by Edoardo Tarkovsky
It’s hard to say anything about the filmmaker and actor Orson Welles that hasn’t already been said. A household name throughout a good part of the twentieth century, he has been thoroughly studied and established as a name in American culture. This is what makes the prospect of a book that introduces a totally new Orson Welles so fascinating. My Lunches With Orson, a book edited by Peter Biskind, transcripts a Welles that the public has never seen before. It reveals him at his most honest and vulnerable, showing how he can be hilarious, offensive, and intelligent.
My Lunches With Orson comes in the form of transcripts of conversations between Welles and fellow director Henry Jaglom. From 1983-85, the two ate lunch together every week. The variety of topics they discuss are expansive. Some recurring topics throughout the conversations include politics, Hollywood gossip, the two directors’ disdain for producers, etc.
Throughout the book, Welles expresses his hope for potential projects that he was working on at the time such as King Lear and Don Quixote. The two talk about one of these projects continually as they try to persuade the actor Jack Nicholson to play the lead role. At one point, Jaglom explains his shock at Welles turning down Robert De Niro and Al Pacino among others to pursue Nicholson. It’s interesting to be in the middle of these conversations like a fly on the wall; it is a rare look at a director behind closed doors.
Welles’s frustrations in the last years of his life as he tries to get his films produced really comes out here. There is a strong sense of the hope and desperation that he went through as he tried to make these films near the end of his life. In many of the conversations, we see Jaglom to him about developments in the projects to keep his hope alive. It creates a lot of sympathy for this genius who was misunderstood by producers. It is sad but gripping to watch a fading star try to rejuvenate his career.
Here is a perfect book for any serious cinemaphile. My Lunches With Orson is the closest thing we have today to sitting down and talking to Orson Welles himself. This is him at his wisest and funniest. It is Welles as you’ve never seen him before. This book is essential to understanding the mystery Orson Welles.