I first watched Jules Et Jim while getting into film. Certainly one of the first films I watched after I started the Netflix account that would become my pathway to the history of cinema (modern age, eh?). I enjoyed it. I recall thinking Catherine was an evil character. This stuck out to me because I linked the way women were treated in French New Wave. Godard’s Breathless sees a man fall because of a woman* and in Contempt a woman dies after being angry with her husband* (*as best as I can remember, having only seen each of these films once, around the same time).
In addition, Truffaut’s first film The 400 Blows shows a great anger towards the mother in the film. The film is autobiographical in nature, and I certainly felt (and feel) that Antoine was at war with mainly his mother, the person he seems to be blaming in part for his unhappiness.
So with all that said, I felt Jules Et Jim was more of the same. Though maybe a bit accurate, a far too simplistic memory of the film.
Getting a fresh perspective and a second viewing has made all the difference. I’ve seen some people mention that the film is not among the favorites. But I find myself blown away. Jules and Jim’s friendship is warm and beautiful. A woman does come between them. But it’s not that simple. All friendships, sexual and platonic, can be disturbed by a third party. And thankfully, for the film, Catherine is the real deal. We get to establish why they’d be so interested in her, she is beautiful and unique, and she is human. She is decidedly imperfect. The men, at no point, determine that she is some perfect woman. Instead, they are in love with her as a person. They treat her as a person. Understanding the way she feels, and respecting those feelings and temperaments. While Jules makes some dumb comments before she initially jumps into water (the first time), about it being more important for woman not to adulterate than it is for men, for the most part, she is treated with the respect she deserves. The audience, like the men in the film, spend their time chasing after her. Eager to see what comes next.
Catherine is demanding, there can be no doubt. She is stubborn and will get what she wants. And when she decides to kill Jim, it may take a few months. But like the first time she has the chance to jump in water, she seizes the second opportunity, doing it again, this time, finishing off Jim in the process.
While Jim is the center of the film to a degree, Jules is the beautiful person we can identify with (since presumably, that is the author of the source novel’s perspective, being only he lives, right?) Credit the strength of Catherine’s performance in the film as totally believable: it makes you absolutely feel that Jules’ heartbreak is real. He maintains his position as a loving husband. He has kept his fidelity, though like he said at the outset, it was more important for the woman to, after all. She has had lovers. And that IS what destroys them. Though Catherine, of course, is not only to blame. Jules probably isn’t the man she thought he was. As Jules walks away from the cemetery, the narrator makes a glib joke about regulations and them going against Catherine’s burial wishes. But it’s a crushing final scene. And one must feel that while his torment might be over, Jules’ life, so built with those two people he loved, and so far from his ancestral home, is so heartbreakingly sad.
One more thought: is using World War I to divide the film a nod to Renoir’s Grande Illusion? It really marks the end of the era for our heroes. After the war, the film is more serious, slower, more mature, more thoughtful, and certainly more somber. What affect did the war have on our protagonists?
I believe I’ve figured it out as I was writing this. Is the key point that they feared killing each other on the battlefield? Jules claimed that war took away an individual’s ability to wage war (or some similar point). They survived one war, but continued to engage in another one, after battle. After war, the boundary of respect for Catherine was gone, as well. There is no limit to the amount of conflicts and wars one can wage. Catherine sort of shows that, doesn’t she?
This film totally lived up to the hype for me. Really a masterful film that is funny, touching, and beautiful to look at. It doesn’t dwell on anything that makes it amazing for too long. It has plenty of time to breathe, and exercises all of its strengths at different points. The masterful shots in the first two reels, for example, of them tearing through the streets of Italy are not the whole movie, and we get plenty of time to slow down and learn about our protagonists. There’s a great tendency of the film to marry the road with what the two are facing. As the film goes on, the problems and questions become more serious. And as the film goes on, it seems to get perpetually harder for Bruno to pass other people on the road. While the first person that gives him trouble is the one they drive past after leaving the cemetery, by the end, he’s wholly unable to do it, and it leads to their demise.
