21 of 24 people found the following review helpful
Gossip is a dish best eaten in public, with names attached,
This review is from: My Lunches with Orson: Conversations between Henry Jaglom and Orson Welles (Hardcover)
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I've always liked Hollywood gossip, mostly because the participants take themselves so very seriously, while the stakes are so very low. This book provides plenty of it, and Orson Welles personality really comes through, better I think than a more formal interview could have provided.
Presented as transcribed lunchtime conversations with his friend Henry Jaglom, these dialogues are very funny and insightful - not laugh-out-loud, but entertaining. Welles doesn't self-censor because he knows he'd be long-gone if the contents were revealed, and so he is. John Houseman, Laurence Olivier, and many others come in for a thrashing.
But it also works because Welles doesn't seem to take himself that seriously, as he casually dismisses many directors, producers, and stars of his era - while also giving plenty of credit. This book provides a reader an interesting walk-through of Welles' moviemaking experience and also his personal life - and Welles' honesty makes it clear there were many disappointments in both, which he's happy to discuss to Jaglom (who gives as he good as he gets, which makes the conversations much more interesting than sitting across from some sycophant).
It is melancholy that "Citizen Kane" comes up so much - as you'd expect. But it was 40 years old at the time of these interviews, and it's sad that no other Welles movie came close to it's impact or creative success, which Welles recognizes. It's not that he didn't have plenty of other projects, just that he knew lightning would never strike like "Kane" again. His discussions of other projects almost seem like busy work, more than any kind of true effort.
Welles died at 70 in 1985 - and career-wise, he was mostly irrelevant by then - he was a legend, but not current. Six major stars of the time declined his final project - Burt Reynolds didn't even call him. Burt Reynolds! Compare that to Scorcese (71) or Speilberg (67) - same age, but totally still in the game. But, unlike Welles, that's because those other directors played the game - and from these conversations, it seems like Welles never could. And while he clearly liked his own iconoclasm some of the time, Welles' frustration at himself does often come across.
To best appreciate this book, a reader needs good familiarity not just with "Citizen Kane," but of the Hollywood era of 1940-1975 - names, directors, producers, stars, etc. There's not a lot of explanation given as to who is who, and it will be much more enjoyable if you already know that going in - or a reader will need to do some homework. Plus, it's obviously rooted in 1983-85, so references can easily be lost on uninformed readers.
But for those who need no reminding about who these once-towering figures were, it's a very fun, if often sort of sad, read. It is a lunchtime conversation, not a deep, penetrating interview - so that makes it sometimes less detailed (and lacking follow-up questions), but often more insightful in his behavior and interactions. In one scene with an HBO executive, Welles seems deliberately self-destructive - yet when she leaves, he and Jaglom discuss how he is NOT self-destructive. But he seems very self-aware.
If you believe like I do, that Welles could have been, but wasn't, the greatest moviemaker of all time, this will give a good window into his personality and how he honestly apprised his own career of ups and many downs.
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Showing 1-10 of 10 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Jun 10, 2013 3:38:42 AM PDT
Very nice review -- so well-written. I especially liked the "low stakes" remark.
In reply to an earlier post on Jun 10, 2013 6:33:50 PM PDT
Nathan Webster says:
Thanks! Book was a lot of fun...the transcriptions enable Welles personality to clearly come through.
Posted on Oct 12, 2013 1:19:35 PM PDT
J. L LaRegina says:
Seeing 79 reviews here, I figured everything I could say about MY LUNCHES WITH ORSON have already been been posted, Nathan Webster, but yours says it all and with better articulation than I might demonstrate.
I think Burt Reynolds is on the whole an under-rated artist but even those who consider him a B-film star must remember he was on top of the world when he turned down Orson Welles. But then, as you say, references can be lost on those too young to remember.
And, as you say, perhaps Orson Welles did not maintain his success the way Martin Scorcese has because he didn't play the game. But without such hubris, for lack of a better word, who knows if Welles would have accomplished what he did.
In reply to an earlier post on Oct 12, 2013 3:01:43 PM PDT
Nathan Webster says:
Thanks - yeah, good point about Burt Reynolds. In the early '80s, he was a superstar...looking back from TODAY, it seems absurd that BR would have turned down Orson Welles, but at that time, he had no shortage of possible roles.
And, right, if Welles hadn't had such an ego he never would have made Citzen Kane in the first place; but if he'd been less impressed with himself, there might have been a few even-greater followups. Something he seemed to have realized a little too late.
In reply to an earlier post on Dec 23, 2013 5:45:26 PM PST
James Levy says:
I think the fear that surrounded Welles was the fear of being judged, and judged harshly, even unfairly, against earlier work. So sums that by today's standards are trifling (he could have made King Lear for about 4 million there money, 15 million ours) were denied him. I also think actors had no idea what he would do with them. People who happily take pay cuts to work with Woody Allen know that he will show them in a good light (if they are men) and give them big, Oscar-type roles if they are women. That Nicholson was coming off working with Kubrick may explain why he didn't want to work with Welles--the genius director sculpts the film, not the actors. And no conceivable Welles film could have made the money a popular Spielberg or Scorsese film could have and did. Not that producers would have lost money on the deal. Welles wanted a hit and would have done his damnedest to deliver one. But for fear of failure, they never gave the man a chance.
