steen_s | Copenhagen Denmark | 08/23/2000
(3 out of 5 stars)
"A small retraction: the Orson Welles documentary "Viva Italia" is NOT "Third Man Returns to Vienna", but another great episode! It centers on Italy by telling the story of Gina Lollobrigida, also presenting a.o. Vittorio De Sica, whose great actor/director skills is implicitly used as a Welles parallel. It's a dynamic and truly wonderful episode, and should have been on the disc. The Image disc is still overprized, with it's sadly sloppy transfer and sparse presentation."
Only a hint of what Welles was capable of
Eddie Konczal | 03/24/2005
(2 out of 5 stars)
"Following Orson Welles' fascinating yet tantalizing career can be frustrating for the aficionado. So much of his oeuvre remains hidden from view that each discovery from the archives is greeted with an inordinate amount of enthusiasm. Take this intriguing yet relatively disappointing collection of documentaries Welles directed for British TV in the 1950s.
"The missing link in Welles' work," exults the snapcase boilerplate. This is a bit of an overstatement, given that far more significant works haven't seen the light of day ("Don Quixote" and "The Other Side of the Wind," to name a couple). The documentaries do help to fill the gap in Welles' output for the 1950s, a decade in which he directed only three feature films. "Around the World" is a good quality DVD and unquestionably the work of Welles, but a ultimately a shadow of what he was capable of.
The five episodes on this DVD explore various aspects of European Culture. Welles takes his camera in search of Basque country, Spanish bullfights, the idiosyncratic denizens of Paris' St Germain des Pres, and the loquacious and venerable Chelsea Pensioners. The "St Germain des Pres" episode best typifies the offbeat subject matter. Welles spends most of his time interviewing a commune dweller who makes his own clothes. After that, Welles dashes through the town, capturing glimpses of celebrities like Jean Cocteau and Eddie Constantine ("Lemmy Caution"), before discovering a group of "Letterists" who are dedicated to (you guessed it) inventing new letters.
Unfortunately, Welles' typically low budget and the nature of the subject matter limit his range of cinematic expression. Despite the exotic and obscure locales, most of the footage consists of relatively static interviews, captured in long takes with obligatory reaction shots of Welles inserted to break up the monotony. Even the bullfight episode lacks the dynamic footage one might expect; Welles' camera is grounded in the stands, preventing him from getting involved in the action. Only towards the end of "St. Germain des Pres" and in the second Basque episode does Welles get inventive, developing the active, swirling camera style he employed in films like "Mr. Arkadin."
Like a record that's worth owning for one or two songs, "Around the World with Orson Welles" does have one episode that justifies its purchase: the second Basque episode. True, the first few minutes repeat the introduction from the first Basque show, but after that Welles has a lot of fun interviewing kids playing 'pelote' (a game similar to jai alai). Welles gets his camera into the pelote action, and seems rejuvenated by the subject matter. An 11-year old boy joins Welles and acts as a tour guide for the rest of the show. The episode ends dramatically, with Welles quoting a Basque aphorism against a night sky lit by fireworks.
For a better example of Welles' creativity in the documentary genre, check out his 1974 essay film, "F for Fake," just released on DVD. "Around the World with Orson Welles" is a far more pedestrian effort, but it does give Welles fans something to look at while they await the more significant releases that are hopefully on the not-too-distant horizon."
The missing part...
steen_s | Copenhagen Denmark | 08/19/2000
(3 out of 5 stars)
""Around the world with Orson Welles", is great material for film buffs! Welles is directing himself, with usual flamboyance and visual flair. It does, though, seem somewhat overprized, especially considering that one of the six shorts is lacking! The back cover claims that "the last episode (Third Man Returns to Vienna) has been lost". This is not true. I taped it from the German television station ZDF some years ago, in excellent condition (better sound/picture quality than the materials on the DVD, sadly.) There it had the title: "Viva Italia". Apart from the misinformation and incompleteness of the release, it's especially sad for Welles fans because the Vienna episode is probably the best and most interesting of his semi-documentaries! Returning to the Harry Lime persona is just one of the highlights.. I still recommend the DVD though; thes travelogues are great fun!"
Billyjack D'Urberville | USA | 03/11/2007
(3 out of 5 stars)
"Okay, "the French" think this is the "missing link" of Welles filmography. Now just think about that . . . who are these "French," and who supposedly speaks for them? The flummery evaporates upon even semi-serious attention, making one wonder whether master film maker (and open con artist) Orson was behind the crack, as the sort of exercise in self-promotion of which he was so capable.
Actually, Welles the man is very unusually engaging in these old TV shorts. The first two are the best, and after that you can slowly watch his engagement dwindle. That's the way it is with geniuses, they need to be challenged. Orson was always fascinated by TV, wrestling with it for years until his memorable "F for Fake" got fully engaged with both the stylistic and substantive new dimensions of fakery permitted and encouraged by the medium. These old Brit TV travel pieces were an opening shot, sure. But they are no more the "missing link" than was Piltdown Man (a cosmic con that Orson may well have regetted missing), or, for that matter, poor dying Citizen Kane's "Rosebud."
In episode one Orson introduces us to an old, eccentric American artist in Paris. Its a lovely, kind portrait, and one gets a feel of real time travel with roots back in the Paris heydey, for Americans, of the 1920s. There are also a couple classic Wellesian vistas of Paris, of such a touching beauty that only Orson could have shot them. They are too brief.
Then a piece on wonderful old Brit pensioners, some widows and soldiers he really hits it off with. The human dimension here, and the seriousness of Orson listening to these old folk make this quite special, and a fine short documentary in itself.
Now you expect the bullfight piece to be the best. Its not terribly bad, just dull, Orson letting the critic Kenneth Tynan and his wife do the talking. Orson should have skipped this shot at a mano a mano with Papa Hemingway on this turf. The actual bullfight footage is short, distant, altogether stock stuff -- Snooze in the Afternoon.
Some decent opening commentary comes in, and a few nice parting shots, in the two Basque pieces, really one piece edited in two different takes. Again, he basically lets friends speak. Its semi-engaging the first time, much less the second, then that's all, folks.
The worst aspect of these shorts is Orson's hammy, almost unpardonable trick of having a shot of him asking questions, then a shot of whoever the interviewee is answering them, and only rarely the two together -- obvious fakery of the most transparent variety. I wouldn't be surprized if this con was intentional. Ultimately, its not unpardonable because the masterpiece F for Fake eventually evolved out of such trickery.
Welles was an elusive cat, for all the time he spent on camera. The plus for Orson buffs (or for anyone) here is his genuine humor and compassion, never talking down to people. That obviously isn't trickery.