Letter from Hollywood: Our Latest Screenwriting Discovery: A Chap by the Name of Orson Welles

Article excerpt

Orson Welles is a director whose fame rests almost as much on the movies he did not make, or was not allowed to complete as he wished, as on the ones he did. With the exception of Citizen Kane, the brilliant debut that both launched and cursed his career, there is barely one work that wasn't dogged by studio re-editing, financial tussles, or the technical nightmare arising from his later, largely self-financed projects.

One thinks of the famous lost reel of the ball scene from The Magnificent Ambersons; or Welles's complaints about the diminished final versions of The Lady from Shanghai and Touch of Evil; or of Don Quixote, the near- mythical "home movie" that he made over a 20- year period which has been seen only in fragments in international film festivals.

Now, though, some of the lost Welles is trickling back to us. Most of his major works are being reissued in restored versions - and, in the case of Touch of Evil, with the benefit of a re-edit based on his own hitherto ignored instructions. Perhaps most intriguingly, two unproduced Welles scripts are currently being shot by other people: a political satire called The Big Brass Ring, by George Hickenlooper, and a retelling of an extraordinary episode in Welles's stage career in the 1930s called The Cradle Will Rock, by Tim Robbins. A third Welles script called The Dreamers, based on a story by Karen Blixen, is also doing the rounds in Hollywood but has yet to raise the necessary funds to go into production. Why the renewed interest, and why now? According to FX Feeney, who has updated the script of The Big Brass Ring, it is a matter of changing perceptions. In his time, Welles was deemed unpredictable, and a poor financial bet by the producers holding the purse strings. "Now we can see him as the first great independent film-maker," Feeney said. "The Tarantino generation is really plugged into him." One can't help detecting, also, a sense of guilt towards Welles, arguably the greatest film-maker of his time, but one whose talent was never given room to grow and prosper. He was too individualistic, too radical to be understood by his peers. Indeed, the popular impression that was allowed to build up of Welles in the years leading up to his death in 1985 was of a man chronically incapable of committing to a project, much less finishing it, who let himself go physically and was reduced to making television commercials to scrape a living. …