2018 was a good year for Orson Welles, even if he wasn’t around to enjoy it. His final, unfinished film The Other Side Of The Wind was finally completed by a coterie of friends and admirers and colleagues, fulfilling Peter Bogdanovich’s promise to Welles in the 1970s: “If anything happens to me, I want you to finish this film.”
Here on the anniversary of Welles’ birth, to celebrate perhaps his best posthumous year yet, I present fifteen quotes from and about Welles, from various books, articles, and interviews in print, audio and video.
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“I want to give the audience a hint of a scene. No more than that. Give them too much and they won’t contribute anything themselves. Give them just a suggestion and you get them working with you.” ~ Orson Welles
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“The content should be more important than the ingenuity of the director.” ~ Orson Welles
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“Somebody said that Touch of Evil seemed ‘very unreal, but real,’ and I corrected that statement, and said that what I was trying to do was to make something that was unreal but true, and I think that’s the definition of the highest kind of theatricality, the best kind… and that’s the kind of theatricality that can exist in films, too.” ~ Orson Welles
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From the book Orson Welles’ Last Movie: The Making of “The Other Side of the Wind” by Josh Karp:
“‘For any given scene, the actor and director each have a responsibility to get it correct,’ (Welles) told the cast one day. ‘Takes one through three are on me. Takes five and after are on the actor.’ “When someone asked, ‘But what about take four?’ Orson replied, ‘Exactly.'”
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“…You can get as dirty as you want but not also excite people, because exciting people during the course of a story –exciting them sexually– is changing the subject so completely that you have no more narrative form.” – Orson Welles, on the Dick Cavett Show, 1970
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From the book My Lunches With Orson by Henry Jaglom and Orson Welles:
Welles ~ I believe that there is no law, and should be no law under the heavens that tells an artist what he ought to be. But my point of view, my idea of art –which I do not propose to be universal– is that it must be affirmative.
Jaglom ~ Really?
Welles ~ Life-affirming. I reject everything that is negative. You know, I just don’t like Dostoevsky. Tolstoy is my writer…
Jaglom ~ But, wait a minute, Orson, what are you talking about? This is a stupid conversation. Touch of Evil is not affirmative.
Welles ~ Listen, none of my reactions about art have anything to do with what I do. I’m the exception!
Jaglom ~ Oh my God.
Welles ~ It doesn’t bother me, because it comes out of me. I’m dark as hell. My films are as black as the black hole. (The Magnificent) Ambersons. Oh, boy, was that dark. I break all my rules.
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“If the film is ever financed and finished, the title isn’t going to be Don Quixote; the title will be When Are You Going To Finish ‘Don Quixote’?” ~ Orson Welles
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From Orson Welles at Work by Jean-Pierre Berthomé and François Thomas:
“In his later period Welles made the editing stage the crucial phase of his creative process. His liking for fragmented cutting and rejection of the literal synchronization of dialogue and sound make it impossible to imagine how he might have linked pieces of film between which no link is apparent, inserted dialogue that he would have rewritten during post-synchronization, or mixed atmosphere, sound effects and music that had never been recorded. No finished version, however scrupulously made, can ever offer more than a distant approximation of a vision that we can only know in fragments. F For Fake and Filming ‘Othello’ eloquently prove the efficacy of Welles’ late working methods, in situations where he was able to complete the last details. In other cases he did all he could to ensure that no one could finish his projects without him, preferring the risk of incompletion to that of completion by someone else.”
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“Every man who is any kind of artist has a great deal of female in him. I act and give of myself as a man, but I register and receive with the soul of a woman. The only really good artists are feminine. I can’t admit the existence of an artist whose dominant personality is masculine.” ~ Welles to Jaglom in My Lunches with Orson
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“I don’t read books on film at all, or theater. I’m not very interested in movies. I keep telling people that, and they don’t believe me. I genuinely am not very interested! For me, it’s only interesting to do… I just like to make movies, you know? And that’s the truth! … There is something in me that turns off once I start to do it myself. It’s some weakness. In other words, I read everything about the theater before I became a theater director. After that, I never went to plays or read anything. Same thing with movies. I believe that I was threatened, personally threatened, by every other movie, and by every criticism– that it would affect the purity of my vision. And I think the younger generation of filmmakers has seen too many movies.” ~ Welles to Jaglom, from My Lunches with Orson
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From the book This Is Orson Welles, by Welles and Peter Bogdanovich, which is transcripts of extensive interviews Welles did with Bogdanovich to “finally set the record straight” regarding his career:
PB – This is from an interview with you in France in 1958. (reading) “J’admire beaucoup…”
OW – Move those papers around nearer to the microphone. I want your readers to appreciate the full inquisitorial pressure…
PB – The tape won’t do our readers any good.
OW – That’s a little technical problem you ought to work out, Peter.
