Saturday, November 21, 2015

Unknown Welles: The Dreamers

When in Split, Croatia, drop by the Joker Center shopping mall to see Oja Kodar’s sculpture of her longtime life-partner, Orson Welles. In a cinematic sense, Welles also put his collaborator and muse on pedestal in The Dreamers, his oblique and of course unfinished adaptation of two Isak Dinesen short stories, which screened last night at MoMA as part of the 2015 To Save and Project International Festival of Preservation’s Unknown Welles sidebar.

Among the program of maddeningly incomplete Wellesiana, The Dreamers best stands alone as a discrete film in its present state. That said, Welles’ original trailer for F for Fake further advances the docu-hybrid’s meta jokes, while the extended teaser for The Deep ought to make Welles fans drool for the work-print screening on Sunday. Unfortunately, the work-print screening of The Other Side of the Wind scenes edited by Welles are distractingly rough and the events they depict—a film shoot jeopardized by the abrupt departure of its star—are spookily prescient of the fate that would befall the still unfinished film.

While still somewhat fragmentary, The Dreamers manages to end on a note that roughly approximates closure. It is a deceptively simple, almost confessional film, focusing first on Welles playing a 19th Century trader obsessed with the immortal Italian diva Pellegrina Leoni, whom Kodar then portrays in more recent times. In their interpretation, she becomes sort of a Flying Dutchman Norma Desmond. Although Welles and Kodar pitched the film to number of big name stars, he clearly takes pleasure from Kodar’s close-ups.

The Dreamers is a talky film, but it is also eerily intimate. Frankly, the Borgesian nature of the title story makes it a hugely ambitious work to tackle, but even after all his set-backs, Orson Welles was still all about thinking big. While it lacks the power and dazzle of The Merchant of Venice, The Dreamers is still worth seeing, especially to get a glimpse of the exotic couple’s Los Angeles home. Any scrap of Welles is recommended in principle, but The Deep looks like a can’t-miss when the Unknown Welles sidebar continues this weekend at MoMA.