished Welles footage you saw?
JONATHAN ROSENBAUM: I’d say what is most impressive is DON QUXIOTE, of all the material that hasn’t been widely seen. A good deal of the best QUIXOTE material is from the Patty McCormack footage, which I saw in a conference in Rome. (Welles had originally shot footage of himself sitting in a hotel patio, telling the story of DON QUIXOTE to a 12-year old Patty McCormack, who was playing a young girl named Dulcie). So I’m not talking about what was in that horrible version put together by Jess Franco. Altogether, I’ve seen about two hours of DON QUIXOTE footage. I think the most extraordinary sequence out of all that footage, is a scene which takes place in a movie theater. Don Quxiote comes in and starts charging at the screen with his lance and slashes it up. It’s a silent sequence, because apparently Welles never dubbed it with sound, but it’s the single most powerful scene that I’ve seen from DON QUIXOTE. But there are other things in DON QUIXOTE that are quite amazing, as well. There are also parts of THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND that I like, but I consider DON QUIXOTE to be the major unfinished Welles project. The problem with Welles, though, is he went around to everybody he worked with and said, “you are the only one I can trust.” So you have all these people who are now denouncing one another. Even the people who are friendly with all the different sides, who would like to bring everyone together, so there could be a decent version of DON QUIXOTE, haven’t succeeded. I have a friend in Italy who has been trying to do just that. There’s also a woman who was the script girl on DON QUIXOTE, who wrote a long piece in Sight and Sound. She says that Welles came close to finishing a version of DON QUIXOTE. What I think, is for whatever reasons, he undid a lot of what he did, because he never lost ownership over the film, and maybe he didn’t want to release it. When I met Welles, what he told me, was he didn’t want it to compete with MAN OF LA MANCHA, which was just coming out at that time. I think he had a point, because it would have been attacked. That’s what happened to virtually everything he released. So if he owned it himself, and he got more pleasure from working on it, what was the point of releasing it? If it wasn’t going to make any money and people were going to attack it, he had nothing to gain, and everything to lose.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: In that regard, it’s rather unfortunate that Jess Franco was allowed to put together a version of DON QUIXOTE, since it was done so badly. I don’t understand why Oja Kodar didn’t just stick with the shorter 40 minute version of DON QUIXOTE that Costa-Gavras assembled for a showing in Cannes, in 1986.
JONATHAN ROSENBAUM: That’s a different bunch of footage from what the Madrid Cinematheque has. I don’t like that assembly nearly as much as some of the other things, although I’d love to go to Spain and look at everything they have, because they do have a lot of the footage. I don’t know how much they have of the Patty McCormick footage, but I do know they don’t have the sequence in the movie theater. They may have everything else. I think part of the problem is, there isn’t just one version of DON QUIXOTE. I think there are several versions, because Welles kept changing his plan. Although Mauro Bonanni, the original editor of DON QUIXOTE, who is in Rome, disputes that. He told me, if that were the case, then Welles would have discarded all the footage he no longer needed. So Bonanni thinks there’s only one version of QUIXOTE. But he’s not always a very reasonable person to talk too. He also doesn’t speak English or French, so I was talking to him through an interpreter.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: Oja Kodar told me she was furious with what Jess Franco did with DON QUIXOTE. She said Franco “just threw it together” and implied he was a talent-less hack as a director.
JONATHAN ROSENBAUM: Well, he is. And although Oja authorized that version of DON QUIXOTE, she didn’t see what they had done to it, until after it was finished. When she saw it, she was quite horrified with the results, and refused to let it be released (outside of Spain).
LAWRENCE FRENCH: So why pick Jess Franco over someone like Costa-Gavras?
JONATHAN ROSENBAUM: She didn’t choose Jess Franco, he was picked by the people at the Spanish Exposition. He was Spanish, and had worked with Orson Welles on CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT, and supposedly he was a friend of Welles. Maybe he was, but they didn’t factor in that he’s also the biggest hack in all of Spanish cinema! I think maybe Oja didn’t know enough about the project, but she isn’t entirely blameless, because she signed the deal which set it up to be done that way. She put in certain stipulations, but then didn’t bother about other stipulations. For instance, she had it written into the contract that they couldn’t use any of the Patty McCormack footage, because of something Welles had told her. Welles didn’t want any of that footage used, because he was planning to re-shoot it with Beatrice, but Welles never shot it, and that was the main structuring device of the movie! It’s almost as if Welles never wanted the film to be shown unless he was able to finish it himself. As a result, they took out all this footage that was essential to the film. Then, to replace it, they used material from a hack documentary that Welles had done in Spain, called IN THE LAND OF DON QUIXOTE. They also had to do it very quickly. What was even worse, though, was Mauro Bonanni wanted to work on it and give them his input, but they were not interested. Oja’s reaction to him was, “you’ve stolen all this footage, give it back.” But Welles had left the film with Bonanni, and it’s really thanks to Bonanni that it survived. So it’s just abysmal, what they did with the Franco version of DON QUIXOTE. I think the obvious thing to do now is to put together a version with Bonanni as the editor. He was the original editor and he has some important sequences that are missing from DON QUIXOTE. But nobody seems to be interested in doing that.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: Oja should try and be more diplomatic with Bonanni, especially if she ever expects him to give her back the footage he’s holding.
JONATHAN ROSENBAUM: Yes, but she does own DON QUIXOTE. Welles willed it to her, I’ve seen the documents, and she is still trying to get that footage back from him.
THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND
Orson Welles, stands behind his cinematographer, Gary Graver (in leather jacket) while shooting THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND on location in Century City in 1970. In the foreground, leading actor Bob Random, sits on his motorcycle.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: How would you evaluate the footage of THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND that you’ve seen?
JONATHAN ROSENBAUM: I find it interesting, although not as interesting as DON QUIXOTE. It’s like a lot of other Welles films, in that it’s not commercial, and it’s not at all what people want or expect from Welles. Something I figured out on my own, and later had confirmed, is that at least one sequence was directed by Oja Kodar. It’s partly her film, too. She co-wrote the script with Welles, and people aren’t going to be able to process that. Even if it does come out, there’s always going to be problems with it. It’s very dated and rough, although that’s the style that Welles wanted. But I think people will think it’s a great disappointment and say it’s lousy, just exactly like what happened with TOUCH OF EVIL, when that first came out. It’s very hard to judge it, having seen it in such an incomplete state. I’ve also heard very conflicting stories about how much footage there may be. I heard there was a lot of unprocessed footage in France, that might be usable if they pay off the lab. There is also different ideas about how long the film should be. When I first met Oja and Dominique Antoine, the producer on the film, after Welles died, they both told me they had a 2 hour and 30 minute workprint, and that the film was originally expected to run nearly 3 hours. Now Oja maintains that’s not true, but Dominique Antoine still maintains that’s true.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: When I asked Oja about the three hour running time, she said that it was never going to run over two hours, because Welles hated great length in movies.
