Off-Ramp

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Celebrate Welles' 100th with lunch with Orson and then a 'Touch of Evil'

by John Rabe | Off-Ramp

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Orson Welles (1915-1985) opens the Caesar awards in Paris in 1982. He's the star of the new book "My Lunches with Orson: Conversations Between Henry Jaglom and Orson Welles." PIERRE GUILLAUD/AFP/Getty Images

UPDATE: Wednesday, June 6, 2015, is Welles centennial. To celebrate, the Crest Theater in Westwood is screening his film "Touch of Evil" (1958), in which he stars with Marlene Dietrich, Charlton Heston, Orson Welles, Janet Leigh, and Zsa Zsa Gabor.

It's a dark, weird film with wonderful Wellesian flourishes, like the unedited opening time-bomb shot, which is Welles saying, "Look here, Hollywood. I can still kick your butt."

In the meantime, check out RH Greene's radio documentary masterpiece, War of the Welles, his minute-by-minute examination of Welles' "The War of the Worlds."

Welles and Jaglom became fast friends. They were an odd couple, to say the least. Their backgrounds, personalities, ages (Jaglom was in his late thirties, Welles in his mid-sixties) -- even their films were discrepant. What they did have in common was a fierce desire to go their own way. (Peter Biskind in the introduction to My Lunches with Orson: Conversations Between Henry Jaglom and Orson Welles)

Reading My Lunches with Orson is like one of those afternoons when, dining alone, you happen to sit near two people having a conversation you wish you could join.

Starting in 1978, director Henry Jaglom had lunch with Orson Welles every week at Ma Maison, the late great LA eatery, and at Welles' request, taped their conversations for the final two years. Jaglom told his friend, film writer Peter Biskind (Easy Riders, Raging Bulls), about the tapes, and finally, they've been transcribed and edited.

The result is truly Welles as you've never seen him - human - talking about things he knows - film, and life. He's obscene, gentle, funny, right, wrong, poignant, optimistic, and maudlin. He worked with everybody, and seems to have slept with half of them, and isn't shy with his opinions about them. He thought Gary Cooper was an awful actor, but loved watching him act; thought Irene Dunne was the "non-singing Jeanette MacDonald," and couldn't stand Woody Allen movies.

The bittersweet through-line of the transcripts is Jaglom's attempts to get Welles one last directing job. Jaglom brings many of his friends to lunch with Welles -- powerful men in Hollywood who could have made the movie happen -- and while they all say how excited they were to meet the great man, nothing would come of the meetings. Jaglom says, "Orson said to me one day, 'If you knew how many lunches there have been in the last twenty years...' He knew at some bottom level that nobody would help him."

Listen to my entire interview with Biskind and Jaglom, and hear excerpts from the actual tapes made at Ma Maison between 1983 and 1985, when Welles died at 70.

Jaglom and Biskind will be appearing Thursday, July 25, 7:30pm, at Laemmle's Music Hall Theatre, to talk about My Lunches with Orson. It's a Writers Bloc event. Click here to go. Tickets are $20.

 

 

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