Put your cursor over each of the first three volumes. [5/30/09]
Put your cursor over each of the first three volumes. [5/30/09]
Alas, the fact that you can’t access the Spring 2009 issue of Michigan Quarterly Review online means that a good many people, including other Welles fanatics, won’t bother to hunt it down in bookstores or order it online. But this is a pity, because “Treasures from the Special Collections Library at the University of Michigan: Letters and Memos Mainly on Macbeth,” compiled and introduced by Catherine L. Benamou, is an important step forward in Welles studies. The two massive collections of “written, illustrated, recorded, and photographic materials pertaining to the writer-actor-director’s artistic career from around 1931 to 1985,” “totaling some one hundred linear feet,” have been in place for about five years now, even though they’re still being catalogued, and I’m proud to say I was the very first “outside” scholar who paid them a visit when I selected the photographs used on the cover of my most recent book, Discovering Orson Welles (University of California Press, 2007).
These two collections consist of the Welles-related papers of (a) Richard Wilson, associate producer of Mercury Theatre projects starting with Too Much Johnson in 1938 and continuing until Wilson became a film director in his own right in the 1950s, and (b) Oja Kodar, Welles’ companion, muse, and major collaborator over the last two decades of his life and career, a sculptress who worked on his films in multiple capacities (though chiefly as writer and actress). I was fortunate in knowing Wilson (1915-1991) over a 19-year span, starting with our correspondence about Welles’ first Hollywood project, Heart of Darkness — the focus of one of my first published articles (reprinted in Discovering Orson Welles), which led to my meeting Welles in Paris in 1972 — and I’ve also been lucky in knowing Kodar since early 1986, when we met at a Welles tribute in Rotterdam shortly after his death.
The 55-page Welles dossier assembled by Benamou in Michigan Quarterly Review starts off with a 1942 letter from Robert Wise to Welles about the editing of The Magnificent Ambersons, drawn from the Kodar collection. The remaining documents, all drawn from the Wilson papers, are letters relating to Welles’ Macbeth (the film), all written between 1947 and 1949 — four of them by Welles, if one also includes a memorandum to Republic Pictures — followed by an eight-page “Portfolio of Graphics”. The latter starts with 1944 instructions by RKO’s Jim Wilkinson (in charge of their film vaults) to RKO’s Sid Kramer in New York to “instruct the Brazilian office to junk” one print of Journey into Fear (10 reels) and two prints of The Magnificent Ambersons (10 reels and 14 reels). (The remaining seven pages all relate to Macbeth.) [5/28/09]
A wealthy young Englishman (Ben Barnes) marries an American widow he meets in France (Jessica Biel) and brings her back to his family estate, causing various kinds of havoc. Noel Coward’s drawing-room comedy was loosely adapted by Alfred Hitchcock in 1928 but is seldom revived these days; assigning it to Australian cult filmmaker Stephan Elliott (The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert) seems perverse, but if you’re looking for a simple-minded farce with campy overtones, this 2008 feature might be your dish. Elliott retains the 20s setting, improbably makes the widow a sports-car racer from Detroit, drastically changes the plot in other ways, adds lots of tunes by Coward and Cole Porter (along with more recent hits like “Car Wash”), and awkwardly introduces a few gags involving a dead dog. The only characters who seem anchored in some form of reality are the hero’s parents (Kristin Scott Thomas, Colin Firth) and former fiancee (Charlotte Riley); all the others, from siblings to servants, are standard-issue eccentrics or the subjects of running gags. PG-13, 96 min. –Jonathan Rosenbaum
Thanks to a passing reference by Andy Rector on Girish’s excellent blog, I’ve just stumbled upon an invaluable online reference tool — the William K. Everson Collection, which has been set up by New York University’s Cinema Studies, where Everson taught from 1972 to 1996. As someone who used to attend some of the memorable screenings of The Theodore Huff Memorial Film Society that were organized by Everson, at two or three of its separate locations, I’m especially delighted to recover some of the program notes he wrote for those events, such as those for F.W. Murnau’s rediscovered City Girl (a screening I attended) on March 2, 1970. In fact, the two most impressive individual archives to be found at this site are Everson’s voluminous program notes, beautifully cross-referenced and reproduced for easy access, and his collection of press kits. (There are also some other things here as well — including the photograph reproduced above, of Everson imitating Cesare in the Cabinet of Dr. Caligari set that was rebuilt inside the Cinémathèque Française’s Musée du Cinéma at the Palais de Chaillot.)
Everson’s immense value when he was alive was more his extraordinary generosity, the breadth of his knowledge as a film scholar, and his enthusiasm than his critical acumen, so there are times when one wants to quibble with some of the own opinions in his notes (such as his own quibbles about Jacques Tourneur’s masterpiece Stars in My Crown, for example). But one of the most precious things to be found in these notes, some of which I’ve just printed out, are their rare glimpses of alternative filmgoing in Manhattan at various points in the past. When, for instance, he wrote his notes for Marcel L’Herbier’s L’argent (1929), these were for an hour-long (!) condensation of the film blown up to 16-millimeter from 9.5 millimeter that was being screened by the Huff Society on April 21, 1964, at a time when the Paris Cinémathèque apparently still believed that neither a full print nor the film’s negative was still in existence.
There’s obviously a treasure trove to be found here. [5/24/09]
If you’re in Los Angeles in June (I won’t be), you might want to check out The Cinefamily’s Jerry Lewis retrospective (page down), playing on Saturdays. This culminates in his last feature to date, Cracking Up (the poster for its European version is seen below).
I’m cited in the ad for the latter film in the following way: “In some ways it comes off as so formally brazen that the end result of this Airplane!-style gag-fest was avant-garde enough to appeal to academically inclined critics and Lewis lovers — Jonathan Rosenbaum, for example, sandwiched Cracking Up between Bresson’s L’Argent and Kiarostami’s Fellow Citizen on his list of best films of 1983 (the only English-language pick on the list).” I’m not sure what makes me “academically inclined,” but for the record, the (alphabetical) list of my favorite films of 1983 [in Essential Cinema] also includes, immediately below Fellow Citizen, Potter’s The Gold Diggers, Wenders’ Hammett, Dante’s It’s a Good Life [from Twilight Zone: The Movie], Scorsese’s The King of Comedy, Burnett’s My Brother’s Wedding, and, a bit further down the list, Wenders’ The State of Things, Brownlow and Gill’s The Unknown Chaplin, and Cronenberg’s Videodrome – all of them “English-language picks”. So somebody somewhere doesn’t know how to read. [5/21/09]