I think it’s deceptively easy to assume the whole film is about Bruno. The liner notes spend a bit more time on him, but to me Roberto moves the film so well. Roberto does not need to invite him up at the film’s start, but Roberto is the one inviting Bruno into his life. Roberto faces the conflict which is quietly revealed, that he knows he’s different and he knows he doesn’t fit in. In a way, he is using Bruno to get what he wants. Bruno might be driving, but Roberto is the navigator.
It’s as if we’re asked, what would Roberto’s life be like if he ended up like Bruno? And he sees the pros and cons of that throughout the film. Lucky with women, but overall, perhaps unfulfilled like life. (My wife pointed out to me that the color red and peppers are both signs of luck in Italy, something the liner notes don’t seem to touch on ((I haven’t gotten through the bonus features)).) So the irony of Roberto is that he thinks he can just turn off his brain, stop worrying so much, get a little drunk, and voila, he’s Bruno. But it’s not that simple. Bruno, after all, is the one with the pepper in his car. He’s obviously had enough luck just to stay alive at this point in his life. Roberto might not be so blessed. We know that, because Roberto’s father wasn’t blessed. His uncle reveals that he showed promise as a young lad, but clearly never lived up to that promise. Roberto, on the other hand, has defied his nature by chasing after something honorable: a law degree. He’s not following in his father’s footsteps, which is good. But to find out what it could be like if he had, we have a bit of a taste of it by seeing him with Bruno. The successful influence of his uncle’s castle gave Roberto something to aspire to as a boy. And it’s what he’s chasing. Though probably not having fun doing it. As he sees, if he’s successful, he’ll have a Fiat 1500 and a doting wife who blindly agrees with everything he says (like his cousin has), and this he doesn’t want. He also scoffs at the overpriced food in the last restaurant they visit. If he hates these things, why is he chasing after them?
Of course, Bruno does, to a degree, steal the show. His swagger, charisma, and personality, leap off the screen. You could write a whole post just on the ridiculous contradictions he makes, but my absolute favorite had to be when he yells at the bikers he drives by. He tells the biker that he should “get a Vespa.” And then the next person they pass is ON a Vespa, and he says, “Eat my dust, slowpokes!” He loves, then hates the country. He loves cars, but he hates machines (cigarette machine). And while he comes off shrill and arrogant, he constantly shows how wise he is. He realizes that his cousin is really the son of one of the workers of the house. And he’s not blind to his own problems either. He warns Roberto that he can call that girl he’s in love with, or end up a “stray dog” like him. It’s not so fun being single at his age.
There are two big motifs in the film for me: 1) the chase and 2) momentum. Both men are all about the chase. If you are not chasing something, you are being passed. When they get passed, life is difficult. It is essential that if you are chased, you don’t get caught. With that said, being caught is not fatal (I’ll get to what is fatal in a moment). So Bruno passes the father and son in their car as they go through the village, but those two eventually catch up with Bruno. There’s a fight. There’s violence. But no death. Bruno thinks he’ll be able to control his daughter when he finds out she is out with a man at 1:00am, but when she appears, he’s taken off guard by her age and beauty. She clearly doesn’t need her father anymore, and clearly won’t listen to him. When Bruno gets caught by the employer he screwed over, it’s another instance of life catching up, but not being fatal.
Coincidentally, Roberto hates being chased. When he’s in the restaurant where the fight breaks out, there’s a woman giving him eyes. He’s clearly uncomfortable with it, and makes no movement on this woman. He obviously is not comfortable not being in control. Whether he’s living a boring life and not pursuing girls, at least he does so on his own terms. And that allows him to be comfortable. Of course, the question of the movie is whether or not that comfort is worth it to him, so there you go…what’s a man to do?
But back to fatality. What is fatal, after all? Fatal is the girl at the train station who gets picked up by her brother. That is it. That’s over. Fatal would be if Bruno’s wife re-married. These would not be examples of chases that go in the same direction, these are things in life moving head-on, in the opposite direction as our protagonists.