JONATHAN ROSENBAUM: That’s true, but that wasn’t what she told me the first time we met. So, it may just be a case of her remembering things differently. The thing is, I trust her impulses more than a lot of other people, because I think she has taste. I mean Gary Graver is a nice guy, but what I’ve seen of THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND is his assembly, so that’s why it becomes hard to judge.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: Yes, Gary is a cinematographer, not an editor, so I don’t think he is the best person to be putting the film together. Especially since his documentary, WORKING WITH ORSON WELLES was so badly put together.
JONATHAN ROSENBAUM: Yes, it was like, here’s what’s in my closet that I find interesting, and by the way, everything that’s in my closet is interesting. Gary’s a nice guy, but for example, he had given me the wrong information about the F FOR FAKE trailer. He said it was 15 minutes, when it was actually nine minutes, things like that. I’ve spent a lot of time with both Gary and Oja and they are serious people, but they are both people who inherited the same bad habits that Welles had. So some of the problems they have now, are the same problems Welles had, and for similar reasons. Oja was just a teenager when she met Welles, so I think she took over a lot of his ways of doing things. But Oja and Gary are the people who were closest to Welles whom I know the best. They and, until he died, Dick Wilson.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: Welles was so disorganized, it’s lucky that Richard Wilson kept watch over his career files.
JONATHAN ROSENBAUM: Yes, until he sold them to the Lilly Library, which made Welles really angry, but they probably would have been lost forever if he hadn’t done that. He still has all these papers that were left behind. My friend Catherine Benamou, who has been working on a book about IT’S ALL TRUE. knows Dick Wilson’s son, and she spent some time going through the papers, although she hasn’t gone through everything. Catherine should have turned in her book, but she may never turn it in. She has a problem of not being able to complete things. It’s virtually done, so it’s unfortunate, because there’s nobody who knows more about the film than she does. From what she told me, I think UCLA has finally raised some money to preserve the MY FRIEND BONITO footage from IT’S ALL TRUE, but there’s still lots of footage that they haven’t been able to properly preserve.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: Have you seen any of Lilli Palmer’s scenes from THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND?
JONATHAN ROSENBAUM: Yes, I’ve seen some. She may have a more prominent role in the script than in the film, but she’s still there. The Munich people have now put together a half -hour reel of clips from THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND. It has that racy scene with Oja, who is having sex in the car with Bob Random, while it’s raining outside. There’s much more of that. There’s a scene with John Huston and Peter Bogdanovich driving to his birthday party with two reporters in the back seat of their car. There’s a longer version of Huston’s arrival at his party with Peter Bogdanovich, where they are being questioned by Susan Strasberg. There’s a scene on a bus taking Edmond O’ Brien and the rest of Hannaford’s cronies to the party. And the scene they showed at the AFI tribute, where Norman Foster is in the projection room, watching the rushes from Hannaford’s film in progress. By now I’ve seen about an hour and 40 minutes in a fragmented way, but not so I could evaluate it. I think, more than any other Welles work, Oja would like THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND to get finished, but it’s a very traumatic issue for her, because there’s been a lot of pain connected with it and I think that makes it harder for her to deal with.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: Oja seems to have made some unfortunate choices when she’s allowed the unfinished Welles material to be sold to someone else. Besides DON QUIXOTE, I thought THE ONE MAN BAND was not done as well as it might have been. But she insisted she wasn’t going to allow something like what Jess Franco did to DON QUIXOTE to happen to THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND.
JONATHAN ROSENBAUM: What happened with ONE MAN BAND was unfortunate in some ways. Oja could have co-directed THE ONE MAN BAND, if she wanted to, but she didn’t stick around long enough. Originally, it was supposed to have been directed by her and she should have been able to do it, but they didn’t want her to direct it by herself. After that, I think she lost interest in it. But to be fair to Oja, she’s held out on a lot of projects for a long time, until she needed the money. For instance, the best TV show ever done on Welles was the Arena-BBC interview done by Leslie Megahey. Oja had the American rights, and didn’t agree to sell it for maybe two years, because nobody wanted to show it complete, and she thought it should be shown complete. But nobody in American was willing to show it at its original running time. So when she finally sold it to TNT, they cut an hour out of it. That was the only way she could get it sold and shown in America. With a lot of these things she’s held out for very serious reasons, but after awhile it becomes a burden and there’s an exhaustion, so at a certain point, if somebody comes up with a deal you nod your head and say ‘yes’.
LAWRENCE FRENCH Peter Bogdanovich’s new version of ONE MAN BAND is a real improvement over the original. Have you seen that yet?
JONATHAN ROSENBAUM: No, that was something else that was going to be shown on Showtime, until it was stopped by Beatrice. I’m sure it’s a better version. I did see several earlier versions of it, including one while they were still editing it. I made several suggestions to them, none of which they took.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: Peter Bogdanovich would now seem to be the logical person to finish the editing on THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND.
JONATHAN ROSENBAUM: Yes, although I’m not in touch with Peter anymore. At one point, did you also know that Clint Eastwood was shown some of the footage of THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND? He was one of many people who saw a rough assembly of the footage, when they were trying to get somebody to help finish the film, and he actually stole a line from it for WHITE HUNTER, BLACK HEART. Clint Eastwood is supposed to be playing John Huston in the film, and there’s a moment where someone calls out to him and says, “I’m so and so — I forget the characters name – and Eastwood looks at him and replies, “of course you are.” Well, that’s a direct steal from THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND. In fact, it’s in the footage they showed at the AFI tribute, the scene where a guy rushes up to John Huston and says, “I’m Marvin P. Fassbinder.” Actually, WHITE HUNTER, BLACK HEART is probably my favorite film of Eastwood’s, that he’ s directed.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: So Clint Eastwood stole a line from THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND, but didn’t bother to help it get finished.
JONATHAN ROSENBAUM: I think he may have been interested, but Peter Bogdanovich objected. That’s why there have always been problems about getting a deal together, because of all the different people who have interests in the film.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: Oja told me how Orson approached Clint Eastwood to play the lead in THE BIG BRASS RING, but said Eastwood was a right-wing fascist who didn’t like the liberal politics of the script.
JONATHAN ROSENBAUM: That’s probably true, although what I heard was that Eastwood said he didn’t understand the script. But Oja would know better than I what he actually said. Eastwood is a very right-wing guy, though, and now he’s going after Patrick McGilligan with a heavy lawsuit, for writing a biography about him.
THIS IS ORSON WELLES
LAWRENCE FRENCH: Why aren’t you in touch with Peter Bogdanovich anymore?
