Wednesday, December 20, 2023

A Christmas gift from the Funhouse: a rare interview with Orson Welles, with English subtitles

As the year comes to a close, I present for your delectation an online present: the entirety of my episode showcasing a filmed interview with Orson Welles, from a never-seen-in-the-U.S. French TV doc.

The year was 1972 and Orson was at work on his Don Quixote film, but he was also prepping The Other Side of the Wind as well. A very famous French actress was recruited to host this pilot for a TV series directed by a New Wave filmmaker (one of the least-known members of that movement, but a member nonetheless, thanks to the period in which he started making films and the fact that both Truffaut and Godard raved about his first feature). It appears that only two other episodes were ever shot.

This particular actress had worked with Orson four times already (although I’m not sure why the unfinished The Deep and the finished Immortal Story never comes up in this chat). She clearly had a deep affection for the Big Man, and that is evident throughout this chat.

I’m not sure if all the stories told here are 100% (or even a lesser percent) true, but that doesn't matter at all. They are told in a grand style, with plenty of cigar-stained laughter, and remind us of what a tremendously engaging storyteller Welles was. (His laugh was always killer.) If any researcher has turned up any of the crime thrillers or science fiction that Welles claims he wrote here under a pseudonym for the pulps, I'd love to hear about it.

I translated this interview myself, so any errors in the English subs are entirely mine. I found Orson’s French to be charming and he is fully understood by his friend the hostess, but when you “map” out his French he did indeed throw in some incomplete sentences that trailed off and used some Americanisms in the language. 

This documentary also included the interview with Jerry Lewis that I posted a few months back (see this entry URL); that one was a lot easier to tackle, since I only had to translate the overdubbing in French, as one could still hear a lot of the English in between the French voices on the dub. With Orson’s interview, I had to make it seem readable and comprehensible and yet still convey in English his, again, very charming but not entirely grammatically pristine French. 

One note, to prevent inquiries of “gimme everything” school of Net correspondence and commentary: This interview runs approximately 27 minutes. Episodes of the Funhouse run 28 minutes. To properly contextualize this interview I needed a few minutes at the outset (also to give all the names and i.d. the production co./distributor who has long held it from being shown internationally), so I removed less than 2–3 minutes of the chat (containing a story he told many times — about the reason he had a scene set in a Turkish bath in his Othello). 

I also had to put another short part of the interview — where he talks about the protagonist of the Other Side of the Wind, who was to be eventually played by John Huston — over my intro to the footage. Thus, you can see the latter (with the subs onscreen) but can’t hear it. This is the best I could do, given the timeslot I have and the time constraints I work under. I could not make a separate “cut” of the episode for the “gimme everything” folks on the Net. 

I do the show as an intense labor of love (for a full 30 years now) and give of my time freely to make it the best it can be. I can work no longer on this particular project — it took hours to convert it into this comprehensible condition. (I literally typed in many of the English subs; others I altered from a very wonky computer translation.) 

Enjoy the episode, and please feel free to share it anywhere you like.

Merry Happy Holidaze from the Funhouse!

Thanks much to my friend, superior cineaste Paul Gallagher, for his help in finding this film and also the translation process.