Archive for Oja Kodar

The Sunday Intertitle: Shot Missing

Posted in FILM, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 4, 2018 by dcairns

The film within the film in THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND is also called THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND. Welles described it as a film he would never have made — it’s supposed to tell us about its fictional author, Jake Hannaford, played by John Huston, not about Welles. It represents, in other words, a Hollywood has-been’s pathetic attempts to be hip and radical and appeal to the youth audience, and emulate the art cinema of Antonioni and Bergman et al.

An OTHELLO image.

Counter-arguments are available: David Bordwell remarked, reasonably enough, that the film has more in common with colour supplement photography and advertising than with arthouse imagery, though we could carry on that argument to point out that commercials started being influenced by art movies back in the sixties and so maybe a Jake Hannaford movie WOULD look like THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND. We know Welles didn’t care for Antonioni’s style and mood and especially pacing (“I’m not a director who like to linger on thing […] Antonioni is the king of it,”) but I don’t think TOSOTW2 is meant as a straight pastiche of Antonionionioni. It could hardly justify the amount of screen time given it in TOSOTW1. Welles seemingly wanted it to be half the movie, according to Jonathan Rosenbaum, but it’s a lot less than that in the Netflix cut.

In spite of the attempts to frame the movie within as a Jake Hannaford film or a sub-Antonioni film, it’s also very much a Welles film. While the framing film has qualities in common with the patchwork style of F FOR FAKE, the inner movie practically quotes THE TRIAL, LADY FROM SHANGHAI and others. It’s full of trick reflections, forced perspective tricks (characters at different distances walking along the same horizon line) and extreme close-ups. If the film parodies arthouse imitations, it’s more in the cack-handed symbolism (giant phalluses destroyed by scissor attack) and the sheer EMPTINESS.

Welles and reflections: LADY FROM SHANGHAI comes to mind, but he was playing with multiple and overlaid images from KANE on.

Welles seems to have nailed the kind of cargo-cult art film gaining a toehold in Hollywood. You might compare TOOTW2 to the movie within a movie that begins STARDUST MEMORIES, which is also a kind of pastiche: the kind of film Woody Allen’s character, Sandy Bates, would make. Depressing, earnest, wearing its influences on its sleeve, aspiring to Bergman and Fellini but not quite making it. But if TOSOTW2 were a real film without a framing narrative to protect us from it, it might be Dennis Hopper’s THE LAST MOVIE (and how apt that Hopper appears here), but also Roger Corman’s THE TRIP (thanks to Noel Vera for pointing this resemblance out) with which it shares four cast members, including Hopper again but also Bogdanovich, Susan Strasberg and little Angelo Rossitto, enjoying the wildest party he’s been to since FREAKS. But also Christian Marquand’s gloriously pointless CANDY (1968) which also featured John Huston, and especially CAN HEIRONYMOUS MERKIN EVER FORGET MERCY HUMPPE AND FIND TRUE HAPPINESS? (1969), a truly boggling vanity project from Anthony Newley which shared with the Welles a rare late-career appearance by comedian George Jessel (as “the Presence”).

Oja Kodar and train stations: Welles met her on THE TRIAL, then filmed her on a train for F FOR FAKE.

The movie might also be a rather mean mockery of John Huston’s occasional forays into artiness, but here it seems wide of the mark in a way that suggests Welles wasn’t trying to score a direct hit on his star. Huston did make one, beautiful and arguably empty Euro-art film, A WALK WITH LOVE AND DEATH, which is far better than its terrible reputation suggests, but usually when he tried to be stridently “cinematic”, it took the form of photographic experiments like the aureate tinge of REFLECTIONS IN A GOLDEN EYE or the tinted flashbacks of WISE BLOOD. Though the late career of Huston certainly features some commercial hackwork (ANNIE, PHOBIA) his actual attempts at making good films add up to a remarkably dignified body of work. It’s arguably in his acting roles that he was guilty of trying too hard to be with it (CANDY, MYRA BRECKINRIDGE, DE SADE, and on the plus side, CHINATOWN) but he always claimed not to take his acting career remotely seriously, so this might just be a case of him saying “Yes” to anything offered, and ignoring John Carradine’s sound career advice to his sons: “Never do anything you wouldn’t be caught dead doing.”

A frame not in the Netflix cut.

Thanks to the late, much-missed Paul Clipson I was able to see extended versions of Welles’ cut of Oja Kodar wandering around Century City, and running about nude on a movie backlot in a lot of noir stripey shadows, and can confirm that those scenes sustain the attention effortlessly. And the psychedelic club with the ultrawhite toilet full of orgiastic activity is a stunning set-piece, as is the nocturnal car sex scene and the crazy desert bit. Would longer versions have worked in the context of the movie, interrupting the slender narrative of the party sequence with dreamy, plotless interludes? Maybe it would be useful to get Mel Brooks in to pontificate over them, as in THE CRITIC?

