What Ever Happened to Orson Welles?: A Portrait of an Independent Career
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At the age of twenty-five, Orson Welles (1915–1985) directed, co-wrote, and starred in Citizen Kane, widely regarded as the greatest film ever made. But Welles was such a revolutionary filmmaker that he found himself at odds with the Hollywood studio system. His work was so far ahead of its time that he never regained the wide popular following he had once enjoyed as a young actor-director on the radio. What Ever Happened to Orson Welles?: A Portrait of an Independent Career challenges the conventional wisdom that Welles's career after Kane was a long decline and that he spent his final years doing little but eating and making commercials while squandering his earlier promise. In this intimate and often surprising personal portrait, Joseph McBride shows instead how Welles never stopped directing radical, adventurous films and was always breaking new artistic ground as a filmmaker. McBride is the first author to provide a comprehensive examination of the films of Welles's artistically rich yet little-known later period in the United States (1970–1985), when McBride knew and worked with him. McBride reports on Welles's daringly experimental film projects, including the legendary 1970–1976 unfinished film The Other Side of the Wind, Welles's satire of Hollywood during the "Easy Rider era"; McBride gives a unique insider perspective on Welles from the viewpoint of a young film critic playing a spoof of himself in a cast headed by John Huston and Peter Bogdanovich. To put Welles's widely misunderstood later years into context, What Ever Happened to Orson Welles? reexamines the filmmaker's entire life and career. McBride offers many fresh insights into the collapse of Welles's Hollywood career in the 1940s, his subsequent political blacklisting, and his long period of European exile. An enlightening and entertaining look at Welles's brilliant and enigmatic career as a filmmaker, What Ever Happened to Orson Welles? serves as a major reinterpretation of Welles's life and work. McBride clears away the myths that have long obscured Welles's later years and have caused him to be falsely regarded as a tragic failure. McBride's revealing portrait of this great artist will change the terms of how Orson Welles is understood as a man, an actor, a political figure, and a filmmaker.
Government dies when it reaches Washington.” Hearst had been close to J. Edgar Hoover since the early 1930s and energetically promoted the FBI in his publications and newsreels. Hearst also helped supply information to Hoover about suspected Communists and fellow travelers. The American Legion provided crucial support in their anti-Red crusade. The veterans’ organization went on to become an integral part of the postwar blacklisting network. The legion supplied names for the Hollywood blacklist,
in charge of RKO theaters, continued as production chief, a post he had assumed a few months earlier. Koerner’s new slogan for the company that summer was a ﬂagrant dig at the departed Welles: “Showmanship in Place of Genius: A New Deal at RKO.” Not all ﬁlm historians have shared Welles’s positive view of Schaefer, who also ordered the termination of It’s All True, the documentary Welles made in Brazil after shooting Ambersons. In his 1999 monograph on Ambersons, V. F. Perkins calls Schaefer’s
old and indi- 121 ORSON WELLES AT LARGE gent is not just an economic problem, it can be a tragedy in human terms, a tragedy of loneliness, a loss of dignity, a loss of the sense of individuality. And that’s why I admire, and I think British people should be so proud of, institutions like this almshouse.” Equally moving is a segment with digniﬁed old soldiers living in retirement at the Royal Hospital in Chelsea. On their parade grounds and later in a nearby pub, Welles draws them out on the
title role (Welles had also considered his Touch of Evil costar Charlton Heston). Mexican producer Oscar Dancigers backed the shooting for eight weeks before pulling the plug, blaming the director for going over budget (although by only about $5,000). Eventually the project turned into what Welles called “my home movie . . . an experimental ﬁlm.” Shooting continued sporadically in Mexico, Italy, and Spain into the early 1970s, with his own money. To help pay for his Quixote feature, Welles also
than ever. Very difﬁcult. I have already said that I do not work enough. I am frustrated, do you understand? And I believe that my work shows that I do not do enough ﬁlming. My cinema is perhaps too explosive, because I wait too long before I speak. It’s terrible. I have bought little cameras in order to ﬁlm if I can ﬁnd the money. I will shoot it in 16mm. The cinema is a métier . . . nothing can compare to the cinema. The cinema belongs to our times. It is ‘the thing’ to do. During the shooting