Since he was so often forced to finance his own work, Orson Welles was a man who didn’t tend to turn down a lot of paying gigs, even if that saw the storied director of Citizen Kane and The Magnificent Ambersons participating in utterly embarrassing shit that was way beneath his dignity. How else to explain The Late, Great Planet Earth and Nostradamus: The Man Who Saw Tomorrow, films that aren’t even mentioned on his IMDB page?
But certainly a career lowpoint was reached in 1978 when the deep-voiced Paul Masson wine spokesman hosted Caesars Guide To Gaming with Orson Welles, an industrial film for Caesars Palace, where one of Hollywood’s greatest cinematic geniuses provides tips and insights into playing blackjack, roulette, craps, baccarat, and even slot machines, for prospective guests of the hotel casino. Orson Welles and Caesars Palace, what could be classier?
Film director, writer and actor, Peter Bogdanovich gave critic Michael Billington a brief introduction to his father, Borislav Bogdanovich’s art work in this short clip from 1979.
Born in 1899, Borislav Bogdanovitch was a Serbian Post Impressionist / Modernist artist, who was one of Belgrade’s leading artists, and exhibited alongside Jean Renoir and Marc Chagall. Prior to the outbreak of the Second World War, Borislav relocated with his family to New York, where he continued to work, though less successfully, until his death in 1970.
Before his death, Borislav saw Peter’s first major movie—the modern urban horror, Targets:
‘I don’t think he said more than 4 or 5 words about it, but he had obviously been very moved by the experience. It was a heavy movie, it was a tough movie, and it wasn’t very pretty about life in Los Angeles, or America, and he felt it was a tragic picture. I could see it on his his face what he thought about it—he didn’t have to say much.’
The film, which starred Boris Karloff, marked the arrival of Peter Bogdanovich as a highly original and talented film-maker, who was exceptional enough to direct, co-write and occasionally produce films as diverse as the superb The Last Picture Show; the wonderful screwball comedy What’s Up Doc? with Barbra Streisand and Ryan O’Neal; to the excellent Ryan and Tatum O’Neal comedy/drama Paper Moon; and the the greatly under-rated (and hardly seen on its release) Saint Jack with Ben Gazzara.
But Bogdanovich is magnanimous in his praise for others (see his books on Orson Welles and John Ford) and claims, at the start of this interview, that it was his father who was a considerable influence on developing his film-making skills:
‘I think it is unquestionably true that whatever I did learn, in terms of composition, or color, or the visual aspect of movies, I certainly learned from my father through osmosis—it wasn’t anything he sat down and taught me. The thing that my father was extraordinary, he had this way of influencing people—getting things across without saying, “This is what I am trying to teach you.” It wasn’t like that at all. My father wasn’t didactic in anyway, he was casual.’
From being one of the most interesting and original film-makers of his generation, Peter Bogdanovich has rarely had the opportunity to make the quality of films he is more than capable of producing. Last year, in response to the Aurora shootings, Bogdanovich wrote an article for the Hollywood Reporter in which he lamented the loss of humanity in films:
‘Today, there’s a general numbing of the audience. There’s too much murder and killing. You make people insensitive by showing it all the time. The body count in pictures is huge. It numbs the audience into thinking it’s not so terrible. Back in the ’70s, I asked Orson Welles what he thought was happening to pictures, and he said, “We’re brutalizing the audience. We’re going to end up like the Roman circus, live at the Coliseum.” The respect for human life seems to be eroding.’
A location report for Jim Clark’s 1974 film Madhouse, starring Vincent Price, Peter Cushing, Robert Quarry, Adrienne Corri and Linda Heyden. The film was very loosely based on Angus Hall’s pulp thriller Devilday, which told the story of a dissipated actor, Paul Toombes (Price) and his return to acting in a TV horror series about the evil Doctor Dis (Doctor Death in the film). Toombes was an obese, unrepentant, drug addicted and sexual predator, who dabbled in Black Magic, and is suspected of a series of brutal murders. Hall’s character owes something to Orson Welles and Aleister Crowley, and the book offered quite a few interesting plot lines the film never developed. Clark went on to edit Marathon Man, The Killing Fields, and The World is Not Enough, amongst many others. Madhouse was his last film as director.
