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March 30, 2012 5:10 PM   Subscribe

Orson Welles' final interview, conducted October 10, 1985. He died two hours later, at age 70. via
posted by timshel (42 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite

 
Eight days later, I turned 18. Eight days after that, I got married.

Coincidence? Who knows?
posted by mr_crash_davis at 5:14 PM on March 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


I dunno, but remember what the man said about wine and time.
posted by jonmc at 5:17 PM on March 30, 2012


A coincidence that he spoke here of Studio bigwig Harry Cohn's funeral -- one of Hollywood's' best attended --- and Welles' own funeral was limited on purpose to approximately nine people. A strange fate for such a brilliant, accomplished man.
posted by Seekerofsplendor at 5:37 PM on March 30, 2012


Fascinating. I only hope that, in my last public appearance, I appear as robust, humorous, classy, and articulate as Orson did in that clip.
posted by HuronBob at 5:38 PM on March 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


Here's a more serious interview made just sixteen days before mr_crash_davis's 18th birthday. He's a little more pissed off at Hollywood and the rest of the world in this interview.

My only real memory of Welles when he was alive was his wine ads (outtakes). When I was older I finally got around to seeing Citizen Kane when I added it to my queue on Netflix after getting my first DVD player in the late 90s. I was blown away and watched a few more of his earlier films.

Obligatory Welles gif
posted by birdherder at 5:43 PM on March 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


That must have been one grueling interview.
posted by Splunge at 5:55 PM on March 30, 2012


When I was older I finally got around to seeing Citizen Kane when I added it to my queue on Netflix after getting my first DVD player in the late 90s. I was blown away and watched a few more of his earlier films.

Maybe I'm misinterpreting your use of "earlier" here, but Kane was his first movie. He made what is widely recognized as one of the greatest films in the history of cinema as a directorial debut. He was 26.

As for his other films, I saw Touch of Evil for the first time recently. It's brilliant. Welles had the balls to cast himself of the most repulsive, unlikeable characters ever committed to celluloid. And it's a tremendous performance. Just amazing.

Such a tragedy that he couldn't remain productive through the 60s and 70s.
posted by mr_roboto at 6:02 PM on March 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


Dear God, you can see him turn grey as the interview goes on.
He would have been a true genius had he been more prolific. Such a shame he spent so much of his energy chasing money rather than making movies.
posted by surrendering monkey at 6:09 PM on March 30, 2012


Maybe I'm misinterpreting your use of "earlier" here, but Kane was his first movie. He made what is widely recognized as one of the greatest films in the history of cinema as a directorial debut. He was 26.

I meant his earlier work, like other films in the 40s. I was aware of Welles' pedigree (and even read the spoiler about Rosebud) long before finally getting around to seeing the film.
posted by birdherder at 6:15 PM on March 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Another obligatory link: Welles on Chartres Cathedral, from "F for Fake".
posted by gimonca at 6:21 PM on March 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Thank God he squeezed in his role as Unicron in the Transformers cartoon movie before he moved on to the great beyond.
posted by MoonOrb at 6:33 PM on March 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


As for his other films, I saw Touch of Evil for the first time recently. It's brilliant.

I hope you watched the reconstructed edit for this movie rather than the one the studio put together after butchering Welles' vision. It's a MUCH stronger movie than the one which was actually released to the public back in the day.
posted by hippybear at 6:35 PM on March 30, 2012


Is it just me of do Welles and Brando seem to be a lot alike?
posted by Splunge at 6:38 PM on March 30, 2012


OR^
posted by Splunge at 6:39 PM on March 30, 2012


What's really shocking about Welles is that by the time he revolutionized film with Citizen Kane, he had also been a major artist in radio and theater (both much bigger popular art forms at the time). It's as though Thom Yorke directed a couple of Michel Gondry movies, then created Mad Men.

