Archive for Beatrice Welles

Dubbed and doubled in doublets

Posted in FILM, literature, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , on February 16, 2015 by dcairns

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CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT at Film Forum, with a Skype call to Beatrice Welles introducing it. A full house – during the Super Bowl, which I gather is kind of a big deal en Amerique – because it’s a rarely screened movie. Though for the internet-savvy, ethically unclean bootlegging type of cinephile, almost nothing is rare anymore. But I’d certainly never had an opportunity to see Welles’ masterpiece on the big screen, and I hadn’t seen this new restoration.

Unfortunately, for reasons no doubt clear to the architect, the auditorium at Film Forum is built along the lines of a corridor in a German expressionist film, and we were at the back, viewing the screen as a tiny, distant window in the darkness. I could easily arrange my TV at home to fill a larger percentage of my field of vision. But I would have missed the intro, the Q&A, and the audience, who worked their way through the various kinds of laughter Shakespearian comedies get: from the “I understood that!” laugh, which is essentially humourless, to the “I understood that and it’s actually funny!” laugh, which is wonderful to hear.

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Beatrice W claimed the film was missing a couple of shots from the Battle of Shrewsbury, but I didn’t spot any gaps. There are several shots in that montage which are ingrained quite specifically in my memory, and they were all present, but it’s such a long and complicated sequence that I guess some less obvious snippets could go astray and I might not notice. Still, I wouldn’t entirely take BW’s word for it without further evidence. After all, she claimed to be Welles’ executor, which I gather is not wholly true – she has the rights to OTHELLO and nothing else, though that hasn’t stopped her threatening with legal action anyone who tries to restore or complete a Welles film. (It seemed like she BELIEVES she embodies Welles’ estate, though, just as she states that her parents stayed married all their lives, ignoring the fact that Welles was living with Oja Kodar for most of that time.) She managed to get the TOUCH OF EVIL restoration pulled from Cannes, and delayed THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND for so long that the editor patiently waiting to complete it, Frank Mazzola, has died of old age. Plus, her “restoration” of OTHELLO is so inauthentic and misguided that I would hesitate before accepting her views of any other restoration job.

It was a relief to see that CHIMES’ restoration hasn’t resulted in a soundtrack cleaned up to a level of purity in never had. The synch is still uncertain – Welles is content to have characters walk through shot, albeit briskly, lips clamped shut, while their voices rabbit on over the soundtrack, so no amount of digital jiggery-pokery was ever going to render things conventionally polished. But this hardly matters. By focussing on technical flaws like this, Pauline Kael damaged the movie’s chances in America. To really love it, you have to accept Welles’ slightly idiosyncratic technical standards.

Welles described his interpretation of Falstaff as being “like a magnificent Christmas tree decorated with vices, but the tree itself is pure and good” – and the film could be said to be similar. Occasional lapses in the generally splendid production values, bold edits that don’t quite come off, dubbed Spaniards who look like dubbed Spaniards – these gives critics something to talk about but are irrelevant to the film’s sweep, beauty and emotional affect, which is greater than any other Welles movie.

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The q&a after the screenings featured some pretty lame questions from the public, but fair play to Beatrice, she did manage to answer most of them in a way that was informative. Apart from being dubbed herself, she mentioned that she was also doubled, since she came down with rheumatic fever, so every time we don’t see her face, it’s actually a little French schoolboy playing the part. But then, everyone else is doubled too – I expect the clanking, armoured Falstaff who galumphs robotically about the battlefield isn’t Welles, and since Gielgud and Moreau were available for short snatches of shooting, any time you don’t see them clearly it’s someone else in a crown or a wig.

“What happened to Keith Baxter?” asked our screening companion, Farran Smith Nehme, the Self-Styled Siren, and I had to admit I don’t know. He should have had a much bigger career, I would have thought. Of course, he had the benefit of a great director here, but then so did Robert Arden in MR ARKADIN and he still came rigid and irksome. Baxter had real talent — and didn’t make another film for five years.

There’s a CHIMES book, collecting script, reviews, and interviews, and Baxter’s contribution shines. He talks about Welles filming an army charging in one direction, then optically flipping half the shots so it becomes two armies charging at each other. There’s also good info on the rather musty Spanish DVD, which has unsubtitled interviews with the likes of Jesus Franco. Unfortunately the late Mr. Franco has a very specific and thick accent, and not many teeth, so that my usual benshi film describer, David Wingrove, was only able to give us an approximate idea of what he was saying. But there’s a good bit about Welles filming in a ruined cathedral which had no ceiling and a missing wall, which he turned to his advantage — so much daylight was admitted that Welles didn’t have to use artificial lighting. As Baxter says, “Well, he was a magician.”

A thousand thanks to the Siren for a lovely evening!

Bea negative

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 7, 2008 by dcairns

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.