Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Studio Stories XVI – Orson Welles Holds Court

For the unfamiliar, a "reveal" in screenwriting parlance is the placement of key, revelatory information in a story. Most times, the last reveal is the most important revelation of all.

     …Holly, I would like to cut
     you in, old man. Nobody left
     in Vienna I can really trust –
     and we have always done ev-
     erything together. When you
     make up your mind, send me
     a message... I'll meet you any
     place, any time. And when we
     do meet, old man, it is you I
     want to see, not the police.
     Remember that, won't you?...

Martin moves away LR, CAMERA PANNING with him - but Harry backs up and bars his way on the steps. Music starts.

               HARRY (CONT’D)
     Don't be so gloomy...After all,
     it's not that awful. Remember
     what the fellow said...

He backs a little down the steps in CS and CAMERA PANS LR with him, losing Martins.

               HARRY (CONT’D)
     - in Italy, for thirty years
     under the Borgias, they had war-
     fare, terror, murder, bloodshed,
     but they produced Michaelangelo –
     Leonardo Da Vinci, and the Ren-
     aissance...In Switzerland, they
     had brotherly love. They had five
     hundred years of democracy and
     peace, and what did that produce?
     ...The cuckoo clock. So long, Holly.

He exits quickly CR.

From THE THIRD MAN, by Graham Greene (according to IMDB. But read on for a different account).
   Back in the early 1980s, a  few years before he died, Orson Welles met for a series of lunches at (the restaurant,) Ma Maison, in L.A. with actor/director/writer, Henry Jaglom. Welles was still in the hunt for money for any number of projects, and Jaglom was honestly trying to help. But Jaglom knew it was unlikely to ever happen, and probably, so did Welles. Jaglom asked to record those lunches, and Welles agreed, as long as the recorder was hidden out of view, to not distract them. The tapes languished for decades until they finally surfaced and were published by Peter Biskind in 2013 (MY LUNCHES WITH ORSON – Conversations Between Henry Jaglom and Orson Welles, Picador, Henry Holt & Co.). Welles held court at these sessions while various “celebs” paid homage and Jaglom asked him about his incredible life, his and others’ films,  and all the people he knew. The stories are wonderful, even if they are only Welles’ version of things, and may have been somewhat different had the other side told them. But, then, isn’t that the point of CITIZEN KANE?
   Keeping in mind the informal, jocular, and over-the-top nature of these lunches, here are a few of those lunch sessions, excerpted:
OW – …I hate Woody Allen physically, I dislike that kind of man.
HJ – I’ve never understood why. Have you met him?
OW – Oh, yes. I can hardly bear to talk to him. He has the Chaplin disease. That particular combination of arrogance and timidity sets my teeth on edge.
HJ – He’s not arrogant; he’s shy.
OW – He is arrogant. Like all people with timid personalities, his arrogance is unlimited. Anybody who speaks quietly and shrivels up in company is unbelievably arrogant. He acts shy, but he’s not. He’s scared. He hates himself, and he loves himself, a very tense situation. It’s people like me who have to carry on and pretend to be modest.
HJ – Does he take himself very seriously?
OW – Very seriously. I think his movies show it. To me it’s the most embarrassing thing in the world—a man who presents himself at his worst to get laughs, in order to free himself from his hang-ups. Everything he does on the screen is therapeutic.
HJ – That’s why you don’t like [Bob] Fosse either—ALL THAT JAZZ.
OW – Yes, that’s right. I don’t like that kind of therapeutic movie. I’m pretty catholic in my taste, but there are some things I can’t stand.
HJ – I love Woody’s movies. That we disagree on. We disagree on actors too. I can never get over what you said about Brando.
OW – It’s that neck. Which is like a huge sausage, a shoe made of flesh.
HJ – People say Brando isn’t very bright.
OW – Well, most great actors aren’t. Larry [Olivier] is very—I mean, seriously—stupid. I believe that intelligence is a handicap in an actor. Because it means that you’re not naturally emotive, but rather cerebral. The cerebral fellow can be a great actor, but it’s harder. Of performing artists, actors and musicians are about equally bright. I’m very fond of musicians. Not so much of singers. All singers think about is their throats, you know? You go through twenty years of that, what have you got to say? They’re prisoners of their vocal chords. So singers are the bottom; actors are at the top. There are exceptions. Leo Slezak, the father of Walter Slezak the actor, made the best theater joke of all time, you know? He was the greatest Wagnerian tenor of his era. And the king—the uncrowned king—of Vienna. He was singing LOHENGRIN—if you’re a  Wagnerian, you know that he enters standing on a swan that floats on the river, onto the stage. He gets off, sings, and then at the end of his last aria, is supposed to get back on the swan boat and float off. But one night the swan just went off by itself before he could get on it. Without missing a beat, he turned to the audience and ad libbed, “What time does the next swan leave?”
HJ – How can those people have such charm without any intelligence? I’ve never understood that.
OW – Well, it’s like talent without intelligence. It happens.
HJ – If [Spencer] Tracy was hateful, none of that comes across in the work.