Momentum is essential for the film, and the need for momentum is their undoing. There is the need to always accelerate, to keep going. And once you are on a ride: whether it’s law school or a car ride, the further into it you go, the harder and harder it is to get off. Roberto thinks about leaving on the bus, but Bruno stops him. He tries to take a train, but again, this trip and the momentum prove too hard to escape. And he could drop out of law school, but he’s only got a year left. He seems not to be in love with it, but why stop now?
The momentum is stopped by being hit head on. Ultimately, nobody chasing them can stop Bruno or Roberto. Chasing others doesn’t lead them astray. They may be slowed down by the events of life that chase them, whether priests who are broken down or motorists they’ve wronged, but ultimately, they can keep going. Not until life hits them head on, going the other direction, does the momentum stop and ultimately lead to their death. At first it’s a girl who is going in another direction. But even on the road, nobody can catch them, just face them head on. And when they face that truck head on, they must totally bail at the last moment. Hitting the brakes and the post on the side of the road.
The road trip is life. Momentum is hard to maintain, and the need to always increase speed ends up being their undoing. They both touch that lucky pepper at the end, but only Bruno has the luck needed to survive.
Why do we talk about money as an abstract? Why do we talk about wealth and taxes in the abstract? “Taxes always go up.” “Things never go down in price, they only go up.” This isn’t necessary (though I would argue that it is positive, as it ties in with my larger point). Money is manageable. It is not a mystery. You don’t need to be an economist.
Why do we believe it is negative to be generous with money? We are all hoarders, wanting every last dime for ourselves, even the dollars we waste. It is not that we deny the usefulness of dollars, but we feel they are not to be shared. I have earned my keep, you must earn yours. Everything that is mine is rightfully earned. I cannot give you money. I can give you opportunity though. And first, of course, you must prove that you deserve said opportunity to me. You must come into any situation with the knowledge you are applying to a situation for to achieve.
Equality of opportunity?
Equality of outcome?
People who discuss the equality of opportunity don’t realize that there is no true equality of opportunity. Assuming the legality of actions, then it’s the end that matters, not the means. Does a CEO of a company, with an MBA and 4-year college education, worry that Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates didn’t finish college? In the minds of many, they earned their keep. They were innovators. It doesn’t matter if they smoked pot and tinkered with computers or whatever they did. They are “self-made” men who got rich off a great, unique idea. That’s all that matters.
All that matters is results. If I try my hardest at my job, but still fail, and lose money for my company, I can be fired. Surely my boss would be patient with me if I’m giving it an honest shot. But no matter how well-meaning you are, saying and doing wrong things that hurt your employer is usually a fire-able offense.
So why can we say that we cannot guarantee outcomes? This would be unacceptable in the “private sector.” The government absolutely can guarantee outcomes. We can directly give people money. We do it with Social Security. We can directly give people health insurance. We do it with Medicaid and Medicare.
Money is the key.
If we are going to have capitalism, and a system where money is the way we get and trade items and value, then money is everything. Sure, gifts in kind are nice. My father, a lawyer, can represent me in court for free to protest a speeding ticket. But his time is money, and he is, in effect, giving me money in this circumstance. And while we can help each other out with employment searches, the most effective way to ensure one’s well-being is just by straight up giving them money. Cash. Moolah.
Money matters. And the greatest thing that can ensure our livelihood is money. That is money in our communities. Money for our infrastructure. Money for our people. We are the ones who need more money. There is plenty of it out there, and it is time we all had more of it.
The magic of Jean Renoir’s films lie in people. That may sound cliche, obvious, or even an oversimplification, but his films take groups (often classes) of people, and uses it as the basis of how he explores life. His World War I film is about the separation of officers and soldiers, and the bond those soldiers form. Rich and poor are explored in his masterpiece [i]The Rules Of The Game[/i]. Performers in a dance hall, citizens of turn of the century France, rural peasants…these are all people in his films. The films are not generally [b]about[/b] those external situations I’ve described, but how humans interact under those circumstances.
[b]The River[/b], from 1951 and filmed in India, is no different than those above films I’ve seen and listed. But it stands alone in Renoir’s canon with regards to how the community of characters interact. While the film is certainly not the only of his films to feature characters from disparate backgrounds, it seems unique in that circumstance is the only thing linking his community of characters.
