Sunday, 1 June 2014

(46) Book Review: "My Lunches with Orson" edited by Peter Biskind (2013)

My Lunches with Orson edited by Peter Biskind (2013).

It took me a while to finish the last thirty pages or the last two conversations of the book, it was neither because the book got boring, nor because the conversations were not engaging, it was only because I knew the ending of it - Orson Welles will die. After acquiring such engaging, delightful, humorous and witty friends - Orson Welles and Henry Jaglom - it seemed unfair and hard that I will have to leave them sitting in Ma Maison by their lunch table. But it has come to that - the book is finished. This is The End. I am left in awe that for a quite some while I had two intelligent, shameless and captivating lunch chums.

I have no doubt that after reading this book quite a few directors are grinding their teeth, because now not only they have to compete with Welles as a filmmaker, but also as a brilliant raconteur outside of the film set.
From 1983 till 1985 Henry Jaglom, the director and friend of Welles, recorded his conversations with Welles over lunches at Ma Maison, the bistro in Hollywood. Not sure whether these recordings were Welles approved or not, because the "tape recorder was one of the only two things we [Jaglom and Welles] didn't speak about. The other was his [Welles] weight and its health implications." (Biskind 289), they reveal Welles unplugged, and it can be said with a certainty that throughout his life Welles stayed a first-rate raconteur and storyteller.

Orson Welles, 1977.
There is no need for a long introduction to Orson Welles (1915-1985), what he was and what he did, his work does the talking, moreover Welles was not only a skilled director, he was also a producer, an actor, a screenwriter, an author of essays, articles, plays and stories, and quite often he was joggling from one profession to other, often pressured for financial reasons. As Jean-Luc Godard remarked, "Everyone will always owe him everything." (Biskind 2). Now back to the lunch table, while I reveal for you some of my favourite moments from this enchanting book.

In the conversations with Jaglom, Welles is truthful, harsh, intimate, gives a revealing insight into a film industry, he is honest, rude and shocking, he has opinion on and about everything and everyone. Despite all that, Welles was an unlucky wretch when it came down to selling his own work, that can be seen in the conversation where Susan Smith from HBO joins Welles and Jaglom's lunch table, as Welles himself admits "I'm a bad seller."

Remembering that Marilyn Monroe was born on this day, June 1, I must note, true or not, but there might'n be Monroe, as we know her, if not for Welles. He tried to promote her career by taking her to the parties and introducing her to people, as Welles notes in the 6th conversation with Jaglom:
I [Welles] would point Marilyn out to Darryl [Zanuck], and  say, "What a sensational girl." He would answer, "She's just another stock player. We've got hundred of them. Stop trying to push these cunts on me. We've got her on for $125 a week." And then about six months later, Darryl was paying Marilyn $400,000, and the men were looking at her - because some stamp had been put on her.
In the first conversation Welles talks about "such a thing as physical  dislike" in which he states how much he dislikes Woody Allen physically and how Allen has "the Chaplin disease" - a particular "combination of arrogance and timidity", later in the same conversation Welles describes Brando's neck being "like a huge sausage, a shoe made of flesh" and reveals that he is a racist and dismisses Spencer Tracy as "one of those bitchy Irishmen", and states how he prefers Irishmen from Ireland over Irish-Americans:
Seven hundred years of bitter oppression changed their [Irish] character, gave them that passive meanness and cunning. All I can say is what Micheál Mac Liammóir said when we were making Othello, and I asked him, "Describe the Irish in one word." He said, "Malice." Look, I [Welles] love Ireland, I love Irish literature, I love everything they do, you know. But the Irish-Americans have invented an imitation Ireland which is unspeakable. The wearin' o' the green. Oh, my God, to vomit!
After living for a year in Ireland and now visiting for the last two years, I felt particularly excited, when I got to know that Welles has met William Butler Yeats, Lady Gregory and other "famous Gaelic nationalists"; who knows maybe he walked around Coole Park and maybe I have walked where he once walked.

This is only a dip in the first forty or so pages of the book, I have to stop now, before I re-tell you all of the stories. Every conversation will make you laugh, cry, yell, smile or argue back, it definitely won't leave you apathetic. So next time, when you sit down to a lunch table use this opportunity to get closer to a legend, Orson Welles, in the best part he has ever played - Orson Welles.

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