"I wish you could have seen TOO MUCH JOHNSON..."
August 7, 2013 1:08 PM   Subscribe

A lost film by Orson Welles, originally produced to accompany a 1938 stage production of the 1894 William Gillette play "Too Much Johnson" (text) has been rediscovered in Italy, and is set for premiere at the Pordenone Silent Film Festival on October 9th. The American premiere will be at George Eastman House in Rochester, New York, on October 16th.

Welles told writer Joseph McBride that the film had been destroyed in a fire in Welles' Madrid villa, saying "I wish you could have seen Too Much Johnson, though. It was a beautiful film. We created a sort of dream Cuba in New York. I looked at it four years ago and the print was in wonderful condition. You know, I never [fully] edited it."

The production was originally to be accompanied by a score by Paul Bowles, probably better known as the author of the 1949 novel "The Sheltering Sky."

After the show's cancellation, Bowles reworked his score into the suite "Music for a Farce" (part one, part two).
posted by orthicon halo (21 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Excellent news! I very much look forward to (eventually) seeing this. Thanks, OP!
posted by Capt. Renault at 1:31 PM on August 7, 2013

posted by rocket88 at 1:33 PM on August 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

It's the prequel to "Logjammin'," I assume.
posted by The World Famous at 1:36 PM on August 7, 2013 [3 favorites]

For those wondering, yes, the slang predates the play
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 1:40 PM on August 7, 2013

And as a resident of NC, this immediately brought to mind Seymour Johnson Air Force Base. Also, because, apparently, I am still 12 when it comes to this sort of thing.

(...and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation too...)
posted by fikri at 1:46 PM on August 7, 2013

Awesome. What a cool find. Welles really seems to have more lost films than actually finished and available ones.
posted by octothorpe at 1:46 PM on August 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

rocket88: "Johnson? /dude"

posted by Hairy Lobster at 1:55 PM on August 7, 2013

A lost film by Orson Welles... has been rediscovered...

I was hoping this was going to be about the original cut of Ambersons. *sigh* But this is still cool!
posted by Atom Eyes at 2:03 PM on August 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

Wikipedia lists 14 unfinished and/or lost films by Orson Welles:

It's All True (1942)
The Dominici Affair (1955)
Moby Dick—Rehearsed (lost film) (1955)
Don Quixote (1957~69)
The Heroine (lost film) (1967)
The Deep (1967~70)
Orson's Bag (1968~9)
incorporating Vienna (1968)
The Merchant of Venice (1969)
One Man Band, aka London (1968~71)
Moby Dick (1971)
The Other Side of the Wind (1970~6)
Filming 'The Trial' (1981)
The Dreamers (1980~2)
Orson Welles' Magic Show (1976~85)
The Miracle of St. Anne (lost film) (1950)
Orson Welles and People (lost) (1956)
posted by octothorpe at 2:22 PM on August 7, 2013

Wow. To lose one film may be considered a misfortune ...
posted by iotic at 5:12 PM on August 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

Many years ago I worked at a store where my boss's name was Richard Johnson.

One of my coworkers told me, "Never call him 'Dick'."
posted by pxe2000 at 5:18 PM on August 7, 2013

Many years ago, I had a Psychology professor @ the University of Regina by the name of Dick Johnson, he was a good man.
posted by dougzilla at 6:13 PM on August 7, 2013

Very cool news! I will watch anything with Joseph Cotten in it.
posted by estherbester at 10:02 PM on August 7, 2013

I am so sad my film professor died before this happened.
posted by dogheart at 4:01 AM on August 8, 2013

I recommend John Houseman's memoirs (I read the omnibus version, Unfinished Business) which includes mention of Too Much Johnson - Houseman was the producer. Houseman is probably best-remembered for his role in The Paper Chase.
posted by larrybob at 10:47 AM on August 8, 2013

larrybob, how does Welles come across in Houseman's writings? They apparently had a very bad falling out at some point, and Welles seems to have carried his grudge to the grave.
posted by Atom Eyes at 12:14 PM on August 8, 2013