As with every posthumous Welles release or discovery, I find myself wanting multiple versions, the way we have several TOUCH OF EVILS, OTHELLOS, ARKADINS. If anyone could ever be said to (a) be large and (b) contain multitudes, surely it was Welles.

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God Send the Prince a Better Companion

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 15, 2015 by dcairns

orson-welles-magician

MAGICIAN: THE ASTONISHING LIFE AND WORK OR ORSON WELLES has one decisive thing in its favour — it’s on the side of its subject. American documentaries about Welles have tended to take an antagonistic view — there’s something about seeing Welles as, ultimately, a failure, which is immensely comforting to mediocrities. It’s wrong to aspire to greatness, you’ll never make it, so Three Cheers for the Ordinary! Showmanship instead of Genius.

But Chuck Workman is a really terrible name to have if you’re setting out to make a film celebrating genius, I have to say. God, it’s really unfair to pick on a guy for his name, isn’t it? Forget I said it.

The problem with the documentary… no, I can’t make it that simple. First among the documentary’s problems is that it tries to cram too much in. This was always going to be tough, when you look at the number of books and documentaries and fictional representations of Welles — such Simon Callow’s still-unfinished trilogy of biographies. How do you do justice to all that, if you’re tackling the plays as well as the films, the incomplete, unreleased works as well as the known classics? You don’t.

The decision to include everything, or a bit of everything, looks heroic at first but is possibly the result of indecision. What else can explain the fleeting reference to the controversial restoration of OTHELLO — “It has a few problems,” — a subject dropped as soon as it’s raised, with absolutely no exposition of what the problems are. Even getting into this subject takes us out of chronology and into Welles’ posthumous reputation, so it derails the narrative. This is a movie that insists on touching upon every point but is in too much of a hurry to elucidate anything.

orson-welles

The most egregious effect of the need for speed is the treatment of the film clips, all of which are recut, compressed, turned into edited highlights — Workman even plays music underneath to further condense, distort. His idea of the kind of edit you can get away with is also hopelessly optimistic, so that he chops lines together as in a movie trailer, resulting in bizarre non-sequiturs, making blurting blipverts out of some of the best-known scenes in American cinema. When the expected line doesn’t follow, or follows five seconds too soon, the audience member familiar with the clip is thrown for a loop. The audience member new to all this is in an even worse position, force-fed a bowdlerized, mangled version of LADY FROM SHANGHAI or THE THIRD MAN. It’s hugely ironic that a movie which takes Welles’ part should re-edit his films as viciously as ever Columbia or RKO could manage.

Added to this, quality control is low: an early montage of framed photos of Welles features one shot with a Magnum watermark pasted across it — stolen from the internet, defaced, not paid for, thrown out there in the hopes that we won’t notice the very thing we’re being shown. Music choices are hackneyed, anachronistic, inappropriate (L’Apres-Midi  d’un Faun for THE TRIAL??) and rather than bolstering the emotion of the clips they play under — the presumed purpose — they frequently undermine it. Clips are sourced from all over, some of them seemingly from YouTube, so the resolution fluctuates like crazy.

Most of the best stuff comes from Welles’ giant BBC interview, broadcast as Orson Welles: Stories from a Life in Film, but this is hacked up too. There’s nothing as egregious as the ending of The Battle for Citizen Kane, which has Welles saying “I think I made essentially a mistake staying in motion pictures,” but leaves off what he said next — “but it’s a mistake I can’t regret,” which is followed by a heartbreaking, inspiring speech about his love of film. But Workman does use the interview as a source for random pull-quotes, so that some lines do duty for subjects they originally had nothing to do with. It’s a very insidious form of misquotation. Sometimes, people whose big mouths have gotten them in trouble complain of being “quoted out of context” (all quotes are, by their nature, somewhat out of context) — Welles is being quoted in contexts he never knew anything about, contexts devised thirty years after his death by a bloke called Chuck whose day job is editing the Oscars.

The compassion for Welles is admirable, and I think the section on his love of food was skillfully done — affectionate without degenerating into fat jokes. and there’s a nice bit where different Welles interviews are cut together to show how he would vary a story each time he told it. Where the movie has a strong idea, it’s on solid ground, but this rarely happens.

Orson_Welles_magician_in_F_for_Fake

Of the critical thinkers on display, James Naremore makes the best contribution. I would have liked more of Christopher Welles and even the dreaded Beatrice. Oja Kodar’s bit comes across like unedited rushes, jumping from subject to subject which may well be the way she talks, but the filmmaker is supposed to supply shape. She says some lovely stuff, and announces her willingness to be shamelessly indiscrete — I wish she was allowed to be.

Still, this could be an important moment even if the film is mainly a missed opportunity — a film from America which is resoundingly pro-Welles, which sees the truncated and unfinished films as the fault of a system rather than of the man, which debunks “fear of completion” and admits that the Philistinism of the film industry is the more serious problem — this is a new development, and worthy of celebration in this centennial year.

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.