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Posts Tagged ‘Orson Welles’

Still Flaming After All These Years, and Other News

June 12, 2015 | by

Flaming_June,_by_Frederic_Lord_Leighton_(1830-1896)

Frederic Lord Leighton, Flaming June, 1830–1896.

  • Everyone holds up Anna Karenina as a milestone for realism—“We are not to take Anna Karénine as a work of art; we are to take it as a piece of life,” Matthew Arnold wrote—but Janet Malcolm raises an eyebrow at all that. “The book’s ‘astonishing immediacy’ is nothing if not an object of the exaggeration, distortion, and dissimulation through which each scene is rendered … If the dream is father to imaginative literature, Tolstoy may be the novelist who most closely hews to its deep structures.”
  • Now at the Frick Collection: Frederic Leighton’s Flaming June, an iconic Victorian painting whose subject’s well-developed right thigh set the world on fire. “The beautiful woman asleep in some archaic past was a recurrent motif in Victorian art … The figure of the languid woman is more than just an object of erotic desire. She’s the opposite of the rationalist, ever-striving, murderously competitive spirit—once conventionally thought of as distinctively masculine. She embodies a yearning to relax, to retire from the fray and take pleasure in just being alive.”
  • Jenny Diski is dying of lung cancer, and facing the illness the only way she knows how: in prose. “A marvel of steady and dispassionate self-revelation, Diski’s cancer essays are bracingly devoid of sententiousness, sentimentality or any kind of spiritual urge or twitch … they also testify to an inner life of undiminished hyperactivity.”
  • Nesh, gloaming, cochineal, swamm, clart: writers pick their favorite words. “The chosen words are mostly regional, often monosyllabic, and frequently richly onomatopoeic: the natural poetry of the heterogeneous English-speaking tongue.”
  • In which Orson Welles dabbles in pornography: in a pro-bono gig for the picture 3 A. M., the filmmaker “wound up editing a hard-core lesbian shower scene that he couldn’t resist cutting in Wellesian fashion with low camera angles and other trademark flair.”

This Kid’s Got the Touch, and Other News

May 21, 2015 | by

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Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Anima dannata (Damned Soul), ca. 1619.

  • Among the titles on Osama bin Laden’s bookshelf: Bloodlines of the Illuminati, Secrets of the Federal Reserve, an Adobe Acrobat manual, Noam Chomsky.
  • Archivists at the University of Michigan have found fragments of Orson Welles’s unfinished autobiography; the working title was Confessions of a One-Man Band. This is a watershed moment not just historians of cinema, but for historians of amateur illusionism: “The unfinished memoir … was interspersed with other ‘weird stuff’ … including scripted patter for magic acts that Welles performed.”
  • Further proof that your ambitions are too modest and you’ll never amount to anything: “In 1619, at the ripe age of twenty, Gian Lorenzo Bernini set himself the seemingly impossible challenge of carving the human soul in marble … Bernini was precocious, authoritative, and versatile: he had the touch no matter what he put his hand to. He could make limp swags of drapery swirl and throb as if some sort of lifeblood ran through them.”
  • You know who else had the touch? Bob Seger, when he wrote “Night Moves,” which took him six months: “We drove over to the Palm restaurant, where Bruce Wendell [Seger’s label’s head of promotions] was having lunch with Paul Drew, who programmed all the RKO Top 40 radio stations in the country … He came out to the car and we played it for him. Two and a half minutes into it, he said, ‘That’s a smash.’ ”
  • Tired of visualizing history with the same old boring timelines? Of course you are! Sebastian C. Adams’s Synchronological Chart of Universal History will shift your paradigm. It “outlines the evolution of mankind from Adam and Eve to 1871, the year of its first edition. The original timeline … stretched to twenty-three feet in length and was designed for schoolhouses as a one-stop shop for all of history.”

He Was a Very Close Friend of Mine

May 18, 2015 | by

Your Monday needs something. But what? Could it be … a 1974 clip of Orson Welles reminiscing about his “friendship” with Ernest Hemingway? It has everything: titanic ego-clashing, disingenuous concern-trolling, bullfighting, damning with faint praise, posthumous character assassination. Welles claims to have been the only one with the courage to mock the great man. Welles is chomping on a cigar. Read More »

All’s Welles That Ends Welles, and Other News

October 30, 2014 | by

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They’re doing what? Orson Welles in 1960.

