Orson Welles Narrates an Animated Parable Freedom River (1971)

More than 40 years (and sev­en pres­i­den­tial admin­is­tra­tions) have passed since Orson Welles nar­rat­ed Free­dom Riv­er. And although the ani­ma­tion shows some age, the para­ble, a com­men­tary on the role of wealth and race in Amer­i­ca, still res­onates today. Or, at least I sus­pect many view­ers will think so.

The back­sto­ry behind the film deserves a lit­tle men­tion. Accord­ing to Joseph Cavel­la, a writer for the film:

For sev­er­al years, Bosus­tow Pro­duc­tions had asked Orson Welles, then liv­ing in Paris, to nar­rate one of their films. He nev­er respond­ed. When I fin­ished the Free­dom Riv­er script, we sent it to him togeth­er with a portable reel to reel tape recorder and a siz­able check and crossed our fin­gers. He was either des­per­ate for mon­ey or (I would rather believe) some­thing in it touched him because two weeks lat­er we got the reel back with the nar­ra­tion word for word and we were on our way.

And now anoth­er Orson Welles bonus. Tonight, we stum­bled upon Welles’ 1937 radio drama­ti­za­tion of Vic­tor Hugo’s clas­sic nov­el, Les Mis­érables. You can stream/download record­ings at the Inter­net Archive, or find it list­ed in our Free Audio Books col­lec­tion. A pre­vi­ous Open Cul­ture post points you to oth­er vin­tage Welles radio record­ings (includ­ing his famous 1938 “War of the Worlds” broad­cast) right here.

For more free films, vis­it our mega list of Free Movies Online.

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Relat­ed Con­tent

Orson Welles Names His 10 Favorite Films: From Chaplin’s City Lights to Ford’s Stage­coach

Watch Orson Welles’ The Stranger Free Online, Where 1940s Film Noir Meets Real Hor­rors of WWII

Orson Welles Explains Why Igno­rance Was His Major “Gift” to Cit­i­zen Kane

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Comments (3)
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  • Ryan_mcdade3 says:

    What is meant by “free­dom” in this para­ble?

    What is meant when the machines on the banks of the pol­lut­ed riv­er declare that “the riv­er will be shut off”?

    The para­ble speaks of peo­ple tak­ing “more than their share”. Who defines how much some­ones share is? Who enforces that deci­sion? Isn’t the deci­sion and the enforce­ment a depri­va­tion of free­dom?

    When the peo­ple are going about in boats and a heap of lit­ter is tossed into the riv­er the state­ment is quite obvi­ous­ly about pol­lu­tion. Who decides when it is accept­able to throw flot­sam into the riv­er? Who enforces that deci­sion? Isn’t the deci­sion and the enforce­ment a depri­va­tion of free­dom?

    What this para­ble fails to men­tion is that the peo­ple did not acquire the land as a place of beau­ti­ful free­dom. The land of free­dom was inhab­it­ed by “sav­ages” who were slaugh­tered, dis­eased, and oppressed. Their free­dom was tak­en from them so that anoth­er race could have its glo­ri­ous des­tiny man­i­fest­ed.

    What this para­ble also fails to men­tion is that the land was not cul­ti­vat­ed by the hands of hap­py lit­tle white farm­ers. This lands agri­cul­tur­al base grew from tobac­co and cot­ton plan­ta­tions where an entire race of peo­ple were deprived of their free­dom and dig­ni­ty.

    The para­ble says that new ideas are mocked, the young chil­dren who ques­tion things are called ungrate­ful, and all immi­grants are refused.

    These state­ments are false. There may be a cul­ture of ortho­doxy and con­for­mi­ty in this coun­try but there is great free­dom of expres­sion as well. There are those who call the youth ungrate­ful, some­times they are right. To say that all immi­grants are refused and peo­ple should sim­ply remem­ber that we were immi­grants at one time is a state­ment about a pol­i­cy that is much more com­plex than they are mak­ing it seem.

    Over­all I think its rub­bish.

  • Flo says:

    The artist cre­ates the cor­rupt and evil world to pre­vent it. Maybe the para­ble is not real­i­ty, but it can be.

  • sambasivarao says:

    the para­ble high­ly rel­e­vant and res­onates with the times
    but ican­not help but doubt whether it can pen­e­trate our dehu­man­ised souls

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