JONATHAN ROSENBAUM: I was treated very badly on the second (paperback) edition of THIS IS ORSON WELLES. I get along with him okay, but I was basically ordered to do all this work on the second edition, without getting paid for it! I was supposed to edit Peter’s introduction, while my own preface got stuck in the back of the book. And an agent, who I shared with Peter, and took 15 % of everything I made on the first edition, didn’t even bother to call me and tell me there was going to be a new edition. So Peter called me up and said, “we’d like you to do this and this, and sorry but we can’t pay you anything.” Peter didn’t get much money originally, so that much I can see, but it was very rude, basically. The net effect was that I didn’t think I had to be tactful in my criticism of his original draft, and I wasn’t. And he did take my advice about some changes. But it soured my feelings towards him a little bit. I still have admiration for Peter in many ways, especially in terms of what he’s done for Welles. But we had problems on the book. He made a lot of cuts in the manuscript, which I still object to.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: Such as when Welles was talking about other directors?
JONATHAN ROSENBAUM: That’s right. To give you an idea, when Welles was talking about how much he adored Leo McCarey’s MAKE WAY FOR TOMORROW, he said, “I even like that old shit, Victor Moore, he was wonderful in it.” Peter objected to Victor Moore being called an old shit, so the entire thing got cut out. It just seemed so pointless, since the guy is dead. Welles also called John Wayne a fascist, and that had to go. He gave a real critique of John Wayne, which was really very funny. There was also something critical of Israel, and something very funny about Von Sternberg, where Welles calls him the King and Queen of camp. Also, Peter wouldn’t allow Welles to use the word “Negro” in 1969. It was all absurd stuff, and everyone was opposed to these changes, including the editor, but it was Peter’s book, and he insisted. That’s why there’s a disclaimer in my preface, talking about our differences.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: Bogdanovich included a letter Welles wrote to him, telling him that he didn’t want that material to appear in the book.
JONATHAN ROSENBAUM: Yes, but there is an awful lot of that which is artificial. It was not part of the manuscript. Welles wrote as much of the book as Peter did, or more, but it’s not necessarily that the book was written that way. I’ll tell you something else, which Peter kind of gives away, but in such a stealthy way that people haven’t noticed it. Did you know that the article signed by Peter, “The Kane Mutiny,” (which originally appeared in Esquire magazine, in 1971) was actually written by Welles?
LAWRENCE FRENCH: No, I had no idea.
JONATHAN ROSENBAUM: Yes, it’s a secret that I’ve know for about for years, but Peter actually spills the beans about it. If you read his introduction in the new edition, he says Orson took a strong hand in “re-writing and revising the article,” so he was very cagey about it. But, according to Oja, everything in it was written by Welles. Orson was just using Peter’s name. Which is an extraordinary thing, because it’s an amazing piece of writing, as a polemic, as an impersonation of Peter Bogdanovich, and as a rebuttal to Pauline Kael. Of course, you can understand why there was a need to keep it a secret when Pauline Kael was still around. But that’s why it’s never been included in any collections of Peter’s books, because he didn’t write it. How I first discovered that was very interesting. It was the first time I had met Oja, and I said to her, “when you see Peter, tell him I really like his article on CITIZEN KANE, ‘The Kane Mutiny’.” Oja said, “Oh, but Peter didn’t write that.” The funny thing is, it now really has been thoroughly proven, by Robert Carringer and others, that whole sections of CITIZEN KANE where written by Welles. There is full documentation to prove it, scripts and everything, but nobody pays any attention to that, they’re not interested. The other story is more fun.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: Frankly, I don’t understand why that argument keeps coming up. After all this time, it seems to me anyone writing about Welles should know he was the author of CITIZEN KANE. And if they don’t, who cares.
JONATHAN ROSENBAUM: One reason I think it still has to be pointed out, is because you have people like David Thomson writing about it in The New York Times, theorizing that maybe Welles didn’t write any of CITIZEN KANE. I mean, what does The Times care about accuracy? I also think it comes up because Welles always has a sort of ideological meaning to people, and they have to make him responsible, rather than then Hollywood, for what happened. There’s a whole complex series of reasons. There was also all this debate about the auteur theory going on at the time, and Pauline Kael’s article did have a big effect on the way the film was perceived. Before she got her hands on it, CITIZEN KANE had never really been perceived of as a mainstream Hollywood film. Now, it’s everybody’s favorite film, so it’s a complicated thing.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: It’s funny that David Thomson, who takes the Pauline Kael approach to CITIZEN KANE that Peter Bodanovich criticized, should end up interviewing Bogdanovich for The New York Times about THE CAT’S MEOW. I asked Peter why he agreed to talk to Thomson, and it was obvious he would have preferred to have spoken to someone else, but at the same time he didn’t want to turn down coverage in The New York Times for THE CAT’S MEOW.
JONATHAN ROSENBAUM: I liked CAT’S MEOW. It was on my ten best list this year.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: When they did the restoration on OTHELLO they actually went through the process of transcribing Francesco Lavagnino’s score, when the original manuscript was apparently readily available for consultation in Italy.
JONATHAN ROSENBAUM: I know, and members of Lavagnino’s family were aghast with the result. I talked to his children and they said, “this is not my father’s work.” They actually were talking about suing over what was done to the music, because they were very pissed off, and I think they had good reason to be.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: It just shows how little research actually went into that restoration. Why bother to transcribe the score, if the composer’s original manuscript could be consulted?
JONATHAN ROSENBAUM: They found a guy who works for the Chicago symphony, Michael Pendowski to do it, who I interviewed, but he was somebody who knew nothing about Lavagnino’s music, or about Orson Welles. He only heard two or three mandolins on the soundtrack, so now there are only two mandolins, instead of forty. The same thing, or worse, with the sound effects. Michael Anderegg in his book, Orson Welles, Popular Culture and Shakespeare, has discovered even more outrages in OTHELLO. He has actually determined that for the new version, they got different actors to re-dub some of the lines. Really, it’s just mutilation. However, I must say, that’s also been done to some of the restorations they are doing in Munich. The other thing, which is worse, is that according to Beatrice and Thomas White, it’s now illegal to show Welles’ own version of OTHELLO in the United States. In Europe you can still get the Welles version on video. But when Criterion brought out Welles’ original version on laserdisc, Beatrice got very angry and said they couldn’t make any more copies. So she’s made her own father’s version illegal to show, because she doesn’t get any money for it. They only found out about the Criterion laserdisc after the fact, otherwise it would have never come out. And I wrote the notes for it, so that’s another reason why I’m probably in her black book. I think Beatrice hates me to begin with, because I’m one of three people who has a copyright on THIS IS ORSON WELLES – for my own material – and I was threatened with legal action by Thomas White, who works for her. Something else that’s very funny and ironic about the new version of OTHELLO. When I wrote about it, I talked about the Gregorian chants that were missing from the opening scene, which Julian Schlossberg had removed. It was actually Michael Dawson (who supervised the restoration) who told me that, but off the record, because the restoration had gotten out of his control and Dawson was very upset about what Schlossberg had done. So it was thanks to him I was able to expose that, and the Gregorian chanting got restored for the video. In fact, I even got a call from Julian Schlossberg, who was very apologetic. But nobody even knows why they removed it. That was the one thing I was able to correct, but of course, nothing else.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: Wasn’t there talk of doing a similar re-working of the score and dubbing of CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT?
