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 Posted:   Oct 25, 2007 - 1:30 PM   
 By:   Gordon Reeves   (Member)

The More Things “Change” Department:

When Douglas Fairbanks, D.W. Griffith, Mary Pickford and Charlie Chaplin



banded together in 1919 to create United Artists, someone (tho it’s usually said to have come from Metro Pictures’ head Richard Rowland) peevishly opined, “The lunatics have taken over the asylum”.

No doubt this sentiment was anonymously bandied about back in 1972 when Paul Newman, Steve McQueen



Sidney Poitier
and Barbra Streisand formed First Artists.



What’s little known (or so “long” ago, it’s almost forgotten) is that a trio of directors once tried to do the same thing, namely

Francis Coppola



William Friedkin




and Peter Bogdanovich



when they came up with The Directors Company (also in 1972).

Now, for our Canadian loonie (which is worth more than the American dollar), there are few to equal Variety’s Peter Bart for the sharpness of his showbiz perception and the fact he actually was a studio executive privy to all the buried bodies and bloody battles part and permanent parcel of the Hollywood landscape.



He had this to say (from a Variety assessment in 2004) about the above directors’ dream project:

[ “The chief problem with the Directors' Company in 1972 was that it was never really a company. The three filmmakers involved in its founding -- Francis Ford Coppola, Peter Bogdanovich and Billy Friedkin -- relished the basic precepts of the enterprise, but, as true '70s mavericks, resisted serious involvement in its operation.

Under the initial plan, the three were not only free to choose their projects (within certain budgetary limits), but could also exercise complete creative control. Moreover, each could name a youthful "protege" who would also make a film for the company.

As Paramount's production vice president, it was my assignment to oversee the Directors' Company and keep things flowing. The first two films to get the green light, "The Conversation" and "Paper Moon," seemed ideally suited to the set-up. Both were innovative and inexpensive; Coppola and Bogdanovich thrived under the complete absence of corporate interference.

Signs of trouble appeared early, however. For one thing, the corporate suits in New York were suspicious of the mandate of creative freedom. Further, Friedkin himself seemed worried about the projects his new colleagues were selecting -- he favored more commercial fare.

And then there was the issue of the proteges. Bogdanovich called me soon after completing "Paper Moon" to tell me he was going to introduce me to a filmmaker whose work the company should next foster. He appeared a day later in the presence of Orson Welles, corpulent and glowering, who, at the time, was neither young nor promising.

Indeed, Welles had fallen into the habit of starting films and then never completing them and, as such, was utterly "unbankable." Bogdanovich felt Welles had one more "Citizen Kane" in him; the other directors disagreed, as did I.

Welles and Bogdanovich had formed a bond, however, and during their lengthy conversations, Welles had spoken glowingly of a novel by Henry James called "Daisy Miller," which he felt was a romantic classic. Bogdanovich, who was making a habit at the time of falling in love, heard Welles' comments in the context of a potential film.

My instinct was that he was simply urging Bogdanovich to read the novel; an erudite man, Welles' literary recommendations were definitely worth listening to. To my surprise, however, Bogdanovich instantly started prepping a movie based on "Daisy Miller," to star his girlfriend Cybill Shepherd -- an idea that did not stir much enthusiasm within the Directors' Company.

At the time, I recall telling myself, this company won't be around for long. The prediction proved to be correct.

Which was a shame because, had the company survived, these three (and other) filmmakers had much to gain from it. All three of the founding filmmakers went on to display rather arcane choices in material for their next films. All could have benefited from a collegial give and take with their peers. Further, the basic structure of the company was valid -- perhaps ahead of its time.

It made sense for a studio to assign a portion of its filmmaking program to directors who would function with a high degree of autonomy. It also made sense to extend them a substantial piece of the gross receipts in return for a commitment to tight budgets. Indeed, several efforts to emulate this business plan have been advanced (most recently with a group that included Steven Soderberg). Nothing, however, has ever taken shape.

Given the circumstances, I regret that Orson Welles never got the chance to make his film under the Directors' Company. He couldn't have made anything less successful than "Daisy Miller"; who knows, he may even have made a final masterpiece.” ]



So. And what sayest thou to that? eek

 
 
 Posted:   Oct 25, 2007 - 3:28 PM   
 By:   manderley   (Member)

In your historical overview of these kinds of multi-partner creative associations you've forgotten at least several of note.

