This short interview from 1960 has some fascinating comments from Orson Welles on the uphill battle he faced getting Citizen Kane into theaters. It was often speculated of course, that the titular character was based on publishing mogul William Randolph Hearst, who only exacerbated this notion by using all his resources to try and prevent the film’s release—this is without ever having seen it. (You’d think a strategy of denial might be a little less self-incriminating!) Welles manages to get in a snide jab with: “Kane isn’t really founded on Hearst… in particular,” specifying that Kane was a composite character.
Even more fascinatingly, Welles does not shy from the more explicit politics of the film, admitting “it was intended consciously as a sort of social document, as an attack on the acquisitive society, and indeed on acquisition in general.” This clear critique of power managed to get him branded as a Communist in the states and banned in the Soviet Union—can’t win for losing, I suppose. As it was, Hearst actually did succeed at limiting the run of the film in the US—by a lot. Few theaters even showed the film. The box office numbers suffered, and though Citizen Kane is now considered one of the greats, it damaged Welles’ career from the very start.
The Dean Martin Celebrity Roast was a spin-off of The Dean Martin Show that allowed ol’ Dino to do a whole lot less work. Not a weekly series but “specials” numbering between seven and nine per year, the show came on the air officially in 1974, although the final season of its predecessor was when the roasts first started. The celeb roasts were incredibly popular with the American public because they were… hilarious and ever so slightly smutty. Virtually every one of them has been posted on YouTube, and I have to confess, I’ve been making my way through a lot of them.
The showbiz tradition of roasts began in the 1920s at the Friars Club in New York. The likes of Milton Berle, Jack Benny, Norm Crosby, Groucho Marx, George Burns and Don Rickles paid vicious and X-rated “tributes” to each other in the private setting of the club, whereas Martin’s televised celebrity roasts were a sanitised version of what went on behind closed doors. Sanitized, yes, but they were still fairly salty for something being piped directly into most American homes during the mid-1970s. Every once in a while a fairly ribald joke would slip through the NBC censors.
The first one I watched was the Johnny Carson roast, which is laugh-out-loud funny the entire way through. I did not intend to watch it (I was looking for something with Groucho Marx, when I stumbled across it) but I got so into it that I simply stopped working and watched the entire thing.
What hooked me was the opening credits. It was jaw-dropping, the star-studded cavalcade of Hollywood hambones taking their seats on the dais: George Burns, Truman Capote, Doc Severinsen, Joey Bishop, Ruth Buzzi, Dom DeLuise, Bob Newhart, Jonathan Winters, Foster Brooks, Dionne Warwick, Rich Little, Senator Barry Goldwater, Bette Davis, Redd Foxx, Jack Benny and naturally roastmaster general Dean Martin himself. From the first two minutes I knew I was in for an intravenous injection of pure unadulterated nuclear-powered CAMPY FUN.
And it was. I can assure you that it did not disappoint. I now watch one of these things on the treadmill practically daily, they’re completely addictive. Where else can you find the likes of Bob Hope, Hubert Humphrey, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Mama Cass, Gene Kelly, Kirk Douglas, Paul Lynde, Nipsey Russell, Vincent Price, Ted Knight, Mort Sahl, Phyllis Diller, Don Rickles, Carol Channing, Slappy White, LaWanda Page, John Wayne, Billy Graham, Flip Wilson, transsexual tennis player Renée Richards, Evel Knievel, Muhammad Ali, Lucille Ball, Charo, Ronald Reagan (as both a roaster and as an “honoree”) Yogi Berra, Jackie Gleason, Wayland Flowers & Madam, Sherman Hemsley, Billy Crystal, Frank Sinatra, Betty White, Sid Caesar, Milton Berle, Angie Dickinson and Orson fucking Welles insulting each other?
Mull that over for a moment when you’re deciding what to watch tonight. Mix and match those folks into fifty plus configurations (it was always more or less the same crew, with certain characters like Jackie Gayle, Joey Bishop and the incomparable comic drunk Foster Brooks showing up slightly more often than others) with the star quality always being quite high, featuring as they did, the greatest comedic talent of the 20th century. (The great Jack Benny can slay an entire audience with naught but a well-placed sigh. When he opens his mouth, even with so-so material, you experience the stand-up comedy equivalent of a concert violinist like Jascha Heifetz. George Burns also kills every time he’s on.). There’s hours of this stuff to wade through. Be warned that some are better than others. Often the participants weren’t even in the same room (let alone the same city!). Sometimes certain speakers were taped in an empty studio, with canned laughter added later.
Watch Dean Martin himself get roasted after the jump…
Orson Welles wrote, starred in, directed, art directed and even produced the music for “The Fountain of Youth,” an ingeniously devised and wryly funny half-hour that was made as a television pilot for an ill-fated anthology show that Welles developed for Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz’s Desilu production company. Imagine a Twilight Zone or Alfred Hitchcock Presents, but with Orson Welles in the auteur/narrator’s role. The pilot was shot in 1956, but the The Orson Welles Show never happened. It ultimately aired on NBC’s Colgate Theater in 1958.
