Interview with a dead Orson Welles
~revised and updated~
by Jon Rappoport
January 5, 2016
(To read about Jon’s mega-collection, Power Outside The Matrix, click here.)
Someone somewhere will surely think this is “channeling,” so allow me to set the record straight. It isn’t. It’s fiction. However, as well all know, fiction often makes more sense than fact. Enough said on that point.
In this interview with Orson Welles, we consider matters he’s been keeping bottled up for a long time, ever since Hollywood more or less cast him aside. For some reason, he seems to agree with my views on many points.
Q (Rappoport): You’re a comedian. Would you agree?
A (Welles): Of course. That’s not all I am, but yes. Comedy has effervescence. It spills over the sides of the container. The container is “things as they are.” When you keep pouring new material into it and let it flood over the sides, you’re going to run into laughter, eventually.
Q: The container itself is a joke.
A: It’s a joke that can kill you, but sure. When you’ve been around theater as long as I have, you understand that the whole construction called ordinary reality is just another piece of theater—except it’s posing as the only show in town. That’s the joke.
Q: How old were you when you figured this out?
A: I think I’ve always known it. People take on roles and they act them out.
A: That’s a hell of a question. I guess it’s because they don’t see an alternative. There is a psychological fixation on One. One role, one idea, one answer, one ultimate objective, one cure, one ending. It represents a hunger for limits. I never liked that.
Q: You never like to come to the end of things.
A: No. My endings were usually tricks. You know, a way of arriving at the conclusion of a story. But actually, I could have gone on forever. I could have extended every movie I ever made out to infinity. Why not? It’s more interesting. You just keep inventing.
Q: So reality is infinite?
A: It could be. There’s no rule against it. This is another aspect of comedy. At some point, as you keep extending things, it’s funny. Your characters, in a movie, break out of their confines. The seams split. You can make that serious and horrible, but if you keep going long enough, it turns into comedy. Because the roles disintegrate. The limits crack. You’re in new spaces. Freedom takes over.
A: Well, yes. I mean, I’m dead, but I’m not. Death is just one way of ending the story, but you don’t have to tell or live a story that way. You just go on. You move on.
Q: In your later years, you gained an enormous amount of weight.
A: That was the result of boredom. And the boredom came out of the fact that I wasn’t ingenious enough to assemble everything I needed to make the films I really wanted to make. You see, after Citizen Kane, which I made in my 20s, I saw where it could all go. I saw I could make movies that no one had ever thought of. This may sound odd, but Kane was really a movie about making movies. That’s what I discovered. On a higher level, let’s say, it was a movie about shadows and light and camera angles and the emotion coming out of characters on the screen, all rolled up into moving paintings. It was quite beautiful to me. I was struck by it. I loved it. I wanted to take off from there and fly into the wild blue yonder. The possibilities were endless.
Q: You had the energy—
A: You have no idea. It was titanic. It was radiating out of every cell in my body.
Q: So you make Citizen Kane and you’re 24 years old.
A: It was a gargantuan act of ego.
Q: That’s why it’s endured.
A: Yes, I would say so.
Q: So in your case, it’s beneficent ego.
A: Well, not all the time. I once threw a man off a bridge.
Q: That’s a new one.
A: He attacked me. He said The Magnificent Ambersons was a drawing-room drama.
Q: Did he die?
A: Oh no. The bridge was four feet above a narrow river. They fished him out and we all went and had a drink. People have the wrong idea about ego. Big is not a problem. Small is the problem. And if you stay in the middle ground, you experience the worst case. Then you’re torn to pieces. Attrition and gnawing from all quarters. Beyond a certain point, more ego is a balloon and you float up off the ground. If you can hold on and allow the ride, you develop spontaneous resources.
Q: Ego is a medium, like paint or film.
A: You can use it if you want to.
Q: But people then assume art means humility.
A: People assume God is waiting for them in a city built on clouds, where they’ll melt like butter into a piece of cosmic toast. Humility is a delusion. An ideal of sheer pretension. It’s an amateur’s role in a doomed play.
Q: Ego as a social behavior is buffoonery.
A: That’s why Citizen Kane is a comedy.
Q: And the reason why it’s not seen as that?
A: Large looming sets, and camera angles slanted upward from low positions. You can have a gloomy comedy. I may have invented the form.
Q: Touch of Evil—they say, every frame is a galvanizing photograph.
A: Why else make a movie? I was like the poet who realizes language is the flight from the ground into the air, or the descent below the surface. In film, you build the architecture to photograph it, and you choose the angles that make the photo. Frankly, if I can’t invent every frame so it has original architecture, then I’m lazy. I’m letting the extraordinary slip by. I may as well be home getting drunk. But you see, I forced the issue. I didn’t sit back and hope. I didn’t wait for every marvelous accident. I was up on the beat, and I stayed there. Well, I didn’t stall. I hit you with image after image. That was the point.