JONATHAN ROSENBAUM: Yes, Michael Dawson wanted to do a version of that, but I and some other people may have convinced him not to re-do the music. Maybe they wanted to try re-syncing it, as well, but the problem with that, is, you have to change the performances. Frankly, I don’t have that much trouble with the film’s soundtrack the way it is, and given the consequences of what they did to OTHELLO, I would prefer they don’t do it. I think they’re kidding themselves when they say that people who wouldn’t like the film would now suddenly go and see it.
MEETING ORSON WELLES
LAWRENCE FRENCH: Tell me about your meeting with Welles.
JONATHAN ROSENBAUM: It was in 1972 and I was living in Paris. I had just started out and had hardly written anything. A friend of mine, Carlos Clarens, (author of THE ILLUSTRATED HISTORY OF THE HORROR FILM), had a copy of Welles’ HEART OF DARKNESS script, which he lent to me. I had just written an attack on Pauline Kael’s essay that had come out in THE CITIZEN KANE BOOK and had started doing a Paris Journal for Film Comment. Then I proposed to Film Comment that I write an article about the HEART OF DARKNESS script, and they agreed. So I told a friend of mine in Paris, Bernard Eisenschitz, that I was doing the article, and he said, “you know, Welles is in Paris editing F FOR FAKE, why don’t you try contacting him.” I said, “he’s not going to answer a letter from me.” He said, “why don’t you try, anyway.” So I did some detective work and by then I was also in contact with Richard Wilson in California. I found out that Welles had an English secretary in London, Mrs. Rogers, and I called her and she gave me the address of the studio, Antégor, where he was editing F FOR FAKE. But she said don’t call him there, he’s very busy, but write him a letter if you have some questions. So I wrote him a brief letter, in which I asked him about the casting and a few other things about HEART OF DARKNESS. And I mentioned that I had just written an attack on Pauline Kael’s essay in THE CITIZEN KANE BOOK, and I sent the letter off on a Saturday. I didn’t really expect to get an answer, and I stayed up all night Sunday, finishing a draft of the HEART OF DARKNESS article and literally went to sleep at five in the morning. At 9:00 A.M. on Monday morning, I was awakened by the phone, and it was a Welles assistant, who said “Mr. Welles would like to know if you would like to have lunch with him at 12:00.” I was dumbstruck, and three hours later I was at Mediterranée, Welles’ favorite seafood restaurant in Paris, which is actually in F FOR FAKE. He came alone, and was five minutes late, for which he apologized profusely. The first thing I asked him was why he invited me to lunch, and he said, “because I didn’t have time to answer your letter.” So we talked for an hour, he paid for the lunch, and I asked him all the things I could think of about his other projects. Because of all the unfinished projects I brought up, I think it was probably a bit frustrating for him. I said, “at what point did you abandon HEART OF DARKNESS, and he said, “I never abandoned it, I still want to do it.” He was self-absorbed, but also very solicitous. He kept pouring my wine, and asking if I liked my meal, so it was a very funny combination. He didn’t come off like he was putting on a show, because it wasn’t a group of people, it was just me. But the one thing that kind of amazed me, was virtually everything he told me, even things I didn’t quite believe at the time, turned out to be true. I actually think he told the truth more often than people give him credit for. It was a high point, I can assure you.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: But he certainly told a lot of stories.
JONATHAN ROSENBAUM: Yes, he did tell stories, and maybe he even wound up believing them. I know Sam Fuller was like that. The story about how he got to make THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI was a story he lied about, for the most part.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: Right, because Columbia already owned the book, which was titled IF I DIE BEFORE I WAKE, not THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI. Although the story Welles told about how he came to make THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI is really marvelous.
JONATHAN ROSENBAUM: Yes, but it was really a project he stole from William Castle, and William Castle tells the whole story in his autobiography. And I asked Richard Wilson, just before he died, if the William Castle version of events was accurate, and he said it was. Dick Wilson was at the time planning to write something on his own about THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI, so he said, “I don’t know if I really want to help you.” I said, “what if I just read you what I’ve written, and you can tell me if I’m wrong or not.” So I read it all to him, and he said, “it’s all accurate.” He was very helpful to me in a lot of things. He was a real scholar, and an amazing guy. At that point, I also had a very interesting correspondence with Fletcher Markle, a stage and radio director who was a good friend of Welles. He was married to Mercedes McCambridge at one time. He actually contacted me, through Dick Wilson, because he had some questions after reading my article on HEART OF DARKNESS. So at one point I asked him about THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI, and he said yes, he had worked on it, and remembered some very specific things about it as well.
THE RE-EDIT OF TOUCH OF EVIL
LAWRENCE FRENCH: What was your reaction when Rick Schmidlin first told you about his plan to re-edit TOUCH OF EVIL according to Orson Welles memo?
JONATHAN ROSENBAUM: Well, I first heard about it from Allen Daviau, who was the one who was going to do it for laserdisc-that’s how the project got started, so it was a kind of gradual thing. When I talked to Rick, certainly I was willing to help, and do whatever I could to get the full memo, but when he had the idea to try and convince Universal to make the changes, I frankly didn’t think they would give him the time of day. Of course, that’s what happened at first, so it’s kind of amazing that they changed their minds about it. Re-editing a film like this is something I don’t know of any studio ever having done before. I was delighted, but it took some getting used to the idea, because it’s a project that is potentially fraught with booby-traps. I was afraid that at some point we wouldn’t be able to do exactly what we wanted. But in the end we got to do it exactly as we wanted. On all the major issues, there was no studio interference. We didn’t have to make it a stereo soundtrack, or whatever else I was afraid they might have wanted.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: Rick said the studio told him he could do whatever he wanted, as long as he followed Welles’s wishes, and said he felt you were the man to make sure that happened.
JONATHAN ROSENBAUM: Yes, I probably had that function, and I must say I was involved in a more intricate way than I thought I would be. I wasn’t in California (where the editing was done), but I felt very much plugged in, and actually was helping to make decisions. They sent me a video of Walter’s rough cut, and some fairly important changes were made at that stage, and I was responsible for a couple of them, and there were other changes where I was part of the discussions as well.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: Did you meet with Rick Schmidlin and Walter Murch to discuss the changes beforehand?
