I enacted a little vandalism on PEEPING TOM a while back, speculating on what Michael Powell’s voyeuristic monsterpiece would look like in b&w. Then I forgot about it, but I just thought of another film I’d like to decolourise, sort of.

Orson Welles, by the time of the film-within-the-film in THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND, had embraced colour and used it as boldly and beautifully as he did b&w. I think F FOR FAKE looks great too, and the fact that it’s a kind of patchwork/scrapbook allows for a wide variety of looks. THE IMMORTAL STORY, for me, never looked quite as good as it ought to. Some of this is Welles’s attempt to simulate Macao (a place he can’t even PRONOUNCE in LADY FROM SHANGHAI) in France and Spain on a limited budget. Some of it is Welles’s fairly terrible make-up, and some of it is Welles’s still getting to grips with colour cinematography. He DOES achieve some beautiful moments, and he’s certainly not afraid: see the image above. I just wondered if some of the film would look better in monochrome?

Nothing’s ever going to turn this into one of Welles’s better makeups, but I wince less when his nose putty is no longer blue. Oddly, the stippled rosacea on his cheeks looks more like redness in b&w, less like shading designed to heighten his cheekbones, so that’s an improvement too. And the pencilled wrinkles seem more subtle. The echoes of HEARTS OF AGE are quieted.



I originally thought the film looked fine, apart from Welles. Then I showed it to a friend with Indonesian connections and she was insulted by its lack of a sense of place. Welles was, in a way, trying to do a studio recreation of another land, but on location in the wrong land. It doesn’t bother me too much, but obviously it doesn’t give you what the real place could, OR what you’d get from a big budget imitation.


Welles’s packed compositions and deep focus are arguably more striking and effective in b&w. Just as Dutch tilts work better in the graphic medium of b&w than they do in colour, where you suddenly go from THE THIRD MAN to the Batman TV show.


But remember, the film does have shots like this:

We get hints of Mario Bava, CRIES AND WHISPERS and foreshadowings of MALPERTUIS. Apart from Welles’s “look,” I honestly wouldn’t want to change it.


7 Responses to “Decolourising”

  1. The print of “The Immortal Story” that was released stateside in 1969 (paired with Bunuel’s “Simon of the Desert”) was awful, Scratchy and blotchy. Last month on TCM a really great print of it was shown. The color was gorgeous. The DP was the great Willy Kurant — who has shot everything from Godard’s “Masculine Feminine” and Skolimowski’s “Le Depart” to Louis CK’s “Pootie Tang”

  2. Tony Williams Says:

    I first saw THE IMMORTAL STORY on first release at the old Manchester Film theatre and the color was amazing then.

  3. I’m doubt if someone with “Indonesian connections” could tell whether THE IMMORTAL STORY lacked a sense of place in Macao. They’re a long way from each other. It may not have depicted Macao as it was, but as Macao in the imaginations of the film’s characters it looked pretty good. Harry Kümel said that when Welles turned up for MALPERTHUIS the only things he insisted on using were the only things Kümel didn’t want to use: nose-putty and a green dressing-gown.

  4. The Criterion disc looks fabulous — except for Welles’s makeup and the attempts to conjure the locale.

    I don’t know if my friend’s Indonesian connections led to her visiting other parts of the East, but that was the impression her scornful reaction gave. Then again, I don’t know how well travelled in that part of the world Karen Blixen was.

  5. Welles and Bava compared in the same sentence – the Orson Welles Euro Horror curse strikes again! Any thoughts on his unfininshed The Dreamers, also based on Karen Blixen stories?

  6. “The Dreamers” was shot in Welles’ backyard. The fragment that exists consist of a Master Shot of Welles with his back to the camera and Oja standing in front of him performing her lines. He never got around to shooting himself full-face.

  7. He was always going to need money for that one, and probably a co-director to shoot the mountain scenes. But what there is is rather lovely.

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