February 19, 2016 § Leave a comment
The films of Orson Welles inhabit the spaces of cities – from America’s industrializing midland to its noirish borderlands, from Europe’s medieval fortresses to its Kafkaesque labyrinths and postwar rubblescapes. His movies take us through dark streets to confront nightmarish struggles for power, the carnivalesque and bizarre, and the shadows and light of human character.
This ambitious new study explores Welles’s vision of cities by following recurring themes across his work including urban transformation, race relations and fascism, the utopian promise of cosmopolitanism, and romantic nostalgia for archaic forms of urban culture. It focuses on the personal and political foundation of Welles’s cinematic cities – the way he invented urban spaces on film to serve his dramatic, thematic, and ideological purposes.
The critical scope goes beyond Welles’ thirteen commercially-released feature films by drawing on extensive research in international archives and building on the work of previous scholars. Viewing Welles as a radical filmmaker whose innovative methods were only occasionally compatible with the commercial film industry, this volume examines Welles’s original visions for butchered films such as The Magnificent Ambersons (1942) and Mr. Arkadin (1955), and also considers many projects the filmmaker never completed – an immense ‘shadow oeuvre’ ranging from unfinished and unreleased films to unrealized treatments and screenplays.
“A timely book that pushes past many debates dotting the beaten path of Welles criticism to consider the representation of the city, both as a physical location and an imaginary social space, in his film oeuvre. It considers incomplete and overlooked as well as unproduced works that have survived in script form; the result is a historically grounded, globally conscious study that urges us to consider the importance of the built environment in Welles’s mises-en-scène, as well as his abiding concern with the politics of modernization.”– Catherine L. Benamou, University of California-Irvine, author of It’s All True: Orson Welles’s Pan-American Odyssey
“A valuable contribution to Welles studies – well researched, highly readable, and full of fresh insights.” – Jonathan Rosenbaum, Chicago Reader film critic, author of Discovering Orson Welles
“Well researched, informative, and enjoyable to read – an original, thoughtful commentary on Welles and modernity.” – James Naremore, Indiana University, author of The Magic World of Orson Welles
‘Lost Script Reveals What Orson Welles Really Thought About Ernest Hemingway’ at The Observer (UK)
‘Welles contra la España de Hemingway’ at Clarín (Argentina)
May 6, 2015 § Leave a comment
On the 100th anniversary of the birth of Orson Welles, here is a round-up of my pieces about the filmmaker.
Orson’s Charmed Circle of Fragments: A conversation with Josh Karp on his new book Orson Welles’s Last Movie: The Making of The Other Side of the Wind (Bright Lights Film Journal, April 30, 2015).
Too Much Johnson: Interview with Scott Simmon at Wellesnet: The Orson Welles Web Resource (January 26, 2015)
Mr. Arkadin: A look at the film locations at Wellesnet: The Orson Welles Web Resource (October 11, 2013)
T For True: review-essay on three Orson Welles books (Senses of Cinema, issue 68, September 2013)
May 2, 2015 § Leave a comment
Josh Karp’s new book Orson Welles’s Last Movie: The Making of The Other Side of the Wind has just been published by St. Martin’s Press. It is the first detailed account of the production of this most unorthodox of film projects. Based on interviews with surviving participants and in-depth research of primary documents, Karp tells an often amusing tale of 1970s Hollywood. It’s a story of creative genius, irresistible chicanery, devastating betrayal, and wild times with some of the era’s most interesting personalities.
I first met Karp in Chicago during the winter of early 2014. To coincide with the publication of his new book, we continued our conversation on Welles by long distance email for a new piece at Bright Lights Film Journal called Orson’s Charmed Circle of Fragments
April 30, 2015 § Leave a comment
Writers at the Movies, the new special issue of Contrappasso Magazine I edited with Noel King, contains essays by Luc Sante, Sarah Berry, Richard Lowenstein, Richard Hugo, Clive Sinclair, Michael Eaton, Jon Lewis, and Anthony May; fiction by Barry Gifford; poetry by Michael Atkinson, R. Zamora Linmark, and James Franco; and my interviews with Jonathan Rosenbaum, Emmanuel Mouret, Scott Simmon, and Richard Misek. Some pieces are republished, some appear for the first time. In this instance, the common theme is ‘literary cinéphilia.’
