The year is 1955 and Orson Welles is probably at the lowest point in his long and varied career, he had just made Mr. Arkadin but would be little seen and released in horrible mangled cuts until Criterion re-released in the ’00s on DVD. During this time he made a short documentary series Around the World with Orson Welles for the then brand new British channel ITV. The next year he would return to Hollywood after his self-imposed exile in Europe to make Touch of Evil and work in some bit parts but due to recuts and getting fired in post-production he would head back to Europe and make his final narrative features there in the ’60s.
The series has aspects of the cinematic essay film which he would perfect in his much later F For Fake. Welles was originally to make 26 episodes over the same amount of weeks during a year but to various reasons financially, other commitments and eventually Welles deciding to move back to Hollywood at the end of 1955. There were 6 episodes finished including the first two on Basque country. The big surprise on this new release is the rediscovery of the episode in Vienna where Welles of course starred in The Third Man (which was the biggest success of his career but didn’t direct the film) where he takes us through a tour of some shooting locations and Hotel Sacher where the Sachertorte was supposedly created.
The Paris episode features an old friend of his and a man he greatly admired the surrealist filmmaker/poet/writer Jean Cocteau. Jean-Paul Sartre’s Simone de Beauvoir also makes an appearance but the Paris episode and final episode which is about Spanish bullshit had to be padded out with stock footage and some friends of Welles’ host the final episode with a short appearance by Welles. Every episode however has the magic touch that Welles’ brought to everything he did they are endlessly fascinating and play around with the relatively then new medium of TV and Welles shows his charming self throughout.
The release BFI has compiled is impressive, it includes a documentary on the unfinished episode which touches on the Dominici murder case in France which may he been pulled due to Political pressure. The disc’s real highlight is the 27 minute where Bernard Levin interviews Welles in the late ’60s where he discusses his life and work in typical candid way. The set is rounded off with a booklet with a informative essay by Ben Walters so if your fan of Welles it’s a must or just interested in Europe in general.
Documentary, Television | USA, 1955 | NR | BFI DVD | Dir.Orson Welles | Orson Welles, Elaine Dundy, Kenneth Tynan | Buy:Around the World with Orson Welles (Limited Edition Blu-ray)