Here's a nice article from The New Republic by Stanley Kauffmann written in 1997; I found a print-out of it in my files today, and was surprised to find it still on the internet after all these years. I think it's a lovely piece, both evocative and intelligent.
Please see what you think:
ON FILMS: "WHEN IN THE CHRONICLE OF WASTED TIME"
by Stanley Kauffmann
The more we learn about Orson Welles, the sadder his story becomes. In 1994, Oja Kodar, the Croatian woman who was his close companion in his later years, opened a vault of long-stored Welles film footage in Los Angeles. Together with a Slovenian director, Vassili Silovic, and a German producer, Roland Zag, Kodar assembled a ninety-minute film from that footage. (The Film Forum in New York had the U.S. theatrical premiere.) This film is heartbreaking in its unfulfillments, irritating in its idlings, ghastly in its losses and laced throughout with magic, literal and beautifully figurative.
Orson Welles: The One-Man Band (Media Res Berlin) contains japeries, conjuring acts (Welles was famous for these), shards of abandoned projects, remnants of completed but lost ones. The materials are bound together with excerpts from a Welles appearance before American film students in 1981 after a showing of The Trial. With these students he plays his favorite late-life role: the thwarted genius full of wry rue.
The real rue is that he was a genius, beginning with his very presence. With the sole exception of John Barrymore, I know no American screen actor, not even Marlon Brando, who so immediately seizes an audience just by appearing-- before he begins to do whatever there is to perform. And Barrymore was not, as Welles was, a writer and a director. (A director? At his best, one of the best in world film history.) This new assemblage, like other posthumous Welles films and like some writings about him, calls both our culture and Welles himself to account. How could the theater and film worlds of America and Europe have been so wasteful of him? How, early in his career when he was showered with adulation, could he have done so much to discourage it? How could he so early have accepted the position of outcast? True, The One-Man Band shows more vividly than previous accounts how he attempted to work, how he fought against idleness. But it was a fitful fight. His slide into gross obesity was a patent surrender.
In this new compilation the reasons for making some of the bits are not given. One sketch shows Welles as the naive American client of two snooty London tailors. Another sketch is a mockery of an English stately home. Another shows him drooling outside a pastry-shop window in Vienna. (Demel's?) In another sketch he really does walk around in the get-up of a London one-man band, addressed by a bobby, a housewife and a flower vendor, all played by Welles. These snippets are fairly painful private jokes.
But there is more. Though there are no excerpts from the nearly completed Don Quixote, there are several from The Other Side of the Wind, Welles's last work, which, we're told, was virtually completed but is blocked by legal tangles. On the basis of these excerpts, it's possible to say only that they are quite unrelated to previous Welles styles. These glimpses are done with whirling cameras and stroboscopic cutting and with a sexual explicitness previously unseen in Welles. But nothing reliable can be inferred about the last film from these clips.
The pearl that makes this compilation invaluable is some footage that, I think, has been generally unknown. Around 1970 Welles prepared a forty-minute version of The Merchant of Venice for television. (Presumably just the Shylock scenes--something that had been done in American theater by Maurice Schwartz in the late 1920s.) We're told that after Welles had finished shooting and was about to start editing, the negatives vanished. Only a fragment remains, some of the scene in which Shylock leaves his house and bids his daughter to guard it. Welles, in full make-up and costume and with a touch of Jewish accent, plays broodingly, powerfully. Ten years or so later, for some reason, Welles filmed himself, without make-up, without accent, in a trenchcoat, doing Shylock's great speech ("Hath not a Jew eyes?"). Fragment though it is, it is more fully accomplished than all of his Othello and his Falstaff. It is a glorious moment.
In 1958, after the British premiere of Touch of Evil, Welles wrote a letter to the New Statesman about their review. This letter, not often acknowledged by biographers or critics, is a threnody on the conditions of filmmaking. First, he talks about the film artist's freedom. Responding to the charge that his picture is "a muddle," Welles says:
This is understandable in the light of the wholesale re-editing of the film by the executive producer, a process of re-hashing in which I was forbidden to participate. Confusion was further confounded by several added scenes which I did not write and was not invited to direct.
Rhapsodists about every frame of every Welles film don't often mention this interference. Then he addresses the reviewer's comments on his choice of subject. "I have to take whatever comes along from time to time, or accept the alternative, which is not working at all."
This new account provides a good measure of Welles's struggle to forge his own work, instead of waiting for "whatever comes along from time to time." Yet it also suggests that there was a streak in him, certified by biographers, of a longing for exiled superiority. The extraordinary artist relished, or came to relish, lolling in that easy chair before those students, basking in their adoration of a spirit too fine for this world.