As long as we're cataloging Welles' accomplishments, a little love for his adaptation of The Trial. He sometimes considered it his best film, and he might have been right---it's simpler than Kane, but by far the best film adaptation of Kafka, the only one to get the humor and sexuality that most adaptations of Kafka miss. Best is to see it with a lot of other people; in my experience, it's a very dark film when watched alone, and a tremendously funny movie when seen in a group. Plus Anthony Perkins was *born* to play Josef K.
(the opening narration, admittedly, is a little cheesy)
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 6:51 PM on March 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


I think the similarity between Wells and Brando is temporal in a lot of ways, they are of the same era. I do think that Brando, at some point, took the road less traveled in a less than positive way.
posted by HuronBob at 6:54 PM on March 30, 2012


He would have been a true genius had he been more prolific.

I don't think genius is defined by amount of product. Welles is an artistic genius, full stop.
posted by tzikeh at 7:03 PM on March 30, 2012 [7 favorites]


I managed to watch the reconstructed version in glorious cinema theater experience in a years ago Gothenburg Film Festival, it was indeed fantastically good. And add me to the The Trial fans, that's indeed how you should go about adapting good literature to the screen.
posted by Iosephus at 8:32 PM on March 30, 2012


Such a shame he spent so much of his energy chasing money rather than making movies.

He had to chase money because the people who normally give you money to make movies didn't want to give him anymore money to make movies.
posted by shakespeherian at 9:59 PM on March 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yeah, definitely a genius full stop. I mean, it's true that Welles spent much of his life chasing money, drinking, and making commercials. He also made at least one, probably two, arguably three or four of the best movies of their era, or maybe ever. That's a lot more than *any* director manages.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 10:14 PM on March 30, 2012


I think I've forced more people to watch The Trial then saw it in its first run. God, I love that movie.

Also, check out this clip from the end of Henry Jaglom's flick "Someone To Love", in which Orson appears and critiques the film we've just been watching. Fabulous.
posted by the bricabrac man at 10:19 PM on March 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's easy to snark about wine, weight, etc but for fuck's sakes how many of us will ever do something like this in our lives?

I know it's somewhat of a cliche to reference this scene but to have done this in the 1950s is truly amazing.

I was listening to a film critic on the CBC a few years back who was talking about how the standard great film lists of the last century have been quite open for debate in the last 20 years or so; you know, the ones that inevitably had Citizen Kane as the best movie of all time. Anyways, when asked what he thought was the greatest film in history he picked Touch of Evil. Personally that's one of my 2 or 3 personal favourites and I find it hard to argue with him. So yeah, Welles was a genius, no qualifications, and truly one of the great creative forces of the last century. Which is why it's so sad that things were so hard in the last couple of decades for him as far as getting projects off the ground regardless of what was at play there.
posted by Phlegmco(tm) at 10:36 PM on March 30, 2012


Welles had the balls to cast himself of the most repulsive, unlikeable characters ever committed to celluloid.

And Charles Heston as a Mexican...
posted by juiceCake at 10:49 PM on March 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


He died two hours later, at age 70.

From holding in his farts during the interview.

Rosebbbvbvbvbbbbbbbbbvbbv

bvbvbvbvbvbbbbphhhh.
posted by pracowity at 11:17 PM on March 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've said before that I would kill to have Orson Welles' voice. Here he is reading Prairie by Carl Sandberg.
posted by sbutler at 11:45 PM on March 30, 2012


Welles had the balls to cast himself of the most repulsive, unlikeable characters ever committed to celluloid.

The stories vary (as they so often do with Welles). Charlton Heston said that when he was approached to play Vargas, Welles had already been cast to play Quinlan but no director was yet attached to the project. Heston said he would be more interested in the project if Welles was directing. A variant version is that Heston signed on thinking Welles was directing (again, there was no director attached at that point) and then was peeved when he found out Welles was only involved as an actor. So the producer Albert Zugsmith asked Welles to direct to keep Heston from walking.

There's also a tale that is very different: Welles, desperate to direct in Hollywood, begged Zugsmith for a chance, and the producer hired him only on the condition that he play the lead villain role.

