In April of 1953, Orson Welles was invited by the BBC to record extracts from Walt Whitman’s A Song of Myself for a radio broadcast. “The BBC recording is the zenith of his poetry reading,” Welles’s biographer Simon Callow notes, “not merely sonorous but deeply felt, a perfect congruence of reader and poet.” In fact, it’s hard to avoid the observation that Welles himself might have written some of these lines.
Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)
In the preface to his new book One-Man Band, Simon Callow recalls the genesis of his attempt to survey the life and work of Orson Welles in 1989. He planned to write a biography that consisted of three volumes (the third of which, he originally suggested, should be a novel), but over the course of the subsequent quarter of a century that plan has long fallen by the wayside. This is the third instalment of Callow’s monumental project (following The Road to Xanadu and Hello Americans), and there is still more to come, as One-Man Band only takes us up to the completion of Welles’s Chimes at Midnight in 1967. Perhaps it’s appropriate that a biography of Orson Welles should expand so far beyond the scope of the biographer’s intentions; after all, Welles’s singular life and extraordinarily brilliant/eclectic/frustrating/confounding body of work surely merits a biography like no other. “Welles packed more living into his life, pursued more professions, thrust out in more directions and formed more intense relationships, than any twenty men put together,” Callow writes. In other words, he contained multitudes.
Read the rest of my article at Mostly Film