Written in late 2006 and published in Discovering Orson Welles the following year. — J.R.
The process-oriented methods that permitted at least four Welles features and a number of short works to be left unﬁnished are easier to understand than they would be if we adopted the mental habits of producers, which is exactly what more and more critics today seem to be doing; but that is no comfort to those of us eager to understand, and eager as critics always are to have the last word, which we are not about to have with this ﬁlmmaker. At least our direction, as always, is laid out for us: as long as one frame of ﬁlm by the greatest ﬁlmmaker of the modern era is moldering in vaults, our work is not done. It is the last challenge, and the biggest joke, of an oeuvre that has always had more designs on us than we could ever have on it.
Bill Krohn’s cautionary words in Cahiers du cinéma’s special “hors série” Orson Welles issue in 1986 offer a useful motto for the present collection of essays, whose own title, Discovering Orson Welles, suggests an ongoing process that necessarily rules out completion and closure — the two mythical absolutes that Welles enthusiasts and scholars seem to hunger for the most. Accepting this ground rule is a prerequisite for understanding both the form and content of what follows: a chronological and historically minded ordering of still-evolving research, and one that considers the very notion of a “deﬁnitive” view of Welles an ideological and practical roadblock, a casualty of what might be called the ever-popular Rosebud Syndrome. Consequently, I can’t pretend to any sort of completeness even in relation to the 13 features released during Welles’s lifetime; there are no extended treatments here of THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS, THE STRANGER, THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI, MACBETH, CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT, or THE IMMORTAL STORY, and, disproportionately, there are several devoted to TOUCH OF EVIL and F FOR FAKE. Well over half of the pieces are either book reviews or discussions of works by Welles that are not usually considered part of his canon: unrealized screenplays, unﬁnished works, or, in a few cases, ﬁlms such as THE FOUNTAIN OF YOUTH and FILMING OTHELLO that have eluded canonization simply because they aren’t readily available.
The unwieldiness and unruliness of the Welles oeuvre as certain parts become uncovered (or remain obstinately lost or unseeable) have confounded many biographers and critics, some of whom have opted for ignoring the existence of this extra material — or even, in the case of David Thomson, explicitly expressing their hopes that it will go away. Yet the ﬁrst question many nonspecialists ask me is when, if ever, they are going to be able to see THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND, DON QUIXOTE, or THE DEEP. No less characteristically, even on those occasions when I’m able to answer their queries at least partially or provisionally, their eyes often start to glaze over before I can get halfway through my explanation.
This is of course emblematic of what it sometimes means to chart the labyrinths of Welles research, which most journalists understandably (if lamentably) prefer to circumvent or leap over. Nonetheless, I sympathize with the desire to have these conundrums sorted out in bite-size form — expressed most recently by one of the ﬁrst readers of this book, who asked me to be considerate of nonspecialists and start off with (a) the state of the “unseen/unknown Welles” legacy today, and (b) the state of Welles studies today.
The way I’ve responded to this request is to write a version of (a) that includes “known” as well as “unknown” Welles ﬁlms and place this in an appendix (where such information can more easily be consulted rather than read as a narrative) while incorporating a very modest version of (b) in this introduction. I hasten to add that portions of this material can already be found elsewhere in the book, but I recognize that up-to-date overviews are also helpful. I also want to stress, however, that most of this book is speciﬁcally designed to follow the labyrinths, and to give some impression of what it means to follow them. Therefore, readers who choose to read the 26 essays, reviews, or (in three cases) fragments collected here while skipping the connecting commentaries between most of them will encounter a fair number of errors, misconceptions, and mistaken paths, and will moreover be missing a particular narrative and unfolding argument that are only partially inscribed in the texts themselves. (In a few cases, the commentaries are even longer than the pieces they introduce.) It would be grossly oversimplifying matters to call this narrative and argument the only ones that are being offered here, but one could still maintain that a proper understanding of them serves as a useful prerequisite to grasping most of the others.
