“I’m more interested in politics than anything in the world. Much more interested in politics than I am in movies, art, or anything. I’m absolutely fascinated by politics and have been all my life…The truth is every piece of art is a political statement. When you deliberately make it you—the audience is going to get dizzy—when you deliberately make it you usually fall into the trap of rhetoric and the trap of speaking to a convinced audience, rather than convincing an audience. I think some movies and some books, and god some paintings, have changed the face of the world. But I don’t believe it’s the duty of every artist to change the face of the world. He is doing it by being an artist.”
Orson Welles at Q&A at USC in 1981
(Welles was most personally politically active during the ’30s and ’40s—”FDR used to say, ‘You and I are the two best actors in America.'”—Orson Welles)
This concludes a week of posts of the Orson Welles Q&A at USC after they screened his film The Trial. It’s interesting to note that in the Q&A he mentioned that he never watched his film after he made them because they are so much better in his mind.
It’s also worth noting that in the last few years before Welles dies in 1985, filmmaker Henry Jaglom recorded conversations with him at the original Ma Masion restaurant where Welles held court in his later years.Those conversation were edited by Peter Biskin (Easy Riders, Raging Bulls) and recently published in the book My Lunches with Orson Welles. I have not read the book yet but from what I’ve read it does offer some new—and unplugged—revelations into a man who at just 24-years-old directed one of the masterpieces of cinema—Citizen Kane.
“When asked to describe Welles’s influence, Jean-Luc Godard remarked, simply, ‘Everyone will always owe him everything.'”
Peter Biskin introduction to My Lunches with Orson Welles
For Welles Citizen Kane was his mountaintop experience. The movie was released in 1941 and his journey, and creative & financial struggles, over the years have been well documented. If you were born after his death you may be surprised to learn that in the ’70s—and era before cable TV, DVDs, and Internet streaming—Welles was mostly known to the American public as the spokesman for Paul Mason wine. For his Shakespearean delivery of the line, “We will sell no wine before its time.”
An average young person today is more likely to know Welles from his drunken outtakes from those Paul Mason commercials. The kind of video that ends up on Funny or Die and I’ve actually seen a video of the outtakes below re-shot with actors today as either a spoof or a class project.
By this time in his life the well had run dry for Welles. In a sense he had become like what became of many legends in their later years (Elvis, Hemingway, Tennessee Williams) a shadow of his former greatness. But like Elvis, Hemingway, and Williams the sun is shinning once again. The good, the bad, and the ugly has turned the man who once stood on the mountaintop to become his own mountain. Welles like a select few people in Hollywood—a place he called “a snake pit”— has become through appointments and mythology reached the status of legend and icon.
In the spirit of who “Who was Charlie Kane?” and “Who was Rosebud?” — Who was Orson Welles? Biskin and Jaglom I imagine have added another chapter to the growing story of the man now sometimes called Citizen Welles.
“The final scene of The Lady from Shanghai is perhaps the most autobiographical truthful metaphor in all of his work. It is ultimately impossible to find the real Orson Welles among all the fun-house mirrors he so energetically set in place.”
And to end this full circle, I found a quote online from Jaglom’s talks with Welles that touched on politics.
“Politics is always corrupting. Even saints in politics. The political world, in itself, is corrupt. You’re not going to satisfy that urge to spiritual perfection in any political movement without being betrayed and without betraying others. Only service, direct service, say, helping a lot of starving kids in a Third World country, is impeccable.”
My Lunches with Orson Welles
And instead of ending with the a scene from The Lady from Shanghai or a clip of one of Welles’ films I thought you might enjoy this clip of Welles talking about Ernest Hemingway.
P.S. If you happen to be in the Orlando area, the Enzian Theater will have a Saturday matinée of Citizen Kane tomorrow (1/11/14) at noon.
Related links: The USC Spectator Spring of 1982 about Welles visiting USC
There is an entire You Tube Channel dedicated to Citizen Welles which includes the 90 min doc—The Complete Charlie Kane.
Scott W. Smith
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