MY SECOND INTERVIEW WITH ORSON WELLES
TRUTH ISN’T STRANGER THAN FICTION
A bureau takes root anywhere in the state…always reproducing more of its kind, until it chokes the host if not controlled or excised…A bureau operates on…principles of inventing needs to justify its existence. Bureaucracy is wrong as cancer, a turning away from the human evolutionary direction of infinite potentials and differentiation and independent spontaneous action.”
William Burroughs, Naked Lunch
The Findus Foods Recording Session—Orson Welles is the spokesman for their products. They’re doing takes on commercials for cod, peas, beef. The outtakes feature the following Welles comments:
“That [what the producers want Welles to say] doesn’t make any sense. Sorry…”
“You don’t know what I’m up against. ‘Because Findus freeze the cod at sea, and then add a crumb-crisp…coating’…I think, no…”
“‘We know a little place in American Far West where Charlie Briggs chops up the finest prairie beef and tastes…’ This is a lot of shit, you know that!”
“You are such pests!”
“It isn’t worth it. No money is worth this…”[Welles walks out]
JUNE 20, 2011. One of the predictable effects of the internet is the need for information over fiction. Beyond a certain point, it becomes a disease. It confirms the robot part of the mind.
People shrug off fiction as unnecessary. It’s fluff. Why bother, when the truth is so much more riveting?
Well, there is a reason people think that. They have no experience with their own imagination.
Information structures have one job: deliver. And the people on the other end of that wire, the audience, are set up to eat what’s brought. It’s a giant Domino’s operation.
Or look at it as a see-saw. On one end (information) is a 100000000-ton steel ball, and on the other end (fiction), a grainy pebble.
Theoretically, it could have been the other way around. A million short stories for every factoid. But that won’t work, because again, people have very little conscious experience of their own imaginations. It’s a hell of a lot easier to sit back and take in the flow of info—good, bad, or indifferent. And then react.
People ask, “What use is fiction? It isn’t about anything real.”
I ask, “How long is real good for?”
At what point does the whole show sink in a bog?
People think magic is a talent, like being able, at the age of six, to draw a cowboy with his six-gun in the holster. Actually, magic is all about imagination, and if a person has no experience with it and no inclination to gain the experience, then he can kiss magic goodbye.
Of course, he can remember that, much earlier in his life, he did live through imagination, and he did run and play right in the center of it. Then he might change his mind about a lot of things. He might decide, for instance, that an unending torrent of information reaches a limit, beyond which it does no one any good.
I’ve heard a lot of people say, “Information is power.” It’s an old slogan. What they don’t say is that information is also an addiction.
How many dawns, chill from his rippling rest
The seagull’s wings shall dip and pivot him,
Shedding white rings of tumult, building high
Over the chained bay waters Liberty–
Then, with inviolate curve, forsake our eyes
As apparitional as sails that cross
Some page of figures to be filed away;
–Till elevators drop us from our day…
What are those lines? Why should anyone bother to figure them out, or listen to their music? What would be the point? What usable information are they conveying?
Yes, that’s the whole point. They’re entirely useless. And magic is useless. Until it becomes magic. Then the ruse called ordinary reality is exposed.
Then a person learns about power for the first time.
So, with that…this is my second fictional interview with Orson Welles.
Q: Let’s start off with any one of your films…
A: Take Touch of Evil. The story line is interesting, but it doesn’t knock you out of your chair. And the role I play, the corrupt sheriff, that’s old hat. Of course, the casting was delicious, because I was able to use Charlton Heston as the earnest lawman, and that fit perfectly. He knew I was doing that, letting his innate sincerity come through, and he saw the ironies that multiplied out of it. But everything was the staging, the atmosphere, the angles, the shots.
Q: What many people would dismiss as inessential.
A: That’s the way the modern world works. Strip things down.
Q: Like machines. One goal, one plan, one strategy, one action to reach the end of line.
A: I was always moving in the opposite direction. Inventing multiple new ways of seeing things. You see, for many people, that is a waste of time. They want their messages simple. They want simple over and over again.
Q: I say it’s a disease.
A: Well, yes. If I’d had to stick to that code, I would have given up making films. I would have written novels. At least there, you’re alone. You can invent whatever you want to. Take the expression “the bottom line.” This has been extended from business and accounting, where it originated, to the idea that you should take the shortest path between two points. You should arrive as quickly as possible at the conclusion. And the conclusion should tell you how to sell something. Or buy it. Or believe it. Or reject it.
Q: When you talk to people about imagination and magic, they tend to look for that same approach.