From the beginning, Welles scholarship has been undermined by the seductiveness of diverse kinds of journalistic shortcuts, the perceived need to ﬁll in blank spaces in order to offer a coherent picture of the career and oeuvre. Versions of the same impulse have played substantial roles in re-editing, reshooting, remixing, abbreviating, simplifying, streamlining, misrepresenting, or otherwise short-changing the ﬁlms themselves, almost always with the claim of making them more accessible or marketable. As a ﬁlmmaker who delighted for most of his career in the very process of continuous revision, either allowing or being allowed to arrive at a deﬁnitive form for one of his features only a few times, Welles challenges commodiﬁcation like few other directors. But this hasn’t prevented critics, journalists, biographers, and scholars as well as producers from attempting to halt that ﬂow of metamorphosis and to freeze the forms and meanings into something comprehensible and ﬁnite. I’m just as guilty of this effort as some of my colleagues, though the 33 years of carrying out the effort represented in this collection have also persuaded me that it can remain a legitimate activity only if one agrees to keep certain conclusions tentative and certain options open.
A common way of explaining this problem is to blame much of it on Welles’s own ﬂair for invention and spin. If one adds to this the taste for theatrical hyperbole that creeps into many of the earliest journalistic ac- counts as well as press releases of Welles, one has basically deﬁned the slippery slope of the earliest and most primitive phase of writing about him, as well as the tendency ever since to counter these exaggerations with heavy doses of skepticism. As a partisan, I’m often inclined to view this scoffing mainly as a lazy and expedient solution for his less friendly biographers, betraying a certain impatience that comes from their frustration at hammering on doors that remain locked. But I also have to acknowledge that biographical certainties regarding Welles are often difficult to come by — especially if one considers the amount of misinformation that still carries a great deal of currency among nonspecialists.
Without claiming for a moment that Welles always told the truth, I think most accounts of him as a compulsive liar tend to be both exaggerated and self-serving. Sometimes the distortions aren’t his at all but those of his colleagues, employees, and/or commentators. I include myself in this company, and one reason for letting many of my own errors stand while calling attention to them is to show, at least in some cases, how I managed to arrive at them.
So rather than systematically revise or correct these pieces (apart from the odd typo, a few minor cosmetic adjustments, and restoring some pas- sages that were cut prior to their original publications), I’ve elected to reprint them in something close to their original forms — as part of a record of my evolving and still-fallible research into Welles’s work and career, pointing out various limitations, problems, and fresh information that I’ve subsequently become aware of as the book proceeds. By necessity, and in keeping with much of my other writing, part of the recent commentary is autobiographical in nature, tracing certain steps in both my development as a writer and critic and my personal as well as professional engagements with the Welles legacy, including some of Welles’s collaborators and employees.
One of the drawbacks of this approach is a lot of repetition; even the above quotation from Bill Krohn can be found elsewhere in this book (see chapter 14), and other evidences of a recycling journalist will recur on a regular basis. (Most ﬂagrantly, this can be seen in all the ways I’ve managed to spin out my only meeting with Welles, lasting scarcely more than an hour, over the course of this entire book, all the way from the second article to the last.) I apologize for this irritation, which is bound to become especially vexing for anyone who reads the book straight through. But I see no way of avoiding it without meddling with the status of these texts as part of an overall historical progression. I’m interested in charting the evolution of my understanding of Welles conceptually and factually as well as rhetorically and critically, including the ways I’ve reﬁned and developed certain elements, repeated some others, and dropped still others en route. The reason for this interest is in part a desire to clarify how my positions have taken shape over time, and in part a more general (and, I believe, Wellesian) desire to view “discovery” as an overall and ongoing activity more than as a terminal goal.
