Waiter: Gentlemen, bon appétit. How is everything?
O.W.: We’re talking, thank you. [Waiter leaves.] I wish they wouldn’t do that. If I ever own a restaurant, I will never allow the waiters to ask if the diners like their dishes. Particularly when they’re talking.
H.J.: What is wrong with your food?
O.W.: It’s not what I had yesterday.
H.J.: You want to try to explain this to the waiter?
O.W.: No, no, no. One complaint per table is all, unless you want them to spit in the food. Let me tell you a story about George Jean Nathan, America’s great drama critic. Nathan was the tightest man who ever lived, even tighter than Charles Chaplin. And he lived for 40 years in the Hotel Royalton, which is across from the Algonquin. He never tipped anybody in the Royalton, not even when they brought the breakfast, and not at Christmastime. After about ten years of never getting tipped, the room-service waiter peed slightly in his tea. Everybody in New York knew it but him. The waiters hurried across the street and told the waiters at Algonquin, who were waiting to see when it would finally dawn on him what he was drinking! And as the years went by, there got to be more and more urine and less and less tea. And it was a great pleasure for us in the theater to look at a leading critic and know that he was full of piss. And I, with my own ears, heard him at the ‘21’ complaining, saying, “Why can’t I get tea here as good as it is at the Royalton?” That’s when I fell on the floor, you know.
And this bit, about how people used to treat going to the movies like reading a magazine or flipping on the TV, is fascinating:
H.J.: Warren Beatty was just saying that TV has changed movies, because for most of us, once you’re in a movie theater, you commit, whether you like it or not. You want to see what they’ve done, while at home …
O.W.: I’m the opposite. It’s a question of age. In my real moviegoing days, which were the thirties, you didn’t stand in line. You strolled down the street and sallied into the theater at any hour of the day or night. Like you’d go in to have a drink at a bar. Every movie theater was partially empty. We never asked what time the movie began. We used to go after we went to the theater.
H.J.: You didn’t feel you had to see a movie from the start?
O.W.: No. We’d leave when we’d realize, “This is where we came in.” Everybody said that. I loved movies for that reason. They didn’t cost that much, so if you didn’t like one, it was, “Let’s do something else. Go to another movie.” And that’s what made it habitual to such an extent that walking out of a movie was what for people now is like turning off the television set.
There are so many sides to Orson Welles that one of them is bound to get overlooked. Welles was a groundbreaking screen and voice actor, screenwriter, film director, radio producer, etc., etc. He was also a remarkable visual artist, which comes through in his films but is often attributed away to his great collaborators like cinematographer Gregg Toland. Even as a child, teen, and very young man, Welles was almost ruined by the fact that everything he did, he seemed to do so much better than the people around him. He was an undiscriminating prodigy, which is a very dangerous thing to be.
A new documentary by Mark Cousins, The Eyes of Orson Welles, focuses on Welles’s output in drawing, sketching, painting. It tries to recenter visual art as an essential, not accidental part of Welles’s work, and at the same time use it as a pathway to try to understand him as a person and artist.
I haven’t seen this documentary, but I’m very excited about it. Welles is one of those figures whose genius in his work almost obscures him; any new route in is welcome. It also doesn’t feel like a typical hagiographic documentary; it feels appropriately irreverent and experimental, two things which Welles almost was.
In 1971, director Sam Weiss released this short animated parable narrated by Orson Welles.
Concentrating on an area of growing concern in our society — the indifference that makes people blind to the injustices around them — this animated parable traces how the erosion of freedom, like the pollution of natural resources, can occur so gradually that both evade the attention of a busy and preoccupied nation.
Produced back in the era of the Vietnam War and the Nixon administration, the lessons of this film still resonate today. (via open culture)
Netflix is finally releasing The Other Side of the Wind, a film by Orson Welles that has been unfinished since filming was completed in the mid-70s. Here’s how Netflix describes the movie:
Surrounded by fans and skeptics, grizzled director J.J. “Jake” Hannaford (a revelatory John Huston) returns from years abroad in Europe to a changed Hollywood, where he attempts to make his comeback: a career summation that can only be the work of cinema’s most adventurous filmmaker, Orson Welles.