From the first minutes of “The Fountain of Youth” it’s very obviously different from any and every television show of that era, with a clever use of rear projection, consecutive photo stills, illustration, on-camera set changes, innovative sound editing, experimental narrative techniques and multilayered storytelling.
Welles’ script was based on a short story, “Youth From Vienna” by New Yorker writer John Collier. A scientist, Humphrey Baxter (Dan Tobin), searching for an eternal youth serum falls in love with a beautiful young Broadway actress named Carolyn Coates (Joi Lansing) but is forced to return to Europe to work with a distinguished older scientist. He’s gone for three years, and upon returning to New York, finds that his love has taken up with Alan Brody, a handsome tennis star (Rick Jason) closer to her own age. The spurned scientist gives the glamorous couple a single dose of the youth serum—it’s the only one in existence and it can’t be split 50/50 or it won’t work at all—for a wedding present. That’s when the fun begins…
Actor Rick Jason, who played the vain tennis pro Alan in “The Fountain Of Youth,” discussed working with Welles in his autobiography Scrapbooks Of My Mind:
“To shoot a scene, there was a slide projector sixty feet or so away from the camera that projected the still onto a huge opaque screen (which more than filled the camera lens) in front of which we worked. A few pieces of furniture, or whatever were required in the foreground to dress the set, completed the arrangement. Most scenes were in either medium or close shots and, rather than cut from one scene to the other, Welles had the actor stand in place while the opaque screen behind him dissolved to the new scene. If the actor was going from an exterior to an interior, the lights on him would go dark, leaving him in silhouette during the backscreen dissolve. As the background changed to the interior, the lights came up on his face and he removed his hat and coat as the camera pulled back revealing the new interior set.”
Two geniuses: Lucille Ball levitated by Orson Welles
Although the director, notorious for going over budget did go a little bit over budget on the pilot for The Orson Welles Show, he didn’t go too crazy, as Arnaz had told him the show was being produced with his own “‘Babalu’ money.” The show won Welles and NBC’s Colgate Theater a Peabody Award in 1958. Look for a cameo appearance by Nancy Kulp, better known as “Mrs. Hathaway,” the shrewish secretary on The Beverly Hillbillies.
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 freewheeling 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).
Self-portrait of Elmyr de Hory, approx. 1970, recently discovered in France.
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. In recent years 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.
From 1941 until 1949, Orson Welles, director of Citizen Kane and The Magnificent Ambersons, was a serious object of surveillance by the FBI. This is not new information; you can read about it in biographies about Welles. You can read the actual FBI file on Orson Welles on the FBI website section called “The Vault” (PDF file). It’s 194 pages long, contains a great many documents from different places and times. Once you get used to the bureaucratic throat-clearing, it makes for very diverting reading.
It’s not stated in so many words, but Welles seems to have become a subject of FBI interest after Citizen Kane was made. William Randolph Hearst, thinly disguised subject of the movie, was friendly with J. Edgar Hoover. As is well known, Hearst mobilized his vast network of newspapers against Welles after the movie was released. To judge by the nomadic second half of Welles’ career, which he spent mostly in Europe and in which he made many literary adaptations on a low budget, it’s reasonable to posit that Hearst’s campaign against Welles had some success.
Little of that is in the file, however. To read the file is to be transported back into the pages of a James Ellroy novel, perhaps The Big Nowhere (that one’s my favorite) in which powerful wealthy white men deploy scandal and innuendo in order to defend their increasingly unhinged vision of American empire.
Most of the material pertains to two periods, 1941/42 and 1945. Welles’ association with various left-wing organizations is described in portentous terms. It is reasonably clear that Welles was left-leaning and lent his name to a great many organizations deemed subversive by the federal authorities, but that he was not a particularly organized political thinker and probably never joined the Communist Party.
What is so fascinating in retrospect is that many of the actions held against him do not appear to be very objectionable in the clear light of day. Two examples of this.
On page 48 his membership in the Negro Cultural Committee is discussed. The group is ominously described as a pro-Communist organization, but one of the charges leveled against it is: “The Negro Cultural Committee was reportedly a group organized by the Communist Party for the purpose of agitating in favor of anti-lynching bills.” That’s right—if you are the member of a race that is the systematic target of violent terrorist activity and you try to organize against it, then you are suspicious in the eyes of the FBI.
A page later we read the following: “An article appearing in the New York Times for January 17, 1939, stated that Welles was among the signers of a petition protesting the dismissal of 1500 employees of the WPA Federal Arts Project.” Again—if you belong to an interest group affected adversely by a decision made by the federal government, and you sign a petition protesting this, then you might be labeled a subversive. Eighty years later, it’s difficult to see why either of these two activities should be considered especially noteworthy.