  • “Whatever type styles were available to The Paris Review founders at the time of printing had just been embraced without our modern preoccupations of ‘branding’ and ‘identity.’ It was less a carelessness than a carefree-ness. At first the uptight twenty-first-century graphic designer in me was frustrated by this inconsistency, but I came to rather admire the early Reviewians for maintaining a consistent voice while continuing to see themselves anew with each issue.” An interview with our art editor, Charlotte Strick.
  • “American Sign Language isn’t a translation of English. It’s a language with its own grammar and idioms. Sign language speakers also have their own accents … There are also variations in sign language speed. New Yorkers are notorious fast-talkers, while Ohioans are calm and relaxed. New Yorkers also curse more.” (We’re foul-mouthed, even with our hands.)
  • When did the chapter emerge as one of the most essential tools in book-length writing and storytelling? “The chapter has become a way of looking at the world, a way of dividing time and, therefore, of dividing experience. Its origins date back to long before the printing press or even the bound codex, back to the emergence of prose in antiquity as both an expressive and an informational medium. Literary evolution rarely seems slower than it does in the case of the chapter.”
  • After Evelyn Waugh married for the second time, he received a letter from a woman he’d known as a student at Oxford: “I think of you all the time when I am making love, until the word and Evelyn are almost synonymous! And in the darkness each night & in the greyness of each morning when I wake I remember your face—& your voice and your body and everything about you so earnestly and intensely that you become almost tangibly beside me.”
  • Orson Welles’s unfinished final film, The Other Side of the Wind, may finally see release next year for the centenary of his birth. “The main character’s life has echoes in Hemingway’s: his father’s suicide, the day of his death, his love of Spain … Welles explores the last day of the fictional director’s life before he dies in a car crash that could be an accident or a suicide.”

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Frozen Peas

August 19, 2014 | by

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Orson Welles in F for Fake, 1973, three years after the Frozen Peas recording.

I watched two biopics this weekend. Both had been well reviewed, and both featured bravura lead performances from actors who played, in both cases, bona fide geniuses. You walked out of the movie knowing more about these geniuses’ careers, their achievements, their impact on the world. But both movies were a mess: filled with pacing issues and downward-spiral clichés. Which, I guess, makes a certain kind of sense. Most real lives have third-act problems. 

There are exceptions, of course, both in life and in art—you don’t need me to enumerate the pleasures of Lawrence of Arabia. And I am all for a long life well lived. A cradle-to-grave biopic presents certain inevitable challenges, especially if your subject’s death is a peaceful one. And the clumsiness in such films is no crime; most of them don’t do much more than fall into well-trodden, safe paths; after the inevitable narcissistic degradation—the drug-fueled rages, the alienation of faithful retainers—we see the hero, more or less well aged by makeup, making amends, embracing, basking in former glories and the comforts of old age. Sometimes he sings. 

But what would happen if, instead of the triumphant reunion, the bygones being bygones, we ended with something along the lines of a Frozen Peas commercial? I’m thinking of the infamous recording of an old, diminished Orson Welles caviling over the script for a 1970 British peas commercial by a company called Findus. It’s a short clip—a mere four or five minutes. But there’s more rage, tragedy, and pathos packed into it—more truth about a life—than in most of the baggy biopics of the last ten years combined. 

DIRECTOR: Can you emphasize a bit “in”? “In July.”

WELLES: Why? That doesn’t make any sense. Sorry. There’s no known way of saying an English sentence in which you begin a sentence with “in” and emphasize it. Get me a jury and show me how you can say “in July” and I’ll go down on you. That’s just idiotic, if you’ll forgive me by saying so … That’s just stupid. “In July”? I’d love to know how you emphasize “in” in “in July” ... Impossible! Meaningless!

Sartre and Borges on Welles

August 12, 2014 | by

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Theatrical release poster, 1941

In a sense, that poster doesn’t lie: everyone was talking about Citizen Kane. In another, more accurate sense, that poster does lie: not everyone was joining in that “It’s terrific!” chorus.

I hadn’t known, until Open Culture told me earlier today, that Sartre and Borges numbered among Kane’s more outspoken critics. Sartre reviewed the film in 1945, meaning he took four years even to bother seeing it. His is a damning appraisal not just of the movie but—kind of toothlessly—the whole United States cinema culture:

Kane might have been interesting for the Americans, [but] it is completely passé for us, because the whole film is based on a misconception of what cinema is all about. The film is in the past tense, whereas we all know that cinema has got to be in the present tense. ‘I am the man who is kissing, I am the girl who is being kissed, I am the Indian who is being pursued, I am the man pursuing the Indian.’ And film in the past tense is the antithesis of cinema. Therefore Citizen Kane is not cinema.

Not exactly an open-and-shut syllogism, but that’s in keeping with the Continental tradition, I guess.

Borges reviewed Citizen Kane in 1941—in fact, he reviewed many a film in his day, among them King Kong, The Petrified Forest, and Sabotage (the 1936 classic, not the 2014 Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle). Many of these can be found in his Collected Nonfictions. As the translation below attests, his review of Kane is typically well observed, though he’s kind of hard on Rosebud, and we can now say, from the vantage of more than fifty years, that he was dead wrong about the whole endurance thing: Read More »

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