Jonathan Cape, £25
The third (and penultimate) part of Simon Callow’s mighty embrace of Welles’s life and work covers the period 1947-65, when the great sorcerer was in Europe. This includes his playing Harry Lime in Carol Reed’s The Third Man as well as his own Othello, A Touch of Evil, The Trial and Chimes at Midnight. In the theatre there was King Lear, Moby-Dick and Eugene Ionesco. And television, radio, essays, even ballet—all manner of projects conceived with invention and verve yet rarely realised with their initial focus.
Callow’s brilliance is to convey not only Welles’s style but the substance of his method. Along with collaborators’ recollections and observations of critics from Kenneth Tynan to Pauline Kael, his own insights are shrewd and detailed. The radical staging of Moby-Dick, for example, was both illuminated and plagued by Welles’s sudden inspirations.
He was among the first to grasp the dramatic possibilities of television, interrupting a stodgy BBC discussion for a startling address to camera with that “gift for instant intimacy for which he is so remarkable”; he even fronted a programme anticipating the investigative podcast Serial.
Welles was chaotic, spendthrift, volatile, elusive, inconstant, authoritarian—yet utterly beguiling. As an actor, he was often under-rehearsed and monotonous, then, suddenly, dynamite. This volume might have described the beginnings of a melancholy demise; in fact, it’s a time of fizzing experimentation—when French critics began to champion him as an “auteur.”
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