All the essential documentaries on Orson Welles, including Orson Welles: The Paris Interview (1960), The Complete Citizen Kane (1991, BBC), Filming The Trial (1981), The Battle Over Citizen Kane (1996), Shadowing the Third Man (2004), Orson Welles: The One-Man Band (1995), With Orson Welles: Stories from a Life in Film (1990), Filming Othello (1978), F for Fake (1973), Orson Welles with French film school students, Orson Welles Its All True Citizen Kane and RKO, and seven-minute video of a very young-looking Welles (he was 23 at the time) addressing an onslaught of press members on October 31, 1938, the day after The War of the Worlds broadcast.
A vintage interview captures the artist reflecting on Citizen Kane and expounding on directing, acting and writing and his desire to bestow a valuable legacy upon his profession. The scene is a hotel room in Paris. The year 1960. The star, Orson Welles. This is a pearl of cinematic memorabilia.
Does Orson Welles live to work, or work to live? Neither, says the celebrated filmmaker and actor. He doesn’t actually see a need to separate the two. “Work is an expression of life for me,” he says in this 1960 episode of Close-Up. In the first of a two-part interview, Welles discusses creativity, politics, the press and art criticism. He also ponders the idea of “home” and comments on the impact of Citizen Kane, a film he made when he was only in his mid-20s.
American actors aren’t good at period pieces. Television is a second-rate medium. Friendship is more important than art. These are just a few of the assertions made by Orson Welles this 1960 episode of Close-Up, the second of a two-part interview with the renowned filmmaker and actor. While chatting with CBC’s Bernard Braden, Welles also discusses what he thinks was his best acting role ever (Harry Lime in The Third Man), and sings the praises of his cameraman on Citizen Kane.
The Complete Citizen Kane (1991, BBC) — the most complete investigation in the origins and making of one of the most important films in cinema history. This excellent documentary was created as an Arena Special and includes interviews with Welles from BBC interviews in 1960 and 1982. It also includes an interview with Pauline Kael discussing her controversial “Raising Kane” article. The finest most insightful work ever done to date on Citizen Kane.
From an interview with cinematographer, Gary Graver, on Wellesnet: Filming The Trial (1981) is a 90-minute Q&A at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. Orson intended to do it like Filming Othello (with scenes from The Trial and other interviews added later) but we never got around to it.
The Munich Film Museum took all my reels and stitched them together to make a 90-minute movie — and it works! A lot of people were there in the audience that day who are successful filmmakers now. It was pretty basic camerawork. I filmed Orson quite a bit and then I’d swing around to the audience whenever they gave a big response.”
A comprehensive account of the making of Citizen Kane, still considered the greatest American movie ever made.
It compares the larger than life personalities of the young maverick auteur Orson Welles and ruthless press magnate William Randolph Hearst who attempted to destroy the film before its release due to the startling similarities between himself and the central figure of Charles Foster Kane.
Shadowing The Third Man (2004) explores the making of Graham Greene’s all time classic film The Third Man. This is the first documentary ever to be made on this much-loved film which was voted the best British film of the 20th century in a BFI poll. The programme will tell the story of how the film was born from one sentence imagined by Graham Greene; “I saw a man walking down the Strand, whose funeral I had only recently attended.”
The documentary opens with a typical Graham Greene line; “Isn’t it rather dangerous to mix fact and fiction?” For the next 60 minutes the Anglo-Austrian director Frederick Baker will take the audience at BBC4 on a journey, following Greene’s story and dividing fact from fiction in the making of this classic. Orson Welles did deliver the famous cuckoo clock speech, but Graham Greene wrote the rest. Orson Welles is seen to die in the Vienna sewers, but the water he splashes through is from the Thames not the Danube.
The sewers had to be rebuilt just for Welles, because as an American the real ones were too unhygienic. There was a penicillin racket in Vienna at the time and a world expert on penicillin tells of his first-hand knowledge of the desperate need for this drug in the aftermath of the war. Using a mixture of newsreel footage and archive the film will fill in the facts about the emerging Cold war, and the geo-political east-west tensions against which the film is set. Finally, Shadowing the Third Man looks at the fascinating creative east-west tensions between the British and American views of the world, as Alexander Korda in London, and David O. Selznick in LA, the film’s two immensely powerful Co-executive Producers battled it out behind the scenes to form the film in their respective images.