Any way you tell it, Welles doesn't seem (at first, anyway) to have been given auteur status: the job was to crank out a melodrama that would make money in theaters. In that sense, of course, he failed.
posted by La Cieca at 12:24 AM on March 31, 2012


He made what is widely recognized as one of the greatest films in the history of cinema as a directorial debut. He was 26.

Quoted for "no amount of emphasis can possibly overstate this fact."

Despite numerous mis-applications of the word over the years, Welles was a bona fide "wunderkind" whose lifespan (more or less) intersected our own. While not as prolific as Mozart or Picasso, or as important as Einstein or Tesla or Edison, here was nevertheless a TRUE genius of his craft, in our lifetime. And lest my hyperbole be misunderestimated, as far as I'm concerned, there's Welles, then there's the distance between the Sun and the Earth, then there's everyone else. (Ewe Boll is somewhere around Pluto's orbit, in case you're curious)

Not all of his pictures were successes. (indeed, some of them weren't even what I'd call "good") He was given to distractions and obsessions and often beholden to studio bosses' whims.

But the man made Citizen Fucking Kane at age 26. His sophomore work could have been "Porky's 2: The Next Day" for all I care. Neil Armstrong was lucky that Apollo 11 was his last flight. Welles was unfairly cursed that Kane was his first.

All that said, it's also fair to point out that for those whose memories of Welles are as a wine pitch-man or a Muppet Movie mogul, the man was still an awesome writer and orator in his later years. I encourage anyone to watch some of his appearances on the Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts for some great examples of a fat old man still in possession of a devastating rapier wit.
posted by ShutterBun at 1:38 AM on March 31, 2012 [2 favorites]


the job was to crank out a melodrama that would make money in theaters. In that sense, of course, he failed.

The poor dope only gave us the last great example of Film Noir in the entire genre (at least until "Chinatown.")
posted by ShutterBun at 1:45 AM on March 31, 2012


Not a good interview. Merv's pulling out all the stops & getting just about nothing back. Any profound quotes or statements about age? Nope. How about his love life, all the glamorous, mysterious women he's been with? No real insights on either of the ones Merv asks about & he won't name any others. And then a couple hours later the guy up & dies leaving this as his final comment. Poor Merv.
posted by scalefree at 3:30 AM on March 31, 2012


I've mentioned that my mother was his PA when he was doing some work in London in the late 50s or early 60s, I think?

That's all I've got. She won't talk about it.
posted by Hogshead at 6:54 AM on March 31, 2012


Wow. Thank you for this.

I've been collecting Orson Welles photos for a little while, and these are my two current favorites:

193? (I think I found this via a MeFi thread)

1968
posted by gwint at 7:29 AM on March 31, 2012 [4 favorites]


How about his love life, all the glamorous, mysterious women he's been with?

A gentleman never discusses such things.
posted by IndigoJones at 7:55 AM on March 31, 2012


Not a good interview. Merv's pulling out all the stops & getting just about nothing back. Any profound quotes or statements about age? Nope. How about his love life, all the glamorous, mysterious women he's been with? No real insights on either of the ones Merv asks about & he won't name any others. And then a couple hours later the guy up & dies leaving this as his final comment. Poor Merv.

I disagree. Welles is showing he's a consummate professional, refuses to dig into sordid details of his love life, and was 100% engaging. It's called class, in my book.
posted by xingcat at 7:55 AM on March 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


Geez, I almost forgot that he *also* played The Shadow on the radio! So major radio actor as well as director. Add in his mastery of the major art form of the 70s---being witty on talk shows---and you've got a guy who covered a whole lot of bases.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 8:17 AM on March 31, 2012


I'm still waiting for Jonathan Frakes to play him in the biopic.
posted by kirkaracha at 10:14 AM on March 31, 2012


Such a shame he spent so much of his energy chasing money rather than making movies.