Here director Clark talks about his admiration for the gods of film James Whale and Todd Browning, while Vincent Price and Peter Cushing talk about why ‘horror’ or ‘thrillers’ are so popular.
It was the French thriller Pépé le Moko, with its infamous gangster hiding out in the casbah of Algiers, that inspired Graham Greene towards writing his classic treatment for The Third Man. When he reviewed the Jean Gabin film in 1937, Greene wrote that it:
“...raised the thriller to the level of poetry…
It would take his collaboration with Carol Reed, firstly on an adaption of his story “The Basement Room”, filmed as The Fallen Idol in 1948, with Ralph Richardson and Michèle Morgan, and then on The Third Man for Greene to equal and better his original influence.
In Frederick Baker’s masterful documentary Shadowing The Third Man from 2004, we learn this and a host of other facts, as Baker delves into the making of one of cinema’s greatest films. I’m a great fan of Greene and adore The Third Man and can assure you there is much to treasure in this near perfect documentary.
‘I think if you show this film to one thousand people, two will finish it. One of those will hate it. The other one won’t understand a damn bit of it. It’s too long and most people just won’t put up with it.’
A harsh and unfair summation from such a talented and original film-maker.
I like Alessandro Cima’s work, for it demands the full attention and response of its audience - it’s not enough to watch, Cima wants you to think about what you’re watching and question it. Dangerous film-making in these days of empty CGI spectacle and the worn words of scripts edited by focus group.
Films should be dangerous, and as Orson Welles once said:
‘A film is never really good unless the camera is an eye in the head of a poet.’
Which is a fair description of Cima’s vision.
Even so, he’s correct. Detective City Angel will not be to everyone’s taste - why should it? It’s a dream film that crosses genres, and plays with identity and authorship. it also hints at Goddard, Anger, Polanski, and Jarman, but is very much Cima’s film, in his own distinct style. Alessandro explained some of the ideas behind Detective City Angel to Dangerous Minds:
‘It’s a dream noir about Los Angeles and the unconscious creative mind which has several parts in conflict at all times. That conflict is deadly and life-affirming at the same time. The detective is perhaps an imaginary threat of failure, inertia or the eventual exposure of an artist’s feelings of fraudulence. The city is both muse and death dealer. Its outward mask presents sexuality and beauty which conceal a vicious survival of the fittest. The angel is seemingly innocent and always threatened with extinction. Its creative spirit is neurotic but ultimately pure. I try to balance all of these and keep them in some sort of pleasurable conflict.’
What was your intention in making it?
‘To make something totally mystifying. I wanted to mix genres in several ways. To mix the fundamental viewpoint of noir with documentary, abstract film, and narrative film, without any concern for reproducing the look and technique of noir. To make abstraction that collapses into a narrative, which sort of has the effect of making the viewer forget having seen the abstract part. I’m not sure if that works. It’s sort of like having a dream and not remembering what it was later in the day. I see no reason why experimental film should not mix freely with narrative film. In addition, I wanted to use the tendency toward secret identities in the world of street art and pull that into the crime genre. I think it’s a perfect fit and presents enormous possibilities for crime films.’
What drew you to the subject?
‘I’ve been somewhat involved with the art world and felt that the concealing of identity was in itself an interesting artwork. I was also intrigued by the surprisingly deep and wonderful history of Los Angeles. Noir and the crime film are the best available forms for representing L.A.
‘I make films in a rather dream-like state. I allow my thoughts to wander and actually spend time following false leads. I tend to operate in a general mode of playing with identity. No one is ever who they seem to be or think they are. The layering of image, sound and meaning demands that a viewer watch with extremely focused attention - a demand which is nearly impossible for a web viewer to fulfill. The film is a secret revealing itself very gradually and with many false impressions. It incorporates images that are both invented and real but it doesn’t want you to know which is which. Layering unrelated things, if done with seriousness, creates new meanings and propels a film in a direction that is not entirely under the director’s control. If something happens with layered images on any given day that suggests a new course for the film, then I take the new course. I use a few black & white found footage clips in this one to punch up certain noir/crime aspects.’