Orson Welles: The One-Man Band is a fascinating glimpse at this extraordinary man’s final years - made with the cooperation of Oja Kodar, Welles’ longtime companion, to whom he bequeathed a wealth of unedited films and fragments when he died in 1985. Granted exclusive access to Welles’ heretofore unseen archives — and drawing from almost two tons of film cans containing fragments, shorts, project ideas, and sketches — the filmmakers are led by Kodar through the rich but unfulfilled Welles legacy. Far from being the gloomy megalomaniac that Hollywood has sometimes branded him, Welles emerges here a protean creator, at times vulnerable and lonely, but always unshakeably optimistic and unfailingly innovative.
“For Orson Welles buffs, THE ONE-MAN BAND will be the most exciting experience in years. It consists almost entirely of Welles-directed material that has never been seen before except by a tiny group of insiders. Here are scenes from almost all the legendary uncompleted Welles films… Director Silovic and his crew have done a grand job in bringing some of this incredibly rare material to light, and have achieved a truly fascinating and well-constructed tribute to the master.” David Stratton, Variety
This is an episode of the BBC television series Arena from 1982 in which Orson Welles discusses his life in film. This is the full 2 hour 44 minute version completely uncut and including film excerpts so the context of what Welles is discussing remains intact. Surely one of the finest and most comprehensive Welles interviews/documentaries around! The contributors include John Huston, Robert Wise, Peter Bogdanovich, Charlton Heston, Jeanne Moreau and lengthy contributions from Welles himself.
Filming Othello is a 1978 documentary film directed by and starring Orson Welles about the making of his award-winning 1952 production Othello. The film, which was produced for West German television, was the last completed feature film directed by Welles.
Filming Othello begins with Welles sitting behind a moviola.
He directly addresses the camera and announces: “This is to be a conversation, certainly not anything so formal as a lecture, and what we’re going to talk about is Othello, Shakespeare’s play and the film I made of it.” Welles initially conducts a monologue where he recalls the events that lead up to the creation of Othello and some of the problems that plagued the production. As the film progresses, he switches to a conversation in a restaurant between himself and two of the film’s co-stars, Micheal MacLiammoir (who played Iago) and Hilton Edwards (who played Brabantio). The three men talk at length about the making of Othello. Welles then resumes his monologue from his position behind the moviola.
He then runs footage on the moviola of a question and answer session he conducted during a 1977 screening of Othello in Boston. Welles concludes the film in his position as a monologuist, proclaiming: “There are too many regrets, there are too many things I wish I could have done over again. If it wasn’t a memory, if it was a project for the future, talking about Othello would have been nothing but delight. After all, promises are more fun than explanations. In all my heart, I wish that I wasn’t looking back on Othello, but looking forward to it. That Othello would be one hell of a picture. Goodnight.”
This is the Criterion Collection LaserDisc Edition of Orson Welles’ Othello with the commentary track by Peter Bogdanovich and Myron Meisel uploaded solely for educational purposes as it has gone out of print and has never been made available since.
“Orson Welles’ last finished movie (besides Filming Othello) doesn’t look like much going in. But once it starts, you know you’re in the master’s hands once again. Welles, here in his sixties, reveals two new sides to his cinema audience, the prankster and the editor.”
“The film gives credit to two other editors, but it was edited by Welles himself. The film is about trickery, and the movie itself is full of tricks. The way it is edited, you may believe that any two people are talking to each other, but in fact they’re not even in the room together. Welles also plays with sound. He dubs in his voice in certain areas with profound trickery as well. Most of the film deals with writer Clifford Irving, who apparently wrote a fake biography of the real Howard Hughes, or was it a fake Howard Hughes? He also had something to do with a great art forger named Elmyr de Hory. By the time the film is done, you don’t know who to believe. You don’t even know if the entire film is a put-on.”
“Certainly the ending is a put on. At the beginning of the film, Welles announces that he will tell the truth for one hour. By the time we get to the end, just as Welles predicted, we have forgotten what he said. Actress and Welles’ lover, the luscious Oja Kodar, plays a young woman who was apparently painted by Pablo Picasso. Welles concocts a fabulous “recreation” of what happened, even though the story contradicts itself. He then appears and tells us that the whole story has been a fake. The film also deals briefly with his War of the Worlds fakery back in the thirties.”
F for Fake calls to mind other documentaries such as the entirely phony This is Spinal Tap and the recreation documentary The Thin Blue Line, and begs the question of whether or not F for Fake really is a documentary. I think it is. Welles is attempting to explain, taking full advantage of the medium, how all stories have a certain element of fake to them, and that filmed documentaries are no different. An odd contradiction in itself for a man, who at the beginning of his career, began work on a documentary entitled, It’s All True.”
