Archive for Too Much Johnson

The Other Side of the Edit

Posted in FILM, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , on November 7, 2018 by dcairns

Welles’ THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND appears alongside two new documentaries — a wealth of Wellesiana!

THEY’LL LOVE ME WHEN I’M DEAD is excellent but infuriating. I guess director Morgan Neville decided not to include captions identifying any of his interviewees because we wanted to cut like fury, impersonating Welles’ eccentric choppiness. But it’s a slapworthy offence. Luckily I know who a lot of those people are, but it makes it more annoying when I don’t. The end credits list them all, but Netflix shrinks your window to a tiny box as soon as they start, so damn everybody to hell anyway.

The actual effect of the doc’s slick intercutting is more like the usual opening sequence of a TV doc, where you typically get a lot of provocative and titillating statements designed to lure you into watching — an editor friend described this approach as “chum in the water. Funnily enough, Welles anticipated this with the newsreel in KANE: “…a communist!” “…a fascist!” declare interviewees.

But Neville has impressive resources: he seems empowered to quote from every Welles-directed movie, as well as a host he acted in, plus JAWS and STAR WARS. And he musters them well: to depict the disasters befalling Welles on TOSOTW he shows the film-maker dropping dead in the water at the end of TOUCH OF EVIL *and* in START THE REVOLUTION WITHOUT ME. He can’t resist quoting the drunken champagne ad out-takes, which earns him another slap, but he manages to talk to sworn enemies like Jaglom and Bogdanovich, Oja Kodar and Beatrice Welles, and pretty much every participant in Welles’ movie. Though he shoots them from very eccentric angles. We might be able to draw firmer conclusions about the honesty of Welles co-producer, accused by some of robbing from the budget, were he not reduced to more or less a single eyeball.

And then there’s the wholly unnecessary Alan Cummings*, whose role as a fictional documentarist adds little. He’s often required to criticise Welles, even if statements like “Welles seemed to be going out of his way to alienate everybody” are flatly contradicted by what interviewees have just told us, in footage positioned by Neville himself. What’s he playing at? I do get a bit annoyed at anti-Welles stuff, which this movie has a bit of: the idea that he deliberately avoided finishing his films is floated, yet again, but mercifully trounced by those in the know.

Still, it’s hugely entertaining, and illuminating, and if it’s imperfectly sympathetic to Welles, it’s very considerate to the much-abused Bogdanovich.

Morgan Neville shares a birthday with me: we both turned 18 the day Welles died. (Welles was 70, the same age his fictional alter ego dies at in TOSOTW.)

The other doc, Ryan Suffern’s A FINAL CUT FOR ORSON WELLES: FORTY YEARS IN THE MAKING is more unassuming. It tells some of the story of the film’s eventual completion. All very nice, and hearing Danny Huston talk about dubbing his dad is moving too. The exciting part for me was a discussion about Welles’ quirky approach to editing which clears up a bit of a mystery. Apparently Welles would produce long, rambling assemblies in which he would sometimes include multiple takes of a line or moment. They would be fine-cut, so you would know how long he wanted the moment to run; but you wouldn’t know which was the preferred take. Presumably Welles himself hadn’t decided yet, and wanted to delay the final choice until he had a sense of the surrounding sequence. It makes a kind of sense, though it’s the opposite way round to how most films are cut: we usually select our preferred takes, THEN cut them together.

This quirk may go some way to explaining why Welles took, seemingly, a long time to edit his films. He was delaying some key decisions long past the point most filmmakers would have made a commitment. This lengthy process seems to have resulted in Welles being ejected from MR. ARKADIN’s edit, and had he been naturally faster he might have avoided problems on AMBERSONS, TOUCH OF EVIL and maybe others. But I’m happy to allow himself his unusual approach.

But you see how this clarifies the surprising condition of TOO MUCH JOHNSON? Though, characteristically, it produces new puzzles. When I saw TMJ at Pordenone, I briefly discussed it with the then festival director David Robinson, who was convinced that what had been rediscovered was not the cutting copy but the outtakes. This made partial sense, and had me more or less convinced. Though it was weird that the film was more or less in sequence and showed so many signs of being not only spliced together but intercut and worked on, there was so much repetition, so many takes of nearly everything that it was hard to see it as an actual edit. But now we learn that this was typical of Welles. TMJ is a cutting copy, but a uniquely Wellesian one, containing multitudes.

Of course, that reintroduces the puzzle of how the film came to be found intact in Pordenone (so conveniently!) when we’d been told it was burned to a crisp in Spain. I suppose that might have something to do with Welles being a big fat liar. Bless him.

Still wholeheartedly recommend both pictures and the film they document. Put ’em on a loop!

*Nothing against Cummings per se. I was in a car with him once.


The Man Who Knew Too Much Johnson

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on November 1, 2013 by dcairns


Bigger review of TOO MUCH JOHNSON now available over at The Notebook, where I get into the disputed backstory of this fascinating Wellesian artefact. Here.

And Paul Duane, co-director of NATAN, posts his impressions of the awe-inspiring Telluride Film Festival in The Irish Times, here.

My own strongest memory of the affair is not really film-related, but was certainly cinematic — having heard my whole life that if you get away from the light pollution of cities, you can really see the stars, thousands of them, I finally managed to do so, aged 46, pausing in a path in the woods on the way to my mountain retreat, gazing up hypnotized in the cold, thin air, at what looked like a glittering snowfall arrested by camera flash, an infinite array of white sparks, a spatter of pin-pricks, the universe, or as much of it as could fit into my field of vision and my brain. It was a real Spalding Gray “perfect moment,” during which my fear of being set upon and devoured by bears vanished almost entirely.

Too Much!

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on October 9, 2013 by dcairns


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.