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New documentary shows another side of Orson Welles
LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) – Apparently we are entering a season of Orson Welles discoveries. Two major biographies have hit bookstores, Joseph McBride’s “What Ever Happened to Orson Welles?” and Simon Callow’s second volume of his three-book work on Welles.
At AFI Fest in Los Angeles, Peter Bogdanovich is reprising his Sacred Monsters monologue about his legendary Hollywood friends including Welles. Also at AFI is the world premiere of “Searching for Orson,” a documentary by Croatian filmmakers Jakov and Dominik Sedlar.
The Croatian connection is no surprise to Welles scholars and admirers who know that Welles spent his declining years — despite being married to another woman — with a beautiful, exotic and much younger Croatian actress-sculptress-writer, Oja Kodar, who helped write many of his scripts and appeared in his films.
Naturally, Kodar gave her fellow countrymen access to her Welles film archives and herself for an interview. The Sedlars return the favor by never mentioning Welles’ wife or the battles Kodar has had with one of Welles’ surviving daughters over the ownership of his most legendary unfinished film, “The Other Side of the Wind.”
“Orson” devotes much of its running time to this love affair, ignoring nearly all of Welles’ early life and career. By default then, this is a film about Welles’ late life and the saga of “Other Side.” In an interview, Bogdanovich insists that “Other Side” is the one film of Welles’ many unfinished projects that could be completed without the master and indeed that Welles once asked him to do so after his death. (Bogdanovich plays dual roles in this film as its narrator and an interviewer, which confuses the issue of the film’s point of view.)
At the first screening Thursday night, Dominik Sedlar claimed that Showtime is poised to sign documents to fund completion of the film by Bogdanovich but was vague about the ownership of the footage. But hope springs eternal. “Orson” contains much tantalizing footage from “Other Side,” originally shot about 36 years ago, but it appears in a disjointed manner, making any critical judgment impossible.
The film’s other “revelation” is that Welles had a grandson he never knew existed. Daughter Rebecca Welles Manning, who died in 2004, apparently had an illegitimate son, Marc, she gave up for adoption. This fact actually does appear in McBride’s book but isn’t given as much weight as it is in this film. Marc appears onscreen, his face unmistakably reminiscent of his grandfather’s. Tragically, a car crash has impaired his mental facilities.
Of the talking heads, Steven Spielberg offers the most cogent and articulate assessment of Welles’ greatness and his influence on current image-makers. Paul Mazursky and cameraman Gary Graver, among others, supply amusing anecdotes but never fully put their finger on what made him great.
The film mentions things like Welles’ belief that he was Jewish despite all evidence to the contrary but never follows up. Nor does it get to the heart of why so many projects were left unrealized. Nevertheless, “Orson” is often fascinating. Nothing about Welles was ordinary, and this film does capture the love and admiration so many people still maintain for this Renaissance man, who was so adept in radio, stage, film, art and the art of living.