Citizen Kane is largely based on William Randolph Hearst, one of the most richest and most powerful men in America at the time. Hearst owned 28 newspapers in the biggest cities in the country, with a circulation of 20,000,000, and owned many major radio stations. Hearst blocked the movie from opening at Radio City Music Hall, coerced a chain of more than 500 theaters to drop it, and banned any advertising, reviewing, or mentioning of the movie in his papers and radio stations. Hearst had the head of MGM offer $800,000 to RKO to have all of the prints destroyed. Citizen Kane was up for nine Oscars and got booed each time it was mentioned during the ceremony due to Hearst's pressure and it won only one Oscar. The movie failed to recoup its costs at the box office, mostly due to Hearst's attempts to squash it.

Welles was an outsider in Hollywood for the rest of his career. RKO took control of Welles' next movie, The Magnificent Ambersons and changed the ending.
posted by kirkaracha at 10:45 AM on March 31, 2012 [3 favorites]


I think the best Welles interview is the 1982 Arena programme - can't find it whole on teh intarwebs, but can find occasional chunks (in fact I suspect if you watch all the movies uploaded to YouTube as Orson Wells *.flv, you'll see it all). It really is superb, and what comes through very clearly is that despite the image that I'd grown up with - Welles, the chat show raconteur, the sherry salesman, the big actor in terrible movies - all the money he made from those often humiliating acts of hustling went into movies that often (The Other Side of the Wind, Don Quixote) were never finished (cans of them were reportedly stashed in hotel bedroom cupboards all over the world). I think it's that that makes him one of the greatest filmmakers, and if anyone ever earned the right to be called an auteur, it's Welles.
posted by Grangousier at 11:12 AM on March 31, 2012


Oh, and that interview is how I learned to smoke a cigar (very slowly).
posted by Grangousier at 11:15 AM on March 31, 2012


Poor Orson looks like his heart has already stopped in that interview.

Merv's "10, celsius?" joke is killer.
posted by gjc at 11:48 AM on April 1, 2012


Orson Welles was a regular on the Merv Griffin show in the latter years of his life.

He and Griffin developed some semblence of a rapport in time - so I would perhaps think those questions Griffin asked wouldn't have been at all a shock or surprise to Welles.

He often did small magic tricks on Griffin's show as well, and had long been highly interested in magic - something he explored in the film F for Fake.

Citizen Kane was obviously Welles absolute and utter classic -I remember watching this about 15 years ago for the first time on ABC TV here in Australia (with an intro by the venerable David Stratton) and just was spellbound - never had I seen anything quite like this.

Gregg Toland's cinematography/photography in that movie is just as pure a slice of genius as Welles' efforts.

Touch of Evil - what a brilliantly squalid, nasty film. I'd almost recommend people see that before they see Citizen Kane - not a weak performance either in front of or behind the camera. Just make sure you see the "proper" reconstructed according to Welles' wishes version.

One performance that hasn't been mentioned is his famous one as Harry Lime in The Third Man - he and Joseph Cotten (a brilliant actor) shine in this - but Welles' performance as Harry Lime is perhaps one of the most memorable in all of cinema - isn't on screen until the movie is half over (his appearance, illuminated in a doorway with a cat weaving in and out of his legs is just genius) and once he appears he just takes things over.

The memorable "Cuckoo Clock" speech and the final scenes through the sewers are stunning stunning stuff.
posted by chris88 at 6:20 PM on April 1, 2012


Oh - this is the scene I mentioned from The Third Man. Top notch.
posted by chris88 at 6:23 PM on April 1, 2012


The magnificent Joseph Cotten, of course, was an important part of Welles's The Magnificent Ambersons, as well as Citizen Kane, in addition to his work in The Third Man. Plus a valuable member of Welles's Mercury Theater company.

This is an interesting quote from Cotten's Wikipedia biography: "Orson Welles lists Citizen Kane as his best film, Alfred Hitchcock opts for Shadow of a Doubt and Sir Carol Reed chose The Third Man — and I'm in all of them."
posted by LeLiLo at 12:20 PM on April 3, 2012


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