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With: Orson Welles, Oja Kodar
Written by: Vassili Silovic, Roland Zag
Directed by: Vassili Silovic, Oja Kodar
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Language: English, German with English subtitles
Running Time: 88
Date: 10/08/1995

Orson Welles: The One-Man Band (1995)

4 Stars (out of 4)

All's Well That Ends Welles

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

This documentary, produced in Germany, France and Switzerland, doesn't so much teach us anything new about the great American director Orson Welles as it does present a treasure chest of his lost films. The film focuses on the last twenty years of Welles' life, the years he spent with his love, Oja Kodar. Welles left a roomful of film cans to the lovely Miss Kodar when he died. Almost all of these cans contained footage for unfinished features and unreleased shorts, and various and random spurts of ideas. Kodar is interviewed sporadically, but the real treat of One Man Band is to see this lost footage.

The main attraction is Welles' The Other Side of the Wind, a film he worked on for almost a decade and was still working on when he died. It would have been about an aging director (played by none other than John Huston) in the final years of his life. (The film is tied up in a legal battle between Ms. Kodar and the overseas financiers.) We are treated to two amazing scenes from what surely would have been another Welles masterwork. The first is a smash and snip roundhouse of a sequence in which Huston is interviewed by a roomful of reporters. The editing and pace is so furious, that it surely would have blown everyone's mind if it had been released in 1976. The second scene is a highly erotic one in which Ms. Kodar seduces a surprised and lucky passenger in a moving car.

We also see a generous helping of The Merchant of Venice with Welles as Shylock. According to the documentary, this film is entirely finished with the exception of Shylock's final monologue. We are shown a snippet of film shot of Welles years later, sans makeup, standing before an ominous sunset reciting the speech. Due to either the power of the speech, or just some chilly winds, tears begin streaming down the great director's face. If The Merchant of Venice was as good as Welles' other attempts at Shakespeare, it would have been very good indeed.

Another lost film, The Deep was shut down when its leading man died in the middle of production. This film was an attempt by Welles at mainstream success. (The same novel was filmed by Phillip Noyce in 1989 as Dead Calm, with Sam Neill and Nicole Kidman.) The footage of this looks surprisingly shoddy.

The documentary also shows us several short projects completed by Welles. The Tailors and One Man Band are successful and amusing little efforts. Welles also attempted what seems to be a supremely vain and audacious project. He filmed several reels of himself against a blue background reading Moby Dick. Of course, Welles had the voice and character to possibly pull off such a stunt, but just imagine watching the whole tedious thing if it had ever been finished!

One Man Band does not let us into any of what the man himself was like. We can assume from what we see that Welles did have it in him to finish some of these films. He seemed to be spreading himself thin with all of these short films and with starting new features when old features remained unfinished. Was he irresponsible? Was he absent minded like Einstein was said to be? Was he fickle, his attentions moving on to a newer and brighter toy every few months? Like I said, the movie doesn't say. But, we can hope that this film is the beginning of an attempt to rescue and preserve everything the master ever made, so that we may learn from his genius and from his mistakes.

DVD Details: The German version of this documentary is included as an extra on the F for Fake DVD. In 2003, HBO did their own version of this film, in English and with slightly different bits of footage (and narrated by Peter Bogdanovich), but both are worth seeing.

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