OW – To me it does. I hate him so. Because he’s one of those bitchy Irishmen.
HJ – One of those what?
OW – One of those bitchy Irishmen.
HJ – I can’t believe you said that.
OW – I’m a racist, you know. Here’s the Hungarian recipe for making an omelet. First, steal two eggs. [Alexander] Korda (a Hungarian film producer and director) told me that.
   Alexander Korda produced THE THIRD MAN, in which Welles starred as Harry Lime, the eponymous central character of the film, who doesn’t really appear until late in the movie. Jaglom asked about the pedigree of the project:
HJ – How much of THE THIRD MAN was Graham Greene’s, how much was Korda’s?
OW – The real makers of that film were [Sir] Carol Reed and Korda. Greene was nowhere near it. His authorship is greatly exaggerated. The idea for the plot was Alex’s.
HJ- Really? Everyone assumes, automatically, that the Graham Greene novel came first, and then somebody adapted—it’s not from Graham Greene?
OW – Korda gave him the basic idea. Said, “Go and write a movie script set in a bombed-out, nightmare of a city after the war, with the black market and all that. He just wrote a rough-draft sketch for the movie, and Carol did the rest of it. There’s an example of a producer being a producer. Carol deserves much more credit than people give him. Graham wrote the novel after the movie was made. Also, he conceived of the character as one of those burnt-out cases, one of the Graham Greene empty men, which was not my vision of him at all.
HJ – Maybe that’s why (American distributor for the film, David O.) Selznick thought of Noel Coward for the character that Greene wrote.
OW – Maybe. But I said, “No, he has to be fascinating. You must understand why he’s got this city in his hand.” And Carol took a flyer on that idea and changed the character completely. Greene’s Harry Lime was nothing like I played it. Every word that I spoke, all my dialogue, I wrote…”
HJ – How was THE THIRD MAN received?
OW – In Europe, the picture was a hundred times bigger than it was here. It was the biggest hit since the war. It corresponded to something the Europeans could understand in a way the Americans didn’t. The Europeans had been through hell, the war, the cynicism, the black market, all that. Harry Lime represented their past, in a way, the dark side of them. Yet, attractive, you know.
You cannot imagine what it was, a kind of mania. When I came into a restaurant, the people went crazy. At the hotel I was staying in, police had to come to quiet the fans. It was my one moment of being a superstar. The best part ever written for an actor. Had I not been trying to finish OTHELLO, I could have made a career out of that picture. From all the offers I got. But by the time I finished OTHELLO, the fever was over, you see.
Now after this huge European success, it comes out in America—Selznick’s version—saying: “David O. Selznick presents THE THIRD MAN. Produced by David O. Selznick.” About three of those credits.
HJ – It was Chaplin all over again.
OW – I took Alex and David to dinner one night in Paris, right after it opened, and Alex said, “My dear David. I have seen the American titles.” And David started to hem and haw, “Well you know…” Alex said, “I only hope that I don’t die before you do.” David said, “What do you mean?” Alex replied, “I don’t want to think of you sneaking into the cemetery and scratching my name off my tombstone.”
   Jaglom, a fan of Charlie Chaplin (to Welles’ preference for Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd), wanted to hear about Welles’ experience with the “Little Tramp”:
HJ – I’m dying to hear about Charlie Chaplin. He was the hero of my youth, and I still adore his movies. Do you know whether he planned his jokes in advance, or mainly improvised?
OW – No. He didn’t improvise much, but he wasn’t the one who planned the jokes, either. He had six gagmen.
HJ – Chaplin had six gagmen?
OW – Yes. Oh, yes, of course. I’ll tell you a story. There was a fellow who later became a director, called Mal St. Clair, and he was one of the gagmen. This was a day when Rebecca West, Aldous Huxley, and H.G. Wells were coming to watch the shooting of CITY LIGHTS.
HJ – My God.
OW – And Chaplin has the chairs out, ready for them, and they sit down. He starts his scene, something they had been shooting the night before and hadn’t finished. He has a brick. And he’s going to throw it through the window of a shop to take something—because he’s hungry or whatever it is—and then realizes a policeman is standing behind him. They start to roll (camera). And Mal comes into the studio and says, “Charlie, I’ve got it! None of us could figure out what to do in that scene you were shooting last night, but I’ve got—“ Chaplin says, “Go away.” Mal says, “Charlie, I’m telling you, I’ve got it. What you do with the brick—“ Chaplin says, “Get out, please. I told you not to come in.” Mal says, “But we’re all trying to find a kicker for this scene last night, and I’ve got it!” Chaplin’s really angry now, says “Listen, will you get out?” And Mal says, “As you start to raise the brick—“ Charlie yells, “Get out of my studio!! I never want to see you again!!” So Mal says, “Yes, I’m going.” Just as he reaches the exit, he turns around, and adds, “You are nothing but a no-good quidnunc.” … Now Charlie, every day after lunch, went to the can, his private can. And there he had the short Oxford dictionary (the long version is 11 volumes), and he read a page of it to improve his mind. On this day he turns to Q. He sees that it’s circled, and Mal has written, “I knew you’d look it up.” …  Charlie was uneducated, you see, and embarrassed about his vocabulary. … That’s why he fired Mal St. Clair. Never allowed him on the set again! Because he was blowing it in front of these highbrow, grand people, who thought he was the genius of comedy—
