Wednesday, January 22, 2014

My Lunches With Orson (2013)

I was at a press screening some time right after My Lunches with Orson was released and several people were trashing the book. Some people hated the people involved with the book and dismissed it outright, others didn’t like the light it showed Welles in, namely as a down on his luck name that nobody would hire and who had to scramble to make a buck. My curiosity piqued I sought a copy since the thought of seeing Welles unvarnished and as he was with friends intrigued me.

The body of the book is a series of conversations between Welles and director Henry Jaglom recorded at lunch by Jaglom at Welles request. Jaglom had been doing something similar with other people and Welles wanted it done as well, with the condition he not see the recorder. The conversations were then edited and in some place combined with diary entries or other conversations for clarity. The conversations lasted over the last two or three years of Welles life and were concerned with efforts to make a film version of King Lear,, a film about The Cradle Will Rock, The Big Brass Ring and a film called The Dreamers. There is also lots of talk about old projects, old friends, old enemies and the state of Hollywood as Welles and Jaglom saw it.

An incredibly bittersweet read this book is not for anyone who wants their heroes or celebrities to be anything than bigger than life and twice as ugly. What I mean by this is listening to wells at lunch is very different than listening to Welles on a talk show or lecturing. This is Welles very much being human showing the foibles that we all have. This is Welles the regular person full of love and hate, of foolishness and cleverness. Its clear why some people loved him and other didn’t. He is a huge curmudgeonly soul who wants to be liked but wants it on his terms and then can’t understand why he can’t get anywhere. You get a sense of why he didn’t make more films- hen was prickly and he hooked up with people he shouldn’t.

This is Welles unvarnished, much more than I’ve ever seen in in any other biography- and Welles talks a great deal about those, memory and the stories many people tell about what “really” happened. If nothing else the book should be a must read for anyone who loves biography of any sort since it makes clear that what we think is the truth or what we are being told the truth is never the whole truth. Welles takes issue with his biographers and those who insert themselves into his life by telling stories. He also takes issue with himself saying his memory isn’t what it once was… Nowhere is this more clear in the various stories about Citizen Kane that float through the book. Welles tries to set the record straight for Jaglom about various reports as to who he did or didn’t sleep.

Much of the bittersweet nature of the book comes from Welles simply trying to get money to live and for his films. He is constantly trying to figure out who is going to finance his projects. Or star in his films. How much is true or not true isn’t clear. You see the excitement at the possibility he may make a film at the start of the book fade to disillusionment as the money slips away as producers change the rules at the last minute. It breaks your heart to see a great man reduced to almost nothing.

I loved this book a great deal but by the end I had been so beat down I was kind of glad I was done with it. Too much sadness.

If you want to know Welles the man- or at least welles in the final couple of years of his life read this book.

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