Q: You were the troll under the bridge.
A: The troll waits for years, for even centuries. But once he starts to move, he doesn’t stop.
Q: At what point did you realize the plot of Citizen Kane was a throwaway?
A: Oh, I knew that from the beginning. Stories are everywhere. Grab one. Think of one. Don’t give it much concern. One understands, of course, the audience is a sucker for stories, so that’s what they’ll focus on. You can’t help that. But the Rosebud business, the whole career of Kane, his whole life, drawn in episodes—who cares? It’s just the occasion for doing what I wanted to do. I never put stock in it. I may have said I did, but that was a lie or a momentary fascination. I wanted big space, so I chose a big man. Stories are a rank addiction. How will things turn out? Who will prove to be the winner? What’s the missing clue? Find the right story that touches all the bases, and you can sell it. But I was destroying stories. Understand? If my films had a theme, that was it. Story disintegrates. It has no foundation.
Q: You’re supposed to be obligated to telling a story.
A: Drivel. Wisdom is supposedly choosing the right story, but that’s sheer nonsense. Crap. Every story is a lie. You come to the end of it, and you feel unhappy. I knew that when I was 16. That’s why I had a hard time with studio executives. They’re sucking on the teat of their own religion. They see themselves as priests. They’re selling story to the public. A to B. You begin the fairy tale at A and wind up at B. No switchbacks. No irony. It’s sheer stupidity. I’m not trying to hide the weapon in the desk drawer until the last scene. I’m injecting invention in every frame, so it spills over the edges. The foam shooting over the rim of the glass. That’s what I want. It’s the same with any world. You want to bring sheer abundance to it. Even in the desert, you have an abundance, an over-abundance of space. That’s what I’m aiming for. Over-abundance. On Earth, you have it. Jungles. They just keep on twisting toward the horizon. They lean over the banks of the rivers, trying to swallow up the water, and the water won’t be stopped, either. You have black jaguars, some of the greatest hunting machines anyone could devise. They’re bursting at the seams. Look at their modeling. And lions. And cloudy leopards, pure and sufficient and heartbreaking beauty. You make many types. Let’s not diddle around. The people who made this place, Earth, do you think they held back? Do you think they were wearing lab coats and saluting genes? What immortal hand or eye could frame thy fearful symmetry?
Q: Joseph Calleia in Touch of Evil.
A: Poor old Joe. He could make that sadness sing. Abundantly. He was quite good at comedy, you know. But he pulled on the cloak of sadness, and his elevator would take you down three or four levels, and he would die at the bottom. You knew he had to. There was a collection of caricatures in that film. Not exactly caricatures, because I was inventing, how do I say it, a special kind of type. Not a cartoon. Not tripping falling farce. Not quite naturalism. Perhaps a mixture. They call it grim noir, but that was a comedy, too, that film. You had Ray Collins doing his special brand of flapdoodle. The DA. Coat and hat, barking like a dog. One second he’s three dimensions, the next second he’s flat. And Akim Tamiroff. Farce. But he’ll shoot you. Entrances and exits. The characters appear, flare, flatten out, and disappear. Cardboard town. Cardboard and oil. A collapsible universe.
Q: With different rules.
A: Yes, the rules of, say, GK Chesterton. Reality as facade. But in Touch of Evil, if you put your hand through a wall, you feel you might get bit by something on the other side. The characters aren’t trapped by their natures. Not really. I trap them. That’s part of letting the audience see I’m doing the inventing. They see it going on. Just enough. Same with Citizen Kane.
Q: Reminds me a little of Pablo in Steppenwolf.
A: Yes. He can fold up the bar and the people in it into a toy and put it all in his pocket. He doesn’t do it. Maybe once, to drive home a point. But he could. So could I. Obviously, I don’t. But the fact that I could is part of the overall atmosphere.
Q: Collapsible universe.
A: Magic Theater. It’s a decision you make, and the earlier the better. Will you pose yourself in reality and then mingle with it? Is that your main thrust? Or will you punch holes in it and find velocity and manufacture the worlds you want? You might discover one or two cultures in the history of the planet that, at their beginning, opted for the second alternative. Briefly.
Q: This society we live in provides us with snapshots of artists.
A: Caught, for an instant, on the run. So the life of the artist becomes the watchword. His tribulations. The fact that he’s a fool in his personal life or he’s desperate or he’s rich or he’s this or that. Maybe 20 years out of his endless trillions of immortal years are captured in a highly suspect snapshot. But he’s somewhere else now, still working. He’s exponentially increasing his power. As an incidental effect, his impact on reality, any already-existing reality, is growing. Somewhere out on the rim of a place we’ve never seen, he’s made vanish a few square parsecs of space and invented his own territory to replace it.
Q: Maybe he’s casting a film.
A: Casting comes last. He’s drawing up camera angles, building sets.
Q: Huge houses?