Although most of my writing on Welles is reprinted here, I’ve excluded the passages written for This Is Orson Welles (2nd ed., New York: Da Capo, 1998) — a compendium of interviews, documents, and career summary by Welles and Peter Bogdanovich that I edited and annotated — as well as some other contextual material, including my response to an essay by Robin Bates in Cinema Journal and my introduction to a shortened version of Welles’s memo to Universal Pictures about the re-editing of TOUCH OF EVIL.(1) Some of the material found in those texts, however, has been recast in new material written for this volume, and I have generally also tried to summarize here the most recent ﬁndings of Welles scholarship as well as my most recent critical conclusions — with full awareness that many of these “up to date” entries are likely to be superseded by further discoveries and assessments.
As indicated above, the earliest books about Welles tend to be either promotional (as typiﬁed by Roy Alexander Fowler’s in 1946 and Peter Noble’s in 1956) or efforts to undercut that promotional tendency (as in the books on Welles by Charles Higham published in 1970 and 1985), so that the pattern of usually being either partisan or adversarial is ﬁrmly established from the outset. In chapter 20, while arguing from the vantage point of a partisan, I try to theorize about some of the motivations for the adversarial positions. But over the next few paragraphs, I think it’s more important to interrupt the partisan rhetoric that informs the remainder of this book and, while attempting to be more distanced from the issues involved, emphasize that these dialectical positions often tend to give impetus to one another.
To complicate matters in the history of Welles studies, sometimes the same writer has taken different positions towards Welles on separate occasions. The clearest instance of this is Pauline Kael, who went from a passionate defense of Welles as an inspired independent in CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT (“Orson Welles: There Ain’t No Way,” The New Republic, June 24, 1967) to an attack on him as a credit thief (while acknowledging both his charm as an actor and his ﬂamboyance as a director) regarding CITIZEN KANE (“Raising KANE,” The New Yorker, February 20 and 27, 1971).
Signiﬁcantly, both these essays are reprinted in Kael’s ﬁnal collection, For Keeps (New York: Dutton, 1994), which omits her no less celebrated attack on Andrew Sarris and his “auteur theory” (“Circles and Squares: Joys and Sarris,” Film Quarterly, Spring 1963). The juxtaposition of these decisions is pertinent because “Raising KANE” was Kael’s ﬁnal and most extended polemical foray against auteur theory — motivated by a clear desire to topple Sarris’s exaltation of the director, especially the American director, as the ultimate criterion of value — and to do so within a mainstream context in which most readers wouldn’t even be aware of this secondary agenda. (2)
Kael’s essay was also designed to be read as an entertaining, anecdotal account of the making of CITIZEN KANE that restored glory to its neglected and principal screenwriter, and she deliberately skewed her research by speaking only to John Houseman about the script’s authorship and ignoring everyone else, including Welles — who maintained in This Is Orson Welles, published over two decades later, that Houseman himself deserved some credit as a “junior writer” on the script who “made some very important contributions” (2nd ed., New York: Da Capo, p. 55). Kael’s reasoning appears to have been that because Welles was viewed as the ultimate auteur and thus the veritable linchpin of auteur theory, any argument that proved he wasn’t really the author of his most celebrated ﬁlm could serve to topple that theory. And, to be fair, it was certainly true that Welles had tended to minimize the major role of Mankiewicz in writing the script — a fact that had already been noted by even such a partisan and pro-Welles critic as Joseph McBride (as well as by Houseman himself — who was generally if erroneously perceived by most readers at the time, including myself, as pro-Welles).