Max Bialystock’s advice from The Producers, “When you’ve got it flaunt it!” was never more apt for an artist than Salvador Dali. Like Mel Brooks’ fictional character, Dali was a showman, a performer who loved money, fame and success. Unlike Bialystock, Dali was good with his finances, as his publisher Peter Owen once told me that Dali wandered around playing the mad man until the issue of contracts and money was raised, then Dali dropped the pretense and became lucid for the duration of any negotiations. As Owen noted, “Dali was a notary’s son.”
Dali’s need to show-off often eclipsed his genius as an artist. His appearances in public attracted more attention than his artworks, it was something he willingly indulged, once addressing an Anarchist rally with a loaf of bread tied to his head; at the opening of the 1936 London Surrealists Exhibition, he wore a deep sea diving suit; and was put on trial by his fellow Surrealists after he issued a public apology for attending a party dressed as the murdered baby Charles Lindbergh jnr., his wife, Gala dressed as his kidnapper. It wasn’t the dressing up that offended the Surrealists, but Dali’s apology - “sorry” it seems was the hardest word for Breton and co.
The Surrealists dismissed Dali as a grubby money grabber, but it is more likely they were jealous of his talent and envious that Dali had a sponsor, Edward James, a British millionaire, son of an American railroad magnate. James sponsored Dalí for a number of years and was repaid with his inclusion in Dali’s painting “Swans Reflecting Elephants”.
Dali’s need to show-off came from a greater need than just a love of money. Throughout his childhood, he fought against the memory of another Salvador - his older brother who had died in infancy. As Dali later wrote in his autobiography:
All my eccentricities I habitually perpetrate, are the tragic constant of my life. I want to prove I am not the dead brother but the living brother. By killing my brother I immortalize myself.”
Originally made for French television Soft Self-Portrait of Salvador Dali (1970) is a brilliant and beautiful film that captures the artist in fine fettle, as he delights in performing for the camera. Here’s Dali indulging in his trademark mix of showman, clown and serious artist: hammering out a tuneless miaow on a cat piano (Dali associated pianos with sex after his father left an illustrated book on the effects of venereal diseases atop the family piano as a warning to the dangers of sexual intercourse); or sowing feathers in the air, as two children follow pushing the head of a plaster rhinoceros; or, his attempt to paint the sky.
Directed by Jean-Christopher Averty, with narration provided by Orson Welles.
Creepy is an understatement considering there’s a scene where Miss Piggy’s “lifeless” body is poked and prodded in a lake. Here’s little bit about the unaired pilot via Wikipedia:
The Orson Welles Show was an unsold television talk show pilot. It has never been broadcast or released. Filming began in September 1978 and the project was completed around February 1979. […] Welles interviewed Burt Reynolds (taking several questions from the audience,) Jim Henson and Frank Oz, and performed two magic tricks assisted by Angie Dickinson. Several of The Muppets were featured in taped segments, including Kermit the Frog, Fozzie Bear, Gonzo the Great and Animal.
Update: A Dangerous Minds reader points out the dead Muppet scenes are from a Late Night with Conan O’Brien sketch. Thanks for the heads-up, Meaning_of!
Self-portrait of Elmyr de Hory, approx. 1970, recently discovered in France.
If you’ve seen Orson Welles’ late period quasi-documentary F for Fake, then you know about the mysterious art forger Elmyr De Hory. In his cinematic essay, Welles explored the funhouse mirror life of de Hory, who found that he had an uncanny knack for being able to paint counterfeits of Picasso, Matisse, Modigliani and Renoir’s work. After some of his fakes were sold to museums and wealthy collectors, suspicions were raised and his legal troubles—and a life spent moving from place to place to avoid the long arm of the law—began.
At the time Welles met up with Elmyr in the early 70s, he was living in Ibiza and had been the subject of Fake! The Story of Elmyr de Hory the Greatest Art Forger of Our Time written by notorious “biographer” Clifford Irving, who himself figures prominently in the film. During the course of filming F for Fake, Irving (who was later portrayed by Richard Gere in The Hoax), was serendipitously revealed to have forged his own “autobiography” of Howard Hughes (not to mention Hughes’ signature). The resulting film, an essay on the authorship of “truth” in art, is a dazzling, intellectuality challenging masterpiece that can never quite decide if it’s a fake documentary about a fake painter of fake masterpieces who himself was the subject of a fake biographer… or what it is. (It’s no wonder that Robert Anton Wilson was such a fan of F for Fake, which figures prominently in his book, Cosmic Trigger II).
