LOS ANGELES, April 10, (RTRS): Simon Callow has become the pre-eminent chronicler of the life and times of Orson Welles. Over three sprawling biographies, Callow has traced Welles’ rise, fall, and years in the Hollywood wilderness. “Orson Welles: One-Man Band,” Callow’s latest book, follows the multi-hyphenate from 1948 to 1965. It’s a period of self-exile, one that finds the “Citizen Kane” director scrambling to cobble together money in Europe for films such as “MacBeth” and “Othello” that are daring and intermittently brilliant, but often show signs of their troubled birth and shoe-string budgets.
It also recounts the making of two of Welles’ signature films — the pulpy and galvanizing “Touch of Evil” and the revelatory “Chimes at Midnight,” perhaps the most kinetic Shakespeare cinematic adaptation of all time.
Callow, an acclaimed stage and film actor in his own right who has appeared in the likes of “Four Weddings and a Funeral” and “A Room With a View,” says he plans to write at least one more Welles book. He spoke with Variety about why the director’s work still endures, what made Welles an insecure actor, and why he was an artist who thrived on chaos.
Question: What fascinates you about Welles?
Answer: I have a fascination with what happened to him and why there was not more of what there was and why what there was was the way it was. I have a fascination with personality and temperament and how profoundly it shapes lives. Welles’ personality was a burden and a block to him. It came between him and the work he wanted to do.
Q: In what ways did his personality impact his career?
A: It stopped him from making more films. He behaved very badly a lot of the time. He exhibited almost self-destructive behavior. In Hollywood he never recovered from that.
Q: “One-Man Band” makes a case that he was terribly disorganized. Why were his film and theater productions so chaotic?
A: It was partly a technique. He liked to throw on the adrenaline and nothing gets people adrenalized better than being unprepared. It created an atmosphere that could work well for him.
It could be fatal too. He made the mistake of not preparing sometimes. Of letting the understudy do a lot of the work for him or not knowing his lines properly. It created a kind of madness and mayhem during a performance. I don’t why you would do that to yourself. It undermines your confidence.
Q: John Huston lamented that Hollywood had in essence turned its back on Welles. But Hollywood is a business. Why should it have indulged Welles just because he was a great artist?
A: It’s true. He didn’t want to go through the hoops that pretty much everyone has to go through to get things made. Compare Welles to John Huston. He was a similarly huge and ungovernable personality. He could behave like a roaring boy and indulge himself. But Huston made 40 films and Welles made eight. Somehow he managed to get it all together.
My theory is that Huston wasn’t any kind of prodigy. He was shy as a young man and underachieving. He slowly taught himself how to write and think about movies. He had to discipline himself. Everything came quickly to Welles and he became impatient and didn’t think he had to do the work. Huston always knew he had to do the work.
Q: What was behind the anxiety?
A: He was deeply insecure about his own acting. He wanted to send the actors away and then he would shoot his own scenes. No one would be there except the camera crew.
I think he was frightened of acting. He was frightened of engaging with the character or of losing control. He was always trying to impose the character on himself and enact it. He’d put on a big nose or a belly in order to present the part. Acting at its best requires you to be open and let things happen. To honor your impulses.
LOS ANGELES: Kino Lorber has acquired all US and Canadian rights to Leyla Bouzid’s “As I Open My Eyes” a week prior to the film’s US premiere on April 14 at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City.
Following the film’s Tribeca screenings, “As I Open My Eyes” will play at this year’s COLCOA (“City of Light, City of Angels”) and is in competition at the San Francisco International Film Festival. The film also won the Europa Cinemas Label prize as the best European film in the Venice Film Festival’s independently run Venice Days section.
The film is set in the summer of 2010, just before the Jasmine Revolution. It depicts the clash between culture and family as seen through the eyes of a young Tunisian woman balancing the traditional expectations of her family with her creative life, as the singer in a politically charged rock band.
Variety’s Jay Weisberg called the film “a skillfully made drama” in his review. It stars first-time actress Baya Medhaffer.
Kino Lorber will open the film at New York’s Lincoln Plaza Cinemas on Sept 9. A digital and home media release is set for early 2017.
The deal was negotiated between Kino Lorber CEO Richard Lorber and Hannah Horner from Doc&Film International.