Kael, in any case, isn’t the only critic to have become relatively adversarial towards Welles after having been more supportive. (Simon Callow, by contrast, can be said to have moved from a more adversarial position in the ﬁrst volume of his projected three-volume biography, Orson Welles: The Road to Xanadu, to a more supportive position in the second, Orson Welles: Hello Americans — at least insofar as one can credit him with either position in an enterprise that strives overall for balance.) While it would be inaccurate to call Robert L. Carringer’s The Making of CITIZEN KANE (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985) a partisan study in relation to Welles, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that his lengthy “Oedipus in Indianapolis” in THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS: A Reconstruction is adversarial, at least in the sense that all the “questionable judgments and rash actions” in Carringer’s account of ambersons are assigned to Welles, while the judgments and actions of the RKO executives are generally taken to be beyond dispute. But it also should be noted that, despite Carringer’s contention that Kael’s account of the authorship of the KANE script is “a ﬂagrant misrepresentation,” given all the contrary evidence in the Mercury ﬁles and elsewhere, he also concludes in both his Welles books that Welles’s artistic success was predicated on the quality of his collaborators — high in the case of KANE and not high enough in the case of AMBERSONS. Thus it could be argued that his position towards Welles in both books is inﬂected by a view of Hollywood cinema as a collaborative, industrial art, in contradistinction to Sarris’s auteurism.
By the same token, the more partisan, pro-Welles books — including André Bazin’s Orson Welles: A Critical View, James Naremore’s The Magic World of Orson Welles, Barbara Leaming’s and Frank Brady’s biographies, all three of Joseph McBride’s books about Welles (the most recent of which, What Ever Happened to Orson Welles?, I’ve read only in manuscript), and Welles and Peter Bogdanovich’s This Is Orson Welles — are inﬂected with auteurist biases (as is David Thomson’s almost entirely adversarial Rosebud, just to confound the overly neat divisions that I’ve been sketching). Much the same could be said of all the most recent Welles books I’ve consulted in some form as this book goes to press, including What Ever Happened to Orson Welles?, Hello Americans, Jean-Pierre Berthomé and François Thomas’s Welles au travail (Paris: Cahiers du cinéma, 2006), the still-unpublished but invaluable volumes of Todd Tarbox and Bart Whaley that are cited below, and even Catherine L. Benamou’s more academic and postauteurist IT’S ALL TRUE: Orson Welles’s Pan-American Odyssey (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007), scheduled to appear shortly before this volume.
There are many booby-traps lying in wait for all Welles researchers, and many of them can be traced back in one way or another to Welles’s theatricality — not necessarily or invariably his own theatrical spin on certain events in his life and career (although this obviously plays a role), but in many cases the theatricality with which he is viewed by others. Oja Kodar, his companion, muse, and collaborator, recalls him coming home one day and reporting his dismay that Joseph Cotten, one of his oldest and dearest friends, had admitted to him that he’d been telling some tale about him to others that he knew was untrue because it “made such a good story” — and the fact that I’m using quotation marks here based on hearsay is a perfect, if relatively innocuous, illustration of what I mean. In terms of historical accuracy, there are far too many “good stories” when it comes to Welles — one reason among many others why the prospect of writing another Welles biography has never appealed to me.
A more telling example of this problem can be seen in the historical treatment of Isaac Woodard Jr., which to my mind represents a key, neg- lected moment in Welles’s career, if not in his ﬁlm career. The lack of an obvious connection to Welles’s ﬁlm career is part of the point I wish to make: with the exception of a few notable books, such as Michael Anderegg’s Orson Welles, Shakespeare, and Popular Culture (New York: Columbia University Press, 1999), Catherine L. Benamou’s IT’S ALL TRUE: Orson Welles’s Pan-American Odyssey, Simon Callow’s Orson Welles, vol. 2: Hello Americans (New York: Viking, 2006), Youssef Ishaghpour’s Orson Welles Cinéaste, Une Caméra Visible (Paris: Éditions de la Différence, 2001), James Naremore’s The Magic World of Orson Welles (2nd ed., Dallas: Southern Methodist University Press, 1989), and Bart Whaley’s lamentably unpublished Orson Welles: The Man Who Was Magic (2005), most ambitious Welles studies have been unresponsive to the wider aspects of culture apart from ﬁlm that Welles himself was engaged with throughout his life — that is to say, they’re more parochial than Welles himself was. For this reason, while researching Welles’s career for This Is Orson Welles, which I did without the resources of the Internet, I found that I could often make signiﬁcant discoveries by checking the indexes of some books that had no apparent relation to ﬁlm. Even Welles’s FBI ﬁle was helpful in pinpointing many of his leftist activities during the 30s — so much so that I was sorely tempted to include J. Edgar Hoover on the acknowledgments page. By tracing the representations and misrepresentations of the Woodard incident through some of the standard texts on Welles, I think a few points about Welles research in general can be made.
