Orson Welles' journey from
Xanadu to Persepolis
By Darius Kadivar
July 1, 2003
"In Italy for thirty years under the Borgias
they had warfare, terror, murder, bloodshed--they produced Michelangelo,
Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had
brotherly love, five hundred years of democracy and peace, and
what did they produce? The cuckoo clock!" - Harry
Lime played by Orson Welles in Carol Reed's 'The
To millions around the world, Orson Welles IS Citizen
Kane. The only filmaker to have re-invented cinema both as a language and
an artform with his very first film début ( he was only 25 years old
) . Charles Foster Kane's final words "Rosebud" were actually
the freudian underlining theme on which the whole film's plot is constructed. "Rosebud" is
supposed to have been a symbol of Kane's innocence, the reason that drew the
great man to becoming who he was, a legend.
Kane's character was based on the
press mogul and multi-billionaire William Randolph Hearst and "Xanadu",
Kane's mansion, was also based on the Hearst's residence (interestingly the
real mansion was also used for the Roman settings of Stanley Kubrick's 1960
film "Spartacus" with Kirk Douglas).
Welles' inimitable voice is forever associated
to the 1971 documentary film on the Persepolis celebrations marking twenty
five centuries of persian kingship. The "King of the Silver Screen" was
also to produce two other personal projects in the years that followed
with the help of Iranian producers, one of which was also to become Orson
last and unfinished film.
Orson Welles built his legend by generating controversies:
His successful 1938 Radio Show "War
Of The Worlds",
followed by the critically acclaimed but Commercially disaster "Citizen
Kane". His short
appearance in Carol Reed's "Third Man", With Charlton
Heston in the "Touch
of Evil" another failed attempt to seduce Hollywood. Insert Welles
at age 25 when he directed Kane.
Welles made a carreer by generating controversy.
His very first "Coup de Maître" was his famous
1938 Radio adaptation of a Science fiction Comic Strip "War
of the Worlds" about Martians who after landing
on earth destroyed the City.
On October 30, 1938, this live program
caused mass hysteria all over America. People got scared, and
whole nation was totally paralysed for a few hours. This radio
hit however propulsed Orson Welles as the new genius artist
and opened doors to one of Hollywood's most prestigious film studios,
Welles was to have the unpredecedant oppurtunity to
have complete control over his very first film without the interference
any film censor. The 25 year
old film novice is said to have learned in two hours what he needed to know
about filmaking by watching John
result was "Citizen Kane", a commercial flop but an undeniable critical
success that was to imprison Orson Welles' reputation among film
producers in a
Golden Cage of misunderstanding for the years to come. This did
not stop the future
film legend to make movies but it was always with a great deal of difficulty.
Likewise his next film "The
Magnificent Ambersons" proved to be just as unsuccessful for
From then on Hollywood Studios were to close their
doors on Welles who therefore tried to put up his ambitious projects
with the help of European producers
or anyone who could offer financial support. This explains the incredible
number of Commercial Appearacnes of the great Orson in commercial films
as a guest
star such as in René Cléments "Is
Paris Burning ? ", Carol Reeds espionnage "The
Third Man" (for which he wrote his own short dialogue, as
Harry Lime), Peter Collinson's "Ten
Little Indians" or Mike Nichols "Catch-
name a few.
Ten Little Indians" aka "And then
there were none" Shot in Hotel Shah Abbas
and Persepolis. Orson Welles was the voice on
the tape recorder which greets the Cast of International
Stars at the Hotel. Charles Aznavour, Stephane Audran,
Elke Sommer, Richard Attenborough and Oliver Reed were
to complete the cast of international Stars.
A man of immense culture and energy, Welles' appetite
for creation was not always easy to satisfy. He was
a Painter, Magician, Journalist, Radio entertainer,
and a Man of Theater, yet Welles was to impose himself as a major filmaker
( see filmography)
in the History of Motion Pictures. He was also to use his screen presence
voice for great adaptations of Shakespeare for Screen such as "Othello" or "Macbeth" which
used little sophisticated material but remain perfect examples of artisitc
creativity to this day.
Often defining himself as a "Man of the Rennaissance",
Welles was more pre-occupied by creating than anything else.The Common
denominator in most Welles characters is certainly the fact that they
than Life", be it , Kings or Jesters, they all hide their
weakness' behind an imposing and powerful presence, this is expressed
by Falstaff , mediocre
ambition by "Macbeth" or
Kane, and Blind Jealousy as for "Othello".
