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Thunder in the Mountains

J. Hoberman: Orson Welles, 6 September 2007

Orson WellesHello Americans 
by Simon Callow.
Vintage, 507 pp., £8.99, May 2007, 978 0 09 946261 3
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What Ever Happened to Orson WellesA Portrait of an Independent Career 
by Joseph McBride.
Kentucky, 344 pp., $29.95, October 2006, 0 8131 2410 7
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... Like Dead Elvis and Dead Marilyn, Dead Orson is very much with us. He lives on, not only in the restored ‘director’s cuts’ of his re-released movies, the posthumously completed projects and newly adapted screenplays of never-made films, but as a character in other people’s novels, plays and movies. He haunts the murderous teenagers of Heavenly Creatures as ‘the most hideous man alive’, matches wits with Kenneth Tynan and Laurence Olivier in Austin Pendleton’s play Orson’s Shadow, and has even been fingered posthumously as a suspect in the 1947 Black Dahlia murder ...


David Bromwich: This was Orson Welles, 3 June 2004

Orson WellesThe Stories of His Life 
by Peter Conrad.
Faber, 384 pp., £20, September 2003, 0 571 20978 5
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... At 8 o’clock on the night of 30 October 1938, listeners to Orson Welles’s Mercury Theater on the Air might have noticed a short announcement: the show that evening was going to be an adaptation of H.G. Wells’s War of the Worlds. A lead-in paragraph followed: ‘We know now that in the early years of the 20th century, this world was being watched closely by intelligences greater than man’s and yet as mortal as his own ...


Alan Brien, 5 December 1985

Orson Welles 
by Barbara Leaming.
Weidenfeld, 562 pp., £14.95, October 1985, 0 297 78476 5
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The Making of ‘Citizen Kane’ 
by Robert Carringer.
Murray, 180 pp., £8.95, October 1985, 0 7195 4248 0
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Spike Milligan 
by Pauline Scudamore.
Granada, 318 pp., £8.95, October 1985, 0 246 12275 7
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Nancy Mitford 
by Selina Hastings.
Hamish Hamilton, 274 pp., £12.50, October 1985, 0 241 11684 8
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Rebel: The Short Life of Esmond Romilly 
by Kevin Ingram.
Weidenfeld, 252 pp., £12.95, October 1985, 0 297 78707 1
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The Mitford Family Album 
by Sophia Murphy.
Sidgwick, 160 pp., £12.95, November 1985, 0 283 99115 1
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... between puffs, that there had been an unfortunate misprint in a piece he had written about Orson Welles. Luckily, he had spotted this in the first edition and now was on his way to ensure it was corrected for the rest of the day’s run. While he was inside, I bought the paper and read his article in the pub over the way. I could not see the error ...

At the Movies

Michael Wood: ‘Touch of Evil’, 30 July 2015

Touch of Evil 
directed by Orson Welles.
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... In​ a memo about Touch of Evil, Orson Welles asked Universal Studios to pay attention to the ‘brief visual pattern’ he had drawn, suggesting improvements for the film. This was probably the last sort of help they needed. They wanted a beefy blockbuster and here he was talking about a sliver of art. The studio had added scenes to his work, re-edited others ...

People shouldn’t be fat

Zachary Leader, 3 October 1996

Orson WellesThe Road to Xanadu 
by Simon Callow.
Cape, 640 pp., £20, March 1995, 0 224 03852 4
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Rosebud: The Story of Orson Welles 
by David Thomson.
Little, Brown, 460 pp., £20, September 1996, 0 316 91437 1
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... By the end of his life Orson Welles weighed 350 pounds. His appetite, though, was not a late development. In Simon Callow’s biography the composer Virgil Thomson reports the 22-year-old actor-director devouring ‘oysters and champagne, red meat and burgundy, dessert and brandy’ immediately before squeezing into a canvas corset to play Brutus in Julius Caesar ...


