Source of Inspiration: The Erotic Side of Orson Welles

I remember when I saw the above clip from Orson Welles‘ still unfinished final film The Other Side of The Wind. I would have been in my late teens or early twenties when it was screened as a part of a film festival in Santa Monica, just blocks from where Welles shot his final film appearance in Henry Jaglom‘s Someone to Love. Gary Graver, Welles’ long-time friend and cameraman was present to talk about this footage which was a part of Orson Welles: The One Man Band, and the Wind project itself.

My heart had long since been captured not only by his films such as the ubiquitous Citizen Kane, The Lady from Shanghai, and The Trial, but I also had probably finished reading This is Orson Welles not too long before. (Truth be told, I probably carried my paperback copy of the book to the screening.)

I really thought I knew Welles and his work.  The good and the less so.  I remember I had met a writer one day working at Kinko’s in Pasadena who told me something of a book he’d written on Welles.  He (like many others, including Peter Bogdanovich) indicated that Welles’ greatest work, had yet to be seen and that it existed in the form of his unfinished feature, The Other Side of The Wind. What Joseph McBride never told me was the fact that he was IN The Other Side of The Wind.

And so, this scene which features Welles’ muse and companion, Oja Kodar completely floored me.  THIS was Orson Welles?!

If you are seeing this footage for the first time, you’re likely thinking the same way.

The film is in lush color (not unheard of in Welles’ repertoire, but certainly unusual).  For a filmmaker known for the way he opened up the expanses of the frame,  a filmmaker who was quoted as saying that he was resolutely against the use of close-up, this scene is incredibly intimate and sensual.  It evokes a level of intimacy, beyond the sexual, not usually a part of Welles’ palette.

Sadly, I think it’s the case that many aspiring filmmakers of today, and even current filmmakers know little about the man, even as a filmmaker.  Why he was significant.  Why he was the ORIGINAL Indie and guerilla filmmaker.

Welles was certainly no different than any human being with his share of demons and foibles.  At times, he very well may have been his own worst enemy.  But if you look at the body of his work that he made as a filmmaker, whether he started it, completed it, or dreamed of it, his vision was singular and unmistakable.  Citizen Kane was the film where he learned from the rule book, and immediately went about breaking the rules.  As significant a film as Kane was, I’ll be bold enough to say that 50% of the credit should also go to the man who showed him the rule book, and chief rule book breaker, Cinematographer, Gregg Toland.

His films often were self-referential, and self effacing.  One need only look at the role he chose to play in Touch of Evil.  Look closer at the role of Mr. Arkadin in Confidential Report, even Kane itself has a certain level of tongue-and-cheekness which one could interpret as a finger pointed in his own general direction.  In fact, The Other Side of The Wind is often stated by some to have a certain level of autobiographical intent.  In it, Director John Huston plays the lead role of Director Jake Hannaford, an aging Hollywood filmmaker trying to revive his career by pandering to the audience’s taste for sex and violence.

For real insight into Welles as a filmmaker, I can’t recommend highly enough the Criterion edition of F for Fake.  In it, you’ll realize that Welles was way ahead of his time, not only in terms of technique, but really, Fake could be called the first mocumentary before anyone else had thought to coin the term.  The Criterion edition also contains Orson Welles: The One Man Band, the documentary co-directed by Oja Kodar, and other great supplemental material.  It’s as complete an introduction to Welles as you are to get in a DVD box set.

It’s one of my hopes that we’ll finally get to see the completed piece in 2010.  The word going around from Peter Bogdanovich is that we will finally get to see the film premier at Cannes next year.  Showtime Networks will likely carry it on cable shortly thereafter as it has been said that it is the key financial backer of the film’s completion.

Until then, I’ll wait and continue to let his dreams influence my own.

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