Orson Welles Trashes Famous Directors: Alfred Hitchcock (“Egotism and Laziness”), Woody Allen (“His Arrogance Is Unlimited”) & More

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 Ver­ti­goSight & 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.”

Relat­ed Con­tent:

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.

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Comments (16)
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  • Droy says:

    I’d like to know what direc­tor he liked. Seems no one.

  • Ronny says:

    Sounds like he want­ed to gain noto­ri­ety by bag­ging every­one suc­cess­ful. Sour grapes?

  • MerryMarjie says:

    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.

  • Sallai Tibor says:

    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.

  • Bob Taylor says:

    “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.

  • Daniel O'Neill says:

    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.

  • Ricardo C Cantoral says:

    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.

  • Ricardo C Cantoral says:

    Welles nev­er thought that Cit­i­zen Kane was his best film. He con­sid­ered The Tri­al to be his finest.

  • Carolyn Hildebrandt says:

    Bore­dom was the 11th sin. Wells nev­er bored me.

  • DK says:

    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.

  • Kristof says:

    Amen on Lit­tle Fox­es.

  • Mario Gómez says:

    Prob­a­bly most of these inter­views were done in jest, but Welles talk­ing about over­rat­ed films is noth­ing short of iron­ic.

  • Mark says:

    “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.

  • Nicolas Ciccone says:

    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.

  • Benoit V. says:

    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.

  • Greg says:

    The young Amer­i­can film crit­ic he’s talk­ing about must be Paul Schrad­er.

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