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What Ever Happened to Orson Welles? A Portrait of an Independent Career

by Joseph McBride

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368 pages  Pubdate: 04/23/2014  6.1299999999999999 x 9.25  photos

At twenty-five, Orson Welles (1915-1985) directed, co-wrote, and starred in Citizen Kane, widely considered the best film ever made. But Welles was such a revolutionary filmmaker that he found himself at odds with the Hollywood studio system. His work was so far ahead of its time that he never regained the wide popular following he had once enjoyed as a young actor-director on the radio. Frustrated by Hollywood and falling victim to the postwar blacklist, Welles departed for a long European exile. But he kept making films, functioning with the creative freedom of an independent filmmaker before that term became common and eventually preserving his independence by funding virtually all his own projects. Because he worked defiantly outside the system, Welles has often been maligned as an errant genius who squandered his early promise. Film critic Joseph McBride, who acted in Welles's legendary unfinished film The Other Side of the Wind, provocatively challenges conventional wisdom about Welles's supposed creative decline. McBride is the first author to provide a comprehensive examination of the films of Welles's artistically rich yet little-known later period. During the 1970s and '80s, Welles was breaking new aesthetic ground, experimenting as adventurously as he had throughout his career. McBride's friendship and collaboration with Welles and his interviews with those who knew and worked with the director make What Ever Happened to Orson Welles? a portrait of rare intimacy and insight. Reassessing Welles's final period in the context of his entire life and work, McBride's revealing portrait of this great film artist will change the terms of how Orson Welles is regarded.

Joseph McBride is an internationally known film critic and historian who for many years has been considered one of the world’s leading experts on Orson Welles. McBride’s fifteen books also include acclaimed biographies of Frank Capra, Steven Spielberg, and John Ford, and two previous studies of Welles. A former critic and reporter for Daily Variety in Hollywood, McBride is an assistant professor in the Cinema Department at San Francisco State University.

McBride's combination of personal reflection and scholarly analysis makes the book rigorous and affectionate, academic and deeply moving, infuriating and celebratory. . . . A book against which all future writings on the subject will be measured. -- American Cinematographer

McBride, a marvelous critic and biographer, has written a lively portrait of Welles-as-independent-artist. . . . Invaluable. -- Bookforum

Welles fans -- Booklist

Its value is twofold: as a biography for Welles fans and as a history of film industry operations and politics. -- California Bookwatch

McBride on Welles is many things: as biography, it presents the untold story of how McCarthyism warped Welles' career like so many others; as the history of a reputation it forms an expose of how the insidious and typically American distrust of the artist's mode of being obscured and caricatured the second and third acts of a consummate artist even as he went on making masterpieces; as monograph it documents the wild constellation of unfinished and even unstarted projects that never had their chances of being masterpieces; as eyewitness account of Welles' working methods it contains a covert memoir of apprenticeship, and a very tender-hearted one at that. As with the invaluable accounts of Dickens written during Dickens' lifetime, McBride has charted a course through the smoke for all future scholarship (and, one prays, film restoration). Twenty-first Century Welles research begins here. -- Jonathan Lethem

Packed with information that can't be found elsewhere, Joseph McBride's What Ever Happened to Orson Welles? not only answers the question posed by his title; it also fruitfully redirects our sense of Welles's life and career. Best of all, it's sympathetic and serious without ever becoming a whitewash. McBride's protracted experience as an actor for Welles gives him many special insights, and what emerges is a scrupulous, balanced, well-researched, three-dimensional portrait. -- Jonathan Rosenbaum

Personal and passionate. -- Los Angeles Times

There has been so much written and said about Orson Welles over the years, and quite a bit of it has been fixated on the myth of his self-destruction at the expense of everything else: Welles has become the epitome of fallen genius, our fallen genius. Joseph McBride, who has a clearer understanding of Welles and his films than almost anyone, exposes that idea as the myth it is and always has been. He brings Welles and the difficulties he faced -- Martin Scorsese

A definitive study, informed by his friendship and collaboration with the Hollywood legend and discussions with people who know Welles. -- Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

A must have for the Wellesian scholar (or worshipper), fans of old Hollywood, or those looking for insight into the mind of directors. It is a fascinating look at a larger than life filmmaking genius that was always ahead of his time and a highly recommended read. -- Monsters and Critics

A detailed look at Welles's later years. McBride was in and out of Welles's orbit for the last fifteen years of the man's life, and he writes warmly about the director's later activities; but he is forthright and honest enough to say that on some crucial level the relationship never clicked. -- New York Review of Books

McBride supplies a missing piece of the jigsaw. . . . Presents a balanced and complex picture of an extremely talented, but difficult, personality whose personal flaws are less important than what he attempted to achieve. -- November 3rd Club

McBride is heartfelt in his advocacy, and the book continues to compel throughout. -- Sight & Sound

Scores of books have been written about Orson Welles since his death in 1985, some by colleagues of the great director, others by film scholars. Readers will find the best of both worlds in Joseph McBride's What Ever Happened to Orson Welles? -- Springfield (MA) Republican

Indispensable. Joseph McBride's What Ever Happened to Orson Welles? is a brilliantly detailed and authoritative work of scholarship and -- Steven Bach, author of Final Cut: Dreams and Disaster in the Making of Heaven's

McBride's intimate portrait revealsa man consumed by the love of filmmaking and besieged by a Hollywood more interested incelebrity Schadenfreude than art. -- Tucson Sun

Provocatively challenges conventional wisdom about Welles's supposed creative decline. -- Turner Classic Movies

The virtue of McBride's book is its anecdote-illuminated account of Welles's later years. As a film historian -- Washington Post Book World