On February 12, 1946, Woodard, a black veteran who had served for 15 months in the South Paciﬁc and earned one battle star, received his honorable discharge. Hours later, on his way home, he got into an altercation with a white bus driver in South Carolina about the time allotted for a rest stop. At the next stop, the driver summoned two police officers, one of whom proceeded to beat Woodard so brutally with a blackjack that he was blinded in both his eyes.
Over ﬁve months later, Welles appeared on his weekly 15-minute radio show, Orson Welles Commentaries — the last extended radio show that he had originating in the U.S. — and read an affidavit from the NAACP signed by Woodard that described the incident, including Woodard’s subsequent arrest and ﬁne. He then gave an impassioned speech promising to root out the officer responsible for the blinding that’s probably the most powerful piece of political and social rhetoric I’ve ever heard him utter — impressive both as a piece of writing and as a performance. I’ve played a recording of this broadcast on many occasions as part of presentations of some of Welles’s important lesser-known activities, always to great effect. (Other works I’ve presented in such programs have included such earlier radio shows as His Honor the Mayor and Huckleberry Finn and such later short ﬁlms as THE FOUNTAIN OF YOUTH and his nine-minute F FOR FAKE trailer.)
The speech initially prompted a ﬂood of letters (both pro and con) that can still be read in the Lilly Library’s Welles collection in Bloomington, Indiana. Woodard became the major focus of the show over the following month, and his case more generally became a cause célèbre. An additional controversy was sparked because Welles initially misidentiﬁed the town where the incident occurred as Aiken rather than Batesburg, leading to threatened lawsuits and angry demonstrations in Aiken, where Welles’s current ﬁlm as a star, TOMORROW IS FOREVER, was boycotted in protest. A New York beneﬁt for Woodard, held in Lewisohn Stadium — where Milton Berle, contralto Carol Brice, Woody Guthrie (who’d composed a song about Woodard for the occasion), Billie Holiday, Cab Calloway, Joe Louis, and Paul Robeson were among the featured celebrities — was attended by some 20,000 people. The officer responsible for the blinding, Lynwood Schull, was eventually uncovered and brought to trial, but an all-white jury acquitted him, a decision greeted in the courtroom with cheers.
As nearly as I can determine, the above is more or less what happened. But turn to the Welles biographies of Barbara Leaming and Charles Higham (both reviewed in chapter 9), which contain the ﬁrst and lengthiest accounts of the Woodard story I’ve come across, and one reads nothing about the acquittal (which occurred, I should stress, after Welles’s radio show was terminated by its sponsor). The impression left in both books is that justice was served; Higham even reports that “Shull was sentenced to one year in prison,” and I repeated this error in This Is Orson Welles, suggesting that the reader go to Leaming’s book for more details, and also misspelling Woodard’s last name as “Woodward” in the bargain. (I already knew that “Woodard” is the correct spelling, so I’m bafﬂed at how this error crept into both editions of the book — to be discovered by me only when I sat down to write this.) (3) And Whaley’s 656-page manuscript, which spells the name correctly, repeats Higham’s and my error about the one-year sentence. (4) Judging by their indexes, there are no references to Woodard in the Welles books of Frank Brady (reviewed in chapter 12), David Thomson (reviewed in chapter 20), or Peter Conrad, or in The Encyclopedia of Orson Welles; and there are only passing references in Naremore’s The Magic World of Orson Welles and Paul Heyer’s recent The Medium and the Magician: Orson Welles, The Radio Years, 1934–1952, both of which also misspell the name. Heyer, I should add, is less impressed by Welles’s speech than me: “One hears in his voice a strident and dramatic tone — ham in the service of justice — that must have alienated some listeners, despite the merits of his argument.”(5) Bret Wood’s 1990 Orson Welles: A Bio-Bibliography, reviewed in chapter 13, spells the name correctly and accurately summarizes the ﬁrst broadcast, but doesn’t touch on the story’s outcome. In fact, it’s only in Callow’s recent Hello Americans that the full story ﬁnally receives its due.