A: Of course. They’ve been trained to be that way. They’ve succumbed to the spirit of the times. In Touch of Evil, although the plot itself was fairly tight, I was really using the opportunity to stage a series of scenes in which the characters alternated between being human and being caricature—that shuttling back and forth between realism and facade, between the natural and the bizarre, between the obvious and the esoteric. Esoteric in the sense that people tend to play out roles in life, and when they do, and when you see it, reality itself begins to look different, begins to take on odd qualities. What I’m doing is showing the audience a different kind of reality, one that at first glance looks like the world, but after a little while looks like someone looking at world. That’s what I’m really revealing—how I can look at the world. Only instead of explaining it, I’m showing it as drama, I’m populating my point of view with characters, and I’mletting you know that’s what I’m doing. I’m not hiding it. I’m enjoying it. Celebrating it.
Q: It’s as if you’re saying to the audience, “I’m dreaming, and here is my dream, only I’m having it while I’m wide awake, and I’m INVENTING the dream as I go along and I’m happy to admit that’s the case.”
A: Yes, that’s right. It’s, you might say, another level of art. Laid out there at a time when we already know so much about art of the past, after we’ve digested so many conventions and traditions of art, after we’ve woken up to the fact that these habits of art are just that—we’ve seen through so much about how artists create reality in traditional ways and forms—and now it’s time to go further.
Q: When you look at how certain so-called classical novels were written, with the all-knowing and all-seeing eye of the third-person narrative looking down from a higher plateau…
A: That’s also, of course, the style of religion. It’s the style of religious discourse and narrative, and people in that venue still buy it. They want the calm and steady hand of the authority. They want that narrator to come across that way. It’s old and worn out and rather absurd, but people cling to it. It’s a cousin, I’d say, to the manual.
Q: The manual?
A: Yes, the instruction book that tells you how to do something, how something works. That calm voice, that assurance.
Q: I see. Yes. And people feel, in the absence of it, they’re lost. They don’t know where to turn.
A: Well, this goes back to your statement that people don’t have the conscious experience of their own imagination. Instead, they look for the steady guiding hand from somewhere else. They think there are only two possibilities. The calm authoritative voice, or chaos. It’s a joke. Imagination tells us there are an infinity of ways of presenting realities, not two. Not one. People watch Citizen Kane and they think it’s about the corruption of the human spirit. That’s the hook for them. It’s one of those “big themes” they’re familiar with and can plug into. Let me tell you something. If I were making a film about corruption of the spirit, it would have looked nothing like Citizen Kane. Nothing. Kane was a movie about the possibilities of film. It was a series of episodes in which the visual language itself was expanding and I was showing people what could be done with space. With dimension. With emotion shot through these larger dimensions. I was talking in a new language. I was introducing the idea that new language could have great impact.
Q: That was the magic.
A: What else could it have been? A return to older techniques? A re-hashing of hackneyed ways of describing reality? People are terribly confused. When you talk to them in a new language, they keep looking for the OBJECTS of what you’re talking about. They keep looking for the old objects embedded in the old language. If they don’t find them, they throw up their hands in dismay. Where are the old things? But you’re not presenting old things. And even worse, you’re not talking to them in the language that would convey those old things. You want them to hear and see and feel the new language, the process of that language unfolding, but they search after familiar themes and ideas and stories.
Q: As if some official minister of information will present them.
A: Yes. That reassuring floating sound from above that tells them everything will always be as it once was. You know, when you assume that voice and use it, it doesn’t really matter what you say. You could be talking about new discoveries or lies or breakthroughs or the most outrageous nonsense—it doesn’t matter. They’ll buy what you’re selling. But if you change the voice and the language, they don’t know what to do.
Q: So they thought you were an egoist.
A: And I was and am—but not in the obvious sense. I was creating a different language, with power, from my mind and imagination. And I had no desire to dampen the power, because it was an inherent part of what I was inventing. I was launching out radiance and I was in a state of radiance at the same time. Joyous…and celebrating this new language and celebrating the fact that I was doing it. Why not?
Q: In the bureaucratic world of our times, this is looked at as if it could be some sort of condition that might be diagnosed.
A: These petty pernicious little grasping bureaucratic minds, who have no existence except an official one, need to be destroyed. And destroyed in only one way: through a mass exodus away from them. Leave them in their seat of influence. Let them stew there and write their papers and reports. Let them win in a complete vacuum. Treat them as morons who are deranged beyond rescue. Go away and create something entirely different. For heaven’s sake, CREATE SOMETHING.
Q: The voice of calm authority you speak of…it’s a form of hypnotism.
A: I know something about that subject. One thing I know is this. In the long run, it doesn’t matter what’s coming from that voice. The most important thing to know is that the CONTEXT, the space, is hypnotic. And that’s where the whole lie is. That’s what makes the entire performance a lie. WAKE UP to that. Walk away. Invent your own voice and speak from it. Or decay. One of the functions of art is the stimulation of imagination in the audience. Then, for those who have the desire, they become artists, too. They catch the glimpse in themselves. They begin to create. It’s always been that way. A real artist isn’t hanging around hoping for information. He’s inventing something much more powerful.