Some of the pieces focus on a single film: Alfred Hitchcock’s Murder! (1930), Orson Welles’s rediscovered Too Much Johnson (1938), Elia Kazan’s Man On A Tight Rope (1952), Douglas Sirk’s Written on the Wind (1955), and Robert Siodmak’s Custer of the West (1968). The approaches vary. Other pieces zoom in on an individual: Eric Rohmer, Jean Negulesco, Claire Danes, the Black Dahlia, Sal Mineo, Montgomery Clift, Elmore Leonard, and Emmanuel Mouret. We also explore the kind of cinéphilia that escapes the page and becomes filmmaking itself.
April 23, 2015 § Leave a comment
April 18, 2015 § Leave a comment
Aside from his mammoth tape archive, Ellington left additional works unreleased, unrecorded, or unfinished at his death in 1974. Here is a brief list of the various attempts by others to complete/reconstruct those works for record. It’s not complete.
THREE BLACK KINGS and THE RIVER
Mercer Ellington completed his father’s final symphonic work Three Black Kings (Balthazar, Solomon, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.). It was orchestrated by Luther Henderson. In 1980 Mercer led the Duke Ellington Orchestra (still going strong) in a live recording with the Warsaw Philharmonic. Unfortunately the LP has never been reissued on CD and is rare.
The album also marked the first appearance on record of Ellington’s 1970 ballet The River, orchestrated by Ron Collier. Stanley Sloane writes, “If you wanted to have an idea of what the ballet might have sounded like if Ellington’s men had joined forces with a small symphony orchestra in the pit… this is the recording to have.”
Ellington’s 43-minute demo recording of the ballet with his band (recorded 1970) appeared years later on the Private Collection Volume 5 (see here). Stanley Dance described that recording as “the blueprints on which [Ron Collier’s] orchestrations for the ballet company’s own orchestra would ultimately be built.”
There are several later recordings of these Ellington symphonic works, sometimes paired with orchestral versions of works originally written by Ellington for the big band: Maurice Peress conducting the American Composers Orchestra, Akira Endo conducting the Louisville Orchestra, Lowell L. Graham conducting the United States Air Force Orchestra, JoAnn Falletta conducting the Buffalo Philharmonic, and Neeme Jarvi conducting the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.
TIMON OF ATHENS
Duke wrote incidental music for a 1963 Stratford Festival of Canada production of Shakespeare’s Timon of Athens. The play was directed by Michael Langham. Ellington originally utilized six musicians. When the production moved to England’s Chichester Festival in 1964, the instrumentation was enlarged.
The score was revived in 1991 for a new theatrical production by Langham at the 1991 Stratford Festival. Stanley Silverman adapted Ellington’s “sketches and partial score” and added some vintage well-known Ellington pieces that fitted into the play’s interwar European setting. This recording is from that production.
The liner notes are here.
Music from another failed Ellington Broadway musical. This one, a New Orleans version of The Blue Angel, closed after three performances in 1966. On this 1990s revival for CD, a small band led by Ellis Larkins is fronted by vocalists Marshall Barer (also the original lyricist) and Barbara Lea. I like the title song.
Saturday Laughter was an unproduced 1958 musical based on Peter Abraham’s anti-apartheid novel Mine Boy. Ellington and Strayhorn wrote twenty-two songs with lyricist Herb Martin. The project was partially revived in the form of a 2002 CD called Secret Ellington: twelve of the songs performed by various artists.
David Serero’s is the only professional recording of this 1946 Ellington musical (with lyrics by John LaTouche). It was based on the The Beggar’s Opera by John Gay, the same source material as Brecht & Weill’s Threepenny Opera. Serero’s is a recording of a 2004 reworking by Dale Wasserman. The vocalists here seem totally unsuited to the material.
An unfinished and long-gestating Ellington jazz opera. I don’t want to get into the convoluted posthumous history of this one. There have been various stagings over the years. This is a solid recording from a 2009 production starring Carmen Bradford with the Butler Opera Center at the University of Texas at Austin.