F or Fake also calls into question the nature of “genius”: If Elmyr’s forgeries were good enough to pass off as Picasso or Modigliani’s work, or even to hang in museums under the assumption that they were the work of these masters, wouldn’t Elmyr’s genius be of equal or even nearly equal value to theirs? (Worth noting that it was ego that got in the way of Elmyr’s scam at several points in his life: He was often left apoplectic at hearing how much crooked art dealers were making from his paintings!)
De Hory’s former bodyguard and driver, Mark Forgy, has kept Elmyr’s archive since his suicide in December 1976. Lately Mr. Forgy has been trying to make more sense of Elmyr’s odd life. From the New York Times:
“I’m so far down the rabbit hole,” Ms. Marvin said in a recent phone interview, “I’m just not going to rest until I find out who this man is.”
A few weeks ago, she and Mr. Forgy traveled to western France and unrolled a dozen de Hory paintings that had been discovered in a farmhouse’s attic. In Budapest, they found birth records, dated 1906, for Elemer Albert Hoffmann, son of Adolf and Iren. No one knows when Elemer upgraded his name, or how he financed art studies in Munich and Paris before moving to New York in 1947.
He claimed that his father was a Roman Catholic and a diplomat, but the Budapest ledgers list Adolf as a Jewish merchant. The Nazis killed his entire family, Mr. de Hory said. But a cousin named Istvan Hont visited the artist’s villa on Ibiza, where Mr. Forgy was working at various times as a chauffeur, secretary and gardener. Mr. Hont, it turns out, was the forger’s brother.
Mr. Forgy knew that his boss copied masterpieces but did not much question their life on Ibiza, in which they kept company with celebrities like Marlene Dietrich and Ursula Andress. “I accepted the amazing with a nonchalance,” Mr. Forgy said in a recent phone interview. Mr. de Hory was the focus of Orson Welles’s 1974 documentary “F for Fake,” and Clifford Irving breathlessly titled his book “Fake! The Story of Elmyr de Hory the Greatest Art Forger of Our Time.”
After Mr. de Hory’s suicide, Mr. Forgy returned to Minnesota. “I went into deep seclusion” working as a night watchman and house restorer, he said. He held onto the papers and paintings. “I have schlepped them around endlessly,” he said. “The walls here in the house look like the Pitti Palace in Florence.”
His wife, Alice Doll, encouraged him in recent years to examine the stacks of false passports, Hungarian correspondence and Swiss arrest reports. Ms. Marvin contacted him last year. She had helped organize a show about faked and stolen art at the National Museum of Crime & Punishment in Washington, including a portrait of a pensive brunette by Mr. de Hory imitating Modigliani.
The researchers are now raising money for the documentary, developing an exhibition for the Budapest Art Fair in November and preparing to interview a nonagenarian de Hory cousin in Germany. They also plan to send paintings for lab analysis. “We’re trying to create a forensics footprint of his work,” Ms. Marvin said.
They already know that Mr. de Hory tore blank pages out of old books for sketching paper and bought paintings at flea markets to scrape and recycle the canvases. His fakes have become collectibles. Last fall, at a Bonhams auction in England, a buyer paid more than $700 for a seascape of crowded sailboats, with a forged Raoul Dufy signature on the front and “Elmyr” on the back.
Ah, the drum solo. The moment when the other band members retreat backstage to hoover the sherbets, gargle the fizz, change instruments and discuss the merits of the audience. Depending on the drummer’s talent and stamina, this can be a short interlude, or a half-time intermission.
The late, great John Bonham’s “Moby Dick” is one hell of drum solo, and his performances of the track ranged from two minutes to twenty. Like the book - epic. Bonham may have died thirty-one years ago, but he is still considered the greatest drummer who ever lived. An incredible accolade for a self-taught musician, who started banging out rhythm at the age of five, on tin boxes, coffee cans and whatever came to hand. His mother bought him a snare drum and 10, and he received his first drum kit for his 15th birthday. Bonham favored heavy sticks, or “trees” as he called them, which delivered the best and heaviest sound possible. As Roger Taylor of Queen once said
The greatest rock ‘n’ roll drummer of all time was John Bonham who did things that nobody had ever even thought possible before with the drum kit. And also the greatest sound out of his drums - they sounded enormous, and just one bass drum. So fast on it that he did more with one bass drum than most people could do with three, if they could manage them. And he had technique to burn and fantastic power and tremendous feel for rock`n`roll.