Starring John Huston, Bob Random, Peter Bogdanovich, Susan Strasberg and Oja Kodar, it is a satire of both the passing of Classic Hollywood and the avant-garde filmmakers of the New Hollywood of the 1970s. The film was shot in an unconventional mockumentary style in both color and black-and-white, and it incorporated a film-within-a-film that spoofed the work of Michelangelo Antonioni.
You can also read about the many trials and tribulations of the film’s production on Wikipedia.
Update: As a companion to The Other Side of the Wind, Netflix is releasing a documentary about Welles at the end of his career as he labored to make the film. Here’s the trailer for They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead:
The documentary is directed by Morgan Neville, whose most recent film was Won’t You Be My Neighbor? about Fred Rogers.
Comedian Don Rickles died earlier this year. For his last project, he sat down to dine with more than a dozen comedians, actors, and directors, who interviewed the comedy legend in a series of videos for AARP. Don’s dining companions include Marisa Tomei, Sarah Silverman, Zach Galifianakis, and Martin Scorsese. I’ve embedded two of the videos: Vince Vaughn and Snoop Dogg. In the Snoop video, Rickles and Snoop compare notes on freestyling and they show a 1978 clip of Rickles roasting Orson Welles:
Orson Welles…30 years ago you were handsome and now we’re going to put “Goodyear” on your face and fly you over the beach for a half hour.
I was laughing just as hard as Welles was in the clip.
Trump acquits himself pretty well on Kane and its lessons — although I would not characterize Kane’s fall as “modest” — and his commentary about the film is probably the first actually interesting thing I have ever heard him say. But I watched all the way to the end and he shoots himself in the foot in the most Trumpian & misogynistic way — it’s actually perfect.
He understands instinctively that by controlling the press, he can shape opinions on a mass scale — bending the truth as he sees fit. Over time, and through his marketing savvy, he develops a powerful media empire. Because that’s not enough, he then turns his sights to politics, running for New York governor as a stepping-stone to the White House. At campaign rallies, Kane gleefully brags about his poll numbers, and vows to lock up his opponent Jim Gettys, whom he condemns as an establishment tool. “Here’s one promise I’ll make,” he finally thunders. “My first official act as governor of the state will be to appoint a special district attorney to arrange for the indictment, prosecution, and conviction of “Boss” Jim W. Gettys!”
Kane never gets to fulfill that pledge. Instead, he loses the election-his campaign derailed by a last minute sex scandal. His editors know what to do, and the following day their headlines scream: “FRAUD AT POLLS!”
The piece is entitled Donald Trump Modeled His Life on Cinematic Loser Charles Foster Kane. Consciously or not, Trump does seem to be following Kane’s playbook here, right down to the fascism.
Specifically, Citizen Kane was a vision of what fascism might resemble in America. Both men knew better than to expect Hitler or Mussolini on our shores. They knew that our demagogue would be glossier, more entertaining-more American; and the man they conjured, inspired by real-life plutocrats like William Randolph Hearst, happened to look an awful lot like Donald Trump.
Read the whole thing…this is right up there with the best explainers of why Trump is the way he is. And part 2 is coming soon, an interview with Morris about Trump’s love of Kane.
Update:Audi’s interview with Morris was posted a couple of weeks before the election. Morris says Trump suffers from Irony Deficit Disorder.
Somehow he identifies clearly with Kane. Kane is Trump. And it’s not the kind of identification that I would make if I were Trump. Of course that issue — if I were Trump, what would I do, what would I think, what would I say? — it’s one of those counterfactuals I’m probably not equipped to address. But, if I were Donald Trump, I would not want to emphasize that connection with Kane. You know, a megalomaniac in love with power and crushing everything in his path. The inability to have friends, the inability to find love. The moral that Trump takes from Kane — I mean, it’s one of the great lines that I recorded. I ask, “Do you have any advice for Charles Foster Kane, sir?” You know, let’s get down to the psychiatric intervention. How can we help this poor man? He’s obviously troubled. How can we help him? Donald, help me out here!
And Donald says, “My advice to Charles Foster Kane is find another woman!” And you know, I thought, is that really the message that Welles was trying to convey? That Kane had made poor sexual choices, poor marriage choices?
The Other Side of the Wind portrays the last hours of an ageing film director. Welles is said to have told John Huston, who plays the lead role: “It’s about a bastard director… full of himself, who catches people and creates and destroys them. It’s about us, John.”