Orson Welles, Volume 3: One-Man Band
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• A New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice •
The third volume of Simon Callow’s acclaimed Orson Welles biography, covering the period of his exile from America (1947–1964), when he produced some of his greatest works, including Touch of Evil
In One-Man Band, the third volume in his epic and all-inclusive four-volume survey of Orson Welles’s life and work, the celebrated British actor Simon Callow again probes in comprehensive and penetrating detail into one of the most complex, contradictory artists of the twentieth century, whose glorious triumphs (and occasional spectacular failures) in film, radio, theater, and television introduced a radical and original approach that opened up new directions in the arts.
This volume begins with Welles’s self-exile from America, and his realization that he could function only to his own satisfaction as an independent film maker, a one-man band, in fact, which committed him to a perpetual cycle of money raising. By 1964, he had filmed Othello, which took three years to complete; Mr. Arkadin, the most puzzling film in his output; and a masterpiece in another genre, Touch of Evil, which marked his one return to Hollywood, and like all too many of his films was wrested from his grasp and reedited. Along the way he made inroads into the fledgling medium of television and a number of stage plays, of which his 1955 London Moby-Dick is considered by theater historians to be one of the seminal productions of the century. His private life was as spectacularly complex and dramatic as his professional life. The book reveals what it was like to be around Welles, and, with an intricacy and precision rarely attempted before, what it was like to be him, answering the riddle that has long fascinated film scholars and lovers alike: Whatever happened to Orson Welles?
it’s certainly an exciting film to see, provided you don’t let yourself get mad at it.’38 Welles also skipped the premiere of the Spanish version in Madrid, with the two rather disappointing Spanish actresses who replaced Flon and Paxinou as the Baroness and Sophie. He appears, in fact, to have given up on the film. He ignored the February 1956 re-edit, which cut the whole flashback structure; he did not show up at Cannes in April when this version was shown there. But still the Arkadin machine
unable to resist fuelling the suspicion, most notably in his 1958 interview in Cahiers du Cinéma. The interviewers, André Bazin and Charles Bitsch, told him that they felt there were sequences in the film that he had directed himself, for instance the one in front of the Great Wheel. ‘“Direct” is a word I must explain,’ says Welles, with masterly ambiguity. ‘The whole question is who takes the initiative. First of all I don’t want to look as though I’m upstaging Carol Reed; secondly, he is
it, a verdict possibly shared by the camera, so there maybe is the answer’. They were soon joined at rehearsals by Lea Padovani. She was ‘fascinating’, said MacLiammóir, ‘and doesn’t seem to like Desdemona at all’. A few days later she was sacked, and was back on the plane to Rome. This eruption had been a long time coming. Padovani had at last pushed Welles too far, and their relationship ended, she told Welles’s biographer Charles Higham, in a spectacularly physical fight in which she finally
by them. Many of the Harry Lime scripts are journeyman work, redeemed only by the deftness of a hard-working cast, a sprinkling of self-knowing hokum and Welles’s unique throwaway charms, honed on radio shows in which he performed in the 1940s. ‘Man of Mystery’, broadcast in April of 1952, is on a different level. It opens with the curiously haunting image – somehow especially powerful on radio – of an empty plane flying in the skies above France, after which the plot is swiftly and skilfully
Stage Company at the Royal Court Theatre, which would change the face of the British theatre. Mankowitz suggested that he, Lewenstein and Welles should stage a season of plays: an adaptation of The Sun Also Rises with Marlene Dietrich, a play of Mankowitz’s for Welles and Akim Tamiroff, and Moby-Dick. And because Welles was yet again broke, Mankowitz suggested that he, Mankowitz, should serialise Mr Arkadin, not from the novel, but direct from the screenplay, for Paris-Soir and the London Daily