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Orson Welles—At Ease

by Leonard Maltin
May 30, 2010 4:00 AM
2 Comments
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I’m hesitant to publish links to YouTube on a regular basis for two reasons: the dubious legality of some posts, and the guilt I feel by encouraging you to idle away untold hours of time on this hypnotic site. But I can’t resist calling your attention to a series of short pieces that Orson Welles filmed for the BBC in 1955 under the title Orson Welles’ Sketchbook. I had never seen, or even heard of, these on-camera essays until someone called them to my attention.

If you’re at all interested in Welles, you really ought to take a look. He does for the camera what he did so effortlessly on—

—radio during the 1940s, when he aired his personal opinions on events of the day—here, punctuated by closeups of his own pen-and-ink sketches. He is a master of extemporaneous speech, and the segments appear to have been shot in several long takes. One could never ignore that sonorous voice, and it’s no easier to escape his gaze.

Orson Welles renders a self-portrait, in profile, for the BBC camera.

Welles is a subject of endless fascination. Actor Simon Callow is midway through his multi-volume biography of Welles, but even that cannot be called definitive, because he was many things to many people, at so many different moments. His is a life open to interpretation. (His daughter Chris Welles Feder published a highly personal memoir, In the Shadow of My Father: A Daughter Remembers Orson Welles last fall. And if you’ve never heard the audio version of Peter Bogdanovich’s This is Orson Welles, compiled from a number of taped interviews over the years, it’s a must. Sad to say, it’s never been released on CD, but you might still find an audiocassette version online, and it’s worth seeking out.)

Meanwhile, sit back and enjoy Orson Welles playing the role some say he played best: Orson Welles.

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2 Comments

  • Michael Towers | June 12, 2010 4:07 AMReply

    Dear Leonard: I am about your age, and grew up in Japan not too long after the War. I was at a Catholic school in Tokyo, and one day, for the first and only time, the teachers showed us a movie. It was The Search (1948), which you recently reviewed on The Secret's Out. Imagine seeing this movie with a lot of kids who were all in that school either as war refugees, or the children of military personnel, with a sprinkling of others. I wish I could go back and ask why that particular film was selected, but I can guess why. On another note, I really like your show, and write down all of your picks and put them on my Netflix queue.
    Regards, Michael

  • John L Matthew | June 10, 2010 7:05 AMReply

    Dear Leonard: Both you & your wife must be spread pretty thin, trying to keep up with all the worthwhile festivals & filmic occasions! But still you are bringing us such super reports on all the very special films, people involved & happenings, books & CD's & DVD's. Bless you for your fine , brilliant & sensible reviews! Should you feel the urge to author more books? How about one on your very favourite films right up to date. Or one on the very special people you have met & know who create all the best today? Can't help remembering that when as a youngster, you started your own magaine & sought out film people while they were still around, in England two other lads were doing the same thing! Like you, they have gone from strength to strength & accomplished wonderful things. The Best to you always & many thanks. John (now 84!) (Anthony Slide & Kevin Brownlow!)

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