One of the most successful was Hecht-Hill-Lancaster (Harold Hecht, James B. Hill, and Burt Lancaster), responsible for a number of either critically-acclaimed or commercially-successful films of the '50s-'60s. It always seemed to me that this independent producing entity always had a firm eye on budgetary constraints, unusual material, and/or boxoffice appeal. Their credits include THE DEVIL'S DISCIPLE, SEPARATE TABLES, RUN SILENT, RUN DEEP, THE BACHELOR PARTY (1957), TRAPEZE, MARTY, and SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS---and there are certainly a few classics in that list that I respect.

One of the production entities whose loss---or start-up failure---I most mourn is that of the postwar production company, Liberty Films. Made up of directors George Stevens, William Wyler, and Frank Capra (who probably shared strong feelings about their participation in the war, and thus named it Liberty Films)---it promised so much, and delivered very little---only two films, and those by Capra, but major and minor classics, STATE OF THE UNION with Tracy and Hepburn and IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE, with Jimmy Stewart. I doubt if anyone fully knows the reason for the break-up, or the failure to deliver on the part of Stevens and Wyler, but it might have been really spectacular in its output had things gone differently. Among the projects purportedly owned by Liberty were WESTWARD THE WOMEN and ROMAN HOLIDAY (both of which DID get very successfully made, though by other production companies).

Another promising independent production group in the 1940s was ENTERPRISE STUDIOS. It had been founded in 1946 by producers David L. Loew, former WB executive Charles Einfeld, and A. Pam Blumenthal. For whatever reasons, this group seemed to attract liberal and/or postwar radical filmmakers for projects, including John Garfield, Robert Rossen, John Berry, Abraham Polonsky, Robert Aldrich, Lewis Milestone and others, and the intent was to produce all kinds of films with major stars. With a large Bank of America loan to back them up and an organization bent on supplying these kinds of films on a budget, Enterprise managed to produce 9 films including FOUR FACES WEST, RAMROD, FORCE OF EVIL, CAUGHT, NO MINOR VICES, and SO THIS IS NEW YORK. BODY AND SOUL, with Garfield, was brought to Enterprise by his company, and, produced at a budget of about $1 1/2 million, gave Enterprise their biggest hit, raking in around $4 million. Unfortunately, they blew most of the profits on Erich Maria Remarque's ARCH OF TRIUMPH, starring Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyer, and directed by Milestone, and this failure essentially did the company in. The 9-film library was taken back by the Bank of America, packaged with some other failed films they had loaned on, and sold as a package to early '50s television. I can remember seeing these on TV when I was very young and marvelling that many of them were only 3-4 years old at the time, yet had major stars.

 
 
 Posted:   Oct 25, 2007 - 3:49 PM   
 By:   manderley   (Member)

Orson Welles is certainly another story. It's always amazed me that the very people who idolized Welles' creative ability and films were the same ones who looked away when he wanted to do a project. I feel certain much of this related to his failed commercial success, despite the often critically acclaimed pieces he delivered.

(It has always surprised me how things have changed. We all know of a 30+ year creative veteran who generally turns out critically-acclaimed masterpieces on a regular basis but who, also, has very few commercial successes to his credit. Though money is always tight for him, it always seems to turn up when required.)

One wonders how many masterpieces Welles could have ground out with the budget allotted HEAVEN'S GATE. Ten? Twelve? Even if NONE had made money, the loss would have been the same, but we'd probably have been left with at least half-a-dozen classics.

I've always thought that a producing studio, when Welles came to them with a project, should have said, "OK, Orson, we'll consider it." After that the executives would meet together and decide that they needed a critical loss-leader and would approach it by declaring to Orson that he had $4 million to make his project. He would go off happy, make his film for as long as it took, and the producers would be happy, knowing that they'd get SOMETHING, but also that the budget WAS, unbeknownst to Orson, $6 million, and that they had secretly set aside the other $2 million to cover overages or losses on the production that Orson knew nothing about.

When you heard Orson speak at length, however, you realized how intelligent and thoughtful and boundless he was, but also that the genius couldn't be contained, and had a way of moving quickly from one thing to another, perhaps never completing a task out of boredom. In the end, I suppose Orson was his own worst enemy.

 
 
 Posted:   Oct 25, 2007 - 4:07 PM   
 By:   Gordon Reeves   (Member)

First off, Sir M, feel forever free to correct us ANY ol' tyme!

Second off, we've always had much admiration for the way Hecht-Hill-Lancaster was run, and its pedigree of pictures is remarkably high in both its aspirations and actualized success (Lancaster seemed quite atypical in that he was also an astute businessman who allied himself with others from that side of the track without intimidation or fear. Quite atypical - if not a rare anomaly - among actors, tho Olivier was probably his equal in that respect).