How, then, did I already know that Shull was acquitted before reading Callow? From Welles himself, in another unpublished text — bolstered by the logical conclusion, which I should have reached while reading Leaming and Higham, that any jury in South Carolina in 1946 would surely have been all white, and that the odds of an all-white jury convicting a white police officer of such a crime in that period would have been slim. So I’d argue that the stirring theatricality of Welles’s broadcasts at the time, just before his show was canceled (and before a ﬁnal verdict was reached), helped to predispose me to perpetuate this misinformation.
The unpublished text is a fascinating draft of a book by Todd Tarbox, grandson of Welles’s boarding-school teacher and mentor Roger Hill, originally called Standing in a Hammock and subsequently retitled Orson Welles and Roger Hill: A Friendship in Four Acts. [2015 note: This was finally published in 2013.] Towards the end of their lives, Hill and Welles recorded many of their conversations, on the phone and in person, with the idea of eventually turning them into a book; the audiotapes were willed to Tarbox, who transcribed and edited them and supplemented them with other materials from his grandfather and various other sources. The two pages of the 272-page manuscript that are devoted to Woodard, which also include excerpts from Welles’s speech, conclude as follows:
Roger: Was justice served?
Orson: Sadly, no. Though the Department of Justice took the case to trial, and after ﬁfteen minutes of deliberation, an all-white jury acquitted the cop. I’ll never forget a line from the defense attorney’s closing argument to the jury, “If you rule against my client, then let South Carolina secede again.” (6)
I’ve subsequently learned, from more recent research, that deliberations lasted twenty-ﬁve minutes and that the D.A.’s line was “If siding against federal government prosecution meant the state should secede from the Union as it did in 1860, then it should do so again” — neither of which discredits Hill’s memory of Welles’s account as a responsible paraphrase of the proceedings. So I ﬁnd his conclusion to the story far more authoritative than most of those I’ve encountered in print in books about him, and the fact that Tarbox hasn’t yet succeeded in ﬁnding a publisher doesn’t — and shouldn’t — invalidate what his book has to say and offer. On the other hand, if I’d Googled Woodard on the Internet, without reference to Welles, as I was unable to do while researching This Is Orson Welles, I would have quickly discovered the entire story. (At the Welles conference held at the Locarno ﬁlm festival in 2005, I saw Robert Fisher and Richard France’s fascinating 30-minute promo for a projected 75- minute documentary on the subject, CITIZEN OF AMERICA: ORSON WELLES AND THE BALLAD OF ISAAC WOODARD, that promises to be close to deﬁnitive — even though, paradoxically, and for strictly cinematic reasons, it can’t incorporate the original broadcast.)
