Books

Orson Welles Lied About This Book

Either the name on the cover or his denial of authorship is false. This is typical for Welles.


Mr. Arkadin: AKA Confidential Report: The Secret Sordid Life of an International Tycoon

Publisher: It Books
ISBN: 978-0-06-168903-1
Author: Orson Welles
Price: $13.99
Format: Paperback
Length: 240 pages
Publication Date: 2010-04
Amazon

Though billed as Orson Welles’ novel, the famed director later claimed he didn’t write, or even bother to read, Mr. Arkadin. As the 1955 film directed by and starring Welles, the novel involves two seemingly different players: Gregory Arkadin -- industrialist, tycoon, amnesiac -- and Guy Van Stratten, a small time smuggler sniffing out Arkadin’s vanished history. Between these characters (a khan and a con) is Raina, Arkadin’s daughter, pulled by the men’s vying affections and agendas.

Welles was lying about the book. Either the name on the cover or his denial of authorship is false. This is typical for Welles. From the hysteria and fear made by The War of the Worlds hoax to his last film (F for Fake, a study on the implications of art forgery), Welles was the consummate trickster. Deception, shadow, dishonesty, fraud, misdirection, outright lies: these are all legitimate Wellesian concerns. The only thing slight about the larger-than-life filmmaker was that he loved sleight of hand.

Perhaps Welles denied the novel due to disgust over the entire Arkadin project, which he called “the most butchered film of my career”. There is no director’s cut. Producer Louis Dolivet, unable to bear the costs of Welles’ labored editing, took back the film, which passed through the hands of many editors. The result was roughly five versions of Mr. Arkadin of varying effectiveness and coherence. Some versions employ flashbacks to relay the intrigue. Sequences are reordered. Footage went unused. The film was not a success.

In 2006 Criterion released a three-disc Mr. Arkadin set which included two of the better cuts, a “Comprehensive Version”" (a sort of best guess at where Welles would have taken the film) and a copy of the novel. Lots of material, yes, but the Criterion box told the Arkadin story with more focus than ever before. Now the novel, with a new forward by John Baxter, is obtainable without buying a stack of Criterion DVDs. With a copy of the novel and a Netflix on demand viewing of the film, the Arkadin enigma can be scoped out on the cheap. But is it worth the effort?

As mangled as the film became, the novel may be the most direct route to Arkadin. The book opens in Naples with the nocturnal musings of cigarette smuggler Guy Van Stratten. There’s a gunfight, a stabbing, a man with one leg. Noir archetypes abound. As with Citizen Kane, dying whispers light a slow burning fuse which blows open the past of a powerful, inscrutable man. Kane, of course, dies at the beginning of his story, but Arkadin (a character based on arms dealer Basil Zaharoff with a dash of Joseph Stalin) is very much alive.

After a botched attempt at blackmail, Van Stratten is quickly in Arkadin’s employ. His job is to piece together the industrialist’s life prior to the winter of 1927, when Arkadin found himself alone in Zurich with 200,000 Swiss francs and no memory to speak of. Van Stratten delves into a post-war European underworld, meeting a host of unsavory goons while becoming deeply interested in Arkadin’s daughter. As the onion peels, Van Stratten finds Arkadin was once a petty crook not so different from himself. The plot twists continue to tangle when Van Stratten learns that as he’s unearthing the past, Arkadin is lurking nearby to ensure it stays buried forever.

As knotted as the plot is, the making of Mr. Arkadin is an equally convoluted tale. Welles played the villainous Harry Lime in the 1949 Carol Reed film The Third Man. The popularity of the film led Welles to produce a series of radio plays called The Lives of Harry Lime. A few of the radio plots were cobbled together to make the script of what would be Mr. Arkadin. And the novel? Most likely it was adapted from the screenplay by Welles’ assistant Maurice Bessy. Because Bessy wrote in French, an unknown party produced the English translation.

So to summarize (deep breath): the book is most likely an English translation of a screenplay novelization written in French that was based on a radio play about a character Welles played in The Third Man. With me? No wonder that in his essay for the Criterion release, J. Hoberman observes, “Arkadin is, then, its own Arkadin”. Eventually, the intrigue on both sides of the lens cancels out, leaving only Welles to scrutinize and revealing deep-rooted ties between director and film.

Like how Van Stratten’s rambling odyssey through Europe reflects a director who by 1948 had quit the United States. And Arkadin’s daughter Raina was played by Paola Mori, an actress the Welles later married. If Welles didn’t write the novel, the book’s dialogue, coming from the screenplay, must have been his. Much of it has that particular meld of worldly and world-weary that Welles did so nicely. J. Hoberman relays that Welles told biographer Barbara Leaming that the book was “not a novelization of the movie but rather its source”, which would be a twist on par with Arkadin not ever having amnesia at all. More smoke and mirrors?

So the mystery remains, not taking in inch away from the great fun that the novel often is. Yes, it relies greatly on coincidences to drive the plot. Sure, the tone bounces crazily from choppy noir monologue to flowery descriptions of various European locales. But it’s surprising readable and, given all the complexities being juggled, it entertains consistently. Whether he wrote it or not, the spirit of Welles is on every page. Nothing is clear cut, but it’s a clear reflection. Speaking of the mighty Arkadin, or, if you prefer, Orson Welles, whoever wrote this book says, “He was everywhere, behind everything, or at least his name was.”

6

So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less
6

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