Making a film about Orson Welles is a daunting task. First you have to ask yourself what area of his life and work you are going to cover. Theatre? Radio? Film? His persona? His private life? He's an endlessly rich subject, a gift to any documenter of history. But there are even more important considerations when climbing such a formidable mountain. You also have to ask yourself why. Why make another documentary about a man who's had so many made about him in the past, both while he was alive and posthumously? Why not focus on someone else, someone less sung and praised, an obscure figure that rarely gets singled out? Well the answer to that question, for me at least, is that I am endlessly fascinated by Orson Welles, the man and the artist, the real person and the romanticised figure. I adore his work, yes, but there is a lot more to it than that. I love watching his movies, but I also enjoy reading about him, hearing him speak and learning as much as I can about his marvelous life. Why wouldn't I want to spend some time documenting such a fascinating man?
When I finally plucked up the courage to approach the man in documentary, I realised that the main contacts I had were all men who had met Welles when they were young, which seemed vital to me. Two of them saw Welles as a father-like figure; and he in turn viewed them as sons he never had. For Dorian Bond, Welles' assistant in the sixties and author of a wonderful memoir of his time with him ('Me and Mr Welles', History Press), Welles was a fantastical father who wished to pass on his wisdom, show Dorian the many wonders of the world as they whisked around Europe together, working on exotic film projects that never saw completion. Dorian was kind enough to speak to me for the film and his memories are heart-warming, enlightening and evocative. When he speaks about Welles, I am instantly transported back to the sixties, filming The Merchant of Venice, dining in Harry's Bar, living the life of a movie renegade.
I also spoke to Norman Eshley, who played the young sailor in Welles' spellbinding The Immortal Story, back in the sixties. Again, Norman simply took me back, so much so that I left the interview feeling like I understood Welles and his latter day modus operandi more than before. Then of course there was the essential phone call to filmmaker Henry Jaglom, who was a very important friend to Welles in the last decade or so of his life. They worked on films together, dined endlessly, and Henry even acted as a kind of agent to attempt to raise funds for Orson's cinematic visions.
Deciding to focus on the sixties onward (while also providing a back story for those who need reminding of the classic films and defining moments), I got a very personal insight into Welles' magical and exciting world, with all its ups and downs, its excitements and frustrations. It was one of the most extraordinary and enjoyable projects I have had the pleasure to take on, and I need to thank Henry, Norman and especially Dorian for their kindness and willingness to share such treasured memories.
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