Wednesday, August 07, 2013

An Orson Welles Discovery

In The New York Times this morning, Dave Kehr reported some very exciting news, that footage from Orson Welles' long-thought-lost film TOO MUCH JOHNSON had resurfaced in Pordenone, Italy.

Originally intended to be screened during performances of a play, "Too Much Johnson", which Welles was preparing to stage at the time, the footage was shot by Welles in the New York City area in 1938, and features an early appearance by Joseph Cotten along with other members of the show's cast. I first read about the film in Peter Cowie's The Cinema of Orson Welles, and from the descriptions of it, the film sounded like a tantalizing glimpse of Welles' early cinematic style, not to mention being of interest for the unique idea of blending film into a live stage performance.

Alas, at the time, the footage was considered lost. Fortunately copies were available of Welles' very first effort, HEARTS OF AGE (his homage to the experimental films of people like Cocteau, made while still in school in 1934), but - according to the article - the only known surviving footage of TOO MUCH JOHNSON was thought to have gone up in flames in Welles' Spanish villa in 1970.

Until now. The recovery of this footage will give us a chance to see a stage in Welles' cinematic development between his earliest effort and his first Hollywood film, CITIZEN KANE. But perhaps the most exciting part of this news is the reminder that lost films can and do still turn up, often in the most unlikeliest places.

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