JONATHAN ROSENBAUM: What happened was, after Rick got the go-ahead from Universal, he flew out here to Chicago for a weekend, and we spent the whole weekend talking about it. I showed him certain kinds of material, and then when he got Walter involved, just before they started the editing, the three of us had one real long conference call. We discussed some of the major issues, and I sent some materials to Walter, that I thought were relevant as stylistic reference points. Radio shows from the thirties with interesting sound work, like HIS HONOR THE MAYOR and ALGIERS. In ALGIERS there were a lot of sound effects invoking a third world city, and Welles actually got into trouble, because he went over budget on that show, because of all the things he did to create the Casbah. Now you can get most of Welles’ radio shows on the internet. I also sent Walter the opening of the HEART OF DARKNESS script, (which Welles was planing to make in 1940, before CITIZEN KANE). It was very loose-just trying to get things that had certain stylistic parallels, even though Welles didn’t repeat himself, but there were certain concepts that followed from project to project in some ways. So Rick would keep me posted by telephone, several times a week. However, I came on in the most significant way after Walter finished the rough cut. We had to make some basic decisions about changing things from Walter’s rough cut. There were some areas where interpretation was necessary, and that’s where we had to work out how we would do it, so it was a learning experience for everyone. After that, I was consulted about all sorts of things, even the lettering for the new credits. I spent a lot of time talking to people at Universal about that. The job didn’t pay me very much, but it was something I was certainly very glad to do.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: The changes are really very subtle, especially to the soundtrack, which you don’t remember as much as you would the visual changes.
JONATHAN ROSENBAUM: Yes, they are very slight, and people don’t always remember. A friend of mine was insisting to me that the scene between Janet Leigh and Akim Tamiroff always had a cut back to the scene of the explosion. He said, “it’s that way on my laserdisc.” I said, “no it’s not. You just don’t remember. Go back and look again.” That was actually a point where Walter and I differed — the only point, actually. Walter wanted to cut it into three pieces, and it worked very well that way, it was very smooth, but Welles asked for it to be cut into two pieces, and he talked about that scene having a very unresolved quality. That kind of cross-cutting is so common now on TV, I thought it became too smooth. The unsettling aspects of the scene were sort of dissipated, and it wasn’t what Welles asked for. Rick spent a lot of time thinking about it, and decided to do what Welles wanted, so I won on that one. I also corrected an error during the interrogation of Sanchez where he gets socked in the stomach by Quinlan. You hear the sound of the punch off-screen in the long version, but it was not included in the release version, and that was missing from Walter’s rough cut. I was shocked, because I thought it was so important. It even plants the idea that you don’t know absolutely for sure that Sanchez is guilty at the end. You know, they’ve been beating him up for hours, so he could have confessed without actually being guilty. It was an actual demonstration of physical violence, and as soon as I pointed that out to Walter, he said, “oh, that’s right, we were using the other version,” so he had forgotten about it, and Rick had forgotten about it as well, so it was quickly put back in.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: Will Universal replace the other two versions of the film now that this re-edit is presumably the closest to Welles original intentions?
JONATHAN ROSENBAUM: We’re hoping that they’ll keep the first two versions available. There’s actually a third version, where Universal home video combined the first two versions, which we don’t really care about.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: Why do you think they re-shot Welles footage of those scenes involving Vargas driving Susan to the Mirador Motel?
JONATHAN ROSENBAUM: Apparently, the preview went over badly. I don’t think they had preview cards, but the studio got the impression it went over badly. That’s something I have to learn more about, because Rick has all the documentation, and he hasn’t sent it to me. [Note: This was at the time of the film's release, when a book about the film was still planned -- JR]. He’s got a huge amount of material-it’s very well documented.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: Was there any discussion of eliminating scenes that were not directed by Welles, like the scene where Vargas drives Susan to the Mirador motel?
JONATHAN ROSENBAUM: No, because we very specifically followed the memos. Welles didn’t direct those scenes, but he wrote them, and he didn’t request that everything directed by Harry Keller be eliminated — although he made very specific requests about certain things in those sequences, but he didn’t ask for them to be eliminated, so that wasn’t something we considered. Also, there’s important things that go on with the dialogue in those scenes. It was really a matter of following the memo. Welles objected specifically to the scene between Vargas and Susan, in the hotel lobby (which Welles neither wrote nor directed), right before Vargas drives Susan to the motel-which we did eliminate. In terms of exposition, there was no need for that scene, so it wasn’t missed. The only place we did something that wasn’t in the memo, was where Welles talked about changes elsewhere. We didn’t have everything, and in terms of what the memo requested, I would say we were able to do about 85% — that’s a rough estimate.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: In his memo, Welles talks about wanting the footage of the oil derricks restored to the scene where Vargas drives Susan to the motel-which was apparently in the footage he originally shot.
JONATHAN ROSENBAUM: That’s right, and we don’t see them now. That must have been material Universal threw away-so that wasn’t an option. We wondered about that.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: Frank Brady speculates that maybe that footage was unusable for some reason — which is why the Universal executives felt it needed to be re-shot.
JONATHAN ROSENBAUM: I don’t know why he draws that conclusion. Maybe he was basing it on something I haven’t seen yet. I still haven’t seen all the material. Rick and I were supposed to have done a book on TOUCH OF EVIL. There was even a contract with University of California Press, but Rick had a very serious writing block. He was unable to produce anything. I was going to write the introduction to it, and Rick was going to do the first half of the work and I was going to do the second half of the work. I kept waiting and waiting, but I couldn’t get Rick to write one sentence. Finally, I said, at least give me one sentence, so we could start with something, because we were meeting at a film festival in Italy. He literally couldn’t come up with one sentence. He finally had to give them back the advance he got.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: Rick told me he couldn’t get the rights to publish the script.
JONATHAN ROSENBAUM: Well, maybe that’s his spin on it, but this is what happened. Now, it may be he’s also worried about Beatrice, since she was treated by Universal as if she has rights to the film.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: It seems rather strange that the main objection to the re-edit of TOUCH OF EVIL came from Welles’ own daughter.
JONATHAN ROSENBAUM: That was about money, not about aesthetics or Welles’ legacy. I haven’t communicated with them, but it seems quite clear they wanted money. What her representative, Thomas White does professionally for her, is to prevent Welles projects from happening. He’s prevented books from coming out and films from coming out.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: What was the book that Beatrice prevented from coming out?
