At the End of the Street in the Shadow: Review by Mediapolis

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Amy Corbin’s review of At the End of the Street in the Shadow: Orson Welles and the City appeared in the fourth issue of Mediapolis: A Journal of Cities and Culture.

Corbin calls the book “an impressive work of archival research and film analysis, documenting the director’s use of locations in both his finished work and a vast array of unfinished projects, from scripts to unedited footage.”

Read the entire review HERE.

 

Now available: At the End of the Street in the Shadow: Orson Welles and the City

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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.

Touch of Evil (1958) Directed by Orson Welles Shown: Orson Welles

“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

From Wallflower Press/Columbia University Press.

PRESS:

Five Questions for Matthew Asprey Gear at Wellesnet

‘Lost Script Reveals What Orson Welles Really Thought About Ernest Hemingway’ at The Observer (UK)

‘Welles contra la España de Hemingway’ at Clarín (Argentina)

Orson Welles round-up on 100th Birthday

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On the 100th anniversary of the birth of Orson Welles, here is a round-up of my pieces about the filmmaker.

Orson Welles and the Death of Sirhan Sirhan (Bright Lights Film Journal, 2015). Part I: The Conspirators (February 20). Part II: The Safe House (February 26)

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)

Orson’s Charmed Circle of Fragments

Other-Side-WindJosh 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

Interview with Jonathan Rosenbaum

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My brief interview with American film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum appears in the new ‘Writers at the Movies’ issue of Contrappasso Magazine, which I co-edited with Noel King. It also appears online at www.jonathanrosenbaum.net

Rosenbaum is one of the most respected film critics in the United States. His many books include Moving Places: A Life in the Movies (1980/1995), Placing Movies: The Practice of Film Criticism (1995), Movies as Politics (1997), Movie Wars: How Hollywood and the Media Limit What Films You See (2000), Essential Cinema: On the Necessity of Film Canons (2004), and Goodbye Cinema, Hello Cinéphilia: Film Culture in Transition (2010).

Rosenbaum has also been a lifelong champion of Orson Welles. Many of his writings on Welles are collected in Discovering Orson Welles (2007). He also edited and annotated This Is Orson Welles (1992/1998), an assembly of the legendary Peter Bogdanovich-Orson Welles interviews.

This brief conversation, an update on Rosenbaum’s recent activities, was conducted by email in early 2015 for Contrappasso.

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[The cover photo of Contrappasso: Writers at the Movies is ‘Popcorn’ by Vegan Feast Catering @ Flickr. Used under CC / Altered from original.]

Orson Welles and the Death of Sirhan Sirhan, Part II: The Safe House

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Orson Welles and the Death of Sirhan Sirhan

Part II: The Safehouse

Part I of this article at Bright Lights Film Journal told the story of how Orson Welles, while directing his legendary and never-finished Other Side of the Wind, took time out in early 1975 to accept a leading role in an independent conspiracy thriller called Sirhan Sirhan or RFK Must Die. The film, scripted by Donald Freed and to be produced by Ananke Productions, was intended to exonerate the Palestinian refugee Sirhan Sirhan as the lone assassin of Robert F. Kennedy. In fact, it dramatized Sirhan’s duping by a network of intelligence “programmers.” Welles was asked to play the chief conspirator, Dr. William A. Must Jr.

Welles’ co-stars would have been Sal Mineo (as Sirhan) and football legend Jim Brown. The project should have been an easy $125,000 paycheck for Welles, but it didn’t turn out that way. He quickly became the project’s central creative figure. He demanded contractually assured approval of director, script, and cast, completely rewrote the screenplay, and installed his Yugoslavian lover and collaborator Oja Kodar in a starring role.

Part II continues the story in early July 1975. Welles’s reluctance to sign his contract has put the project in doubt. Welles leaves Hollywood for Europe.

Too Much Johnson: Interview with Scott Simmon

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My new interview with Scott Simmon of the National Film Preservation Foundation on Orson Welles’s long-lost Too Much Johnson is at Wellesnet.

From the introduction:

One of the great archival discoveries of the decade is surely Orson Welles’s Too Much Johnson. In 1938 Welles shot a series of film sequences intended to be screened during a Mercury Theatre adaptation of William Gillette’s farce. The sequences were never completed but survive in the form of a partially edited 66-minute workprint. Long thought lost, the rediscovered workprint premiered to universal acclaim in 2014.

Scott Simmon is Professor of English at UC Davis. His books include The Films of D.W.  Griffith (1993) and The Invention of the Western Film (2003).  Simmon’s informative essays accompanied the National Film Preservation Foundation’s free online release of Too Much Johnson. He also created a 34-minute edit to suggest one possible form the material may have taken if it had been finished.

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

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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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T For True: Three new books on Orson Welles (review-essay @ Senses of Cinema)

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My review-essay T For True appeared in issue 68 of the online film journal Senses of Cinema (September 2013). It discusses these new Orson Welles books:

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Orson Welles and Roger Hill: A Friendship in Three Acts by Todd Tarbox (BearManor Media, 2013).
My Lunches With Orson: Conversations between Henry Jaglom and Orson Welles. Edited and with an introduction by Peter Biskind (Metropolitan Books/Henry Holt, 2013).
Orson Welles in Italy by Alberto Anile (translated by Marcus Perryman). (Indiana University Press, 2013).

The essay begins:

Bewildered by false tales circulating about his life, Orson Welles once came to a general conclusion: “I don’t think history can possibly be true!” Of course, in the same interview, Welles claimed to be the great-grandson of Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Navy under President Lincoln, so he can’t be considered a completely innocent victim of historians. Even now, despite decades of often exemplary research – by Jonathan Rosenbaum, Catherine Benamou, François Thomas & Jean-Pierre Berthomé, and others – the complicated facts of Welles’ life continue to be obscured by his irresistible self-invented mythology and the popular counter-myth of a prodigy in a decline that knew no indignity.

Two entertaining new books of transcribed conversations with, respectively, his former headmaster Roger ‘Skipper’ Hill and the filmmaker Henry Jaglom, reaffirm Welles’ reputation as a great (if unreliable) raconteur and go some way towards unmasking the private man. The conversations date from the early 1980s as Welles, in weakening health, struggled to organise financing for a range of doomed film projects in Los Angeles. That was the unhappy end; Alberto Anile’s Orson Welles in Italy (translated from the Italian original of 2006) takes us back to the invention of Welles’ independent methods after the Second World War. Anile’s research into contemporaneous Italian sources adds degrees of nuance to a largely mythical period in Welles’ career….

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