Friday 6 December 2019

A final reel from the giant of cinema, Orson Welles

Arts

A still from the 'lost' Orson Welles movie Too Much Johnson, which will be screened next weekend at the Kilruddery Film Festival
A still from the 'lost' Orson Welles movie Too Much Johnson, which will be screened next weekend at the Kilruddery Film Festival
Stephen Dixon's ceramic portrait of Carl von Ossietzky

Sophie Gorman

It is right to be wary of artistic creations suddenly discovered under a bed after an artist's death and thrust out into the world.

A not uncommon example is that of the unfinished manuscript that the publishers tinker with themselves before proclaiming it to be Joe Bloggs' final masterpiece, when Joe Bloggs himself would have been  horrified that the book emerged in such half-baked state.

But publishers know that nothing sells better than a book from beyond the grave.

Sometimes, however, in the right hands, the discovery of new material can be a glorious extension of a lifetime's work.

So when news emerged a year ago that there was a newly discovered Orson Welles film, Too Much Johnson, the response of many was happiness tinged with apprehension.

In the late 1930s, Welles was putting on William Gillette's 1894 play Too Much Johnson, and had the idea of interweaving the live action on stage with filmed segments. He managed to get his leading man Joseph Cotten on side, amassed a budget of $10,000 and set out to make a film of the play.

He shot all the footage he needed and had begun editing when he discovered that it would be almost impossible to project it in the theatre. There were also problems with the rights and it never got finished. In the 1970s, he thought he would revisit it, but then his house burnt down and the film was presumed destroyed.

Five years ago, someone found a dusty film canister containing a print in the Italian town of Pordenone, home to the country's biggest silent film festival.

It was restored but left unfinished, which turns out to be a great thing, as it has Welles' big fat fingerprints all over it. It is like sitting in an edit room with Welles and watching his mind at work.

It receives its Irish premiere next week at the Killruddery Film Festival 2014.

To have a film festival in Killruddery makes sense on a number of levels, not least the fact that the house and grounds have provided the backdrop for many of the biggest films made here.

This film festival started out running in springtime as an entirely silent one, bar the live musical soundtracks. It has now moved to September, during Killruddery's open season, and a time of year that tends to be more favourable for wandering around the magnificent gardens or enjoying tea and cakes in the orangery. And it also now includes some carefully selected talkies.

"It is still predominantly silent, but the general thrust of the festival now is retrospective," explains the festival's director Andrew Legge. This year's programme also includes a strand dedicated to the work of film pioneer and documentary maker D.A. Pennebaker, who most famously made the Bob Dylan documentary Don't Look Back.

"We've got some great guests lined up including Kevin Brownlow, who won an Oscar two years ago for his contribution to cinema history," says Legge. "We also have the Italian archivist who restored Too Much Johnson, the man who distributed all Pennebaker's films in the 1960s and an animator from Brown Bag Films."

The ambidextrous musician Stephen Horne, who can somehow simultaneously play the flute and the piano with just a hand on each, will return to accompany many of the silent film screenings. There will also be masterclasses in improvisation for silent cinema, while Caoimhe Doyle of Ardmore Sound, returns to offer her Foley artist workshops.

"One of the films I am most excited by is Collaboration Horizontale by Ciaran Cassidy," says Andrew Legge.

"It starts with that iconic post-war photograph by Robert Capa of the French woman walking through her village carrying her young baby with her head freshly shaven by her fellow villagers. The baby's father was thought to have been a German soldier and she had been accused of collaborating and shaven as her humiliating punishment. The film looks back now 65 years later to see what happened to the baby."

The festival opens next Friday on Culture Night. The gardens will be lit up, there will be tours by candle light and a traditional music session at the Tea Room.

Killruddery Film Festival ticket holders are invited to festival opening drinks in the Orangery and a screening of Buster Keaton's 1924 film Sherlock Jr, with piano accompaniment by Horne, in the library.

More details at www.killruddery.com/kff

Sophie's Choice

1. The Tiger Dublin Fringe festival continues to roar into its busier second week, which is packed with highlights. In Eating Seals & Seagulls’ Eggs by Catríona Ní Mhurchú (left), the writer/performer explores the lonely and isolating experience of being an Irish speaker in an urban slicker environment. fringefest.com

2.  you told me to wash and clean my ears may be a line from Nina Simone’s ‘Mississippi Goddam’, but it is also the title of Amanda Coogan’s new show, which looks at how the Irish deaf community came together after a deaf man, Eamonn McDevitt, was shot dead in 1971 by British soldiers in Strabane. fringefest.com

3. Ollie may be a puppet but that doesn’t mean Ollie doesn’t feel tired and old and frustrated by always having his strings pulled by someone else. The Carved Soul promises a puppet show like you have never seen before, brought to life by one Jason Lambert — O’Brien from Wanderly Wagon’s grandson. fringefest.com

Exhibit A

It may be in segments but this is most definitely the head of Carl von Ossietzky, controversial winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1935. Controversial because when Hitler heard of Ossietzky being awarded the prize he reacted with fury, prohibiting all Germans from ever receiving Nobel prizes.

Why did Ossietzky upset the Fuhrer? Ossietzy was a journalist and one of the most vehement critics of political developments in Germany in the inter-war years. In 1929, his paper had revealed that the German authorities were secretly engaged in rearmament contrary to the Treaty of Versailles. He was then arrested, found guilty of treason and imprisoned in 1931. When the Nazis seized power in 1933, he was rearrested and sent to a concentration camp. An international campaign was launched for his release, but he died in prison hospital in 1938.

His head has remarkably been captured in ceramics by British artist Stephen Dixon. Ossietzky is one of a series of three large portrait heads of three iconic Nobel Prize winners, Dixon’s political heroes. The other link is that all three were unable to receive their awards as they were prisoners of conscience in their own countries when the prize was awarded. The other two are the Burmese champion of democracy Aung San Suu Kyi and Chinese human rights activist Liu Xiaobo.

Dixon’s dramatic head is part of Europe & Beyond, an exhibition of the works of 12 internationally acclaimed ceramicists. It is being presented by the Peppercanister Gallery (peppercanister.com) and is on display in the Coach House, Dublin Castle.

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