Third off, the Mystery of Orson Welles will no doubt rival the Sphinx and Mona Lisa for time immemorial. If we can locate it, we'll share some intriguing insights into Welles from Gore Vidal, not only from the friendship they shared but considered from the industry's side of things.

Despite his prodigious appetite for life, culture and the arts, he was his own worst enemy; it's instructive you cite HEAVEN'S GATE in that Cimino (the Coppola wannabe, in our estimation) suffered from the same sabotaging, self-destructive hellacious hubris Welles was enmeshed in (tho Welles squandered more talent during an off-day than Cimino ever has "on").

Then again, you've been around long enough to surmise "the suits" - favorite villains that they are - would probably figure their investment was better served by any dependable hack around than harboring the fantasy lightning might be caught in the Wellesian bottle again.



Alas, it's not only their loss (as well as ours) but the true tragedy is, as you so wisely state, Welles' own ...

 
 
 Posted:   Oct 25, 2007 - 4:28 PM   
 By:   Gordon Reeves   (Member)

Also, Sir, there was a recent (well, a quarter century or so back, anyway) instance of your "loss-leader" example - except it was rather radically (and ingeniously) reversed!

Apparently, Spielberg and Lucas had their own secret budget and shooting schedule unbeknowest to Paramount whilst filming RAIDERS, the financial benefits of which went guess whose way?



Slick, gents! Congrats for out-foxing Hollywood at its own game ... wink

 
 
 Posted:   Oct 25, 2007 - 4:48 PM   
 By:   manderley   (Member)

.....Apparently, Spielberg and Lucas had their own secret budget and shooting schedule unbeknowest to Paramount whilst filming RAIDERS, the financial benefits of which went guess whose way?.....


Fascinating!

Perhaps I read about it years ago and have forgotten. What are the simplistic details?

 
 
 Posted:   Oct 25, 2007 - 6:07 PM   
 By:   Gordon Reeves   (Member)

If feeble mem'ry recalls, track down a copy of American Cinematographer's November 1981 issue, which is (unless Cinemafantastique did one of its invaluable appraisals) THE damn near definitive account re "RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK"'s filming.

AND contains that delightful tidbit enumerated above ... smile

 
 
 Posted:   Oct 25, 2007 - 9:36 PM   
 By:   franz_conrad   (Member)

One thing about Orson Welles was that his 'creative attention span' alluded to above seemed ideally suited to regularly-broadcasted live radio and theatre, where the industry is structured towards disciplined delivery week after week. Perhaps the long-term production time frames of film were more challenging for him, particularly when he didn't have a studio handling the production side... Travelling the world as his own producer in many respects, it became wearying to keep fighting to keep projects alive, I suspect.

That we'll never see his Heart of Darkness, his Julius Caesar, The Borgias and their Time, War and Peace, or even that infamous Batman (a hoax, I know) is very sad.

 
 
 Posted:   Oct 25, 2007 - 9:48 PM   
 By:   JSWalsh   (Member)

Speaking of Welles, I popped in The Trial the other night, and while we may need another thread for it, I'll just say that Welles was his own worst enemy.

 
 
 Posted:   Oct 25, 2007 - 10:49 PM   
 By:   franz_conrad   (Member)

I've often feared what Welles might have done with THE TRIAL, one of my favourite novels of all time. I love CITIZEN KANE, F FOR FAKE, OTHELLO and TOUCH OF EVIL, but on the other side of things, JOURNEY INTO FEAR, LADY FROM SHANGHAI and MR ARKADIN are very disappointing. I'm not sure who the ideal director would be, but I fear it's not Welles.

 
 Posted:   Oct 26, 2007 - 12:03 AM   
 By:   Essankay   (Member)

...Welles' 'creative attention span' alluded to above seemed ideally suited to regularly-broadcasted live radio and theatre, where the industry is structured towards disciplined delivery week after week. Perhaps the long-term production time frames of film were more challenging for him, particularly when he didn't have a studio handling the production side....

Your point about the deadline demands of radio and theater keeping Welles focused is true, in part, but I think even more important in this regard was his producing partner John Houseman. Houseman's organizational skills kept the Mercury Theater a functioning organization while Welles struck creative sparks in every direction. Possibly Welles' biggest career blunder was in running off Houseman and replacing him with the incompetent and unreliable Jack Moss.


I love CITIZEN KANE, F FOR FAKE, OTHELLO and TOUCH OF EVIL, but on the other side of things, JOURNEY INTO FEAR, LADY FROM SHANGHAI and MR ARKADIN are very disappointing.

