Film

Orson Welles: A Man of a Certain Ego

“The chief proof of a man’s real greatness lies in his perception of his own smallness. It argues... a power of comparison and of appreciation which is in itself proof of nobility.”

“How small we feel with our petty ambitions and strivings in the presence of the great elemental forces of nature,” Sherlock Holmes declares to Dr. Watson in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s novel The Sign of the Four (1889), the second full-length detective yarn to feature one of the world’s most beloved fictional creations, once dubbed “the greatest man who never lived.”

“The chief proof of a man’s real greatness,” Holmes continues, “lies in his perception of his own smallness. It argues, you see, a power of comparison and of appreciation which is in itself proof of nobility.”

Book: Me and Orson Welles

Author: Robert Kaplow

Publisher: Penguin

Publish date: 2009-11

Length: 272 pages

Format: Paperback

Price: $14.00

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/columns_art/j/jacobs-mewells-bkcvr.jpgIn Robert Kaplow’s extremely engaging and nostalgia-laced novel Me and Orson Welles (originally published in 2005, reissued by Penguin in a movie tie-in edition in late 2009) Welles, dubbed “the wonder kid of Kenosha, Wisconsin” by the late film critic Andre Bazin, tells the young narrator that he is “a God-created actor” because he has “the look”, invoking the sentiment of Holmes in The Sign of the Four:

“The bone-deep understanding that your life is so utterly without meaning that simply to survive you have to reinvent yourself. Because if people can’t find you, they can’t dislike you. You see, if I can be Brutus tonight – I mean, really be him from the inside out – then for ninety minutes I get this miraculous reprieve from being myself. That’s what you see in every great actor’s eyes, you know.”

There are numerous similarities in the psychological make-up of Orson Welles and Doyle’s famous fictional detective, both men possessing extraordinary intellectual gifts, both haunted and made dangerously restless by the “bone-deep understanding” that each individual life is but a mere speck in the cosmos.

A serious re-examination of Welles’ brilliant work is long overdue on the 25th anniversary of his passing, just as Hollywood is now renewing the Holmes legend 173 years after the detective first appeared in print (Welles portrayed arch villain Moriarty in a 1952 BBC radio production of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, featuring Sir John Gielgud as Holmes and Sir Ralph Richardson as Watson.)

There have been numerous fictional versions of larger-than-life American artists in print over the decades: F. Scott Fitzgerald became the alcoholic has-been writer Manly Halliday in Budd Schulberg’s rambling roman-a-clef The Disenchanted; rowdy filmmaker John Huston was transformed into cold-blooded John Wilson in Peter Viertel’s fictionalized account of the production of The African Queen, White Hunter, Black Heart, and Ray Bradbury penned a novel, Green Shadows, White Whale, about his experiences making Moby Dick (a novel that particularly obsessed Welles throughout his life and career) with John Huston in Ireland in 1953; the legendary William S. Burroughs has appeared as a fictional character in several Jack Kerouac works and last, but certainly not least, is Charles Bukowski, poet and novelist of the underclass, who created his own fictional alter ego, Hank Chinaski, in dozens of short stories and novels.

The outsized persona of Orson Welles, however, has escaped the novelist’s scrutiny, despite the fact that he remains one of the most towering figures to emerge from the media of the 20th century: Broadway, radio, and, ultimately, motion pictures.

While Me and Orson Welles is by no stretch of the imagination a definitive fictive rendering of the life of the creator of Citizen Kane, the novel does offer fascinating insights into a critical juncture in the man’s scattershot career: New York City in 1937, less than two years before Hollywood came calling and Welles departed on gilded wings for the west coast where, as biographer Charles Higham precisely describes in his book Orson Welles: The Rise and Fall of an American Genius, the multi-talented artist would begin work as “the brilliant architect of his own downfall” owing to “some perverse streak of anti-commercialism.”

Next Page

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less
Theatre

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less
10

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less
7

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image