Friday, June 14, 2013

My Lunches With Orson: Conversations Between Henry Jaglom and Orson Welles

 When I was younger, I mainly knew Orson Welles as a wine huckster for Paul Masson- "We will sell no wine............before it's time." Thanks to my Grandfather, I saw a lot of old films on TV, and so I discovered CITIZEN KANE at an early age, and I was mesmerized. I always found it kind of sad that Welles peaked so young, and, as the years went by, seemed less and less inclined to make films. So it was with great anticipation that I started reading MY LUNCHES WITH ORSON: CONVERSATIONS BETWEEN HENRY JAGLOM AND ORSON WELLES. I had never heard of Henry Jaglom, and I'm still only marginally aware of who he is and what he's done, even after reading the book. That's fitting, because Jaglom is, for the most part, a sounding board for Welles to bounce recollections, reminiscences, and BS off of.

The book is a collection of transcribed recordings of lunches that Welles and Jaglom shared at Ma Maison between 1983 and Welles' death in 1985. (I still remain unconvinced that Welles was aware that Jaglom was recording these lunchtime chats. Editor Peter Biskind explains early on that Welles, per Jaglom, was aware of it, even winkingly encouraged it, as long as he never saw the recording device, and it was never spoken of during their conversations. Which seems a rather convenient thing. I have a nagging feeling that Welles may not have been aware, but, at this point, that's splitting hairs.)

The book starts with a lengthy introduction by Peter Biskind (EASY RIDERS, RAGING BULLS and DOWN AND DIRTY PICTURES), who gives an overview of Welles' career, and details how he met and befriended Jaglom. From there, we jump right into the lunchtime conversations, which cover everything from filmmaking to Hollywood gossip. Welles, who by this point in his career was virtually broke and unable to secure any meaningful kind of work, comes off as playful, funny, bitter, savage, kind, generous, petty, and maybe even deluded. (Jaglom was helping Welles, who had a terrible reputation for walking away from films before he had fully completed them, shop around some new projects.) I would have liked to see some current input from Jaglom regarding how real these projects were, in hindsight. Jaglom keeps telling Welles that they're close to putting a deal together, and Welles keeps saying how much he's been writing, but was this sincere on both men's parts, or was each telling the other what they thought they wanted, or needed, to hear?

Welles' stories about old Hollywood are hilarious and biting, even though I suspect that many of them need to be taken with some HUGE grains of salt. Reading about him holding court at Ma Maison, you can practically see the gleam in his eye as he rudely dismisses Richard Burton, or calls over a Waiter to inform him that it was his ever-present Dog that just farted, and not him or Henry. While the book was informative, and often hilarious, it was tinged with the sadness that comes from knowing one's best days are far behind them.....

The Publisher provided a review copy.

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