In summation: the film is a study of a young girl and her life life with her family and other English people living near the Ganges River in India. Harriet is the oldest daughter of her family with several younger siblings, but she’s not the most senior child in her community. Valerie, a girl from another community, is a bit of her rival with the arrival of Captain John. She goes through growing pains, as some of the other young girls do. The family has a heartbreak with the death of their young son who is too curious and plays with a cobra snake. Rather than a traditional narrative, the film unfolds through little bits and pieces that show events that force young people to grow a little bit up.
Life lessons and social interaction are not uncommon in Renoir’s films. The director, himself, spends much of his masterpiece [i]The Rules Of The Game[/i] directly handing out life advice, himself! In later films, such as [i]Elena and Her Men[/i] and [i]French Can Can[/i], multiple storylines seem to be going on simultaneously during some very crowded scenes. None of this exists in [i]The River[/i], however. The ensemble seems broken apart. Melanie, a half-Indian, half-English girl, is being courted by an Indian boy, clearly of means, and her father recommends marrying him. He can give her things she would never get without him. But she’s not interested. We learn about her feelings through her interactions with her father, and with Captain John.
Captain John is one of the most interesting characters in the film. A combat veteran who lost a leg in the war, he struggles with being able to get through life independent, and manly. He flirts with Valerie and Melanie, but is really only there to visit. He, too, is shown in isolation…deep in thought about his own life. The young Harriet and Valerie, too, are shown in isolation. With the exception of the Diwali celebration early in the film, there seems to be very little, if any, whole group interaction, and there is none that is particularly of [b]substance[/b] where the character learns about life through interaction with others.
The film is easy to criticize. The acting is a bit “hammy” and “overdone.” The camera flourishes and social critique that is often embedded in Renoir’s best films is gone, here. But [i]The River[/i] is about growing up. It’s a film about becoming mature, and there are life lessons we need to figure out on our own. Harriet is too young to get to know what kissing a boy feels like, and this frustrates her. At the end of the film, Valerie, Melanie and, Harriet all get letters from the departed Captain John, but when Harriet’s younger sister asks what the girls are up to, she is shooed away, because she is not ready to learn about love from their perspective. And then a scene later, the family’s latest child is born, and all of those girls are then shut out from the birthing room. Each girl is frustrated as they watch someone else going through what will be their next stage of life, but they can’t are not yet ready to experience it for themselves. [i]The River[/i] may not be his smartest or best film, but in it, with all of its awkwardness and anxiety, Renoir might just be telling his most realistic tale of what people go through in life.
Carl Th. Dreyer is one of the finest directors in cinematic history, and his accomplishments include directing, among others, the films The Passion of Joan of Arc and Ordet. But Dreyer was making films in the early-1920s, long before he would be as highly regarded as he is today. In fact, the majority of his films are silent films (9 out of 13). They may not be the towering masterpieces he would go on to produce, nor do they relentlessly showcase Dreyer’s signature style and feel, they are still (mostly) fantastic films that show a director finding his footing en route to changing the world of film.
Here are a few words on his 5 films available on home video from the Danish Film Institute.
The President (1919)-Far from merely “interesting” or a “warm-up”, The President is a fantastic feature debut. The story features a man coming into contact with his own illegitimate daughter. Clearly he has always felt guilty about having to abandon her, especially since he was instructed to do so by his father (who had seemingly made a similar “mistake”, and married outside of his class). Even worse, it happens that she is brought to the town he is a judge in, and is on trial for aborting her child (for which she claims to want and deserve death). Rather than face the moral dilemma, he recuses himself from the trial, and she is convicted.
However, his morals get the best of him. He rescues his daughter from jail, confesses his sins, and abandons the life he has led to take care of her.
The film showcases many themes which are common in his films. It is a fine film visually (and only fails as a masterpiece compared to other films), featuring idyllic landscape shots and fascinating lighting as well as close-ups that magnify the intensity of performances. Here, a jury acts as a mob who cannot wait to cast judgement. There is a clear moral rightness and wrongness in the film that different characters pursue. An absolutely worthy debut of a film from the master.
