Bea negative

Hat Trick

Jon Tuska’s Encounters With Filmmakers is pretty interesting, especially the section on Welles. In the space of 48 pages he goes from defending Welles to attacking him, in a way that suggests some personal score is being settled, though what it was isn’t recorded. But it is somewhat illuminating with regards to one of the great mysteries of Welles scholarship: what IS IT with Beatrice Welles?

Welles’ daughter, who appears in his CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT, has impacted on Welles’, shall we say, postmortem career in two ways. Firstly, as inheritor of his version of OTHELLO, she has made the film available in a “restored” form that is not to everyone’s liking. This version has had the music transcribed and re-recorded (Welles’ original soundtrack had been damaged when release prints were made), the voices electronically adjusted to be more in synch with the lip movements (arguably an improvement, but in no sense a restoration, since the film, dubbed from first scene to last, had always been awash with lip-flap) and printed credits inexplicably favoured over Welles’ spoken ones (the restorers apparently were unaware of the existence of the narrated opening, although it appears in Leslie Megahey’s BBC profile The Orson Welles Story, which should be essential viewing for anybody engaged in Welles scholarship — check it out on YouTube).

Secondly, Beatrice Welles has sued or threatened to sue most of the other parties engaged in restoring her father’s work. Most famously, she has delayed work on THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND, a late Welles film apparently all ready to be cut together into screenable form, provided somebody is willing to pay to extract the footage from the bank vault it is stored in (Welles’ chief backer was the Shah of Iran’s brother-in-law, leading to financial difficulties when the Ayatollah took command of Iran) and pay for the post-production work. Whenever a backer comes forward and shows interest, Beatrice scares them off.

Reflections in a Golden Eye

But Beatrice also threatened those behind the restored TOUCH OF EVIL (which isn’t 100% perfect but is far more respectful than her own restoration of OTHELLO), causing the film to be withdrawn from the 50th Cannes Film Festival. She had absolutely no legal claim to ownership or artistic rights over this film, but Cannes being an auteuristkind of show, they pulled the film rather than deal with any controversy from the daughter of a great Palm D’Or-winning director.

The Stand

Tuska ~ “He left $10, 000 each to his three daughters from his three marriages while dividing the bulk of his estate between [Paola Mori] his third wife and his mistress of many years, Oja Kodar, with an additional provision that should Paola die, then all that remained of his estate should go to Oja.”

And ~ “Other than the cash bequests to his three daughters, Oja received the Los Angeles home and all its contents, Paola the home in Las Vegas, its contents, and whatever money would be left. Paola contested the will, in large measure I believe because of the provision that upon her death everything would revert to Oja rather than to Beatrice. A hearing was scheduled for 14 August 1986. Two days before, on 12 August 1986, Paola was killed in an automobile accident a short distance from her home in Las Vegas. Oja Kodar got everything by default.”

I think it’s understandable that Beatrice Welles, having simultaneously lost a mother and been cheated of an inheritance by fate, might have conflicted feelings towards her father. He not only divorced left her mother and was probably absent for much of her childhood, he left her a rather paltry sum and placed restrictions on her mother’s inheritance (I’m amazed that’s even legal — if you leave somebody something, isn’t it then THEIR property?) Welles was of course quite entitled to leave the bulk to Oja Kodar, who had been a loyal companion during his autumn years, in a relationship which lasted longer than any of his marriages.

Beatrice, with a mixture of love, resentment, a proprietorial feeling for her father’s work, and anger at the criticism of the restored OTHELLO, much of which came from people involved in THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND, is now a potential obstacle to any Welles restoration ventures — I’m amazed she allowed Kodar and Jesus Franco’s version of DON QUIXOTE (the one truly indefensible Welles “restoration”) to be screened. Perhaps the thing was so cheaply assembled that the makers were indifferent to legal bluffs.

(Film historian and filmmaker Kevin Brownlow was approached by Kodar during the QUIXOTE process. She had been driving around Europe with Welles’s rushes in a van — although as much as a third of what Welles had shot was in the hands of one of his cinematographers, who was refusing to deal with Kodar. [The Welles legacy is riven with feuds, it seems!] Brownlow looked at the material and could see no way to make sense of it. Welles had claimed the film was virtually complete, but the material was haphazardly logged and boarded, and without Welles to explain his intent, inexplicable. Brownlow regretfully passed, Kodar kept looking until she found former Welles associate Jesus Franco, who made an offer too low to refuse.)

Mirror

I suggest anyone trying to restore a Welles film should visit Beatrice first and get her on-side, if possible. However cantankerous and obstructive her behaviour thus far, her feelings are at least understandable. It’s a great shame that the personal hurt she has experienced is now depriving others of the pleasure of seeing her father’s films as they should be seen.

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9 Responses to “Bea negative”

  1. Bugger couldn#t Beatrice MAKE money out of the restored films ? thinking of DVD sales etc…

    In Scotland you cannot disinhert your children or spouce by law. However of course lawyers fees etc for contesting wills tends to use up the estate rapidly.

    I’m a huge fan of A TOUCH OF EVIL thanks to Authorship in the Cinema Stirling Uni course

  2. Bea wouldn’t make anything from restored films except Othello, which is the only one she owns (Welles may not have left her lots of money but he left her a film.) She should make more money out of that by releasing the UN restored version alongside the modified one.

  3. I saw the restored Othello quite recently and… It was bad. Even Welles’ acting was downright crappy compared to his best. I was almost bored.

    Seeing it made me think about why Welles made the movie in the first place. Was it for someone else? To sell it and make some easy money? Because there’s really no artistic vision that’s being communicated here. At least none that I could detect.

  4. Read Michael MacLaimmoire’s Put Money in Thy Purse for all the skinny on it’s making, and see Filming Othello — Welles’ last work.

    Beatrice played the music too loud. Otherwise a great bizarre movie.

  5. Far from being an attempt to make money, Othello was the first film Welles made when he broke free from the studio system. And it took him years to make it, often with his own money. So it was definitely made for love. As for how successful it is — I struggle with Welles’ vision at times, and at other times I love it. Either it’s a patchy, compromised work, or I just haven’t “got it” yet.

    The opening sequence is amazing.

    One problem with the new music was that it has that ultra-crisp quality of modern recording, so it sort of sits on top of the rest of the sound. That seemed to me an even bigger problem in Touch of Evil, where the new music and effects appear only intermittently and always leapt out at the cinema screening — the problem is muted somewhat by the inadequacy of my TV.

  6. Jeff Brooks Says:

    Welles did not divorce Beatrice’s mother. He remained legally married to Paola until his death.

    I have to disagree with Elver re: “Othello.” It’s dazzling. Anyone interested should read Vincent Canby’s rave review in the NYTimes in 1992. He correctly says the film is on par with Kane and Ambersons.

    And while I prefer the un-restored version, which Criterion put out on laserdisc in 1995, the differences are pretty subtle.

  7. Thanks for the correction — duly noted.

    I’m not sure the Canby review would convert anybody unconvinced by the film. While noting the oddness of the movie, Canby doesn’t really explain it, other than simply asserting that the fragmented editing “works”. I’d like to read something that explains the film’s aesthetic as more than the result of the unusual and difficult filming conditions…

  8. dcairns – It’s an expression of the fragmentation and claustrophobia in Othello’s universe, a world that tightens and tightens on him, crushing him under the hell of madness. In Othello’s tragic world, all certainties are coming unhinged – and the disjointed chiaroscuro is an expression of that.

  9. I think that’s the way the style works in the more fraught moments. I’m not sure it can explain the earlier scenes which are still disjointed and out of whack.

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