I’ve never had a friend in my life who wanted to see a magic trick, you know. I don’t know anybody who wants to see a magic trick. So I do it professionally; it’s the only way I get to perform.
I went once to a birthday party for [MGM boss] Louis B. Mayer with a rabbit in my pocket which I was going to take out of his hat. On came Judy Garland and Danny Kaye and Danny Thomas and everybody you ever heard of and then Al Jolson sang for two hours and my rabbit was peeing all over me, you know. And the dawn was starting to rise over the Hillcrest Country Club as we said goodnight to Louis B. Mayer and nobody’d asked me to do a magic trick. So the rabbit and I went home.
Rare color photo of Orson Welles during the production of the famous opening long take from Touch of Evil, one of the greatest long takes in cinematic history.
“As time has gone by, though, Touch of Evil has acquired a large cult following, and it now regularly appears on lists of the best films of the century. What is not generally known is that the film never accurately reflected Welles’s intentions for it. In July 1957, the studio took over the editing of the film and prevented him from participating in its completion. In an odd turn of events, however, a 58-page memo that Welles wrote in 1957 was recently rediscovered, and a small team on which I was film editor and sound mixer has used that remarkable document to bring Touch of Evil as close as possible to Welles’s original concept.” —Walter Murch, 1998
I’m not bitter about Hollywood’s treatment of me, but over its treatment of Griffith, von Sternberg, von Stroheim, Buster Keaton and a hundred others.
Peter Bogdanovich: I’ve never seen Dietrich as she was in Touch of Evil—she transcends everything and becomes almost a mythical figure.
Orson Welles: The whole character, you know, was written after the picture started. We were well along before I even thought it up. Then I phoned Marlene and said I had a couple days’ work for her and she’d have to have dark hair because, I told her, “I liked you as a brunette in Golden Earrings.” She didn’t ask to read the script. She just said, “Well, I’ll go over to Paramount—I think that wig is still there—and then I’ll go to Metro for a dress…” The front office didn’t even know she was in the picture. You should have seen them in the projection room during the first rushes: “Hey! Isn’t that Dietrich?” and I said, “Yes.” They said, “We haven’t got her in the budget.” And I said, “No. Won’t cost you anything as long as you don’t give her billing.” They decided they wanted to and paid her to be in it. But it was up to them.
Bogdanovich: Well, it was actually a digression as far as the plot is concerned.
Welles: Yeah, but it helped it enormously. Look what that does for the film—that scene when those two suddenly encounter each other. And when she sees him floating in the bay—it makes the picture, you know.
Bogdanovich: That’s what I think. Where did the pianola come from? It seems like a remembrance of The Blue Angel.
Welles: Honestly, I wasn’t thinking of that. I’ve never seen The Blue Angel. I just think we found a pianola among the props. I think all that Dietrich part of it is as good as anything I’ve ever done in movies. When I think of that opening in New York without even a press showing… Really, Marlene was extraordinary in that. She really was the Super-Marlene. Everything she has ever been was in that little house for about four minutes there.
Peter Bogdanovich: I think we’d better have your thoughts on Godard.
Orson Welles: Well, since you’re so very firm about it. He’s the definitive influence if not really the first film artist of this last decade, and his gifts as a director are enormous. I just can’t take him very seriously as a thinker—and that’s where we seem to differ, because he does. His message is what he cares about these days, and, like most movie messages, it could be written on the head of a pin. But what’s so admirable about him is his marvelous contempt for the machinery of movies and even movies themselves—a kind of anarchistic, nihilistic contempt for the medium—which, when he’s at his best and most vigorous, is very exciting.
Chantal Akerman: You can see him excluding himself from the world in an almost autistic manner. For people like me, who started doing film because of him, it is a terrible fright. And the fact that the long evolution that Godard has been through can lead to this, almost brings me to despair. He was kind of a pioneer, an inventor who didn’t care much about anybody or anything. And that a man at this stage of his life isolates himself, should also be a lesson for us other film makers.
Woody Allen: I think he’s a brilliant innovator. I don’t always love every film he’s made. I think he’s very inventive, but sometimes his inventions are taken by other people and used better. But he’s certainly one of the innovators of cinema.
Paul Thomas Anderson: I love Godard in a very film school way. I can’t say that I’ve ever been emotionally attacked by him. Where I have been emotionally attacked by Truffaut.