JONATHAN ROSENBAUM: It’s an excellent book of Welles’ writings, called WELLES ON WELLES, that the University of California Press has been ready to publish for years, but the demands they’re making are quite unreasonable. They’re asking not only for 90% of all the money, which means that Sid Gottlieb, who worked for years editing it gets nothing or practically nothing, but they want final editorial control as well — on a project they know nothing about and didn’t do any work on. It’s an excellent collection of Welles articles, but it may never come out. It’s a companion volume to HITCHCOCK ON HITCHCOCK, edited by the same guy.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: The more I hear about Beatrice, the more I think she would have been a good Goneril for Welles planned version of KING LEAR. Apparently all she wants is money, and cares nothing about her father’s work or his legacy. It’s really sad.
JONATHAN ROSENBAUM: Yes, I think it is. You know, Beatrice has all this material, so she could bring out something, but she doesn’t. I think she probably has loads of Welles’ scripts, which no one else has. Why not try to publish them? That’s what’s so upsetting to me, that there’s so little activity on her part in trying to bring any of these things out.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: In your article on OTHELLO in Sight and Sound, you were very critical of how it was “restored.” Do you think Beatrice took offense at your comments?
JONATHAN ROSENBAUM: I don’t think so, but I’m not in communication with her, so I don’t know what goes through her mind, or through Thomas White’s mind, except for the things I hear them say don’t suggest a close acquaintance with any of the issues about her father’s work, or about any of the particulars. I would think she might know something about it, but the statements she’s quoted as saying don’t show any indication of that. I’ve only met her once, and we got along okay, but I think I’m a little tainted, because I’m associated with Oja Kodar, who invited me to edit THIS IS ORSON WELLES, and she doesn’t like Oja. So there’s all that feuding going on, and Beatrice sued Gary Graver (Welles longtime cinematographer), a guy who has no money, because Gary had the Oscar Welles got for the screenplay of CITIZEN KANE. But Gary had it because Welles gave it to him.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: And Gary Graver was one person who was really dedicated to Orson. He worked like a slave for Welles, often for little or no money at all.
JONATHAN ROSENBAUM: Yes, absolutely. He’s quite a selfless person. I just feel there’s a lot of interesting things Beatrice could be doing, none of which, as far as I can tell, she has ever done. It would be nice if that changed.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: There was a piece in The Hollywood Reporter, about Gary having Welles’ Oscar, which quoted Henry Jaglom as saying that Graver was a “hack director,” which is funny, because Gary is known more as a cameraman, than as a director, and the label “hack director” is probably something that is better suited for Henry Jaglom.
JONATHAN ROSENBAUM: That’s more of a class thing. Jaglom was saying he was Welles’s friend and Gary Graver was his employee, which is bullshit. Think of what Gary did for Welles and what Henry Jaglom did for Welles. On the balance sheet it seems to me that Gary did a lot more for Welles than Jaglom ever did. It’s funny, people get so mythological about Welles, and they act very irrationally. I think there’s something Oedipal going on. Who’s the real son and all that kind of thing.
THE ESTATE OF ORSON WELLES
LAWRENCE FRENCH: As I understand it, in Welles’ 1985 will, he gave Oja Kodar complete control over all his unfinished film projects, as well as his house in Los Angeles, presumably because he thought Oja was the more suitable person to control his cinematic legacy. Paola Mori, Welles’ third wife (and Beatrice’s mother), got the rest of the estate, while Beatrice only got a bequest of $10,000. Then, after Paola Mori’s death in a car accident, Beatrice inherited her mother’s half of the estate, including the rights to only one Orson Welles film, OTHELLO.
JONATHAN ROSENBAUM: It’s really the equivalent of two estates. Welles set up a company where all the unfinished works would be under Oja’s control, but there’s really nothing Oja can do now that Beatrice isn’t going to contest in some way. Beatrice claims that everything Oja has is illegitimate, and I’m sure if she had her way, a lot of the late Welles works involving Oja, like THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND, wouldn’t exist. It’s a very a complicated situation. The original executor of the will was Greg Garrison, who was very anti-Oja. But apparently he had a falling out with Beatrice, so now he’s anti-Beatrice. The only time I talked to Beatrice, she was telling me what an evil woman Oja was, so in a way, it’s harassment. Then, Beatrice started calling herself the Estate of Orson Welles, where beforehand (under Paola Mori) there was no estate of Orson Welles. As an example, I know somebody who wanted to use a clip from MACBETH for some educational program, and they thought there must be an estate of Orson Welles, so they got directed to Beatrice and Thomas White, and paid them a sum of money to use a clip from MACBETH. Of course, that film belongs to Republic Pictures, it doesn’t belong to Beatrice. But that kind of thing happens all the time.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: It’s ironic, but Welles must have suspected that Paola or Beatrice would try to challenge Oja Kodar’s rights, because he specifically included a clause in his will, stating that anyone who contested what he gave to Oja would automatically be disinherited. It would be nice if someone would invoke that clause, or at least stand up to Beatrice in court, and prove once and for all that she doesn’t have any claim on any of Welles’ unfinished films.
JONATHAN ROSENBAUM: One thing I’ve tried to get going, and I hope it will happen, is this: I have a friend in Chicago who is a lawyer and a cinephile, who loves Welles’ work. He had the idea of writing an article about the Welles estate for a legal journal and to be very specific about all the situations. This could then be used to protect people from Beatrice. He tried to call Greg Garrison, but apparently Greg Garrison hung up on him. Then he said he was going to call Oja, but never did. I think he got discouraged, but that is something that could make a difference, if people could point to something specific in a legal journal. So far, it hasn’t happened, although I think something like that would help, because anyone who gets into these waters — to use a Wellesian phrase — it’s like shark invested waters, because there’s a lot of enmity. It happened to me, when I tried to get Oja to reprint THE BIG BRASS RING for two or three years, and then I finally gave up. I felt very bad about it, because I wanted to prove to everybody that the script was very different from the film George Hickenlooper made from it. I thought people were tending to blame Welles for what was in Hickenlooper’s film, and they shouldn’t have, because it was changed so radically. I’m glad we were able to publish the script in a limited edition, but after that, Oja agreed to allow them to be reprinted, so they would be available in a wider circulation. Then, when the contract was drawn up, she backed away from it and never gave an explanation. I think it was Beatrice or her lawyers that may have frightened Oja, even though she was a co-author of the script. But she never told me why, and she never told the publisher.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: Weren’t there also plans to bring out limited editions of Welles’ scripts for KING LEAR and THE DREAMERS?
JONATHAN ROSENBAUM: Yes, those were being discussed at one time as well. Not as part of the same deal, but in the end it never even got that far. I’ve never seen the script for KING LEAR, but apparently there is an annotated script, with lots of drawings by Welles. THE DREAMERS, I have two versions of, and it would have been lovely to publish it, but it literally is just the story, broken down as a straight script transcription. Oja wanted to publish it, because it was so important to Welles, but when I read it, there just wasn’t the same point to publishing it, as there had been for THE BIG BRASS RING and THE CRADLE WILL ROCK. And the problem with reprinting THE CRADLE WILL ROCK is that Beatrice is sure to make a claim against it. With THE BIG BRASS RING, at least Oja was the co-author. So I never even tried to get THE CRADLE WILL ROCK reprinted. The script I’d really like to see, though, is LADYKILLER, the one that Chaplin turned into MONSIEUR VERDOUX.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: Which Chaplin claimed Welles never wrote.
