‘Mr. Arkadin’ – A look at the film locations

October 11, 2013 § Leave a comment


Here’s my new photo-essay for Wellesnet: The Orson Welles Web Resource. It begins:

Orson Welles’ Mr Arkadin (1955) is an international narrative set mostly in Western Europe but also in Mexico City, Acapulco, and Tangiers. Many of the locations were convincingly faked. Welles shot most of Arkadin in Spain, on the French Riviera, and in and around Paris (including at Photosonar studios in Courbevoie).

Some of the film’s most impressive sequences were filmed on location in Munich, including the framing narrative of Guy Van Stratten (Robert Arden) seeking Jakob Zouk (Akim Tamiroff) at ‘Sebastianplatz 16’. There are also some exciting Munich street scenes as Van Stratten seeks a Christmas goose liver for Zouk while avoiding the murderous Gregory Arkadin (Welles).

For a long time the circumstances of the Arkadin project were obscure. A production chronology was only recently established by François Thomas – see the booklet included with the Criterion Collection’s Complete Mr Arkadin DVD set (2006) and also Thomas & Jean-Pierre Berthomé’s Orson Welles at Work (Phaidon, 2008). Here’s a surprise: the Munich Christmas scenes were actually filmed during April and May of 1954. Springtime! The snow-blanketed city is so convincing faked that few viewers seem to have ever realised those scenes were not really shot in December. But Welles hardly pursued the methods of the Italian Neorealists when shooting on location. He consistently embellished and transformed real urban places. And through montage actual locations became malleable cinematic space, which will be evident when we look at the ‘Sebastianplatz 16’ sequences of Arkadin. This approach served Welles’ dramatic, thematic, and ideological purposes – although his removal from the Arkadin project in the editing room surely obscured his intentions. (A few years later Welles pursued the same techniques when he used the detritus of eddying garbage and frayed bill posters to transform Venice Beach into the fascistic border town Los Robles for Touch of Evil.)

Welles had caused an uproar within Germany in the early 1950s when he published newspaper articles accusing the country of lingering Nazism. That phenomenon is directly implied in Arkadin by the upside-down Hitler portrait somebody has hidden in Jakob Zouk’s garret. Welles’ Munich is a bleak and frigid rubblescape, the final refuge of the impoverished and dying ex-con. It is an imagined city richer than what might be captured through documentary realism, as it arose from the encounter of the actual material terrain with Welles’ understanding of postwar Germany. In other words, Welles’ mise-en-scène is consciously political.



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