A bold artist acts first and thinks later. In the case of Orson Welles, one of the boldest artists produced by 20th-century America, that habit also found its way into his speech. This became especially true in the interviews he gave later in life, when he freely offered his opinions, solicited or otherwise, on the work of his fellow filmmakers. The man who made Citizen Kane didn’t hesitate to roast, for instance, the European auteurs who ascended after his own career in cinema seemed to stall, and whose work he elaborately satirized in the posthumously released The Other Side of the Wind. His considered remarks include the following: “There’s a lot of Bergman and Antonioni that I’d rather be dead than sit through.” No, Orson, tell us what you really think.
“According to a young American film critic, one of the great discoveries of our age is the value of boredom as an artistic subject,” Welles says in another interview. If so, Michelangelo Antonioni “deserves to be counted as a pioneer and founding father,” a maker of movies that amount to “perfect backgrounds for fashion models.” As for Bergman, “I share neither his interests nor his obsessions. He’s far more foreign to me than the Japanese.” Welles has kinder words for Federico Fellini, whom he calls “as gifted as anyone making movies today,” but also “fundamentally very provincial.” His pictures are “a small-town boy’s dream of the big city,” which is also the source of their charm, but the man himself “shows dangerous signs of being a superlative artist with little to say.”
Welles estimated the younger Jean-Luc Godard’s gifts as a director as “enormous. I just can’t take him very seriously as a thinker — and that’s where we seem to differ, because he does. And though Godard may admire Woody Allen (himself an admirer of Bergman), Welles certainly didn’t: “I hate Woody Allen physically, I dislike that kind of man,” he tells filmmaker Henry Jaglom. “That particular combination of arrogance and timidity sets my teeth on edge.” When Jaglom objects that Allen isn’t arrogant but shy, Welles drives on: “Like all people with timid personalities, his arrogance is unlimited.” Allen “hates himself, and he loves himself, a very tense situation. It’s people like me who have to carry on and pretend to be modest,” while, in Allen’s case, “everything he does on screen is therapeutic.”
Allen has what Welles calls “the Chaplin disease,” and Welles’ interviews also feature severe criticisms of Chaplin himself. After referencing the fact that, unlike his fellow silent comedian Harold Lloyd, Chaplin didn’t write all his own jokes but used “six gagmen,” he declares that Modern Times — regarded by many as Chaplin’ masterpiece — “doesn’t have a good moment in it.” Clearly Welles felt no more need to pull his punches on his elders than he did with the whippersnappers: John Ford “made very many bad pictures,” including The Searchers (“terrible”); Cecil B. DeMille Welles credits with giving Mussolini and Hitler the idea for the fascist salute; Elia Kazan will never be forgiven for naming names to the House Committee on Un-American Activities (“it’s just inexcusable”); and even Sergei Eisenstein, father of the montage, is also “the most overrated great director of them all.”
You can read more of Welles’ choice words on his colleagues in cinema in this thread of interview clips posted by a Twitter user who goes by John Frankensteiner. It also includes Welles’ assessment of Alfred Hitchcock, who declined into “egotism and laziness,” making films “all lit like television shows.” Welles suspects age-related cognitive issues — “I think he was senile a long time before he died,” in part because “he kept falling asleep while you were talking to him” — but he also trashes the work Hitchcock did in his prime, such as Vertigo. Sight & Sound‘s last critics poll named that film the greatest of all time, but Welles calls it even worse than Rear Window, about which “everything was stupid.” But at least all these filmmakers, living and dead, can rest easy knowing they didn’t rank as low in Welles’ estimation as John Landis, “the asshole from Animal House.” Jaglom, believing he can influence Landis and mend their relationship, asks what he can do to help. Welles’ suggestion: “Kill him.”
Ingmar Bergman Evaluates His Fellow Filmmakers — The “Affected” Godard, “Infantile” Hitchcock & Sublime Tarkovsky
Jorge Luis Borges Reviews Citizen Kane — and Gets a Response from Orson Welles
Jean-Paul Sartre Reviews Orson Welles’ Masterwork (1945): “Citizen Kane Is Not Cinema”
Andrei Tarkovsky Calls Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey a “Phony” Film “With Only Pretensions to Truth”
Terry Gilliam on the Difference Between Kubrick & Spielberg: Kubrick Makes You Think, Spielberg Wraps Everything Up with Neat Little Bows
Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.
I’d like to know what director he liked. Seems no one.
Sounds like he wanted to gain notoriety by bagging everyone successful. Sour grapes?
Orson Welles was a witty bad boy of Hollywood and he often poked fun at himself during his later years. He was opinionated to the nth, probably didn’t even believe half of what he said, but he was larger than life and extremely talented, and he knew it. I always appreciated his films.
It’s fun… in a way. And to be honest, Welles himself used up all his cards with Citizen Kane. (My all time favourite.) And not a single one left. And he knew it. There’s nothing left to say. That’s why we are able to read this long ranting here.
“The Searchers” was terrible? “Vertigo” was junk? Huh. He was envious that Ford and Hitchcock were shrewd enough to work with The System as it was, and prosper. If Welles hadn’t been wallowing in decadence down in Rio while “The Magnificent Ambersons” was being edited, he’d have gotten his probably already somewhat fat ass back to L.A., fought for his idea of the picture, and just perhaps salvaged his going – down – in flames already career.
These interviews demonstrate that Welles was a big bully,with no self control and appalling critical taste.F for Fake could double as the title of most of his fatuous,petty,interviews.
Welles had Woody Allen figured correctly. The loathsome little creep really thinks he knows his all. He’s the worst kind of New Yorker, the intellectual snob.
Welles never thought that Citizen Kane was his best film. He considered The Trial to be his finest.
Boredom was the 11th sin. Wells never bored me.
Welles often played parody of himself in interviews, deliberately playing up his bombastic, cranky, petulant manchild image. So it’s hard to know how much of this is serious and how much is performative. It’s hilarious though.
Also the best written, shot, acted and directed film of 1941 was The Little Foxes by William Wyler. Don’t @ me.
Amen on Little Foxes.
Probably most of these interviews were done in jest, but Welles talking about overrated films is nothing short of ironic.
“John Ford, John Ford, John Ford”
Didn’t this iconic quote come from Welles? I could swear I saw him talking about his admiration of Ford on a documentary about him. I’m surprised he hated The Searchers.
Oh, God… Guys, if y’all read the Bogdanovich book you’ll not only read about the directors Welles liked but also his desire to not crap on directors in public (see the section of that book called “Censored”) because it promoted too much bad will. Welles didn’t know Jaglom was recording these tapes and so said a ton of things he normally wouldn’t say in public — including some personal stuff Jaglom left out. As to why Jaglom did this — I dunno. I also don’t understand why he got Peter Biskind’s to write only two pages of footnotes for a 200-page book.
And for those of you thinking Welles “spent himself” with KANE, watch CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT and F FOR FAKE and then try saying that.
That’s very well true indeed but he was a good sport and a Hell of a lot of fun on those Dean Martin roasts. Look he was drunk during those Paul Masson commercials, so give him a break.