New in Print
Three recent releases go behind the scenes for Hollywood reads
Reviewed by Kimberley Jones, Fri., July 12, 2013
My Lunches With Orson: Conversations Between Henry Jaglom and Orson WellesEdited and introduced by Peter Biskind
Metropolitan Books, 320 pp., $28
Orson Welles has been dead nearly 30 years now, but his voice – that honeyed boom – comes through loud and clear in this collection of taped conversations between Welles and his friend and fellow filmmaker Henry Jaglom. The informal interviews, edited by film historian Peter Biskind (Easy Riders, Raging Bulls), took place over a series of long lunches in the last year of Welles' life, but Welles consented to the project on one condition – that Jaglom keep the tape recorder tucked away in a bag. Out of sight, out of mind: Welles comes off here as casual, dishy, and unguarded. Also: petulant, bitchy, and pitiable. At 70, he was a man still aflame with creativity, put out to pasture too soon – at once a legend and a leper, revered for Citizen Kane but unable to close a deal after his 1974 picture, the brilliant, personal essay film F for Fake, failed to make its money back.
"I read this in one sitting; I can't imagine anyone doing otherwise," gushes Steven Soderbergh on the back book jacket, but I'd argue against binge-reading and suggest niblets instead. Too much Orson in one stretch and you're liable to start seeing a fallen idol where once stood a giant – or at the very least something like your wincing, casually racist grandpa.
"See, I believe that it is not true that different races and nations are alike. I'm profoundly convinced that's a total lie," Welles declaims. (Even his thoughts on what to eat for lunch sound like decrees shouted down from Mount Olympus.) "Sardinians, for example, have stubby little fingers. Bostonians have short necks." Irishmen take a beating, too, but Hungarians arouse a different feeling: "I loved Hungarians to the point of sex! I almost get a hard-on when I hear a Hungarian accent, I'm so crazy about them."
Occasionally, the tender and attentive Jaglom calls his friend out: After Welles rejects the notion of casting Dustin Hoffman for one of his much-discussed but never materialized projects for being too ethnic-looking, Jaglom snaps, "You've got a very Fifties, fucked-up idea of what looks American." Welles' retort is rather priceless: "You're my bleeding heart. I was more left than you'll ever be."
Old man Welles might have been insufferable if he weren't so damned eloquent. Even when whining, which is often, he's terribly witty, and he weaves astonishing stories from the Hollywood trenches into his sometimes eye-rolling stumpers on sex, sin, and the blight he considers short men to be. He seemingly knew everyone in the business and has an anecdote about all of them – from FDR to Lena Horne to Laurence Olivier ("Larry is very – I mean, seriously – stupid") – and over the course of their lunches at the now-defunct West Hollywood hangout Ma Maison, a number of these bold-faced names drop by, to fawn over Welles or be swatted away, including the super-agent Swifty Lazar, Richard Burton, and Jack Lemmon.
All told, it's an entertaining eavesdrop, and with a little vision one could imagine its life extended as a two-man stage play: Welles is still such a marvelous showman.
ALSO OUT NOW:
Al Pacino: Anatomy of an Actor by Karina Longworth (Phaidon, 192 pp., $45): Part of an ongoing Cahiers du Cinéma series, this Anatomy of an Actor title charts the career of one of America's cinematic greats by comparing 10 indelible roles, including Michael Corleone and Tony Montana. Insightful commentary (Longworth nails Pacino's roller-coaster musicality as "the crescendo and its comedown") is accompanied by knockout, full-color art.
The Best Film You've Never Seen: 35 Directors Champion the Forgotten or Critically Savaged Movies They Love by Robert K. Elder (Chicago Review Press, 304 pp., $16.95, paper): Circling back to many of the directors who took part in Elder's 2011 book The Film That Changed My Life, this companion collection taps into more obscure and underloved movies via Q&As with filmmakers/proselytizers, such as Neil LaBute (cheering Blume in Love), Richard Linklater (Some Came Running), Jay Duplass (Joe Versus the Volcano), and Henry Jaglom (F for Fake).