Thursday, November 29, 2007

Going to Welles Once Too Often

Perhaps I'm not the nurturing type, but I AM nursing a head cold. It's making my throat sore and sapping my boundless energy. This leaves almost nothing for my righteous political rage at the end of the day, which is why yesterday instead of attempting to laugh through the Republican debate I popped a DVD of THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI into my iMac and grooved on the 60-year-old cinematic goodness.

Though actually, it wasn't all that good. 

There's a couple of background stories concerning the movie which probably explain away the bad chemistry of this movie. For one thing, it was kind of made on a whim. Welles was mounting a stage production and needed a quick $50k for sets and costumes, so he called the head of Columbia and offered to make a movie based on a Maxwell Anderson novel which some say he hadn't even read. They gave him the money provided he cast Rita Hayworth, Columbia's number one star and Welles' then wife. By the time they went into production, the marriage was almost on the rocks and they divorced before it was even released.

And of course, there was the usual studio butchery as Welles lit off to his next project, leaving the post production to a team of non-geniuses.

Orson Welles fans are a peculiar lot, more so than most fans. They love CITIZEN KANE, his one flawless film, but they others? They don't love them. They love the films they WISH they had been. To be an Orson Welles fan is to be forever tantalized by the noble failures he left behind. 

A couple of months back I watched MR. ARKADIN, a movie which now boasts 7 different versions and no definitive director's cut. Every version is a bad movie, but somehow you can believe that had Welles remained in the editing room, it would have been a classic. Welles would have found the exact right pacing. Welles would have flawlessly dubbed in all the bad dialogue in a host of sparkling radio voices. Welles would have commissioned a score that does the story justice.

I can't help but suspect that Welles, who was a great filmmaker but a brilliant self-promoter, realized that he was better off leaving his work to people who could take the blame for his cinematic misdeeds. He was the tallest man on the landscape and yet was always able to make someone else the lightning rod. And then, as his fans lamented how others had ruined a masterpiece, we went off to sell wine and frozen peas and pick up an occasional gig as the voice of God. 

The last film Welles shot, THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND, remains unreleased to this day as various rights holders bicker over how to cut it. I recall hearing an anecdote on the Tonight Show,  years after Welle's death, by a famous actor who did a cameo in it. I can't recall who it was.

"Welles said 'Action! Now look down.' I looked down at the floor. Later I asked Orson what I was supposed to be looking at and he said, 'Dwarves. Dwarves are running between your legs. I'm going to add them in post'"
It's been over 30 years and there still ain't no dwarves. And you know what? I don't think there ever will be.


Skot said...

The head cold you have must be a nasty one, because in the fog of it you dropped a vaguely political article on labor issues in TPN:BOW and a very decent film-crit piece on KIRY.

Danielk said...

OMG! You know what I had for dinner just before I wrote that? An omlette!

Skot said...

Well, at least it wasn't Welsh Rarebit. And aren't you guys in LA are all about breakfast-for-dinner? Roscoe's Chicken and Waffles, anyone?

Apropos, I've always wondered why breakfast places don't offer dessert. I'm guessing the same reason people don't generally have dessert after pizza, but who knows?

And another meaningless round of opinions has taken flight.