Friday, December 4, 2015

The Unknown Orson Welles: The Deep [work print ]

Believed to be the closest of any of the Orson Welles unfished projects to completion THE DEEP has been the source of much speculation among Welles scholars and fans. If the problem was merely a little editing and some rerecording of voices it really should be viewable…right?

Well, yes and no- certainly it wasn’t until Stefan Droessler, the head of the Munich Filmmuseum, had it cut together from three different work prints. And now the film is still unfinished with almost no music, a lot of missing voices and some repetition. It’s in a state that caused Welles scholars it was shown to to balk at its flaws and a good number of walk outs at the recent Museum of Modern Art screening. I’m not sure what anyone who saw it and hated it or walked out was expecting since it was never meant to be seen like this or be as long as it is (just about 2 hour hours), but if you saw it and took Droessler's advice at the start to see the film for what it could be finished its a major kick in the pants and a solid thriller.

Before the MOMA screening the head of the Munich Film Museum talked about the film. He explained that when he got the job the first thing he wanted to see was THE DEEP. He figured that with it being the closest to completion of any Welles unfinished project he could see a near finished film- what he saw instead was several rough work prints with odd tics to them, With every version pat was in color partly in black and white depending upon what was cheapest to print. Some sequences had been “finished” some hadn’t. Welles also cut together multiple takes in sequence so he could decide later which to use. The sound existed for some pieces but not others. Most of Welles voice was gone because of being shot on location with a noisy camera it was all going to be post dubbed so no one cared-at the time(though Welles can be heard dubbing Laurence Harvey for the work prints) . Most troubling was that while the film followed the script closely there was two dream sequences that they had no notes for.

Stefan Droessler said that using the script and notes he had the film put together to see how it played. For him it was clear that the film was very close to being completed. It was clear that the film really is there and that with work,  especially a recording of a new soundtrack, the film actually could be released. This almost complete version was the was shown to Welles scholars that was balked at itans was  was being shown that night to those of us at MOMA.

The film is based on DEAD CALM by Charles Williams which served as the source of the Philip Noyce film DEAD CALM with Nicole Kidman, Billy Zane and Same Neill. Welles’ version is closer to the source novel with the addition of two additional characters played by Welles and Jean Moreau.

The plot of the film has a young couple( Michael Bryant  and Oja Kodar) on honeymoon becalmed off the coast of Africa. When they see a ship in the distance they sail over to say hello. Along the way they run across Hughie played by Laurence Harvey who is rowing over in a dinghy. He says big ship came from now deserted and sinking. It seems his wife and another couple died as a result of severe food poisoning. When Bryant insists on going to get the documentation for the ship to help with insurance and so he can actually be certain that he can tell authorities what happened Harvey balks, saying all paper work was ruined by the water and goes below to sleep. However when Bryant crosses to the ship and finds Jean Moreau and Orson Welles locked in the sinking ship, he knows something is wrong and he races to get back to his own boat only to find Harvey had taken control and is using the motor to sail off. Bryant then attempts to give chase in the sinking ship.

For me the film the film is a revelation. Forced to work within the limitations of boats on the ocean Welles was forced to get away from his short hand techniques and signature shots. As Joe Bendel said he couldn’t go for his typical low angles because you can’t knock the bottom out of a boat unless you’re aiming to sink it. In a weird way I think this could have been one of Welles best films largely because it isn’t like all his others- welles was forced to be creative to go beyond the typical and it helped.

As it stands now it does need a lot of work. The film is mostly silent. Welles character can be seen to talk but his voice was never dubbed in. Conversations repeat giving a weird dream like quality to bits of it. Several sequences-the burning of the boat for example go on way too long and clearly contains every scrap of film shot for it. I understand why people walked out of this cut. It is over long at times dull. It can be a tough haul especially in the first half.

But if you realize that this version would be cut down and can see the forest for the trees then you realize that this is something special. It’s a really good little pulp thriller. If it doesn’t have the deeper meanings of earlier Welles films it maybe more entertaining. To me the only obvious problems are minor ones, in particular the obvious false modesty of the naked Kodar as she comes on and off the boat.

Interestingly while the film suffers from some missing footage, seemingly just insert shots, we were told that the film was supposed to end with some footage of Harvey’s and Welles characters being attacked by sharks. The footage has gone missing and Welles was apparently upset the red blood they used looked green on film. To be honest film works better without it- not seeing what happening is much more haunting.

I really like the film and I can’t wait to see it finished….

…and that actually may happen.  Droessler said that they are trying to work out the rights to finish the film. .Additionally they would have to figure out how to dub the film, with most people being afraid to dub Welles. I don’t know why since he frequently dubbed everyone else.

Should you get a chance to see this version and think you can work with its limitations see it. It’s a kick in the pants

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