Similarly, it should be noted that some of the most valuable resources for Welles researchers have relatively low proﬁles, especially for American readers; one recent example is Stefan Drössler’s trilingual collection The Unknown Orson Welles (Belleville/Filmmuseum München, 2004), which grew out of the Munich Film Archives’ recent restoration work and two Welles conferences held under their auspices. This contains, among other things, the ﬁrst appearance in English of Bill Krohn’s 1982 interview with Welles — perhaps the last lengthy one of substance that he gave in English — and a compilation of Drössler’s own interviews with Kodar between 2000 and 2002. It also includes the most complete accounts I’ve read of DON QUIXOTE and THE DREAMERS, by Esteve Riambau and Peter Tonguette, respectively. (7)
By the same token, the fact that so many of Welles’s unﬁnished or fugitive works remain unavailable to the general public shouldn’t diminish (or enhance, for that matter) their intrinsic worth. Unless one assumes, as certain academics and journalists do, that the ﬁlm industry is almost always right, there is no necessary correlation between commercial availability and artistic value. Furthermore, the fact that Welles kept much of his work beyond the usual commercial margins has often led to the neglect of this work. (An embarrassing key example of this would be my own unwitting, absent-minded exclusion of CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT in the list of 1000 favorite ﬁlms appended to my most recent collection, Essential Cinema.) (8) But consumption habits die hard, and even some of the works dealt with or alluded to in this book that are available — such as AROUND THE WORLD WITH ORSON WELLES and THE DOMINICI AFFAIR (on DVDs), or the unﬁlmed screenplays of THE BIG BRASS RING and THE CRADLE WILL ROCK (both out of print, but readily accessible for anyone willing to look for them) — are routinely treated as if they weren’t (that is, mainly excluded from the Welles canon, and commonly regarded as beyond-the-pale esoterica). Multiregional DVD players can be purchased for a pittance at outlets such as Radio Shack, and, at the moment I’m writing this, acceptable DVDs of THE TRIAL and CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT and a less acceptable DVD of THE IMMORTAL STORY (including both the English and French versions, but not, alas, the ﬁnal cuts in either case) can be ordered respectively from France, Spain, and Italy without spending an inordinate amount of money. There’s also an essential three-disc box set devoted to Welles’s MACBETH that has just been issued in France, including both Welles cuts and the 1940 Mercury production of the play recorded for 78 RPM records (as well as a newsreel record of the last few minutes of the 1936 Voodoo Macbeth staged in Harlem). But many viewers are still too mired in conventional patterns of consumption to consider such possibilities thinkable, much less viable. As an example of the kind of negative obfuscation Welles’s life and career are almost routinely subjected to in the mainstream — especially in the trade press, whose values have dominated the mainstream press in recent years — let me quote from the beginning of a review in Variety of a one-act play about Welles that premiered in 2000, one of the countless Wellesian spinoffs that seem to crop up nowadays on a regular basis:
Misspent genius has its own prodigiousness, and there’s no better emblem of that quality than the life of Orson Welles. Beginning his public career at 23 with a famous radio hoax, War of the Worlds [sic], which launched the country into waves of extraterrestrial hysteria, and going on to make one indelible ﬁlm, CITIZEN KANE, as well as minor masterpieces and half-remembered turkeys, Welles lived far beyond his golden moment to see his reputation and fortunes decline. At the end of his life, he was the voice of Paul Masson wine and the last slender resource of latenight TV hosts whose more desirable guests bagged at the ﬁnal hour. Overfed and overexposed, Welles died a wash-up.[. . .] (9)
Without even speculating on what “minor masterpieces” and “half-remembered turkeys” the reviewer has in mind — or to what degree such works as CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT or F FOR FAKE (not to mention DON QUIXOTE or THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND) might have contributed to Welles’s alleged “overexposure” — I think the main point to be made about this characteristic invective is that its basis is ideological rather than reﬂective of any desire for information about what Welles was up to during his later years. (10) In this respect, it resembles the myths underlying various contemporary statements about the love of “the French” for Jerry Lewis (a phenomenon whose limited factual basis is by now about three decades out of date) and “the uncut GREED” (perceived as a single and ﬁxed entity rather than as a series of versions). This suggests that a refutation of such myths becomes possible only when a minimal amount of curiosity about their factual basis can be said to exist.
A ﬁnal note on the styling of ﬁlm titles in this book. As in my previous books published by University of California Press (Moving Places: A Life at the Movies, Placing Movies: The Practice of Film Criticism, and Movies as Politics), all ﬁlm titles, including the titles of unrealized ﬁlm projects and screenplays, are printed in roman in small capital letters, while the titles of books, plays, and radio and TV shows are capitalized more conventionally and are in italics. If this procedure tends to privilege actual and theoretical ﬁlm texts over other kinds of texts, this is a bias that, for better and for worse, tends to inform most contemporary studies of Welles.