Leaves Out Of The Book Of Satan (1921)-I must admit to being a bit disappointed by Dreyer’s second film, though some fans surely rank it as among his best and it is undoubtedly his most ambitious. Told over two and a half hours (by far his longest film), the film concerns Satan himself convincing others to commit evil, and he journeys to the time of Jesus and his betrayal by Judas; the time of the Spanish Inquisition; the French Revolution; and finally the then present-day in the Finnish Civil War. The film owes more than a bit of debt to D.W. Griffith’s Intolerance in the way the narrative is broken apart in pieces but linked by a theme.
I consider two of these early films to not be on par with Dreyer at his best, and they are both bogged down by the heaviness and intricacy of a plot. With such stunning and rich visuals, and a way of moving a story along that is both experienced and told, Dreyer’s films are perhaps textbook “less is more.” A distractingly large amount of title cards (necessary to continuously re-introduce new characters and time periods) is distracting. The French Revolution portion clearly works best, as it is given the most amount of time to move and tell a story. An undoubtedly interesting work, but one that others rank higher than I do.
Love One Another (1922)-A tale about the Russian pogroms in the early 20th century, Love One Another features another example of Dreyer taking a strong moral stance against gang mentality. It’s also his first only truly pro-semitic film, an opinion also outlined by Dreyer in his essays. It’s a tale about sticking to one’s traditional roots and staying true to family.
The early part of the film only exists scattered it seems. Littered with too many title cards, the film almost struggles to get going early on. But the moral weight that rests on the characters in The President works well in this film, too. A brother/son who abandoned his family long ago struggles with a wife outside of his true background and the rejection of his father. The father who resents his son while on his death bed. The sister who falls for a revolutionary. Broken/hurting/conflicted families are often featured in Dreyer’s films, and the conflicts within this story happen against the backdrop of the 1905 revolution. The way Dreyer shows the government able to turn people against their fellow citizens in an effort to squash a rebellion is well-paced and remains intriguing, while the family drama present throughout the film showcases Dreyer’s talent for getting to the emotional core of people. Until Michael, from 1924, I would say this is the best Dreyer film. It carefully balances a traditional narrative and Dreyer’s own cinematic voice.
Once Upon A Time (1922)-As I mentioned, Dreyer’s films are at his best with simplicity. Therefore, somewhat traditional stories often serve him well, as he is able to put his own stamp on it (additionally, I believe this thesis is supported by Dreyer’s preference for adapting other people’s work for films, rather than writing original scenarios, as he discusses in the book of his essays Dreyer in Double Reflection.
A simple story of a hard-headed princess and the process of getting her married, Der Var Engang (Once Upon a Time) is the next Dreyer film. Unfortunately, the simplicity of the story doesn’t translate to Dreyer’s usual greatness. In Tom Milne’s essay “The World Inside”, he calls the film a “setback”. Surely this isn’t help with only a portion of the film (probably about half) remains not lost. But the narrative is also handled a bit haphazardly. In the story, a princess denies all of the suitors her royal father sends her way. After she sends away a Danish prince, he hatches a plot to bring the girl down (by making her less spoiled and more appreciative), and test her love. Perhaps the missing visuals would’ve painted a tender story of a woman whose entire worldview changes, but much of the second half of the story is missing. Unfortunately, the story in its current incarnation relies heavily on the “twist” at the end, when it turns out the peasant she has been living with is actually the Danish prince from the beginning.
Surely there are some beautiful scenes (the garden sequence early on with the mistresses of the princess is nicely choreographed), but the film lacks the greatness of some his other early silents.
The Bride of Glomdal (1926)-The penultimate Dreyer silent, his final film before 1927’s remarkable The Passion Of Joan Of Arc. Another simple tale, of a father who forbids his daughter to be with the man she desires (a neighboring boy from the same general area…it almost seems to predict one of the conflicts of Ordet), is a great warm-up to that classic. The daughter is strong-headed, and abandons her father to be with the boy she loves. Eventually, a member of the clergy is able to make peace between the families by having the young couple seek the father’s approval, and convincing the father that he should give the young couple his blessing.