PB – (reading again) “J’admire beaucoup…”
OW – Just the French accent alone…
PB – (continuing) “…Mizoguchi.”
OW – What?!
PB – Mizoguchi.
OW – What language are you speaking now?
PB – You know perfectly well who Mizoguchi is. I’m quoting you.
OW – I doubt it. What’s that name again?
PB – Mizoguchi. (OW roars with laughter) Come on, Orson– he’s a great director.
OW – I don’t know what I told ’em. They put down what they wanted to hear. I know just how it went: “Qu’est-ce que vous pensez de Meezagooochee?” “Ah!” I’d reply. “Ah!” The big, approving “Ah,” you understand, because I’d be getting too tired by then to compose anything more complicated by way of a sentence in cinematic French. “Mizzagoochi… Ah!” (more laughter)
PB – And the truth is, I suppose, you’re never even seen one of his pictures!
OW – You don’t realize what these interviews do to a man. You experts with tape recorders– just give you enough time, and there’s nobody you can’t break… I guess maybe I’d been belting into (one of Welles’ least favorite directors) Antonioni at the time, and thought I’d better say something good about somebody. In fact, all I did say was “Ah!”…
You have some comment to make? Please feel free to do so.
PB – Well, you’re shameless, but I think basically your taste is pretty–
OW – — low! The truth is, Peter, I really am one of those I-don’t-know-anything-about-art-but-I-know-what-I-like people. If there’s no pleasure for me in it, I feel no obligation to a work of art. I cherish certain paintings, books, and films for the pleasure of their company. When I get no pleasure from an author, I feel no duty to consult him. My interests and enthusiasms are pretty wide, and I do keep trying to stretch them wider. But no strain. No. I am, indeed, quite shameless, as you say, about not straining to encompass what truly doesn’t speak to me.
PB – Well, there’s nothing shameless about that…
OW – You say that without much conviction.
PB – You’re just making out a case for the straightforward, philistine simplicity of your tastes. But here in the files–
OW – Oh, God, Mr. Hoover…! Please don’t quote me anymore. I didn’t mean a word of it.
PB – That’s just what I’m afraid of… You change your mind according to your mood, is that it?
OW – I change my answers according to who’s asking me the questions. Anyway, what do these opinions really matter? Why should I upset a strong Fellini man by telling him I think Satyricon was frightened at birth by Vogue magazine?
PB – Just a few minutes ago you told me–
OW – –that I love Fellini? Well, I do. My point is that, in an interview, if I like the guy, I like to keep him happy. But if he’s very irritating…
PB – What’s my category?
OW – Unendurable– but only for your tenacity. No, I agreed to this so we could get the record straight, so I’m playing it straight… No, you really want to break me, don’t you? You want me to admit I’ve given out some pretty large opinions on films which I have never seen. I got hooked on the habit at those film festivals. All those endless interviews with dim aesthetes from Albania. “What do you think,” they ask you, “of our Albanian motion pictures?” You tell them, of course, that you’re mad for them. But then you’re stuck. “Ah,” they say, “which one do you like best?” So what do you do? You can’t just say, “The one with the blonde in it.”…
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From My Lunches With Orson, in conversation with Henry Jaglom:
“What Chaplin did is– there are two basic types of clowns. In the classic circus, there’s the clown who is whitefaced, with a white cap, short trousers, and silk stockings. He has beautiful legs, and is very elegant. Every move he makes is perfect. The other clown, who works with him, is called an ‘auguste,’ and he has baggy pants and big feet. What Chaplin did was to marry them, these two classic clowns, and create a new clown. That was his secret — that’s my theory… (His films) don’t date because they were dated then. They were period pieces when they were made. The silent pictures always look as though they happened in a world earlier than they did when they were shot. They all derive from the nineteenth century…
“(Chaplin was) totally female as a performer. There was no masculine element there. And he was like that as a man, too, terribly female as a man. It’s that smile, that little female smile. He was so beautiful when he was young. And he didn’t want any of us not to notice it. He beaded his eyebrows. You know how long that takes? He made himself up to be the most beautiful fellow in the world, and then put that little mustache on. Vanity is very much part of that character. He didn’t think he made himself look prissy. He thought he looked beautiful, and delicate and sensitive, and so did all the world. They took it on his terms. I never thought he was funny. I thought he was wonderful– wonderful– but not funny. I thought he was sinister. That’s why I thought of him for Monsieur Verdoux.”
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“I think The General is almost the greatest movie ever made. The most poetic movie I’ve ever seen.” ~ Orson Welles
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Henry Jaglom: “I got a call from (Orson) at 2, 3, 4 in the morning. He said ‘I want you to write this down… I know what I want to be on my gravestone.’ I said, ‘Orson, don’t be morbid; what are you doing? It’s three in the morning.’ He said, ‘Write this down: HE NEVER DID ‘LOVE BOAT!’ “