Curiously and similarily to the Renaissance Artists, always trying
to make ends meet and eagerly in search of financial backing
for future artistic projects.Welles
was at the financial mercy of Art Patrons worldwide accepting or refusing
to finance his projects, be it Jet Set Millionaires, South
Presidents, or Kings ...
Imperial Iran's "Epic" response
The Persian Empire narrated by Orson Wells in
It was therefore quite an omen for him to be approached by the Iranian Government's
Ministry of Culture in order to narrate an upcoming documentary film on the Persepolis
Ceremonies held in October 1971, by the Shah of Iran.
Welles was to participate to this project that could also open doors on eventual
financial partners for his other ambitious projects. He was also to narrate
an intimate documentary on the Persian Emperor in 1972 entitled "The
Shah of Iran" directed by Walter Ellaby. The film was released
again in 1980 as a retrospective on the recently toppled Shah.
This first collaboration however led Welles to undertake with the help of
his Iranian Producers the filming of the two final and most ambitious film
of his entire carreer "F for Fake" and "The Other
Side of the Wind". Welles did not live to see the latter completed...
On the set of Welles Last film, "The
Other Side of the Wind" which was never released
with John Huston, Orson Welles and Peter Bogdanovich (who
the script). Right "F for FAKE" also co-produced
by an Iranian Production
Synopsis: "F For Fake" (1973)
"Orson Welles has a ball examining the nature
of what is real and what is fake in the funny, bizarre 'F For
Fak'. Four people stand at the center
of this documentary: Elmyr de Hory, who some believe forged more than a thousand
masterpieces, many of which hang in some of the world's most famous museums;
Clifford Irving, who is not only out to prove what a fake Elmyr is but also
wrote a fake biography of Howard Hughes; Oja Kodar, who claims
that Pablo Picasso painted
22 canvases of her that no one has ever seen; and Welles himself, who harks
back to his days creating the havoc-causing 'The
War Of The Worlds' for radio.
But the true star of the film is the editing; from absurd stock footage to
shots of Welles smirking into the camera from different locations
to scenes with a
monkey scurrying about, the film is vastly entertaining to watch. 'F
For Fake' is an underrated, underappreciated work of comic genius about
the nature of reality, celebrity, and art, by a master filmmaker showing a
wicked sense of humor."
for Fake" (1973) (French title "Verité et
Mensonges" ) starred Welles himself as well as Joseph
Cotten, and Jean-Pierre Aumont and Orson's last companion
A highly intellectual and ambitious film essay on the art
of illusion. Orson Welles weaves a wry, often whimsical,
about the nature of art to bedazzle and fool us all. Equally
captivating is Welles' own trickery and a glimpse behind
his public facade.He also performs a bit of trickery on the
which is revealed at the end of the film. I won't give it
The film was projected for the first time in 1973 during "The
International Film Festival of Tehran" at Roudaki
Hall after a tribute to Orson Welles who recieved an honorary
Golden Winged Ibex for his entire Carreer.
"The Other Side of the Wind" ( Never
This film which also happens to be Orson Welles last movie has had a strange
fate. As suggested in a recent book published in French "Orson
Welles cinČaste, une camČra visible" (Three volumes) by Iranian
film critic Youssef
Ishaghpour : Welles in the last years of his life desperately seeked
financial support for what was to become his testimonial movie "The
Other side of the Wind".
Ishaghpour claimes (See Authors Notes) that
Mr. Mehdi Boucherie involved in the movie business and producer Bahman
Farmanara became the major financial supporters of the legendary
director's movie about a "famous Hollywood director",
starring John Huston, that was shot in stages beginning in the early
'70s and apparently
not completely finished at the time of Wells' death in 1985.
"The Other Side of the Wind" was the film that the director of "Citizen
Kane" and "Touch of Evil" hoped would return
him to the big leagues. Part of the film's legend is that it was reportedly
seized after the Ayatollah took power in Iran in 1979.
However it would
the financial partners of the Time particularily Mehdi Boucherie still
have hold of the original film copy. A Lawsuite has been opposing them
counterparts including director Peter Bogdanovitch and Personal Friend
of the Legendary Director and some form of aggreement seems to have been
(See article "The
Other Side of Orson Welles" ).
However to this day the great film master's "Final Cut" version
is yet to be seen ...
Recommended reading : This
is Orson Welles by Peter Bogdanovitch
The incomplete footage of the Other
Side of the Wind
Listen to excerpt of one of Orson
Welles Radio show
Ishaghpour has recently published an important biography
on Welles and his work he refers to Mr. Mehdi Boucherie's involvment
in this project. A lawsuite is opposing Mr. Mehdi Boucherie who
apparently is the owner of the film and his American counterparts.
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