02 December 2014

The Lost Tapes of Orson Welles

This Is Orson Welles

The Lost Tapes Of Orson Welles was broadcast on the BBC World Service on 30th November, as part of the series The Documentary. It will be repeated tomorrow, and it was first broadcast in two episodes on Radio 4 last year (episode one on 19th December, and episode two on 26th December).

The programme was presented by Christopher Frayling (author of numerous books, including The 2001 File, Ken Adam Designs the Movies, Ken Adam and the Art of Production Design, Spaghetti Westerns, Once Upon a Time in Italy, and Something to Do with Death) and featured extracts of conversations between Orson Welles and Henry Jaglom. The recordings were made at the LA restaurant Ma Maison, between 1983 and 1985 (the year Welles died).

The tapes were also transcribed in the book My Lunches with Orson, and the programme includes interviews with Jaglom and the book's editor, Peter Biskind. The book’s release led to a debate about how much consent Welles had given to the recording or publication of the tapes, though the programme doesn’t address that issue. In fact, the background to the tapes is presented in a surprisingly cliched, simplistic way: “Jaglom met Orson... and the pair soon became firm friends”.

The Jaglom tapes have a predecessor with a more reliable provenance: tapes recorded by Peter Bogdanovich, who interviewed Welles from 1969 onwards. The Bogdanovich tapes were released on four audio cassettes in 1992, and transcribed in the book This Is Orson Welles; they were edited with Welles’s co-operation, and some material was redacted at his request. (Audio extracts were included on the French DVD La Splendeur Des Amberson.) In contrast, Welles had no control over the Jaglom tapes after they were recorded, and therefore they offer a more candid portrait of the director.