WELLES (ORSON) ARCHIVE
Lot 270
WELLES (ORSON) Archive
Sold for £43,250 (US$ 71,776) inc. premium
Lot Details
WELLES (ORSON)
Pictorial and written archive formed by Alessandro Tasca relating to his work with Orson Welles on the films Chimes at Midnight and Don Quixote, comprising a series of 23 wash and watercolour drawings by Welles for Chimes at Midnight, some annotated by him (each c.250 x 500mm.); a series of some twenty stills from Don Quixote with the drawings and watercolours commissioned by Welles from the stills, by Ivano Staccioli, and other artists; papers including some fifty sheets of production and location notes and memos by Wilde, with the odd sketch, relating to Chimes at Midnight, Don Quixote and The Dreamers; photographs of Welles on the set of Chimes at Midnight, together with negatives; other stills (one of Welles and Tasca on the set of Cagliostro, another of them setting up a TV short in 1961); a substantial series of approximately 80 letters and notes or memos by Orson Welles to Alessandro Tasca, the majority signed, about ten being autograph, the remainder typed, the majority dating between 1964 and 1984; retained copies of letters by Tasca to Welles; some 25 telegrams from Welles to Tasca; correspondence relating to Welles's death (Tasca being the last person to have seen him alive); budgets for King Lear, The Big Brass Ring, and The Dreamers; a contract signed by Orson Welles with Central Casting; scripts for the Orson Welles films or projects (some in duplicate), including Chimes at Midnight, The Cradle will Rock, King Lear, The Other Side of the Wind, The Big Brass Ring, The Dreamers, Magic Show, and Mercedes; Orson Welles's library ticket for the Los Angeles Public Library 1985; and much else

Footnotes

  • 'WHERE'S THE WIND?' – ORSON WELLES AND THE MAKING OF CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT AND DON QUIXOTE: the pictorial and written archive of Prince Alessandro Tasca di Cutò, executive producer of Chimes at Midnight – retitled Falstaff for its American release – and Welles's partner in the filming of his unfinished magnum opus Don Quixote. Alessandro Tasca, nephew of Giuseppe Lampedusa of The Leopard, had first met Welles in 1947 when he came to Europe to film Cagliostro; Tasca having spent a long time in the United States before the war, and working in Rome with Ezra Pound on his broadcasts during the war (see above). Thereafter, he worked on many of Welles's projects, including Cagliostro, The Tartars, The Merchant of Venice, Macbeth, King Lear The Cradle will Rock, The Other Side of the Wind, The Big Brass Ring, The Dreamers, Magic Show, Mercedesand, above all, Chimes at Midnight – in which, in addition to his production duties, Tasca plays the part of the Archbishop of Canterbury – and Don Quixote.

    Chimes at Midnight was Orson Welles's favourite among his own films (as he famously remarked during the course of a BBC interview in 1982, 'If I wanted to get into heaven on the basis of one movie, that's the one I'd offer up'); but has been – perhaps typically – plagued by a complicated post-production and distribution history that has prevented its wider appreciation. Indeed, it was only on 1 August 2011 that a restored print was shown in the United Kingdom. Nevertheless, it is increasingly being seen, as Welles saw it, as one of the very greatest of his films, ranking with Citizen Kane, and Welles's performance as Falstaff as perhaps his finest. It is also widely acknowledged as a major work within the Shakespearian canon. As Samuel Crowl has written in the Folger Library's Shakespeare Quarterly: 'Critical inattention to the film can be traced to its lack of availability rather than to its merits. Prints of Chimes at Midnight are expensive and difficult to locate – a situation underlined by New York Times film critic Vincent Canby in a 1975 column devoted to Welles... "Some of Welles's achievements are already easily recognized (Citizen Kane and The Magnificent Ambersons) but spend most of their lives in vaults, films like Falstaff – Chimes at Midnight, which may be the greatest Shakespeare film ever made, bar none"'. The series of watercolour and wash drawings for the film in the present archive fit into two genres, that of costume-design – which of course as Bakst and others demonstrated can constitute an art form in itself – but also reach into another sphere altogether; the studies of knights in armour engaged in battle displaying a formidable technique (revealing one suspects practiced knowledge both of Rembrandt's late drawing style as also, of course, of his Japanese exemplars); these being all the more precious for the fact that they are studies for probably the most famous of all the scenes in the film, of which Crowl remarks: 'The Shrewsbury battle scene is one of the film's justly celebrated visual sequences, and Pauline Kael is right to see it as belonging with sequences from Eisenstein, D.W. Griffith, Kurosawa, and John Ford' ('The Long Goodbye: Welles and Falstaff', Shakespeare Quarterly, Volume 31, Number 3, Autumn 1980, pp. 369-380).