In 1945 you can see the hysteria of the Red Scare cranking into gear. Welles’ support of the UN is held against him, and several times it is mentioned as a point of some interest that Welles undertook some travel for, or otherwise was working at the behest of Franklin Roosevelt, who, let’s remember, was the president of the United States at the time. Similarly, wartime activities in support of the USSR—at the time an ally of the United States in the global conflict known as “World War II” against Nazi Germany—that’s also used as evidence that Welles is probably a subversive.
There’s a bit of business involving Hedda Hopper and Welles’ increasingly estranged wife Rita Hayworth—there’s a good deal of talk of informants revealing this or that, a group that apparently includes Hayworth. On page 90 there is mention of of “extra-marital activities with [REDACTED] former Main Street burlesque strip tease artist.” Those of a salacious cast of mind are recommended to go to this series of pages first.
On page 119 (1949) a memo glumly admits that “In view of the fact that WELLES has never been placed as a member of the Communist Party by confidential informants of this office,” it is time to seriously consider “cancellation of his Security Index Card,” which I think means that they’re going to stop treating Welles as an active subject. A few pages later this recommendation is approved.
Sigh. After the PATRIOT Act was passed into law, there were ample stories that it was being used against, among other people, harmless left-wing activists in New England. Given the fates of Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowden, and Aaron Swartz as well as the spate of shocking recent stories about the breadth of NSA surveillance, it seems safe to conclude that the age of federal agency files of this type is far from overwith.
Director Henry Jaglom and the great Orson Welles knew each other pretty well. The younger man was one of the participants in Welles’ legendary but never-completed satire of Hollywood, The Other Side of the Wind, and Jaglom directed Welles himself as an actor in his first film, 1971’s with A Safe Place (which co-starred Jack Nicholson, Tuesday Weld and Phil Proctor from The Firesign Theatre) as well as Welles’ final film performance, 1987’s Someone to Love.
They had lunch together from time to time at Ma Maison in Los Angeles. Welles, like Malcolm McClaren and Quentin Crisp, was a gent who was happy to sing for his supper as long as the tab got picked up. Jaglom also recorded their conversations and transcripts from these tapes are being published in a new book titled My Lunches With Orson: Conversations Between Henry Jaglom and Orson Welles by Peter Biskind.
New York Magazine’s current issue has a few delicious, bitchy excerpts:
Henry Jaglom: By the way, I was just reading Garson Kanin’s book on Tracy and Hepburn.
Orson Welles: Hoo boy! I sat in makeup during Kane, and she was next to me, being made up for A Bill of Divorcement. And she was describing how she was fucked by Howard Hughes, using all the four-letter words. Most people didn’t talk like that then. Except Carole Lombard. It came naturally to her. She couldn’t talk any other way. With Katie, though, who spoke in this high-class, girl’s-finishing-school accent, you thought that she had made a decision to talk that way. Grace Kelly also slept around, in the dressing room when nobody was looking, but she never said anything. Katie was different. She was a free woman when she was young. Very much what the girls are now. I was never a fan of Tracy.
Henry Jaglom: You didn’t find him charming as hell?
Orson Welles: No, no charm. To me, he was just a hateful, hateful man. I think Katie just doesn’t like me. She doesn’t like the way I look. Don’t you know there’s such a thing as physical dislike? Europeans know that about other Europeans. If I don’t like somebody’s looks, I don’t like them. See, I believe that it is not true that different races and nations are alike. I’m profoundly convinced that that’s a total lie. I think people are different. Sardinians, for example, have stubby little fingers. Bosnians have short necks.
Henry Jaglom: Orson, that’s ridiculous.
Orson Welles: Measure them. Measure them!
I never could stand looking at Bette Davis, so I don’t want to see her act, you see. I hate Woody Allen physically, I dislike that kind of man.
Henry Jaglom: I’ve never understood why. Have you met him? [Jaglom is forgetting about Casino Royale]
Orson Welles: Oh, yes. I can hardly bear to talk to him. He has the Chaplin disease. That particular combination of arrogance and timidity sets my teeth on edge.
And as if THAT conversational gem wasn’t enough, try this LOL anecdote on for size:
Henry Jaglom: What is wrong with your food?
Orson Welles: It’s not what I had yesterday.
Henry Jaglom: You want to try to explain this to the waiter?
Orson Welles: 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.
Henry Jaglom: They keep writing in the papers that, ever since Wolfgang Puck left, this place has gone downhill.
Orson Welles: I don’t like Wolfgang. He’s a little shit. I think he’s a terrible little man.
This book can’t make it into my hands fast enough! In just the short excerpt in New York magazine, Welles dishes on all of the above, plus “super agent” Irving “Swifty” Lazar (who he accuses of being a germaphobe) and fucks off Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, too! Peter Biskind’s My Lunches With Orson: Conversations Between Henry Jaglom and Orson Welles is published by Metropolitan Books.
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.’
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!
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