Houseman regards Welles as brilliant but also trouble. Some of their projects are wildly successful, others (like Too Much Johnson) run off the rails. Don't have my copy of the book here to check the quote, but this is attributed to Houseman: "Cecil B. Demille was not more imperious or more reckless of human life than was Orson Welles."
posted by larrybob at 1:54 PM on August 8, 2013

Only if they sold them in tent size.
posted by Atom Eyes at 2:08 PM on August 8, 2013

More details have come out in the last day or two about the recovered film. It's ten reels. Nine out of the ten were in excellent shape, according to this article in the Chicago Tribune:
"Amazing" is the word Eastman House head of motion picture preservation, Tony Delgrosso, used Thursday to describe what he (and few others) has seen.

"For one thing, nine of the 10 reels look essentially new," he said. "It's an original work print; you can tell by the hand splicing, the cuts and trims notated in grease pencil, made by Welles as he was cutting the footage in his St. Regis Hotel suite in New York."
The nine reels found in surprisingly good condition were sent to the Eastman House for photochemical restoration. The 10th reel had nearly disintegrated, but an Amsterdam film lab performed miracles, according to Delgrosso, saving "about 96 percent" of the footage after "rehydration."
Delgrosso has a blog where he's posted once or twice (so far!) about the restoration of TOO MUCH JOHNSON, commenting in particular: "For now, all I can say is that handling, inspecting, repairing, and preserving a lost film that was hand-edited by Orson Welles himself has been one of the most amazing experiences of my life. So far."

He's also posted this very informative video produced by George Eastman House about the preservation of TOO MUCH JOHNSON.

The Eastman House press release is pretty interesting, too, including a little bit more detail about that tenth decomposed reel:
“All but one of the reels were in relatively good shape,” said [Paolo Cherchi Usai, Eastman House's senior curator of film]. “But one of them was badly decomposed, and we initially thought it was too late to save its images.”

A last-minute rescue operation was attempted at Haghefilm Digitaal, a leading preservation lab in the Netherlands. Technicians there managed to salvage over 96 percent of the footage, with no recourse to digital techniques. “I’d call it a masterpiece of craftsmanship,” added Cherchi Usai. “What they have achieved is nothing short of a miracle—one only has to look at a photo of that reel before treatment in order to understand what kind of ‘mission impossible’ this was.”
Cherchi Usai went on to comment: "To think that a silent film by Orson Welles has been dormant for more than thirty years in the same city [Pordenone] where a major festival of silent film has been held for about as much time is mind-boggling. It almost defies belief."

If you're interested in attending the October 16th U.S. premiere, Eastman House has posted information about this, too. The screening will only be open to Eastman House members (they suggest that non-members join by September 6th if they wish to be able to buy tickets), and will go on sale September 10, 2013 at 12:01 a.m.
posted by orthicon halo at 6:11 AM on August 9, 2013 [3 favorites]

Unrelated entirely to TOO MUCH JOHNSON, Welles was remembered today in the Los Angeles Review of Books at a different time: Welles at sunset rather than Welles ascendant. [via]

In 1979, Steve Wasserman was deputy editor of the Los Angeles Times Sunday Opinion section, and, unhappy that the L.A. Times had relegated notice of the death of Jean Renoir, a great though underappreciated director, to a page 19 blurb direct from the A.P. wire, knew that the paper had to do better -- and knew that Orson Welles was the only man who "could do right" by Renoir. But how to find the man, how to convince him to write the piece?

Wasserman's reminiscence of how he did it is a quick read; he describes Welles' delivered essay about Renoir thus:
The essay was perfect, all about the uneasy intersection of art and commerce and, as I read it, I realized it was, of course, as much about Welles himself as it was about Renoir. It was about the trials and tribulations of neglected genius. It was, in a way, a kind of manifesto, a credo of artistic aspiration and principle.
He's right: the obituary itself is quite excellent, I think.

Welles' esteem and love for Renoir's work was quite genuine, too: when put on the spot by Dick Cavett to quickly name two films he'd bring on the ark with him to save for posterity, he replied: "LA GRANDE ILLUSION by Renoir and ... ah, uh, um ... something else!"
posted by orthicon halo at 3:31 PM on August 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

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