What Ever Happened to Orson Welles?: A Portrait of an Independent Career

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At the age of twenty-five, Orson Welles (1915--1985) directed, co-wrote, and starred in Citizen Kane, widely regarded as the greatest film ever made. But Welles was such a revolutionary filmmaker that he found himself at odds with the Hollywood studio system. His work was so far ahead of its time that he never regained the wide popular following he had once enjoyed as a young actor-director on the radio. What Ever Happened to Orson Welles?: A Portrait of an Independent Career challenges the conventional wisdom that Welles's career after Kane was a long decline and that he spent his final years doing little but eating and making commercials while squandering his earlier promise. In this intimate and often surprising personal portrait, Joseph McBride shows instead how Welles never stopped directing radical, adventurous films and was always breaking new artistic ground as a filmmaker. McBride is the first author to provide a comprehensive examination of the films of Welles's artistically rich yet little-known later period in the United States (1970--1985), when McBride knew and worked with him. McBride reports on Welles's daringly experimental film projects, including the legendary 1970--1976 unfinished film The Other Side of the Wind, Welles's satire of Hollywood during the "Easy Rider era"; McBride gives a unique insider perspective on Welles from the viewpoint of a young film critic playing a spoof of himself in a cast headed by John Huston and Peter Bogdanovich. To put Welles's widely misunderstood later years into context, What Ever Happened to Orson Welles? reexamines the filmmaker's entire life and career. McBride offers many fresh insights into the collapse of Welles's Hollywood career in the 1940s, his subsequent political blacklisting, and his long period of European exile. An enlightening and entertaining look at Welles's brilliant and enigmatic career as a filmmaker, What Ever Happened to Orson Welles? serves as a major reinterpretation of Welles's life and work. McBride clears away the myths that have long obscured Welles's later years and have caused him to be falsely regarded as a tragic failure. McBride's revealing portrait of this great artist will change the terms of how Orson Welles is understood as a man, an actor, a political figure, and a filmmaker.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"McBride's combination of personal reflection and scholarly analysis makes the book rigorous and affectionate, academic and deeply moving, infuriating and celebratory.... A book against which all future writings on the subject will be measured." -- American Cinematographer

"McBride, a marvelous critic and biographer, has written a lively portrait of Welles-as-independent-artist.... Invaluable." -- Bookforum

"Welles fans" -- Booklist

"Its value is twofold: as a biography for Welles fans and as a history of film industry operations and politics." -- California Bookwatch

"McBride on Welles is many things: as biography, it presents the untold story of how McCarthyism warped Welles' career like so many others; as the history of a reputation it forms an expose of how the insidious and typically American distrust of the artist's mode of being obscured and caricatured the second and third acts of a consummate artist even as he went on making masterpieces; as monograph it documents the wild constellation of unfinished and even unstarted projects that never had their chances of being masterpieces; as eyewitness account of Welles' working methods it contains a covert memoir of apprenticeship, and a very tender-hearted one at that. As with the invaluable accounts of Dickens written during Dickens' lifetime, McBride has charted a course through the smoke for all future scholarship (and, one prays, film restoration). Twenty-first Century Welles research begins here." -- Jonathan Lethem

"Packed with information that can't be found elsewhere, Joseph McBride's What Ever Happened to Orson Welles? not only answers the question posed by his title; it also fruitfully redirects our sense of Welles's life and career. Best of all, it's sympathetic and serious without ever becoming a whitewash. McBride's protracted experience as an actor for Welles gives him many special insights, and what emerges is a scrupulous, balanced, well-researched, three-dimensional portrait." -- Jonathan Rosenbaum

"Personal and passionate." -- Los Angeles Times

"There has been so much written and said about Orson Welles over the years, and quite a bit of it has been fixated on the myth of his self-destruction at the expense of everything else: Welles has become the epitome of fallen genius, our fallen genius. Joseph McBride, who has a clearer understanding of Welles and his films than almost anyone, exposes that idea as the myth it is and always has been. He brings Welles and the difficulties he faced" -- Martin Scorsese

"A definitive study, informed by his friendship and collaboration with the Hollywood legend and discussions with people who know Welles." -- Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

"A must have for the Wellesian scholar (or worshipper), fans of old Hollywood, or those looking for insight into the mind of directors. It is a fascinating look at a larger than life filmmaking genius that was always ahead of his time and a highly recommended read." -- Monsters and Critics

"A detailed look at Welles's later years. McBride was in and out of Welles's orbit for the last fifteen years of the man's life, and he writes warmly about the director's later activities; but he is forthright and honest enough to say that on some crucial level the relationship never clicked." -- New York Review of Books

"McBride supplies a missing piece of the jigsaw.... Presents a balanced and complex picture of an extremely talented, but difficult, personality whose personal flaws are less important than what he attempted to achieve." -- November 3rd Club

"McBride is heartfelt in his advocacy, and the book continues to compel throughout." -- Sight & Sound

"Scores of books have been written about Orson Welles since his death in 1985, some by colleagues of the great director, others by film scholars. Readers will find the best of both worlds in Joseph McBride's What Ever Happened to Orson Welles?" -- Springfield (MA) Republican

"Indispensable. Joseph McBride's What Ever Happened to Orson Welles? is a brilliantly detailed and authoritative work of scholarship and" -- Steven Bach, author of Final Cut: Dreams and Disaster in the Making of Heaven's

"McBride's intimate portrait revealsa man consumed by the love of filmmaking and besieged by a Hollywood more interested incelebrity Schadenfreude than art." -- Tucson Sun

"Provocatively challenges conventional wisdom about Welles's supposed creative decline." -- Turner Classic Movies

"The virtue of McBride's book is its anecdote-illuminated account of Welles's later years. As a film historian" -- Washington Post Book World

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780813124100
  • Publisher: University Press of Kentucky
  • Publication date: 10/28/2006
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 368
  • Sales rank: 748,674
  • Product dimensions: 6.50 (w) x 9.32 (h) x 1.28 (d)

Meet the Author

Joseph McBride is an internationally known film critic and historian who for many years has been considered one of the world's leading experts on Orson Welles. McBride's fifteen books also include acclaimed biographies of Frank Capra, Steven Spielberg, and John Ford, and two previous studies of Welles. A former critic and reporter for Daily Variety in Hollywood, McBride is an assistant professor in the Cinema Department at San Francisco State University.

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