What I seem to find over and over again in Dreyer films is shots of people outdoors, in fields wandering, with beams of lights throughout the forest. Many of his early films feature brief scenes like this, and it lends so much to the atmosphere that is essential to Dreyer. The film harkens to the Swedish films of the teens that Dreyer so loved.
Thanks for reading.
The final film F. W. Murnau made was Tabu: A Story Of The South Seas. Filmed on location in Bora Bora, the film is one of the last masterpieces of silent cinema. In the liner notes to the Masters of Cinema release, Murnau himself is quoted as saying:
“It is ridiculous to say that talking pictures will disappear again. No invention that shows itself to be of value will ever be rejected. The talking picture represents a great step forward in the cinema. Unfortunately, it has come to soon: we had just begun to find our way with the silent film and were beginning to exploit all the possibilities of the camera. And now here are the talkies and the camera is forgotten while people rack their brains about how to use the microphone.”
We’ll never know what a talking picture by Murnau would have been like. Murnau died in an auto accident one week before the film’s world premiere in 1931. Tabu doesn’t just stand as an achievement, however, in terms of the great master’s final work: even within his oeuvre, Tabu is incredibly rich visually and perhaps more innocent than any of his other films. It is a masterpiece by any definition of the word. Early in his career, Murnau’s films helped to define the German film industry, and his films helped define German cinema of the 1920s as some of the greatest ever. Following this, Murnau spent time making films for William Fox in Hollywood. But after the critical success of his first film, 1927’s Sunrise, his last two films ran into a variety of production problems, and while filming Our Daily Bread (later: City Girl), he left the project and Hollywood. He would wash up in Bora Bora, away from the city and a large population. And he would make his final masterpiece.
Tabu, summarized, is a relatively straight-forward tale: two young lovers have a bond forbidden by a national officer (on spiritual, not legal, grounds), and they run away. Of course, they cannot win, and they are torn apart in a tragic final sequence. The girl agrees to go back to protect her village once the elder finds her. She abandons her love in the home they had made for each other after running away. He tries to get her back, swimming out to sea to get her, but he falls short, and drowns.
But the visuals and the way it plays out, as well as analyzing the motifs of the film against Murnau’s films, truly reveals how special this film is.
Was Murnau more critical of the city or the country? In Nosferatu and City Girl, the country is the basis of the evil or the disruptive. In Sunrise and The Last Laugh, the city shows signs of evil. But Tabu takes place in its own world. Neither city nor country, where modern civilization has not yet reared its ugly head (the title cards at the beginning announce this much). And yet, even within this isolated geographic location, someone comes and disturbs the peace of our protagonists. Is there nowhere in the world where one can escape?
Where one does not fear outside influence? Something from the outside always seems to interfere in a Murnau film. But in Nosferatu, The Last Laugh and Sunrise, characters overcome their tormentors and their demons. Murnau’s happy endings often feel natural, with two equals, at odds with each other, and the protagonist winning the day. But not in Tabu. In Tabu, there is no reconciliation, and the main character’s attempt to fight falls tragically short.
One must wonder if Murnau’s people deserve their fate. Indeed, there is very little consistency it would seem, as the bad fate that befalls the people in Nosferatu and Faust doesn’t seem their own doing. In The Last Laugh, our man is merely the victim of age. In Sunrise, yes, a man is forced to make amends for the wrong he’s done to his wife, but in City Girl and 4 Devils, the temptress is merely someone the family does not approve of. Tabu breaks this rule in Murnau, however. Our male character doesn’t lose his woman until he has violated the second taboo of the film: not to dive for pearls in a particular area of water. He breaks this taboo and barely lives. When he returns home, his woman is gone, and as he chases her, his fate is sealed.