    Equally striking, perhaps, is the visual record contained in the archive of Don Quixote, the film that Welles self-financed and filmed on and off – or as Tasca put it to one interviewer, off and on – in snatches between other projects, often undertaken in order to finance his pet project; and if in this Welles played the Don, Tasca could be said to have been the one loyally riding by his side. Particularly remarkable are the drawings commissioned by Welles from Ivano Staccioli and others from the stills showing the incomparable Don of Francisco Reiguera and his sidekick Akim Tamiroff. Among other stills should also be noted the brilliant sequence of frames in which Welles demonstrates the quintessential Falstaffian laugh, captioned by Tasca "per fare ridere".

    All the foregoing is reflected in the substantial, if at times chaotic, collection of papers describing Tasca's work with Welles, the bulk of them (it seems) dating from their collaboration on Chimes at Midnight. These papers give us many facets of Welles. They chart what were, as Tasca himself confessed in his interview with Cahier du Cinema in November 1985, their many tempestuous rows, not least when Tasca had the temerity to leave the set in order to attend his daughter's wedding. But after the Wellesian storms, comes the sunshine, as a (fairly typical) letter shows: "I have put a severe strain on the most valued of all my friendships; behaving stupidly and brutishly and am most profoundly ashamed for having done so. It's an indisputable fact that you must be left alone to do your job your way, and that's the way it's going to be from now on, believe me"; having, in the same letter, launched into a discussion of the correct negotiating techniques to employ with agents, he ends: "But that, of course, doesn't change my boorish treatment of your good self, in whom I hold a regard higher than I could ever express and a personal affection which makes my behaviour all the more inexcusable".

    Many of Welles's notes have been scrawled on set, and give a tangible sense of being there with him; as in one hand-scrawled missive: "WHERE'S THE WIND? I don't believe there was a weather forecast for wind. I suspect Quintana of having been ordered to keep us inside during Piedra's absence. CHECK". Often they are trivial in the extreme, and all the more valuable for that: "Dearest Sandro. Last night I asked Rose Marie to call you and say not to come this Morning... I've just now found out that she forgot. Forgive me! / Could you arrange to get me some more Cigars? love O.". But they also contain a good deal of 'meat'; as in a memorandum headed "Cinematographer: And The Crew", of which we quote the opening: "With almost any other director it would be logical to use, for the European filming, a European cameraman: not a Yugoslav (they are good but slow) but an Italian. However, in my pictures I am, to a very considerable extent, my own cameraman. All basic decisions particularly as regards the lighting must be made by myself. This means that we require a good technician who is also a good leader of his crew, and above all, a fast worker. It goes without saying that he must be fully capable of lighting a scene entirely on his own, but it is essential that he understand and cheerfully agree to an arrangement whereby all the important initiatives in the photography come from me – in other words, he must accept a sort of partnership in which I am, in the crunch, the senior partner".

    Provenance: sold on behalf of Principessa Ama Tasca di Cutò, daughter of Prince Tasca di Cutò.

Saleroom notices

  • The fifty sheets of production and location notes and memos are by Welles and not, as stated, Wilde. Lampedusa was Alessandro Tasca's first cousin rather than uncle.
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