Wow, so many fascinating and insightful contributions to this discussion! There are so many points I want to address, but I will settle on this very interesting statement from ToddBaesen: "While I can see Welles an a 'Manic' I see nothing in his entire history to label him as a depressive. He always seemed to be hoping for the best". This is, of course, absolutely true; there is a huge component of optimism in Welles' temperamental makeup, along with the darkness and chaos. To help resolve this dichotomy, I offer this quotation from ONE MAN BAND (footage taken from, I believe, FILMING THE TRIAL): "I am a profound pessimist, with a sentimental inclination to hope that Pangloss was right, and that I'm wrong. I have a sentimental inclination towards hope; I believe in bravery, and worship it; to me it's one of the greatest virtues there are; and the fact that I'm a pessimist is part of what gives bravery such an importance to me...don't call me a macho, that's not what I'm talking about." Pangloss is the character from Voltaire's CANDIDE, who believes that this is "the best of all possible worlds".
Welles had no affinity with that superficial, post-Existential pessimism which is a pose, a mood, and an excuse for inaction. His take on THE TRIAL is a brilliant attack on that attitude, and Anthony Perkins' great speech as K, when he condemns those who would have us believe that the whole world is "meaningless, absurd" conveys, I believe, Welles' basic conviction. K's defiant Promethean laughter at the end of THE TRIAL is a great big F-You from Orson to a mad universe.
But Welles was not Dr. Pangloss, either; he did not believe that this is "the best of all possible worlds." Rather, I would catagorize Welles as what Nietzsche called a "tragic pessimist "- one whose enlightened insight enables him to see into the "heart of darkness" at the center of life; yet who celebrates life nonetheless, and who, through the process of artistic creation, conjures up a world of meaning out of the chaos. Nietzsche admired bravery, too.
Thus, I think, Welles' "depression", his "melancholy", his "pessimism", was central to his personalilty, by way of a keen philosophical insight; but by a huge effort of creative will, he was able to overcome despair and shine a light into the darkness. And what a light it was.
Welles brought true tragic insight, the insight of Shakespeare, of the Greek playwrights, and yes, of Hemingway, to the movies. He was one of the few, maybe the only one. It was a tremendous achievement, but it cost him commercial success; Americans are not, really, at heart, at least not yet, a tragic people; we are, for better or worse, optimists and go-getters. Andy Hardy flourishes here, and Superman, not Lear. But that is as it should be, and, success or not, we still have those incomparable masterpieces Welles was able to give us.
Of all the incomplete works and missed opportunities that litter Welles' creative life, for me the greatest tragedy was that he did not live to complete KING LEAR. Forget DQ; forget TOSOTW; forget TCWR and BBR. Forget even AMBERSONS; for me, it's LEAR. I think Welles would have given us the greatest LEAR the world had yet seen, a proper companion piece to CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT. For he would have shown us what happens to the King. He was ready for that play; he was born for it. Was he working on the LEAR script when he died, alone, in LA? I think I read that, somewhere. I have a sentimental hope that, when the first pains hit, and the irony struck him, old Orson laughed that magnificent laugh of his, one last time.
-As flies to wanton boys, are we to the gods. they kill us for their sport-
spoken by the blinded Gloucester in Shakespears's KING LEAR
-There are never many, never enough of them, but there are men born into the world with a gaze fixed on the widest possible horizon, men who can see without strain, beyond the most distant horizon, into that unconquered country we call the future-
Orson Welles, from ONE MAN BAND