Posts Tagged ‘Orson Welles’
August 19, 2014 | by Sadie Stein
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!
August 12, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
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 »
March 25, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
- If you woke up this morning and wondered, Will today finally be the day that the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS) puts together an interactive map of all known shipwrecks that have occurred off the treacherous Scottish coastline?, congratulations: the answer is yes.
- Shut up the surly teenager in your life—remind him of how viciously teens were treated in medieval Europe. “A lord’s huntsman is advised to choose a boy servant as young as seven or eight: one who is physically active and keen sighted. This boy should be beaten until he had a proper dread of failing to carry out his master’s orders.”
- Vis-à-vis cruelty: in Britain, it’s now illegal to send books to prisoners. Authors are protesting.
- Back in the day, Orson Welles performed ten Shakespeare plays on the radio. You can listen to them.
- “Not since the heyday of Dickens, Dumas, and Henry James has serialized fiction been this big.” Behind Wattpad, a new storytelling app.
- What if classic writers wrote erotica? (Hats off to Camus’ Sutra, which is especially inspired.)
December 3, 2013 | by Sadie Stein
Everyone knows that Heart of Darkness was adapted as Apocalypse Now, but have you ever listened to the 1938 radio version Orson Welles did with the Mercury Theatre? The sound quality is poor, but it’s compelling nonetheless.
July 26, 2013 | by James Hughes
My Lunches with Orson, a collection of off-the-cuff conversations between filmmaker Henry Jaglom and Hollywood lion Orson Welles, recorded before Welles died of heart failure in 1985 (when his body was discovered, he had a typewriter in his lap, keystrokes from a comeback that was cruelly out of reach), arrived in bookstores last week with much fanfare. The chats were recorded weekly at the duo’s favorite restaurant, the now-shuttered Ma Maison on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles, and were conducted not only with Welles’s consent but at his urging. The transcripts read less like a meal and more like forkfuls from a dessert cart that endlessly whizzes by. Welles stabs at topics this way and that, exposing his deepest grudges and marveling over his unmatched moments of grandeur, sometimes in the same sentence. Author Peter Biskind combed through the cassettes, dozens of which Jaglom had stashed in a shoebox, and edited them for maximum punch. In his introduction, Biskind claims this “may be the last undiscovered trove of Welles on Welles.”
Excerpts from the book, which can be snacked on online, reveal Jaglom recoiling at times as his companion blows buckshot across Hollywood. With each passing course, Welles serves up one-liners, each more potent than the last, and dismisses showbiz royalty past and present. High-powered table-hoppers are skewered the moment they’re out of earshot. Richard Burton gets the breeze. Waiters get shushed. Jaglom gets embarrassed. Even Wolfgang Puck, the chef preparing Welles’s meals, is targeted. (This was before Puck slid to Spago, the quintessential mideighties hot spot he erected off the Sunset Strip.) While Welles has no problem chortling about a leading Broadway critic who was unaware that the disgruntled staff at his favorite hotel routinely pissed in his morning tea, he doesn’t seem particularly mindful of his own tableside vulnerabilities. Read More »
May 29, 2013 | by Ellen Duffer
- Everyone agrees that getting rid of books is deeply sad.
- Liberace, pre-Soderbergh, wrote a cookbook that now sells for around $500. Included is a salad recipe that orders you not to omit the pickles.
- This is a fantastic headline: “Vintage typewriters find new life in hands of writers, actors and old repairmen.” Just ask Tom Hanks, who apparently likes to buy restored machines that belonged to the likes of Ernest Hemingway and Orson Welles.
- While e-book reading is on the rise, a new poll says parents overwhelmingly prefer reading print with their kids.
- Memoirist Rachel Howard says writing is like drawing: “Later, I could go back and do what artists call rendering—working the drawing, adding detail. But now I had a solid gesture sketch to work from.”