ELLINGTON: FRENCH TOUCH
A labour of love from the world’s finest Duke Ellington repertory orchestra, led by Laurent Mignard. This 2012 release contains a number of pieces otherwise unavailable: Ellington and Billy Strayhorn’s complete incidental music for a 1960 production of Alain-René Lesage’s Turcaret, transcribed by Mignard from a lo-fi collector’s tape; a cue from Paris Blues that didn’t make the original soundtrack LP (plus extended versions of others); and three outcast movements from Duke’s Goutelas Suite (two of these reconstructed from Ellington’s sketches).
Here is my 2012 review of this CD at PopMatters.com. And in 2011 I published a two-part feature at the same site on Duke Ellington in Paris. Part 1: Busy Winters and Part 2: Interview with Laurent Mignard.
April 18, 2015 § Leave a comment
[Originally published at my defunct blog Honey for the Bears on 3 May 2012]
In the 1990s the administrators of the Ellington stockpile licenced recordings to budget labels, but in the 2000s the distinguished jazz label Storyville took over.
Never Before Released Recordings (1965-1972) (released Music Masters, 1991). A couple of tracks from 1965, 1966, 1967, six from 1970 (including four remakes of movements from The New Orleans Suite, this time recorded in Italy), one from 1971, and one from 1972. This is a strong collection with some exclusive compositions. And finally we get studio versions of great mid-sixties numbers like ‘Swamp Goo’ and ‘That Old Circus Train Turnaround Blues’. Wild Bill Davis contributes the otherwise unknown ‘Naidni Remmus’ and ‘Sans Snyphelle’ . This album was reissued in 2010 on a Nimbus CD as From His Treasure Chest: 1965-1972.
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Cool Rock (1965, 1972; released Laserlight, 1992). This low-budget label release draws from two periods: a May 20, 1965 date in Chicago and some June 1972 recordings from NYC and Toronto. Five world premiere compositions.
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Togo Brava Suite (Feb-June, 1971; released Storyville, 2001). A very important release. In the sixties Ellington had been honoured with his face on a stamp of the Western African nation of Togo. He repaid the favour with an impressionistic seven movement suite which has close ties to the contemporaneous Goutelas and Afro-Eurasian Eclipse suites.
Until the release of this Storyville CD, the Togo Brava Suite existed only as a four-movement work on an October 1971 live album The London Concert (released United Artists, 1973; reissued by Blue Note in 1995 as Togo Brava Suite). Another movement, ‘Soso’, appeared on The Eastbourne Concert (recorded December 1973). Yet another, ‘Afrique’, appeared in a very different arrangement as part of The Afro-Eurasian Eclipse.
This Storyville album presents a full studio recording of the suite. The seven movements were recorded in the studio June 28-29, 1971. There’s an additional ten unreleased stockpile tracks from 1971 of slightly lesser interest, including several blues jams (eg. ‘Hick’) and not particularly impressive vocal performances by Nell Brookshire and Tony Watkins. ‘Checkered Hat’, Norris Turney’s tribute to his predecessor Johnny Hodges, is lovely (and also on The London Concert).
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The Jaywalker (1966-1967, released Storyville, 2004). All but two tracks come from 1967, a great and under-appreciated Ellington year. We have never-before-heard incidental music for a play called The Jaywalker, enjoyable Crime Jazz with an emphasis on percussion. The other compositions are either exclusive to this CD or tunes that never previously appeared in studio versions – some will be familiar to those who have The Yale Concert or various 1967 live records. Finally a studio version of both parts of ‘Little Purple Flower’ (part 2 is here called ‘Eggo’, known elsewhere as ‘On The Fringe of the Jungle’).
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The Piano Player (1961-1970; released Storyville, 2005). A great set of unreleased solo piano performances from a variety of sources. We have blues improvisations, works-in-progress including ‘Nagoya’ (ultimately part of ‘Ad Lib On Nippon’), a partial piano version of Ellington’s ballet The River, and a medley of ‘T.G.T.T.’ and ‘Little Purple Flower’. This is an essential piano album with a focus on Ellington the composer.
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New York New York (1970-72 ; released Storyville, 2008). The riches keep on coming. Thirteen previously unheard compositions and six unreleased remakes. Flautist Norris Tunney distinguishes various pieces, as does organist Wild Bill Davis. Another version of ‘Afrique’.