A.S. Hamrah at Bookforum:
It’s been difficult to get beyond the mocking portrayals of Welles in part because so many critics and pop film historians have adopted Hollywood’s conformist notions of success. Welles’s story of uncompromising ambition and lack of concern for studio approval has functioned as a cautionary tale: a lesson in how not to succeed in show business. Writers of the early ’70s, such as Charles Higham and Pauline Kael, worked hard to knock Welles off a pedestal Hollywood had already smashed. Other writers have scraped away at the great man’s self-image, marring it the way scratches on film tear into the emulsion and make it harder to see. Some continue to punish Welles. For a recent example, check Peter Biskind’s introduction to the book My Lunches with Orson, a series of transcripts from tape-recorded conversations the filmmaker Henry Jaglom had with Welles in the LA restaurant Ma Maison between 1983 and 1985, the year Welles died. Biskind can’t resist reveling in Welles’s last days, when Welles “had ballooned to the size of a baby elephant” and survived by appearing in “B movies produced by fly-by-night producers in no-name countries” and “odds and ends like soaps, game shows, and TV commercials.”
But this year, the Welles centennial, an appreciation for Welles—even the late, bloated, talk-show-guest Welles—is gathering force. Karp’s book, along with Patrick McGilligan’s remarkable, eye-opening biography Young Orson and A. Brad Schwartz’s Broadcast Hysteria, provide a deep, nuanced portrait of the director at the start and finish of his career.