Welles produced but didn't direct JOURNEY INTO FEAR so I don't know if it's fair to blame him completely for its failings (which admittedly are many). I must say, however, I find great enjoyment in the loopy melodramatics of LADY FROM SHANGHAI. It's a veritable noir parody made while the style was still being formulated. No disappointment there for me!

And if you haven't seen CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT, I think it ranks with his best (far better than OTHELLO, in my estimation).

 
 
 Posted:   Oct 26, 2007 - 3:43 AM   
 By:   JSWalsh   (Member)

Welles' contributions to JOURNEY INTO FEAR were more substantial than the movie's credits tell. (Unlike THE THIRD MAN, where he contributed the famous "cukoo clock" comment and his perfect acting of the role of Harry Lime, but sometimes gets credit for writing more than that and has even been credited with more.) I love TOUCH OF EVIL--my favorite, in terms of pure enjoyment, of all his films, but LADY FROM SHANGHAI is up there, too. CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT is probably his best film alongside KANE--his performance is so full of both pleasure and sadness, and the direction is amazing. OTHELLO, too, is outstanding. Haven't seen ARKADIN but had the Criterion DVD in my hands yesterday.

THE TRIAL is visually sumptuous, but again I've gotta dredge up Kael--this is Welles's TRIAL, not Kafka's (I think there was a version made in the 90's I'd be curious to see).


 
 
 Posted:   Oct 26, 2007 - 5:23 PM   
 By:   Gordon Reeves   (Member)

The John Houseman salute is beyond reproach; he was the foundational balance to buttress Welles' creativity while ensuring the project's overall vision was adhered to with the former's organizational discipline allied with the latter's artistic daring.

There are some examples of this production-partnership over time: Paul Newman had John Foreman, Steve McQueen had Robert Relyea.

While Olivier



had behind-the-scenes barometers assisting with making sure the acting and filming aspects didn't go out of whack, he also brought with him - ala Houseman - a protean ability to harness and focus directly emanating from his theatrical roots.

Welles, ala Brando, was gifted beyond belief except for their artistic anarchy which, more often than not, wrecked havoc rather than harmony.

Oh, and speaking of creative clash of titans, didja know Welles directed Olivier



in a 1960 London stage production of "Rhinoceros"?

No (predictably) it DIDN'T go well between those two. You were expecting maybe utter bliss? ... roll eyes

 
 Posted:   Oct 26, 2007 - 9:46 PM   
 By:   Essankay   (Member)

THE TRIAL is visually sumptuous, but again I've gotta dredge up Kael--this is Welles's TRIAL, not Kafka's.

Just as everything he adapted for the screen became his own.

Keep in mind, though, that this was not a project that he initiated - he picked it from a list of public domain literary works offered to him by the producers, the Salkinds. (Fellini was presented with the same sort of option in the the case of CASANOVA.)

Although I can't say that it's one of my favorites of Welles' films, I do admire its carefully cultivated dreamlike/nightmare quality, which is made even more unsettling by Welles' trademark bizarre humor. Supposedly, Welles and Bogdanovich once flummoxed an audience by laughing uproariously at a revival screening of the film.

It's been my experience that most audiences do take it far too seriously - the combination of Kafka and Welles typically has them paralyzed with reverence. If you can appreciate it as an outre half-comedy I think it plays much better.

 
 
 Posted:   Oct 26, 2007 - 9:51 PM   
 By:   JSWalsh   (Member)



Keep in mind, though, that this was not a project that he initiated - he picked it from a list of public domain literary works offered to him by the producers, the Salkinds.


Interesting. He doesn't fail on the visuals, and I do think he gets Kafka's sense of humor. I'll have a better impression when I have a chance to finish it, but I have a feeling this was a huge influence on Terry Gilliams' Brazil.

 
 
 Posted:   Oct 28, 2007 - 12:24 PM   
 By:   Gordon Reeves   (Member)

It just so happens one of our all-time favorite quotes comes from Welles:



“This hand that touches you now touched the hand of Sarah Bernhardt. Can you imagine that? When she was young, Madamoiselle Bernhardt had taken the hand of Madam George, who had been the mistress of Napoleon! Peter, just three handshakes from Napoleon! It’s not that the world is small, but that history is so short. Four or five very old men could join hands and take you right back to Shakespeare!!”

 
 Posted:   Oct 29, 2007 - 7:05 PM   
 By:   Jim Wilson Redux   (Member)

Welles was his own worst enemy in one respect--he chose to make films, which is a very expensive art-form.

That he wasted most of his days hustling for cash to support his artistic endevours, rather than making films is his tragedy.

