Shielded From A Scorching Sun
Oja Kodar on life with Orson
When Orson Welles died 20 years ago, he bequeathed Oja Kodar (his collaborator, muse and companion in the last years of his life) a huge amount of material: unfinished scripts, fragments of films, books, sketches.
by Geoffrey Macnab
An artist, sculptress, writer and filmmaker in her own right, the Croatian-born Kodar is almost as much a polymath as Welles himself. Not that she felt eclipsed by her companion. “I call it being shielded from a scorching sun,” she says of being so closely in his orbit.
Kodar first met Welles when he was in Zagreb filming “The Trial” in the early 1960s. They were introduced by Welles’ cameraman, Edmond Richard. Welles began to ask her questions about her background. Later, he sent a limousine to the suburbs of Zagreb to take her to the set so she could see him work. “The neighbours were all looking, asking what is this car doing in our street. The chauffeur came, picked me up and took me to the set. Orson waited for me, opened the door, and kissed my hand in front of everybody. I wanted to die, I was so embarassed. This was how we started – let’s put it that way.”
For the next 15 years, Welles and Kodar roamed the world (“we were moving around like gypsies”) before eventually setting up home, first in France and then in LA.
The question after his death was what to do with her material. “The cost of keeping it in a proper condition was too much for my budget.”
At the time, she was living in Los Angeles, but she yearned to return to Europe. “Hollywood was a place where I never felt comfortable or happy. The life is easygoing, but without Orson, it was really an empty, empty place.”
Kodar was reluctant to donate her Welles material to an American archive. She had heard rumours that US archivists could be sloppy and disorganised. “That, of course, terrified me.” She briefly contemplated giving the material to the Cinematheque Francais before finally deciding that the Munich Film Archive was the best home.
“You know, the stereotype thinking is that the Germans are very precise, very punctual, very organised. I said to myself maybe I should choose Germany.”
Anyone who worked with Welles was expected to do a little bit of everything. On her movies with him, Kodar was “translator, driver, cook, focus puller, actress, gaffer, you name it,” but she learned a huge amount about filmmaking in the process.
Welles was a consummate teacher. At one stage, he had proposed setting up his own film school in France. He was going to call it “The Jean Renoir School.” When that scheme came to nothing, he considered taking such school to a small town on the Adriatic coast close to where he made “The Deep”. But this was still the communist era and the authorities weren’t ready to support such a venture. Now, Kodar is hoping to set up a film school herself. “This school is not going to be called the Jean Renoir school. It will be called the Orson Welles school.” Munich, she suggests, may be the best place for such a school.
As for the disputes over rights surrounding so many Welles’ films, Kodar says: “it’s so complicated it is a movie in itself. If I told you some of the things going on during and fter the making of certain projects, you’d find it...mind boggling!”
(Pardo News, 13th August 2005, page 4)