J. R. December 2006
1. Cinema Journal 26, no. 4 (summer 1987): 60–64; Introduction, “Memo à la Universal,” translated by Julien Deleuze, Trafic, no. 4 (Autumn 1992): 39–41; “Memo to Universal,” Film Quarterly 46, no. 1 (Fall 1992): i–xx. I’ve also omitted a second 1992 article about the refurbished othello, “Improving Mr. Welles,” that appeared in the October 1992 Sight and Sound and doesn’t add much of substance to “OTHELLO Goes Hollywood,” as well as liner notes for the Voyager laserdiscs of both the unrefurbished OTHELLO and CONFIDENTIAL REPORT. Similarly, I’ve omitted a brief piece about the re-edited TOUCH OF EVIL written for the January 2002 issue of American Movie Classics Magazine, a piece about an expanded version of GREED that contains many references to Welles (“Fables of the Reconstruction: The Four-Hour GREED,” reprinted in my collection Essential Cinema: On the Necessity of Film Canons [Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004], 3–12); a recent article, “Orson Welles at 90,” that appeared in the special “auteur” issue of Stop Smiling, no. 23 (2005): 54–59; and “The Corinth Version: The Elusive MR. ARKADIN,” my liner notes included in Criterion’s MR. ARKADIN DVD box set (released in April 2006).
2. Some friends of Kael have suggested to me that her decision to omit “Circles and Squares” from For Keeps was motivated by a desire not to cause further grief to Sarris, who had already suffered a great deal from her invective and its wide impact. Although she may have been aware of both the grief that “Raising KANE” had caused Welles and the misleading factual basis of some of her arguments, Welles had been dead for almost a decade when For Keeps was published, perhaps reducing her sense of potential injury; and her reluctance to correct or acknowledge factual errors when she republished her pieces was unfortunately a constant throughout her professional career.
3. See Orson Welles by Barbara Leaming (New York: Viking Penguin, 1985), 402–404; Orson Welles: The Rise and Fall of an American Genius by Charles Higham (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1985), 233–234, 238; and This Is Orson Welles by Orson Welles and Peter Bogdanovich, edited by Jonathan Rosenbaum, 2nd ed. (New York: Da Capo, 1998), 398, 399, 417.
4. As explained by its editor, Susan Aykroyd, the “special limited printing ‘not for sale’ Magician’s Edition” of Whaley’s book, which I’ve seen only on CD, has remained unpublished to date due to his understandable unwillingness to cut it by half (the suggestion of the only publisher to date that has proposed bringing it out) before other Welles scholars have had a chance to evaluate it with its full documentation. (Postscript: Just as I was about to return the page proofs of this book in December 2006, a magician friend, Allan Zola Kronzck, emailed me the spectacular news that Whaley’s book has now become available online in PDF form at www.lybrary.com/orson-welles-magic-p-400.html, for $30.)
5. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littleﬁeld, 2005, 192.
6. My thanks to Tarbox for granting me permission to quote this passage.
7. Peter Prescott Tonguette — the most vigorous and painstaking of the younger Welles scholars, who has specialized in such late, unﬁnished projects as the dreamers and the magic show — has a book that promises to be invaluable: Orson Welles Remembered: Interviews with His Actors, Editors, Cinematographers and Magicians, scheduled for publication by McFarland & Company in 2007.
8. Essential Cinema: On the Necessity of Film Canons (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004).
9. Review by Pamela Renner of stage production, War of the Worlds, posted on October 6, 2000, and accessed at www.variety.com.
10. According to my friend Robert Koehler, at a Preservation Festival held at UCLA in August 2006, Joseph McBride discussed the popular American notion that “Welles was his own worst enemy” and then added, “I think that his biggest enemy was capitalism.”