Friday, July 26, 2013
Book Review: My Lunches With Orson—Highly Recommended
Back in the early-1980s, director Henry Jaglom sat down to just such a series of lunches, recorded them, then after letting the tapes gather dust in a shoe box for three decades, allowed Peter Biskind, author of Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, to transcribe and edit them for public consumption.
The resulting book, My Lunches with Orson: Conversations between Henry Jaglom and Orson Welles, available from Metropolitan Books/Henry Holt and Company, is just as lively and insightful as, and a great deal funnier than, any lunch I ever imagined having with Welles—or any other celebrity for that matter.
The relationship between Jaglom and Welles was one between friends and equals—Jaglom had somehow persuaded Welles to star in his directorial effort, then became Welles's trusted go-between with the various moneyed interests who dangled promises of funding for the aging director's film projects—and for years they lunched weekly at Ma Maison, Wolfgang Puck's hideaway restaurant in West Hollywood. The recordings were Welles's idea, inspired by similar conversations Jaglom had taped with his own father, and with no plans for their future use, and thus no sense of history's judgment hanging over his head, Welles is as close to unguarded as he ever was.
Jaglom was the perfect lunch companion for Welles. Welles was a raconteur, a provocateur, a poseur and sometimes an out-and-out liar, and it would have necessarily taken a man with a quick mind, opinions of his own, unafraid to say, "Orson, that's ridiculous," when he was indeed being ridiculous (which was often), and able to draw out the great man on a broad range of topics, to serve as the host of these repasts at Ma Maison.
The lunches are delicious, lively and hilarious, what I would imagine the Algonquin roundtable was like, with Welles simultaneously playing the parts of Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley and George Kaufmann, tossing out one liners like hand grenades while eating food enough for six. It's wonderful stuff. I wound up neglecting everything—the dog, dinner, this blog—just to read another chapter.
Indeed, if I wrote as quickly as I read, you'd have had this review the day after the book arrived in the mail.
It's no wonder that when Welles died, he left nineteen unfinished projects, and hadn't completed a feature-length film in twelve years.
At one point, Welles discusses the concert pianist, Arthur Rubenstein, and his description could serve as his own epitaph: "He was the greatest cocksman of the ... twentieth century. The greatest charmer, linguist, socialite, raconteur. ... 'I am too lazy to practice ... I play clinkers all the time [but] I play it better with the clinkers.' [He] walked through life as though it was one big party."
One big party, or a series of very funny lunches.
P.S. Don't know your Orson Welles movies as well as you'd like? Click here for some suggestions from the Monkey.