It’s hard not to draw parallels to Murnau’s career and the film. The beautiful woman (the right to make a film the way he wants?) is off-limits to him. Murnau frequently ignored the rules of Hollywood, going over schedule on 4 Devils, buying a farm for City Girl. He was a true artist, not merely a filmmaker for the studio. When our male protagonist gets shown an “IOU” he is responsible to deliver that strands him on the island, making it impossible for him to buy a ticket off the island, is that Murnau being told rules he cannot fathom from the studio system. I am merely speculating, but it could be.
Beams of light. Shadows. And an old world. Tabu has all of the makings of the great films of Murnau. Stunning visuals. Tragic ends. Tabu is a masterpiece by Murnau.
Over the last two weeks, I read My Lunches with Orson: Conversations Between Henry Jaglom and Orson Welles. The book’s conversational structure between Welles and a young admirer from the 1960s and 1970s American film revolution recalls, in theory, This is Orson Welles the scholarly conversation book from conversations between Welles and Peter Bogdanovich, edited by Jonathan Rosenbaum. It turns out, though, that the two books bear little in common. True, fans of Welles may feel that they are in his presence, once again, and it’s hard to read his words and not hear that booming voice in your head.
But that’s where the similarities end. The book doesn’t have any of the in-depth analysis, scene-by-scene, film-by-film deconstruction that This is has. I don’t and can’t fault it for that. To my knowledge, his conversations with Bogdanovich were meant to be documents that would become an (auto)biography. The book never came to fruition in Welles’ lifetime, and Bogdanovich wanted to share the conversations with the world. This is a different book, from several years later and the end of Welles’ life.
Jaglom and Welles’ conversations are much more free-wheeling. The smallest things set Orson off. It’s a bit discouraging to read his nasty words about peers, not necessarily because they aren’t true, but because Welles knows better than anyone that words hurt. In a section of This Is Orson Welles, he specifically asks Bogdanovich to strike from the record the names of directors/actors he disparages, because as he says (and I’m paraphrasing now), “Words do hurt. It’s nice to think they don’t, but they do. Every time I read a bad thing about myself, it hurts…” you get the point. Ten years prior, Welles had no desire to go on the record bad-mouthing other directors. But his ire, in these conversations, is not reserved for merely Pauline Kael and John Houseman, he tears apart dozens of other performers, peers, producers, etc. etc.
In general, the book is often not a fun read. You’d think it would be, based on the conversational nature…but it’s not. Welles often gets incredibly indignant and rude. He’s resentful in a way that just has me thinking that he was cranky and impatient like many senior citizens, and that’s sad. It’s sad to try to reconcile a childish impatience with the fact that he was one of
the hardest working people in showbiz, who died with a typewriter in his hand, working on something until the bitter end. I had trouble ploughing through the book, as long-winded rants about films/theatrical productions/other people just didn’t captivate me at all. But when I got to the second to last chapter, the weight of the book hit me. Orson is pitching a story to Susan Smith from HBO:
OW: In one sentence, it’s a miniseries set in Majorca or San Tropez, where the richest people in the world go. Or better, a dictatorship in a Central American country that is overthrown by a coup d’etat, and there is a revolution.”
As a Welles fan, and perhaps more importantly, promoter, I feel there’s a timeless quality to his films. His work pre-dates the noir era, but that movement in many ways owes so much to his style. His Touch of Evil is one of the finest films of the genre. Shakespeare and tales about the fall of once great families and peoples are timeless motifs. But the threats of fascism and the days of revolution just don’t seem to fit in the 1980s the way they did in the 1960s. This is totally subjective, but I found myself wondering during that passage: who makes a film about a Latin American coup d’etat in 1984? Even Welles’ last films were incredibly modern, with F for Fake and what we know about The Other Side of the Wind. That doesn’t sound like what he was pitching, though. Even compared to his other unfinished/unrealized projects of that time…it doesn’t quite fit in.
Time passed Welles by. Not everything he had to say was interesting, witty, intelligent, or decent in nature. I love Orson Welles dearly, and though his life is over, I find that when I read about his trials and tribulations, I still root for him, though I know he doesn’t win many of his battles. But even Welles was prone to banality and bitchiness. You do not need to read My Lunches With Orson. It’s just too sad.