JONATHAN ROSENBAUM: But there is a script, and I happen to know that the whole idea for the script came from Dick Wilson. He was very modest about it, but he was working for Welles, and part of his job was to suggest things. So he read the story of Landru, and told Welles he thought this could be interesting and turned it over to him. Of course Welles didn’t say that in any interviews, but Dick Wilson was not an egotistical kind of person, so if he mentioned it, you could believe it, he wasn’t just making it up.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: I loved Richard Wilson’s long reply to Charles Higham’s incredibly inaccurate account about the making of IT’S ALL TRUE that appeared in Sight and Sound.
JONATHAN ROSENBAUM: Yes, that was a wonderful piece. Of course Higham’s second book on Welles is even more vituperative. What did you think of Simon Callow’s book on Welles?
LAWRENCE FRENCH: It was very detailed and well researched, but I don’t know how true those episodes are, describing Orson’s youth, where he was supposedly encouraging gay men.
JONATHAN ROSENBAUM: I think what happened is, Welles may have been guilty of flirting with gay guys, and then spurning them. It also seems clear from the evidence that John Houseman was sort of in love with Welles. People haven’t written about that, but Houseman may have been a closeted gay, because he was married and so-forth. But Welles really did treat Houseman badly, and Simon Callow takes anything Houseman says, about CITIZEN KANE or THE WAR OF THE WORLDS as gospel, and that’s the flaw in the book. I think it’s very good in all other aspects. And Callow is the one person who is more equipped than anyone else, to do the next volume on Welles, about his theater work in Europe. He knows everybody in the theater in London, so I really hope that he’s able to do the next volume. I think Joe McBride can do something valuable, as well, but for that part of Welles’ career, Simon Callow will be the best person.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: Have you ever thought about doing a book on Welles yourself?
JONATHAN ROSENBAUM: People have suggested it to me, but with so many Welles biographies, and the shark invested waters, I’m more interested in Welles as a critic than as a biographer. Although, I did build a lot on top of what had already been done for the career summary in the back section of THIS IS ORSON WELLES.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: I liked your review of the Callow book, and especially liked your splendid put-down of David Thomson’s awful Welles biography, ROSEBUD. I just read a few pages of that and stopped, because it was so full of errors and faulty suppositions. Thomson felt Welles script for THE BIG BRASS RING didn’t deserve to be made into a movie, and quite unbelievably said THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND should never be shown! (In his review of ROSEBUD, Rosenbaum wrote that “only Thomson’s biography of Welles deserves to be called a disgrace… what I find unforgivable about ROSEBUD is its often voiced desire to close down Welles research altogether.”)
JONATHAN ROSENBAUM: Thank you. In fact, when they did a really good Welles section in Positif (the French film magazine), they reviewed all these Welles books, and they had such a low opinion of Thomson’s ROSEBUD, they deliberately didn’t even bother to review the book. However, when Janet Maslin reviewed it in The New York Times, she wrote a rave review, although she didn’t bother to review the re-edit of TOUCH OF EVIL, and didn’t let anyone else at the Times review it either. It didn’t really matter, as far as the box-office was concerned, because the film did capacity business, even without a Times review. Universal struck 30 prints originally, but because of the good business, they made 40 additional prints, just for the U.S. release.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: It’s nice that Universal didn’t call the re-edit a director’s cut, but said instead that it was “restored to Orson Welles’ vision.”
JONATHAN ROSENBAUM: Yes, that was one thing I was pleased about, that Universal has done a good job about getting the right story out about the film. I was so worried that they were going to mess it up. But not many people think this is “a director’s cut,” despite the fact that Universal put out a video of the 108 minute preview version a few months before our version came out, which they called “the director’s cut.” That was a case of the right hand not knowing what the left hand was doing. But as far as the re-edit goes, I think they did a really good job. I think people got the right message.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: Most of the reviews were excellent. The only notice I read that was not very enthusiastic was by Andrew Sarris.
JONATHAN ROSENBAUM: I also noticed that Stanley Kauffmann said the re-edited version is better, but he seemed to be under the impression that the only version available before this was the 93 minute release version. So I’m not surprised at Sarris, because he probably hasn’t seen it in years and doesn’t know the differences. Sarris’ main reaction when THIS IS ORSON WELLES came out was to say, “I told Peter (Bogdanovich) that the book was never going to be finished.” It’s like he’s annoyed about Welles for some reason. There are plenty of people like that. That’s what the David Thomsons of the world depend on.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: Andrew Sarris didn’t approve of THIS IS ORSON WELLES?
JONATHAN ROSENBAUM: I don’t know if he even bothered to read it. I don’t know if he was really interested. He didn’t seem to be that interested in it.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: That’s strange, because Sarris used to be a big supporter of Welles and TOUCH OF EVIL.
JONATHAN ROSENBAUM: I think he still is, it just may be a question of his not keeping up, but I don’t really know, because I haven’t seen his review.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: Where do you personally place TOUCH OF EVIL in the Welles oeuvre?
JONATHAN ROSENBAUM: To tell you the truth, although I like the film in a lot of ways, it’s far from my favorite Welles film. I prefer THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS, CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT and in some ways THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI. And CITIZEN KANE. I’d put it after those, but before MACBETH. In a way, it’s like apples and oranges. There are changes in Welles’ style and vision and so-on, but I do like it a lot. It’s a very complex film and I don’t get tired of it. It’s certainly an important film.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: What do you think of THE FOUNTAIN OF YOUTH?
JONATHAN ROSENBAUM: To me, THE FOUNTAIN OF YOUTH is a major Welles work in many ways, but it’s so hard to see it. I’m told it’s not even a rights problem, it’s just that they don’t think it’s important enough, so if you ask for it, they just don’t want to be bothered about it.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: Charlton Heston is fond of saying that TOUCH OF EVIL isn’t a great film, but it’s a great ‘B’ movie.