A: Maybe. Maybe pillars and towers and looming sky. Maybe a cardboard town sinking in leftover oil. If it’s Tuesday, it’s one, if it’s Wednesday, the other.
Q: Just out of curiosity—everything you’re saying here, did you know it at the time or only now?
A: Oh, I knew it all along. The individual is immortal. But people want to hear about other things. And I was willing to give them what they wanted, except in my work. In intelligence operations, why would you blow your cover stories? The world of humans is built on cover stories, one after another, in stratified layers.
Q: The Third Man. You and Joseph Cotten.
A: Well, that was all atmosphere. We didn’t have anything else. Atmosphere wrapping a mystery. And when it’s solved, it’s a throwaway, of course. Who cares? But with the crooked streets and lighting and pace, you make your own little temporary religion. An altar sitting somewhere ahead, in the fog.
Q: And who’s God?
A: No one. That’s the point. You say, “Look, suppose there’s no God? That might not be a bad thing.” It might not be a disappointment, after all. No-God can turn out to be an interesting story. If you play your cards right, it could be exciting. You worm your way through the mystery and you find it all folds up in your pocket and you walk away laughing. You leave that sadness behind, a hat blowing across the street. I used to stumble out of the theater after watching Ingmar Bergman, and I’d be choking on laughter. The Seventh Seal. One of the funniest movies I’ve ever seen. Wild Strawberries. Hysterical. Gunnar Bjornstrand, a man at the end of his tether, staring nothing in the face. Do you remember the scene where he’s sitting in the car talking to Ingrid Thulin? Well, tragedy for me has always had a tinge of laughter about to break out. You move over one inch from where you are, and the tears magically dry up and you’re feeling wonderful, as if you’ve just had a good breakfast. You look around and wonder what happened.
Q: Improvisation helps.
A: You might be right. You can always throw a howling cat into a funeral. As people approach the open coffin, the cat runs in chasing a rat. Emotions are mercurial. Of course, in a film, you can saddle them with iron weights, if you want to. But I never thought that was necessary. Why bother with it? It’s a waste of time. Something else is going to happen next, anyway. You have the noble, beautiful, suffering widow standing at the coffin, where her husband is lying in his suit with a flower in his buttonhole, and she glances to her left and sees a man staring down her dress. And she starts to smile. Just a little. Of course, what is she doing with cleavage at the funeral?
Q: Is that a metaphysical question?
A: Well, it could be. Because that’s what you find out. You’re ready for the emotion to lay its card on the table, the emotion that will sum up your experience and confirm the absolute and final significance of it in the overall scheme of things…and then a leaf blows in the window and it doesn’t really matter. Now you have that emotion and the leaf, and as a director, what are you going to do with it? You begin to discover that improvisation is one of the great stable centers behind any universe.
Q: The planning department will hate that.
A: Sure. They pretend they’re working out all the details. They’re going to launch Universe X-B tomorrow, and they’re putting the final touches on the last few sub-sub-sub anomalies. Meanwhile, they’re just the front office. What’s going on behind the scenes is the real main event. Somebody like me is back there, and I’m talking to the tiger. The tiger with wings. I want to see whether he’s ready to burn bright in the forests of the night. Whether he doesn’t care about me, the man who made him. I want him to forget all about me and go on his way. He and I, the two of us, are back there. And yes, I can see, his ferocity is intact. He’s his own man. And just as he brushes by me, padding out the door, he gives me a little smile. Just for a second. That’s all I want. That’s all I need.
Q: Okay, let’s take a short break here. I want to present a quote from William Burroughs (Naked Lunch):
“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.”
And I want to recall an old recording session you did. It was a voiceover for an ad—Findus Foods. You were the spokesman. You were doing takes on cod, peas, beef. The recording engineer kept the outtakes. Here are a few of your 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!” “It isn’t worth it. No money is worth this…” [Welles walks out]
A: Yes, I remember that. I could have used the money, but the script was such a load. I couldn’t do it.
Q: 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 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…Let’s pick up again 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. Reduce them to their lowest common denominator.
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 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 the 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’m letting 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, what you did could be looked at as 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. 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. It’s always been that way. A real artist isn’t hanging around hoping for information. He’s inventing something much more powerful.
The author of three explosive collections, THE MATRIX REVEALED, EXIT FROM THE MATRIX, and POWER OUTSIDE THE MATRIX, Jon was a candidate for a US Congressional seat in the 29th District of California. He maintains a consulting practice for private clients, the purpose of which is the expansion of personal creative power. Nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, he has worked as an investigative reporter for 30 years, writing articles on politics, medicine, and health for CBS Healthwatch, LA Weekly, Spin Magazine, Stern, and other newspapers and magazines in the US and Europe. Jon has delivered lectures and seminars on global politics, health, logic, and creative power to audiences around the world. You can sign up for his free NoMoreFakeNews emails here or his free OutsideTheRealityMachine emails here.