HJ – I’m completely stunned. It makes him Johnny Carson to me.
OW – Of course. He was Johnny Carson! (who had stopped inviting Welles on THE TONIGHT SHOW when a staffer quipped to the press that Welles was the only guest Carson was in awe of”). He (Chaplin) did think up gags, but he also had gagmen. The only one who didn’t was Harold Lloyd, who was the greatest gagman in the history of movies. If you look at his movies, the gags are the most inventive—the most original, the most visual—of any of the silent comics.
HJ – But they weren’t touching like Chaplin’s were.
OW – C’mon, who’s talking about touching? We’re talking about gags! A gag isn’t supposed to be touching.
HJ – I’m trying to talk about Chaplin’s special genius…
OW – We’re not talking about Chaplin’s genius, we’re not talking about his art, or whether Lloyd is better than Chaplin. We’re talking about gags. The joke. You’ve got to separate jokes from beauty and all that. Chaplin had too much beauty. He drenched his pictures with it. That’s why [Buster] Keaton is finally giving him the (figuratively speaking) bath, and will, historically, forever. Oh, yes, he’s so much greater.
HJ – Because he was not as schmaltzy.
OW – Because he was better—more versatile, more, finally, original. Some of the things Keaton thought up to do are incredible.
HJ – I feel like a little child told there’s no Santa Claus.
OW – But think what gags are. They’re essential in a slapstick comedy. A picture has to be full of them. Chaplin had a guy who wrote better gags than he did, you see? But still, he made the pictures you admire. With his sensibility, plus all the things he did around the gags.
HJ – To me, nobody else is diminished by having writers, but it’s different with Chaplin.
OW – He understood that. That’s why he wanted people to think that he composed, directed, designed—everything. The day he ran MONSIEUR VERDOUX for me—you know I wrote it—the credits said, “Charles Chaplin presents MONSIEUR VERDOUX, produced by Charles Chaplin, directed by Charles Chaplin, music created by Charles Chaplin, executive producer Charles Chaplin.” And then it said, “Screenplay—Orson Welles.” Story and screenplay. And he said, “Don’t you find it monotonous, my name all those times? Not thinking he’s being funny.
HJ – I don’t understand. Was that his way of saying he didn’t want Orson Welles?
OW – No. My name had to stay. It was in the contract. He was already being sued by Konrad Bercovici over THE GREAT DICTATOR—and he did steal. So he came to me, and he said, “I have to, for my defense, say that I’ve written everything I ever did. And if I put it in the credits that you wrote the story and the screenplay, there goes my case. I’ll put you back the minute the case is over.
HJ – But he never did.
OW – Never meant to. But I said, “Okay,” and it opened in New York without my name at all. And all the papers said, as their chief criticism of MONSIEUR VERDOUX, “Whoever put it into Chaplin’s head to do such a thing?”
HJ – You mean to make such a dark movie about a bluebeard (serial wife-killer)?
OW- Of course. So one day later the credits say, “Based on a suggestion by Orson Welles.” … In other words, something I said to him one night over dinner. And it has said that ever since! But (our italics) I wrote the whole script
   Orson Welles, in this book of recorded conversations, makes it quite clear that he does not care for films with goals limited to purely cinematic or textual effect. Despite his affection for Keaton and Lloyd, his preference is for films that speak directly to the human condition, the human plight in life. This is the great pre-occupation of the finest literature, and I cannot quibble with its presence among the great films of cinema. I, however, include additional films and film-makers, when they demonstrate the power to affect an audience in a profound way, and/or effect advancement in the cinematic art. Where Hitchcock, Hawks, Spielberg, and many others are left off Welles’ list, I include them. Cinema is not only literature. It is for the masses. It is meant for more than Welles allows. There aren’t 10,000 consumers, as with novels. Even at the lowest estimates of success, there are 10,000,000 consumers of film. And a really successful film will raise that exponentially. Welles is rooted in his time, a time in which Shakespeare, Cervantes, and on to Conrad, Hemingway, Faulkner, and the other great titans of literature reigned supreme. We must remember to recognize that it doesn’t end there, or even immediately after Welles. #


Quote of the Post:

"Directors are poor fellows, carrying not much baggage. We come in with only our overnight bags, and go out with nothing. There are names in those old lists of the greatest movies that have totally vanished, you know? Now, when my career is only a memory, I’m still sitting here like some kind of monument, but the moment will come when I’ll drop out of sight altogether, as though a trapdoor had opened…"
---Orson Welles to Henry Jaglom, shortly before he passed away on October 10, 1985 in the middle of the night, with his typewriter in his lap. It was a heart attack.

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