Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Sketches of Spain

For any Jazz buffs who had their interest aroused by the headline, there will not be anything in this posting pertaining to the famous Miles Davis record. What the title actually refers to is Orson Welles' artistic love affair with the country he's buried in. This often eccentric, multi-talented man had several high profile yet unrealized projects at the time of his death, most notorious of which is probably his adaptation of Don Quixote. I believe he shot in Spain intermittently throughout most of the 1950s and 60s, piecemealing footage as budget and schedules allowed. After his lead actor died in 1969, it's said that Welles spent the next decade trying to put together a cut of the film from what they had. As if this film wasn't already plagued enough, apparently much of the work he did with these subsequent edits was somehow lost as well.

In 1992 however, seven years after Welles' death, the second unit director (Jess Franco) released an incomplete version of this film. I'm not sure what format it was released in (laserdisc?) or what region (Europe?) because few have ever seen it. Even when North America had a DVD version of this cut released last fall, it was still very difficult to find. When I asked for it for Christmas, I received an appropriate substitute called 'Les Bravades.' This is a book of artwork Welles put together in 1956 inspired by a annual festival celebrating St. - Tropez's saint's day. His drawings and paintings were put to a few words as a retelling and gift for his daughter Rebecca. The morality of her then selling it to a book company is not for me to judge, especially as I'm now reaping (and sharing) some of the rewards.Now, embarrassingly enough, when I first began this writing, I believed St.- Tropez to be in Spain, which would have tied this whole entry together perfectly. But it's in France, another favourite European hang out of the director. I was quite disappointed at this discovery, particularly how it voided my once clever headline. I almost abandoned the whole thing, but instead I decided to not leave it unfinished like so many Quixote films.

I was eventually able to get a copy of the DVD and it was an even rougher cut than I had anticipated. It was comparable to looking at sketches of what Welles wanted from this project (see where I'm going with this?). The sound was particularly alienating, as there was no location sound, very few sound effects, and characters voiced by several noticeably different actors. He doesn't go very far beyond the very basic elements of the book and includes several anachronistic divergences with modern day. The longest of which comes in the third act and involves Sancho Panza stumbling around a city looking for the director of a Don Quixote film he saw on television (Welles as himself), this footage is cut together with an actual running of the bulls ceremony. Although this unfinished film is a challenging view at times, it's certainly a fertile document for those interested in Welles' life work and different interpretations of Cervantes' famous story.Now I have to mention our own modern day Welles/ Quixote figure, Terry Gilliam, as it was reported this week that he has reclaimed his “Man who Killed Don Quixote” script from the insurance company that seized ownership once production fell apart almost a decade ago. This was well documented in the 2002 film “Lost in La Mancha.” Like Welles' version, this script also has a modern day element, as I believe the protagonist is an ad agent who travels back in time to Quixote's era. With so many events and characters in the Don Quixote source material (there were actually 2 books), it's a wonder that almost every interpretation seems to shed most of these other than the windmill incident and several other insignificant plot points. One event I'd like to see portrayed is Sancho Panza being tossed up and down in a blanket as retribution for Don Quixote refusing to pay an innkeeper. The squire is humiliated by this and brings it up often throughout the rest of the story. But to include everything that happens within the history of this Knight of rueful countenance would be beyond the scope of any film, so I'll settle for these creative re-imaginings and modern day twists from some of the finest artists to commit their visions to film.

As a side note, I've never seen the famed musical “Man of La Mancha” or the 2000 TV version starring John Lithgow and Bob Hoskins, but I'm not sure I want to.

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