Michelangelo Antonioni: Godard flings reality in our faces, and I’m struck by this. But never by Truffaut.
Ingmar Bergman: I’ve never been able to appreciate any of his films, nor even understand them. Truffaut and I used to meet on several occasions at film festivals. We had an instant understanding that extended to his films. But Godard: I find his films affected, intellectual, self-obsessed and, as cinema, without interest and frankly dull. Endless and tiresome. Godard is a desperate bore. I’ve always thought that he made films for critics. He made one here in Sweden, Masculin Féminin, so boring that my hair stood on end.
Luis Buñuel: I’ll give him two years more, he is just a fashion.
Jean-Luc Godard: I am not an auteur, well, not now anyway. We once believed we were auteurs but we weren’t. We had no idea, really. Film is over. It’s sad nobody is really exploring it. But what to do? And anyway, with mobile phones and everything, everyone is now an auteur.
Werner Herzog: Someone like Jean-Luc Godard is for me intellectual counterfeit money when compared to a good kung fu film.
Fritz Lang: I like him a great deal: he is very honest, he loves the cinema, he is just as fanatical as I was. In fact, I think he tries to continue what we started one day, the day when we began making our first films. Only his approach is different. Not the spirit.
Roman Polanski: In fact the worst thing possible is to be absolutely certain about things. Hitler, for example, must have been convinced in the certainty of his ideas and that he was right. I don’t think he did anything without believing in it, otherwise he wouldn’t have done it to start with. And I think Jean-Luc Godard believes he makes good films, but maybe they aren’t that good.
Satyajit Ray: Godard especially opened up new ways of… making points, let us say. And he shook the foundations of film grammar in a very healthy sort of way, which is excellent.
Quentin Tarantino: To me, Godard did to movies what Bob Dylan did to music: they both revolutionized their forms.
François Truffaut: You’re nothing but a piece of shit on a pedestal. […] You fostered the myth, you accentuated that side of you that was mysterious, inaccessible and temperamental, all for the slavish admiration of those around you. You need to play a role and the role needs to be a prestigious one; I’ve always had the impression that real militants are like cleaning women, doing a thankless, daily but necessary job. But you, you’re the Ursula Andress of militancy, you make a brief appearance, just enough time for the cameras to flash, you make two or three duly startling remarks and then you disappear again, trailing clouds of self-serving mystery.
Orson Welles: He’s the definitive influence if not really the first film artist of this last decade, and his gifts as a director are enormous. I just can’t take him very seriously as a thinker—and that’s where we seem to differ, because he does. His message is what he cares about these days, and, like most movie messages, it could be written on the head of a pin. But what’s so admirable about him is his marvelous contempt for the machinery of movies and even movies themselves—a kind of anarchistic, nihilistic contempt for the medium—which, when he’s at his best and most vigorous, is very exciting.
Wim Wenders: For me, discovering cinema was directly connected to his films. I was living in Paris at the time. When Made in USA opened, I went to the first show—it was around noon—and I sat there until midnight. I saw it six times in a row.
“Hold a mirror up to nature—that’s Shakespeare’s message to the actor. How much more does that apply, and how much more is it true, to the creator of a film? If you don’t know something about the nature to which you’re holding up your mirror, how limited your work must be! The more film people pay homage to each other, and to films rather than life, the more they are approximating the last scene of The Lady from Shanghai—a series of mirrors reflecting each other. A movie is a reflection of the entire culture of the man who makes it—his education, human knowledge, his breadth of understanding—all this is what informs a picture.”
“Keaton was beyond all praise, a very great artist, and one of the most beautiful men I ever saw on the screen. He was also a superb director. In the last analysis, nobody came near him. I was lucky enough to get to know him fairly well just at the end of his days. The Stage Door Canteen—a sort of cabaret-restaurant for servicemen run by show people—we both used to work there. I did magic and he washed dishes, for God’s sake. Keaton, one of the giants! What about The General—that’s a truly great movie, isn’t it? Now, finally, Keaton’s been ‘discovered.’ Too late to do him any good, of course—he lived all those long years in eclipse, and then, just as the sun was coming out again, he died. I wish I’d known him better than I did. A tremendously nice person, you know, but also a man of secrets. I can’t even imagine what they were.” — Orson Welles