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Orson Welles—At Ease

Leonard Maltin By Leonard Maltin | Leonard Maltin May 30, 2010 at 4:00AM

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.
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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.

This article is related to: Journal