Too Much!


Orson Welles’ TOO MUCH JOHNSON at the Pordenone Silent Film festival — a perfect conjunction of film and event, since this is Welles’ only silent film apart from HEARTS OF AGE (of which he said, “That’s not a film!”) and it contains references to Mack Sennett and Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton, and the film was rediscovered right here in Pordenone.

A packed screening — I had attended some wonderful rarities earlier today, which played to something less than the capacity of the capacious Teatro Giuseppe Verdi, so I ambled up to the joint half an hour before start of play and was surprised to find the queue stretching round the block. I knew the film was on several times, and hadn’t realized this was the world premiere. Anyway, I got in, seated way up in the gods, and waited tensely through some long introductory speeches, in two languages…

I’m writing a full review for my friends at The Notebook, which I’ll link to when the time comes, but for now I’ll just say that what was screened, though incomplete, uncut, full of alternate takes, and missing the chunks of narrative that would have been performed live (since the film was only one element in a stage show), is entertaining, funny, Wellesian and, by virtue of its very roughness, extremely revealing of Welles working practice. It’s supposed to be a slapstick silent comedy set around the end of the nineteenth century but clearly evoking 1910s Keystone Cops comedy — but Welles can’t help displaying his nascent sensibility, so the deliberately stagy interiors and planimetric chase scenes alternate with bursts of semi-Eisensteinian montage frenzy, and dutch tilts, looming low angles, fast pans — Welles hasn’t discovered camera movement yet, but you could practically say that visually, apart from  that, it’s all there.

And how many times did Joseph Cotten nearly kill himself making this short film right at the start of his career? Still, for him at least, TOO MUCH JOHNSON was worth it — the play, performed without the film because the little Connecticut theatre they opened in lacked projection facilities, was a badly reviewed, but Katherine Hepburn liked it so much she cast Cotten in The Philadelphia Story on Broadway.

A more substantial review from Silent London.

3 Responses to “Too Much!”

  1. […] Read Shadowplay’s review of the Pordenone screening of Too Much Johnson here. […]

  2. That’s the thing to remember. The film wasn’t meant to be seen by itself but as part of a theater piece.

  3. There are even more reasons to cut it slack, which I’ll get into in my Mubi post, but the important thing is that it stands up rather well on its own, as a beautiful object full of mysteries and laughs.

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