Now--Bogdanovich and Welles were laughing during "The Trial" because when they first became friends--Bogdanovich had written a piece for a Welles retrospective, and Welles appreciated it--Bogdanovich told him that he didn't like "The Trial," and Welles reply was to laugh and say, "Neither do I!!" He would amend that to say that he thought it was good for what it was. A movie for the Salkinds (who he greatly admired), but right before filming was to start, he was informed that the sets that were supposed to be built, hadn't. He then used a train station for all the sets (except the hotel room), improvising a solution to the dilemna (much like he did when the costumes for "Othello" weren't made, and he staged a good deal of it in a steam-bath!)

And Bart is wrong wheh he says that Welles could not complete a film...the problem was that he was frequently his own producer...and the money would run out. Some of these movies--Othello, Chimes at Midnight--were as chaotic as any films ever made, but are testaments to Welles as a film-maker...and they were done CHEAP! The studio heads at Universal were amazed at how much Welles could deliver for the money and time he was spending. Their big concern was Welles' edit of "Touch of Evil," which they thought didn't move fast enough, so they cut out a lot of "character-things."

Bart's just repeating the Hollywood group-think that Welles was incompetent. He was very competent, but found he couldn't trust the studios to leave his films alone ("The Magnificent Ambersons" being the most egregious example), so he made them independently. But "Citizen Kane," because it was so controversial (and basically black-balled), never made any money. So, even Welles at his best, to Hollywood, is worthless without a profit.

But the current thing that amuses me is all these guys coming out of the wood-work, blaming Spielberg for not fronting Welles. He couldn't! But neither did any of the folks in power...for the one reason that is legitimate. Welles' films were just not commercial enough. Brilliant, maybe. Masterpieces, frequently. But they never made a profit. And that's the bottom line.

Welles also called Charlton Heston "the nicest guy in Hollywood."

 
 
 Posted:   Oct 30, 2007 - 12:05 AM   
 By:   Sir_Simon_de_Canterville   (Member)

Second off, we've always had much admiration for the way Hecht-Hill-Lancaster was run, and its pedigree of pictures is remarkably high in both its aspirations and actualized success

It should be noted that before there was a Hecht-Hill-Lancaster, Burt Lancaster in 1948 merged his Norma Productions with Hecht's to form Harold Hecht-Norma, whose name was changed to Hecht-Lancaster in 1954. Producer James Hill came on board in 1955, making it Hecht-Hill-Lancaster (interesting that Lancaster seemed content to always have his name bring up the rear).

 
 Posted:   Oct 31, 2007 - 11:15 PM   
 By:   Essankay   (Member)

It just so happens one of our all-time favorite quotes comes from Welles:

“This hand that touches you now touched the hand of Sarah Bernhardt. Can you imagine that? When she was young, Madamoiselle Bernhardt had taken the hand of Madam George, who had been the mistress of Napoleon! Peter, just three handshakes from Napoleon! It’s not that the world is small, but that history is so short. Four or five very old men could join hands and take you right back to Shakespeare!!”


Welles, indominatable raconteur that he was, apparently could spin quotes like this by the yard. It boggles the mind to imagine all the ones that didn't get recorded for posterity!

I don't know if you've ever seen it, but in the middle 50s he did a series of 15-minute programs for the BBC called Orson Welles' Sketchbook. In it, he would hold forth conversationally on a topic of his choosing and while doing so produce a couple of sketches illustrative of the subject at hand. Those sketches are the only point of visual interest; otherwise it's strictly a talking-head setup without the least camera movement (very unlike his films). In spite of this the programs are fascinating because they demonstrate so well that ranconteur side of his personality.

Ah, to have been able to spend an evening with Orson over cocktails...

 
 
 Posted:   Nov 1, 2007 - 4:22 AM   
 By:   Gordon Reeves   (Member)

What IS this wacky world comin' to? First we're starting to find favor with Jeh and now you come and spoil the pot, Ess, with your percolating perceptions.

[ Gee, ain'tcha glad we Immortals



ain't ones to hold - many - grudges?! wink ]

We wish the BBC would release all those rich cultural treasures they have in their vaults (if they haven't been erased), whether it's science with Jacob Bronowski, art with Kenneth Clark or this previously unknown tasty morsel with Welles (a'course, it's a cultural shame there wasn't an equally foresighted broadcasting enterprise in the States on that same enlightened level - they had to utilize Welles with the banality of selling coffee. We're not sure which is worse: that the latter wasn't any surprise or that it was thoroughly predictable. Bad grief!).

You're royally right; there were (then or now) few to match his almost matchless frame of reference. We wish Vidal



would've written a book solely on his Conversations with Orson ...

 
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