Orson Welles: The One-Man Band is an awesome documentary on Orson Welles’ unfinished projects during the last 20 years of his life. Surprisingly, the opening scene shows Welles performing as a professional magician. Later I understood the purpose of this: it’s not merely a demonstration of his versatileness, although we know he did have great talent in so many things: directing, acting, writing, editing, producing…Metaphorically, his fascination with magic also refers to his self image, as pointed out in the film that one of Orson Welles’s most famous tricks is his silhouette: a disguise, an abstraction of his self, or simply a game.
Renowned for his early career fame such as his 1938 radio broadcast of The War of the Worlds and films like Citizen Kane, Welles is taken by the critics as a burned-out genius who had done nothing during his late years. However, this film shows us some “behind the scene” of Welles’s unknown life and works, offering more understanding to the tricks he played. Oja Kodar, his long-time companion, also the leading actress in his independent film projects, takes us through these precious footages and sketches by Welles. I’m so impressed with the amount of works he had accomplished during those years, although they never got finished due to mostly financial problems. He worked so independently that he did scripting, shooting, acting, set design and editing all by himself.
Among all the footages shown, two of his films particularly aroused my interest. F for Fake, a Criterion Collection release, seems to be very clever and satirical. His 1972 unreleased film The Other Side of the Wind, probably his most experimental film, is another one I’m highly anticipating. It’s said to be released late next year. His superb acting in many of these films also completely conquered me - There is something deep inside him that feels much more sublime and moving than Citizen Kane or The Third Man.
The One-Man Band is a short movie in which he played several different characters. As he joked: I, myself, have always been the “one-man band”. Despite constant financial problems and rejections from mainstream, he never gave up his dream. He used money from acting and commercials to fund his own projects, one after another. Like he said to the audience when receiving Lifetime Achievement Award from AFI in 1975, “I use my own work to subsidize my work. In other words, I’m crazy. But not crazy enough to pretend to be free.”
Welles’s struggling life is a typical one for any real artist. Fortunately, his voice always sounded loud and calm, as if saying he is UNBEATABLE. His life and works, like his signature silhouette, always remains an icon and a legend in cinema.