JONATHAN ROSENBAUM: Yes, and he always cites Cahiers du Cinema, but they never said TOUCH OF EVIL was the best ‘B’ movie ever made. What he seems to be saying is that a ‘B’ movie can’t be a masterpiece, but to me that’s a statement of economics, it doesn’t have anything to do with esthetics. TOUCH OF EVIL became a ‘B’ film, simply because of the way it was released. That’s what a ‘B’ film meant originally. It’s really a meaningless thing, except it’s not wanting to say that a film that’s tawdry and trashy and shocking should be honored by the Academy. I think that what’s Heston is probably saying, but who knows. Comparing it to David Lean, it’s not THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI, but all I can say is, if I were going to a desert Island, BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI is less likely to be one of my choices than TOUCH OF EVIL. But Charlton Heston has been very nice and very supportive of the project, so I’m not trying to put him down. We probably wouldn’t even have TOUCH OF EVIL, if it hadn’t been for him, so we do owe him thanks for that. TOUCH OF EVIL was a very funny kind of alliance. We owe it to Charlton Heston and Albert Zugsmith (the producer), that it ever got made. I think they probably had very little to do with each other.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: One of the other things Charlton Heston has said in his interviews, was that TOUCH OF EVIL could have been finished by Welles, if only Orson didn’t leave the editing and run off to Mexico to work on DON QUIXOTE.
JONATHAN ROSENBAUM: That’s one interpretation, but it all depends. I think that one of the reasons Welles left for Mexico was because he had lost the kind of control he originally had on the film. He was asked to leave the editor alone, and to let him work without his input, so he was edged off of the editing. I think he must have felt, “here we go again.” In fact, what he decided to do when he went to Mexico, was to shoot the most independent of all his independent films, DON QUIXOTE. And DON QUIXOTE actually began as a project financed by Frank Sinatra. It was initially going to be done for TV. That’s a sort of interesting spin-off, that when Welles took off for Mexico, he was being subsidized by Frank Sinatra.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: I guess what Heston doesn’t realize is that Orson didn’t run off to Mexico, but was asked to leave by Universal. Heston claims that Universal called him on the set of William Wyler’s THE BIG COUNTRY and asked him if he knew where Orson was, which doesn’t quite make sense, since Universal not only asked Welles to leave the editing, but eventually refused his requests to direct the re-takes.
JONATHAN ROSENBAUM: Yes, I think Welles was quite poor in handling the middle-men at the studio. He could be very scornful of a lot of people, and it’s quite possible that Welles didn’t play his cards right and maybe he shouldn’t have left when he did. I don’t know, but to me, what you also have to judge is the value of DON QUIXOTE, and I put a lot of value on DON QUIXOTE. We have certain things in DON QUIXOTE because he left, even if we don’t have certain other things in TOUCH OF EVIL. I think it was perfectly logical for him, at this point in his career, to make a stand for independent filmmaking, because independent filmmaking is what supported him for the rest of his life. So if it weren’t for independent filmmaking, we wouldn’t have any Welles films at all, after TOUCH OF EVIL!
NOTES ON TOUCH OF EVIL
The three different versions of TOUCH OF EVIL referred to in this interview are as follows:
Original release version: The 93 minute cut of the film that was released by Universal in 1958. This was the only version of the film available until 1976.
Preview Version: A longer, 108 minute version that was used by Universal for early test screenings. Unfavorable audience reaction led Universal to cut approximately 15 minutes from this version. It was this preview version that was accidentally found in the vaults at Universal in 1975. It was subsequently copied and made available in both 35 & 16mm. This is also the version Universal has most often released on homevideo.
Re-edit version: The 1998 restoration, that re-edits, eliminates and combines shots from the two earlier versions-all in accordance to the instructions Welles gave to Universal, in a detailed, 58 page memo to the head of the studio, Edward I. Muhl.
The complete memo Orson Welles wrote on TOUCH OF EVIL can be accessed here.
NOTES ON OTHELLO
Orson Welles film, “The Tragedy of Othello” was first screened at the Cannes film festival in 1952. After winning the Grand Prize at Cannes, Welles began working on a slightly different version for the American market. Eventually the film was brought for American distribution by United Artists and had its American premiere on September 12, 1955 at the Paris Theater – three years after its premiere at Cannes. The American version was three minutes shorter, with slightly different editing. The original opening credits, which were spoken by Welles in the European prints (over shots of various Venetian locations), were now cut and replaced with printed titles, at the behest of United Artists. The film’s title, as it appeared onscreen, also changed slightly to “The Tragedy of Othello: The Moor of Venice”. The soundtrack was also changed, with some actors, including Michael MacLiammoir, partially or completely re-dubbed by Welles. Suzanne Cloutier, who played Desdemona, was dubbed by Gudrun Ure, who had played Desdemona in Welles’ stage production of the play produced in the fall of 1951 at London’s St. James Theater. A print of the American version released by United Artists, was found in a Fort Lee, New Jersey film vault, and was used as the basis for the Castle Hill/Beatrice Welles “restoration” that was released in 1992, and is currently the only version available in America on video and DVD.
ARTICLES ON ORSON WELLES BY JONATHAN ROSENBAUM:
The Voice and the Eye: A Commentary on the Heart of Darkness Script, Film Comment Nov-Dec, 1972.
Review of F for Fake (in Paris Journal), Film Comment, Jan-Feb 1974.
ORSON WELLES: A CRITICAL VIEW by Andre Bazin, with a preface by Jean Cocteau. Translated and annotated by Jonathan Rosenbaum.
The Invisible Orson Welles: A first inventory, Sight and Sound, Summer, 1986.
THE BIG BRASS RING a screenplay by Orson Welles, with Oja Kodar (1987) Santa Teresa Press. Afterword by Jonathan Rosenbaum.
Orson Welles’s Essay Films and Documentary Fictions: A Two-Part Speculation, Cinematograph no.4, 1991. (Also included in Rosenbaum’s collection PLACING MOVIES: THE PRACTICE OF FILM CRITICISM, University of California Press, 1995.)
The Seven Arkadins, Film Comment, Jan-Feb 1992. (Also included in Rosenbaum’s collection MOVIES AS POLITICS, University of California Press, 1997.)
THIS IS ORSON WELLES (1992) Interviews with Orson Welles by Peter Bogdanovich. Edited by Jonathan Rosenbaum.
Touch of Evil: Orson Welles’ Memo, Film Quarterly, Fall 1992 Improving Mr. Welles, Sight and Sound, October, 1992
THE CRADLE WILL ROCK a screenplay by Orson Welles (1994) Santa Teresa Press. Afterword by Jonathan Rosenbaum.
Orson Welles in the U.S.: An Exchange with Bill Krohn, Persistence of Vision, Number 11, 1995
The Battle over Orson Welles, Cineaste, 1996 (to be reprinted in Rosenbaum’s collection PANTHEON MOVIE PICKS: RECANONIZING CINEMA, forthcoming from Johns Hopkins University Press in late 2003).
Orson Welles as Ideological Challenge, Chapter 10 of Rosenbaum’s book MOVIE WARS: HOW HOLLYWOOD AND THE MEDIA LIMIT WHAT FILMS WE CAN SEE (a cappella books, 2000)