Gavin Millar, 13 September 1990

Citizen WellesA Biography of Orson Welles 
by Frank Brady.
Hodder, 655 pp., £18.95, January 1990, 0 340 51389 6
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If this was happiness: A Biography of Rita Hayworth 
by Barbara Leaming.
Weidenfeld, 312 pp., £14.95, September 1989, 0 297 79630 5
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Norma Shearer 
by Gavin Lambert.
Hodder, 381 pp., £17.95, August 1990, 0 340 52947 4
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Ava’s Men: The Private Life of Ava Gardner 
by Jane Ellen Wayne.
Robson, 268 pp., £14.95, November 1989, 0 86051 636 9
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Goldwyn: A Biography 
by Scott Berg.
Hamish Hamilton, 579 pp., £16.95, September 1989, 0 241 12832 3
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The Genius of the System: Hollywood Film-Making in the Studio Era 
by Thomas Schatz.
Simon and Schuster, 514 pp., £16.95, September 1989, 0 671 69708 0
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... Extravagance and self-indulgence were among the kinder accusations levelled at Orson Welles by industry chiefs. For the most part the charges were unjust. Not only was Welles possibly the most distinguished film artist to be abused and all but broken by the system, and by leading individuals within it (including politicians, newspaper magnates, journalists, gossip-columnists and even critics), he was possibly the least culpable ...


Christopher Harvie: Cars and Cuckoo Clocks, 26 January 1995

... Cuckoo clocks,’ said the President. Orson Welles on the Prater Wheel slipped in and out of my mind. ‘Cuckoo clocks: the one area where the Swiss haven’t run us out of business.’ Last year I was made cochair of a government-university colloquium on the future of industry and society in Baden-Württemberg, Europe’s most prosperous region, but one perilously dependent on the building of cars ...


A.J.P. Taylor: Save the Round Reading-Room! , 20 February 1986

... film – of a sort that does no harm. Of the great film artists who have recently died, Orson Welles, I suppose, led the field for a long time; Citizen Kane had no rival. It sounded as if it were really true, and perhaps it was. I was once asked to share a film with Welles. I wisely refused. Greta Garbo ...

At the Movies

Michael Wood: ‘Mank’, 21 January 2021

... the name of a mood.The actual history of the screenplay is complicated, and it seems clear that Orson Welles, Mankiewicz and John Houseman all had a hand in it. Mankiewicz signed a contract that meant he would receive payment for his work but not get a credit; later, he managed to get his name, along with ...

At the Movies

Michael Wood: ‘An Autumn Afternoon’, 22 May 2014

An Autumn Afternoon 
directed by Yasujirō Ozu.
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... films are famous for their empty corridors and low angles – the shots look like quotations from Orson Welles deprived of all their drama – and characters often appear as almost incidental figures in these decors, ghosts in their own lives. But An Autumn Afternoon, while faithful to this tone and style, fills them out with colour and a little more ...

At the Movies

Michael Wood: ‘Certified Copy’, 7 October 2010

Certified Copy 
directed by Abbas Kiarostami.
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... think is an astonishingly demanding intellectual task – that is, thinking about copies. Where is Orson Welles when you need him? The village is also full of couples getting married, a sort of atmospheric stimulus to the plot, which finally gets underway. Binoche and Shimell stop for coffee in a small restaurant, and the owner mistakes them for husband ...

At the Towner Gallery

Brian Dillon: Carey Young, Palais de Justice, 4 April 2019

... hardly got past the bristling columns at the main entrance before thinking of Kafka: this is where Orson Welles hoped to film his adaptation of The Trial. W.G. Sebald’s Jacques Austerlitz goes wandering in the depths of the Palais looking for Masonic symbols, and finds corridors piled high with ancient office furniture, chairs and lecterns and roll-top ...

At the Movies

Michael Wood: ‘Murder on the Orient Express’, 30 November 2017

Murder on the Orient Express 
directed by Kenneth Brannagh.
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... and films almost since he was born in The Mysterious Affair at Styles in 1920. Charles Laughton, Orson Welles, José Ferrer, Tony Randall and many others have brought him to some sort of audio or audio-visual life, but the relatively recent personifications by Albert Finney, Peter Ustinov and David Suchet dominate most memories. None of these figures ...

At the Prado

Adrian West: Mariano Fortuny y Marsal, 22 February 2018

... his far more famous son, Mariano Fortuny y Madrazo, who designed sets for Wagner and costumes for Orson Welles, and whose classic Delphos gown, Proust wrote, had the ability to detach the wearer ‘from the current of everyday life like a scene in a novel’. The Moorish arches and Arabs in djellabas of Fortuny senior were outdated by the turn of the ...

At the Movies

Michael Wood: ‘A Fistful of Dollars’, 26 April 2018

... look up to him, not morally but physically, because of the low-angle shots Leone has borrowed from Orson Welles, and there is a faint flicker of a vulnerable past in his one good deed. He liberates the captive woman and her husband and child – now we see what those frightened and crying figures were doing in the movie – and when she asks him why he is ...

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