The Criterion Collection released the laserdisc, from which I wrote the above review, and now they’ve followed up ten years later with an even better DVD. This sublime two-disc set comes with a newly remastered edition of the movie, in which Welles’ new scenes appear crystal clear, but the de Hory sequences (which were filmed by Francois Reichenbach) are still scratchy. (This has no effect on the film.) Oja Kodar provides a hestitant commentary track, and Peter Bogdanovich gives an introduction. As on the laserdisc, the DVD also contains the rejected 9-minute trailer cut by Welles, which contains footage not seen in the film. We also have English subtitles for the first time. Disc Two comes with the 1995 German documentary Orson Welles: One Man Band, devoted to his unfinished works such as The Other Side of the Wind, The Deep and a small screen version of The Merchant of Venice. HBO recently did their own version of this film, in English, but both are worth seeing. Otherwise, we get more information on Irving and de Hory, notably a “60 Minutes” interview with Irving and a new documentary about de Hory (rather straightforward, which shows just how innovative Welles’ film really is). Best of all, Jonathan Rosenbaum contributes new liner notes that reveal more about the film that I caught on my two viewings. Even so, I’m convinced that this is a masterpiece and one of Welles’ most accomplished works. —combustiblecelluloid
The great Orson Welles shares his views on cinema and movie-making with French film school students.
Among the many film projects Welles had in development just after the release of Citizen Kane, in May 1941, were one about Landru, a 20th-century French Bluebeard (a project written for and eventually purchased by Charlie Chaplin, who converted it into Monsieur Verdoux); a life of Jesus set in America at the turn of the century, conceived as “a kind of primitive western”; a political thriller centered around a fascistic news commentator; adaptations of The Magnificent Ambersons and Journey Into Fear; and an omnibus feature called It’s All True, consisting of four true stories — a history of American jazz, a story by John Fante about his Italian parents meeting in San Francisco, and two stories by documentary filmmaker Robert Flaherty, one about a Mexican boy’s friendship with a bull (”My Friend Bonito”), the other about a boat captain.
An anthology format had served Welles well on radio, and he launched a new weekly show around the same principle in the fall; by then, three of his film projects were in production, with Welles serving as writer-director-producer on Ambersons, producer and actor on Journey, and producer on It’s All True. In September Norman Foster began directing “Bonito” in Mexico under Welles’s supervision, and the following month Welles began shooting Ambersons. In December, two weeks after Pearl Harbor, he received a telegram from the coordinator of the federal Inter-American Affairs office asking him to undertake a goodwill mission to Brazil and make a noncommercial film there without salary to promote “hemisphere solidarity,” with RKO studios footing the bill but the government guaranteeing up to $300,000 against potential financial losses. Nelson Rockefeller, a major RKO stockholder, and President Roosevelt, a personal friend of Welles, both urged him to accept; Rockefeller was adamant that Welles arrive in February, in time to shoot the annual Rio carnival. —Jonathan Rosenbaum
Orson Welles’ 1938 broadcast of a radio performance of H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds has become the thing of legend. But it’s also the kind of legend that’s spread so wide and lived for so long that it’s evolved into fantasy status. Surely the amount of people that tuned in their radios that evening and believed Earth was under attack from Martians was exaggerated, right? It didn’t actually cause terror and panic in households, right? It did. And here’s the proof: A seven-minute video of a very young-looking Welles (he was 23 at the time) addressing an onslaught of press members on October 31, 1938, the day after the broadcast.
It’s fascinating how this footage captures a bewildered storyteller, one who would soon go on to become one of the greatest filmmakers who ever lived, defending his artistic intent and who is genuinely shocked to learn of the kind of impact that his experimental Halloween broadcast — which told Wells’ alien invasion story as news bulletins reporting on events happening in real time — was taken as anything but a creative way to experience the story. Even more, it’s great how Welles actively isn’t trying to revel in the instant fame thrust upon, pointing out that he wasn’t the first person to ever tell a story in such a way, and that he can’t imagine his little radio play having such far-reaching consequences, such as making these types of productions illegal. It’s a tremendous thing to watch, and as if there weren’t already plenty of reasons to stand in awe of the man who made Citizen Kane and Touch of Evil, this provides quite a few more. —Peter Hall
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