Monday, April 7, 2008

Hello Americans, by Simon Callow

It seems like I had been waiting a long time for Callow to release his second volume of Welles's biography. Thankfully, I had only read The Road to Xanadu four years ago. Many Welles fans had to wait eleven years for the second volume. I don't remember much of Xanadu, but my few recollections are critiques of Callow's work. He seemed to delight in painting Welles as less involved in the radio and stage productions than other accounts put him. And there were many offhand remarks about people Welles met once that had no bearing on the story of Welles's life or work. Thankfully, both these issues were remedied in Hello Americans.

Picking up here Xanadu left off, the second volume covers Welles's life from the release of “Citizen Kane,” in 1941, to the completion of “Macbeth,” in 1948. At first glance, I was upset that the 500 page volume only covered seven years of his life and worried that I'd have to wait another eleven years until volume 3. Callow, however, does a splendid job filling in Welles's activities to the minutest detail: from his trouble editing films from afar, to being completely immersed into Carnival, to his attempt at a career as political commentator.

One thing that always puzzled me was Welles relationship with Rita Hayworth. The union of the powerful director to one of the most beautiful actresses of the day certainly would be tabloid fodder today. Callow doesn't spend much time on their relationship, but provides even more tantalizing tidbits that I'd not heard before.

While he corrected his earlier issues, there are still a handful of things Callow does that made this book a slow read. He has a penchant for super long paragraphs, some as long as an entire book page. And some chapters were a bit too long. I liked the fact that each chapter had a specific focus and ignored most other aspects of Welles's hectic life during that period. But 60+ pages of densely worded prose are almost too much to read in an entire sitting. There were several times that I picked the book up to only put it down again when I saw that I couldn't finish the next chapter in the 20 minutes I had before I had to go somewhere.

Despite the stylistic flaws, Callow's thorough research makes the second volume another must read for anyone interested in Orson Welles. I just hope we don't have to wait eleven years until the third volume.


Cormac Brown said...

"He has a penchant for super long paragraphs, some as long as an entire book page."

Wow, to find an editor that would let an author could get away with such an indulgence. Hopefully the lack of details on Orson and Rita's relationship was offset with plenty of behind the scenes information on "The Lady From Shanghai."

Did you know that Wong Kar Wai actually dares to remake that film?

WellesFan said...

I had heard someone was planning to remake "The Lady from Shanghai", but I'd forgotten about it.

Callow spends roughly 40 pages on that film. I like the style he used to present it and the other movies he analyzes in the book. He writes a couple pages on how the film came about: people involved, the script, gathering funds, etc. Then onto the preparation and filming, a lengthy analysis of the movie (including almost a complete plot summary), then typically release and critical reaction.

The one thing about reading Hello Americans is that it made me want to go back and watch "The Magnificent Ambersons" and "The Lady From Shanghai" again.

Cormac Brown said...

I've never seen "Ambersons," because it was hacked, er, "edited," by the studios.

Then again, I suppose that some Orson is infinitely better than none, so I really should see it.

WellesFan said...

Yeah, Ambersons was hacked a bit by the studio. But it is almost impossible to cover up all of Welles's genius. I've tried to get my hands on everything he's directed just because I'm such a huge fan. I recommend that you check it out.