Posted on Jan 7, 2014 11:27:18 PM PST
Mark bennett says:
"Welles died at 70 in 1985 - and career-wise, he was mostly irrelevant by then - he was a legend, but not current."
Welles was relevant as a sort of cultural icon. But he had not been relevant in terms of making films since the late 1940s or before. He was quite simply irresponsible. Credible people were not going to give him either money or control of big projects. Actors didn't treat him seriously because there was simply no way he was going to be trusted with a high-profile project. He spent his time raising money from very questionable sources for projects that inevitably never got made or were a mess.
Take the "the other side of the wind". Welles raised the money for the film from rather shady Iranians. He told people the film was basically done in 1972 when in fact it wasn't. It still wasn't done at the time of his death. It still isn't done today. He was always stopping production to do jobs to either raise more money for his projects or to deal with tax/legal battles in various places.
Its not that he wasn't relevant. Its that nobody trusted him from a business point of view and people like Burt Reynolds were not going to take what he said seriously. Making films requires both artistic ability and a business sense of responsiblity. Welles lacked the latter. Nobody was going to get his respect by giving him money for projects. And if you gave him money, you were going to be dragged through the press and humiliated by Orson if anything went wrong.
In reply to an earlier post on Jan 8, 2014 3:55:10 AM PST
I'll ignore the ad hominems. But to use a criterion of "relevance" (whatever that may mean) seems rather dodgy to me. Welles happened to make wonderful films after the Forties. Indeed, I consider his masterpiece Chimes at Midnight, which came out in 1966. The story of Welles's "irresponsibility" seems to me greatly exaggerated and put out mainly by people who had axes already ground -- eg, studio executives who second-guessed him wrong, old enemies like Houseman, etc. And I'm sorry, but Burt Reynolds is hardly the last word in either film art or character assessment.
Posted on Jan 13, 2014 1:29:45 PM PST
Mark bennett says:
Ok. If a more elaborate explaination is necessary, whatever Welles merits as a filmmaker past the end of the 1940s, nobody was going to give him a large film project or a substantial budget. Look at Chimes at Midnight. The entire project involved dodgy financing and questionable activity such as raising money for Chimes while talking about doing Treasure Island. The rights to the film are still as far I know a total mess. The film wasn't promoted or released properly in the 1960s. Considerable artistic merits aside, that project showcases all the reasons why most people did not treat Welles or his projects seriously past a certain point.
"The story of Welles's "irresponsibility" seems to me greatly exaggerated and put out mainly by people who had axes already ground -- eg, studio executives who second-guessed him wrong, old enemies like Houseman, etc."
I used to think that way. But the more I looked at the stories, Welles didn't come out looking so good. You reach a point where you either have to believe that a very long list of people who worked with Welles were all untalented sabotaging enemies or that Welles was simply irresponsible. I tend to think its the latter.
"And I'm sorry, but Burt Reynolds is hardly the last word in either film art or character assessment."
What tells to the tale to me is nobody serious would fund his work even after the independent revolution of the 1970s. To me its rather obvious that not even outsiders to the film industry were willing to trust him with money. The studio execs from the 1940s were long gone and I dont think Houseman had the influence to blackball him from the film industry, and yet he was left on the outside looking in.
In reply to an earlier post on Jan 13, 2014 2:11:24 PM PST
You could very well be right. I don't understand the film business. I tend to focus on the work. The work to me is the strongest refutation of Welles's "declining powers," although, I admit, not his responsibility. To me, that's a side issue. I don't care that the money guys didn't get Treasure Island but Chimes at Midnight, although they were probably mad as hell.
In reply to an earlier post on Feb 5, 2014 2:00:13 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Feb 5, 2014 2:06:28 AM PST
Leonardo LCH Lenbenhear says:
There is SOME truth to this, but it is certainly not the whole picture. Everyone knew that Welles could deliver a remarkable and very distinctive film. Money people avoided him because of a lot of black-gossip and propaganda. Welles was a genius. DEFINITELY more people should have backed & encouraged his projects. He probably had at least ten or twenty fine films left in him. They COULD HAVE AND SHOULD HAVE been made between 1965 and 1985. Could Welles be difficult? Of course. but the fact is, most talented people LOVED working with him. ... even so, there is no doubt the man had A REMARKABLE run. and he never gave into despair or bitterness. ... at least not for very long.
Welles was a maverick and a dionysian genius. Sure, like most people, "he was his own worst enemy at times", ... but more people should have come along side him and helped him complete more projects he had planned. - that they DIDN'T is a flat-out tragedy.
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