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What Ever Happened to Orson Welles?: A Portrait of an Independent Career Hardcover – October 13, 2006
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From Publishers Weekly
With Welles, all roads lead to Citizen Kane, and it's there that many of his troubles began, McBride (Orson Welles; Steven Spielberg: A Biography, etc.) asserts in his lengthy examination of the famed filmmaker's career. Labeled a communist by the vengeful publisher William Hearst, Welles found himself blacklisted in the industry. He left for Europe, later writing in Esquire that he "chose freedom." He produced only two movies during the eight years he spent abroad, but McBride asserts that his expatriate period resulted in tremendous growth as an independent filmmaker. Much of the book revolves around the saga of Welles's unfinished Hollywood satire, The Other Side of the Wind, which the author worked on. Instead of fully exploiting the insider angle, McBride instead comes across as a name-dropper, constantly reminding the reader of his relationship with his subject. McBride's passion for film (Welles's films, specifically) and his closeness with the director provide enough insider material to satisfy Welles fans and film buffs, though readers with a casual interest may want to look elsewhere.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Conventional wisdom about Orson Welles holds that he squandered the promise of Citizen Kane (1941) in two decades' worth of releases that ranged from masterpieces to misfires. In the 15 years before his death in 1985, he did little but appear in hack movies and lucrative commercials. "I started at the top and have been going downhill ever since," he said. Yet McBride shows those years to have been a period of great productivity, during which Welles worked nonstop on a number of projects, few of which reached completion. The author of two previous books on Welles, McBride got to know the filmmaker he idolized when Welles recruited the young critic to play a role in the most famous of the unfinished works, The Other Side of the Wind. McBride argues that Welles should be viewed not as a failed Hollywood exile but as a progenitor of the independent filmmaking that flourished in the 1970s. Welles fans--essentially, all serious cinephiles--will find McBride's heartfelt defense of the director indispensable, though heartbreaking. Gordon Flagg
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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The reports on his woes as he tried repeatedly to raise completion funds for these many projects, which now exist (if at all) in fragmentary form, are disheartening, but they are balanced by McBride's portrait of Welles' unconquerable spirit despite the stunning array of obstacles he faced. McBride likewise drives a stake through the heart of the so-often uttered theory that Welles had some pathological fear of completion, which is allegedly why so many of these projects remained unfinished at his death. The truth is significantly more complex, as this book shows.
Despite the author's association with Welles, he hasn't written a hagiography; there's plenty in this volume about the great man's less than admirable attributes and behavior. But McBride makes it abundantly clear that Welles was, in all likelihood, American and perhaps world cinema's greatest, most creative filmmaker to date.
There are many books about Welles in print ("Oh, how they'll love me after I'm dead," he reportedly commented in a mordant vein), but don't think that this abundance makes this one unnecessary. It's, in fact, indispensable reading for anyone who knows or cares about the work of Orson Welles -- and that means anyone who knows anything in a serious way about movies.
This book taught me a lot about a man whom I admired and feared. He was rather scary from the perspective of a ten year old, but he often took time to have me sit with him while he taught me card tricks. I am so grateful that these stories are now available for everyone to read. Thank you Joe for your commitment in documenting what no one else ever has and sharing these wonderful stories.
film scripts. McBride spends way too much time, detail, and ink discussing his own opinions and work, and in the process manages to accomplish the almost impossible task of making Orson Welles boring.
McBride necessarily describes the problems that beset Welles immediately after _Kane_, when Welles could no longer get anything close to the full control of a film which he had practiced on his first movie. Still wanting to make movies, he left Hollywood to continue in Europe. McBride makes the case that contributing to Welles's decision for self-exile was his fear that he would be called to testify in the Communist witch-hunts. Welles loved shooting films and he especially loved editing them (as anyone who has seen _Kane_ can tell). There are plenty of pictures Welles worked on whose footage has been lost, but many others have the footage saved by fans or by creditors, and they frequently propose bringing out a finished version, hiring someone to pull the scenes together into a finished movie even so long after Welles's death in 1985. One producer mentioned she'd like to see a particular film screened not as an unfinished work by Welles, but as a film the way he might have finished it; but she says, "Finished by whom? Who can you substitute for Orson Welles?"
McBride does not go deeply into Welles's inability to finish things. Certainly it was attributable in a large part to Welles's way of skin-of-his-teeth filmmaking, whether or not it was some deep-set psychological disability. Welles could have written a magnificent autobiography, but when he got advances for such a work, he always returned them to the publishers. McBride writes, "Welles was deeply ambivalent about reminiscing, perhaps because he would have had to address issues he usually found too painful or delicate, such as his sexuality, his family life and some of his more traumatic experiences in Hollywood." Some of the stories of incompletion here, however, are extraordinary. His finished negative of _The Merchant of Venice_ was simply stolen from Welles's production office in Rome. The Iranians held funding for his meditation on filmmaking in the sixties, _The Other Side of the Wind_, and then the Shah was overthrown. "It's hard to imagine a movie career more littered with sensational catastrophes than mine," Welles admitted. He seldom admitted that he was the source of the less sensational catastrophes; a cameraman who worked with Welles late in his career said that Don Quixote was never completed because Welles "moved around too much, stuff got lost." For sensational and unsensational reasons, the losses recounted here are staggering. Nonetheless, McBride shows that they cannot be blamed, as some critics say, on Welles's being lazy or dilatory. The decades were filled with work for him, and he was pounding out a manuscript for a brand-new project on the night he died. As an independent filmmaker, Welles may have never fully lived up to his potential, but with a record of films that includes _Touch of Evil_ or the supremely weird _Lady from Shanghai_, his pattern of incompletion must be a minor sin. Much of McBride's personal account comes from his being an actor in _The Other Side of the Wind_ (of course, never finished) as were such droppable names as John Huston and Dennis Hopper. McBride's story won't re-make Welles's post-1950 career, but it isn't just a story of loss and lost opportunities; it is one of real movie history and at least some genuine artistic success.