Artist Alex Itin has used Bonham’s epic track, to great effect in his brilliant stream-of-consciousness, short animation Orson Whales. Itin has pulled together Welles reading of Melville’s classic novel Moby Dick (with some added champagne), over Bonham’s genius drumming and his own wonderful and distinctive illustrations, drawn on pages from Melville’s book. Itin is artist-in-residence at the Institute for the Future of the Book, you can check out more of his excellent work here.
Bonus clip of Bonham’s ‘Moby Dick’, after the jump…
In 1975, a year before NASA’s Viking 1 spacecraft orbited Mars, Orson Welles presented Who’s Out There?, a NASA produced documentary examining the “likely existence of non-Earthly life in the universe.”
Thirty-six years on, this is a fascinating piece of archive, and rather timely with the news that NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory is due to be launched in November in a bid to make the first precision landing on Mars in August 2012.
Starting with H G Wells novel, and his own infamous radio production of The War of the Worlds, Welles, together with Carl Sagan, George Wald, Richard Berendzen and Philip Morrison, explore what was then “the new view of extraterrestrial life now emerging from the results of probes to the planets,” and conclude that “other intelligent civilizations exist in the universe.”
Carl Sagan: The most optimistic estimates, in the view of many, about the number of civilizations that there might be in the galaxy is of the order of a million, which means that only one in a few hundred thousand stars has such civilizations.
George Wald: That would mean a billion such places just in our own galaxy that might contain life.
Philip Morrison: As I believe there’s a society of these groups, not just one, there’re probably very many. There’s only one, we have no hope of finding them; there’re probably thousands, maybe as many as a million. They probably already have had long history of this same experience, of finding new ones and bringing them into the network.
Carl Sagan: And I would imagine, an advanced civilization wanted to talk to us, they would say “Oh, look, those guys must be extremely backwards, go into some ancient museum and pull out one of those – what are they called – radio telescopes and beam it at them.”
In summation, Welles says:
In 1976 we’re going to be able to explore Mars for perhaps not so humble microorganisms. Before and after that, we’ll be searching the planets and the galaxies for clues to fill in the new patterns we’re discovering, the evolution of evolutions that has produced us and the possible millions of other civilizations….
...The difference between the spacecrafts of NASA and the lurid flying saucery of that old radio War of the Worlds is the difference between science and science fiction and, yes, between war and peace. It’s our own world which has turned out to be the interplanetary visitor; we’re the ones who are moving out there, not with death rays but with cameras, not to conquer but simply to learn. We are in fact behaving ourselves far better out there than we ever have back here at home on our own planet.
Bonus - Orson Welles directs The Mercury Theater’s radio production of The War of the Worlds
An exhibit opening soon at London’s Drawing Room art gallery displays the materials produced for Alejandro Jodorowsky’s sadly never-produced version of Frank Herbert’s Dune novels:
This exhibition includes production drawings made by Moebius, H.R Giger and Chris Foss alongside commissioned work made in response by three international contemporary artists Steven Claydon, Matthew Day Jackson and Vidya Gastaldon.
Dangerous Minds is a compendium of oddities, pop culture treasures, high weirdness, punk rock and politics drawn from the outer reaches of pop culture. Our editorial policy, such that it is, reflects the interests, whimsies and peculiarities of the individual writers. And sometimes it doesn't. Very often the idea is just "Here's what so and so said, take a look and see what you think."
I'll repeat that: We're not necessarily endorsing everything you'll find here, we're merely saying "Here it is." We think human beings are very strange and often totally hilarious. We enjoy weird and inexplicable things very much. We believe things have to change and change swiftly. It's got to be about the common good or it's no good at all. We like to get suggestions of fun/serious things from our good-looking, high IQ readers. We are your favorite distraction.