And here I am back, two months later, with further observations on Fiona Banner's production. I fully agree with tadao's observations of "echoes" in later Welles' films: Harry Lime, Franz Kindler, Gregorie Arkadin. And here are some further observations of my own:
Most of the afternoon, I watched Fiona Banner's art installation of Orson Welles' screenplay for Joseph Conrad's THE HEART OF DARKNESS at the BBC's Queen Elizabeth Hall in London. Banner secured the performance rights to Welles' first Hollywood screenplay from Daughter Beatrice Welles' "The Estate of Orson Welles." Then, on the roof of the BBC Studio, looking out on the Thames and London, she constructed a replica of Roi de Belges, the actual riverboat Conrad commanded on Africa's Congo River, setting of his novella masterpiece (often thought to be the most prescient and artful meditation in English about European Colonialism). Actor's Actor, the Scotsman Brian Cox agreed to play the dual role of Marlow (Conrad's usual narrator) and Mr. Kurtz (a model of a pre-fascist Colonial leader), as well as most of the other characters.
The reading takes two and a half hours, but of course, as a film, would have come in at under two. The 1939 script is a brilliant dramatization of the madness that is Colonialism. Welles freely adapted the novella, bringing it up to date, opening the action in New York Harbor, and bringing in references to the rise of Fascist dictators in Europe, one of whom, it is suggested, Mr. Kurtz was being groomed to become. [A viewer is reminded that, in 1935, Generalisimo Francisco Franco was brought back from Spanish Morocco with his colonial army to put down the Republlican Revolution in Spain.]
Brian Cox's reading was filmed live in the wheelhouse of the Roi de Belges on March 30, 2012, piped downstairs to a studio audience (where tadao witnessed it), and broadcast live Worldwide through the facilities of the BBC. So what we have is a somewhat primative record, in black and white, rather like a 1940's film, or an experimental Studion One drama in early TV, of Ms. Banner's art installation, which she has recently brought with imaginative lobby cards to a museum in Los Angeles. The intended film itself was never made, running into political and finance objections from the RKO head office. [I disagree with Todd on that.] They had expected a motion picture version of the H.G. Welles' "The War of the Worlds," the radio adaptation which had made Orson Welles a household name in 1938. Welles and his Mercury Theater then moped around for over a year before producing CITIZEN KANE, often named the greatest black and white picture of Hollywood's Golden Age.
After giving THE HEART OF DARKNESS a third viewing, the dramatized screenplay suggests for me a number of themes and touches which would be echoed in Welles' later films. For instance, in CITIZEN KANE, Charles Foster Kane, the Robber Baron of Journalism, can be seen as an American replica of Mr. Kurtz; both men's grandiose ambitions ending in regret and horror. Welles introduces a quite exotic girlfriend for Kurtz in his script and names her Elsa. Years later, in his next fully original motion picture, LADY FROM SHANGHAI, Welles has a wandering sailor take command of vessel, owned by fascist-types, which sails from New York around the Horn to San Francisco, where the sailor (played by Welles), a veteran of the Spanish Civil War, finds a heart of darkness with his fascist employer and the man's wife in the old Playland at the Beach. He names his unreliable heroine Elsa, and she is played by Rita Hayworth, in a role which mirrored the breakup of Welles' marriage to the Star.
Perhaps you might find echoes of THE HEART OF DARKNESS in other films of Orson Welles. The BBC art installation will be up only to June 30, 2012. Better hurry!
Here is the URL: http://www.aroomforlondon.co.uk/hearts-of-darkness
One wonders (with a wink) if Simon Callow has seen THE HEART OF DARKNESS.
"The Horror . . . the horror. . . ."