Tuesday, June 28, 2011

In one breath: making Falstaff, being Henry V

William Shakespeare
made his Falstaff
only to unmake him.

                     What a director must have 
                     is a capacity to throw out 
                     his most beautiful shots.

Orson Welles 
   Interview with Jean Cobos and
 Miguel Rubio, Sight and Sound,
 Autumn, 1966;
 Chimes at Midnight /
  Orson Welles, Director
 Bridget Gellert Lyons, editor
Rutgers Films in Print
Rutgers University Press, 1988©                    


  1. love that shot. Would have thought it Billy McBride.

    And all great artist must learn to destroy their own work, yes?

  2. The portrait is immediate and cleverly framed, within almost a genre which is usually not so well accented in those ways; and I think it makes Welles' argument well, for those reasons. Now you raise a deeper and more paradoxical possibility than he was entertaining at the time; first, then, the rest of his central point, to Professor Lyons: "A film is often ruined, in my opinion, by a director who can't bear to get rid of something just because it's beautiful. Do you remember the shots of the two old men, Falstaff and Shallow, walking in the snow? Fine, marvelous shots, which I took out. Now, I could have indulged myself and all the cinema clubs in the world would say, 'Look! How beautiful!' But those shots would have hurt the real, internal rhythm of the picture.."

    It's very notable that this observation comes up in the context of his emphasis on sustained movement in cinema. Please consider Rossellini's wonderfully astute maxim, previously developed here in a couple of entries, "Change a rhythm, you have an emotion." (Use the search engine for Prise de Pouvoir). We can think of this insight almost all the time; at table, for a party, you're conscious of it in the structuring of courses, the sequencing of wines.

    Everyone is taught to edit away the unconstructive, so in this way Welles does not reach the radical and interesting position you cite here. But he certainly was conscious of this all his life, in terms of studio editing, censorship, failure of financing: contraception and termination; and via the exercise of his own judgments. Please avail yourself of space here to elaborate as you might like.