(Metropolitan Books, 320 pages, $28)
Edited by Peter Biskind
In 1971, director Henry Jaglom was in hot pursuit of the legendary Orson Welles. Jaglom desperately wanted Welles to star in his feature debut, A Safe Place, opposite Jack Nicholson, and flew to the Plaza Hotel in New York to make his pitch. Welles agreed—the prospect of getting to wear a magician’s cape was the selling point—and a most unexpected friendship blossomed. In 1978, they started the tradition of having lunch together on a near-weekly basis, and, in 1983, Jaglom began taping their conversations—right up until Welles’ death in 1985.
Almost thirty years later, Jaglom has decided to release the edited content of these tapes in what is perhaps the closest one can come to knowing this enigmatic figure. The reader is plunged immediately into Welles’ company and allowed to participate in unguarded, informal conversations that are so real one can almost hear the clatter of silverware in the background.
Edited by Peter Biskind, the Welles-Jaglom conversations feature the outspoken Welles engaging his friend on a roller coaster of topics. Jaglom is a perfect sounding board for Welles: he’s a fan, but not necessarily a fanboy, so there’s a welcome balance between feeding Welles’ ego, while not shrinking to challenge him. While it is a delight to hear them spar, where they truly connect is in discussing their shared profession of directing. Welles speaks often of his directorial process, confessing his impatient, dictatorial nature on set.
For all of the ecstatic highs, there are plenty of lows, including Welles’ bitterness and frustration with Hollywood. “The greatest tragedy of my life,” he laments, is that he couldn’t get Americans to like F for Fake (1973)—a documentary on art forgery that would be his final major film. There is a bittersweet undercurrent throughout as Welles never once stops wanting to create, to experiment, and to have that one last triumph. Unfortunately, he didn’t.
Review written by Carley Johnson