AROUND THE WORLD WITH ORSON WELLES [1955 / 2015] [Limited Edition] [Blu-ray] [UK Release] Orson Welles travels across Europe in this charming 1955 documentary series!
In 1955, the celebrated polymath Orson Welles was invited to write, direct and present his first television production with a series of travelogues exploring Europe.
Part home-movie, part cinematic essay, each episode of ‘Around the World with Orson Welles’ takes the viewer on a fascinating journey to meet famous people and explore the continent's most romantic cities. In Paris, we are introduced to famous artists such as Jean Cocteau; in Madrid, we attend a bullfight; and in Vienna, in an episode which was long believed lost, we are taken to the locations of ‘THE THIRD MAN.’
A unique and enthralling entry in the career of the one of modern cinema's most revered figures, Orson Welles masterful series finally receives it premiere on Blu-ray, and is accompanied by some rare and fascinating extra features.
Cast: Orson Welles, Chris Wertenbaker, Elaine Dundy, Kenneth Tynan, Art Buchwald, Jean Cocteau, Eddie Constantine, Simone de Beauvoir, Raymond Duncan, Juliette Gréco, Le père Ibarburu, Isidore Isou, Maurice Lemaître, Jean-Paul Sartre, Jacques Spacagna, Beñat Toyos, Lael Wertenbaker, Lucien Besnard, Jacques Chapus, Charles Chenevrier, Claude Delorme, Clovis Dominici, Gustave Dominici, Marie Dominici, Yvette Dominici and Paul Maillet
Director: Orson Welles
Producers: John Jones, Louis Dolivet and Roland Gillett
Screenplay: Orson Welles
Cinematography: Alain Pol (Director of Photography)
Image Resolution: 1080p (Black-and-White)
Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1 and 1.33:1
Audio: English: 1.0 LPCM Mono Audio
Subtitles: English SDH
Running Time: 164 minutes
Region: Region B/2
Number of discs: 1
Studio: Associated-Rediffusion / BFI [British Film Institute]
Andrew’s Blu-ray Reviews: In March 1955, Associated-Rediffusion had originally commissioned a series of 26 half-hour programmes, but in the end, only 6 were broadcast, and even then, in rather troubled circumstances. Before a contract had even been signed, Orson Welles had rapidly shot a pilot episodes himself (the third episode broadcast, "Revisiting Vienna") using loaned money and on the basis of an informal agreement. As Orson Welles had made an agreement with producer Louis Dolivet in 1953 to work exclusively for him, beginning with their troubled film production ‘Mr. Arkadin’ and Louis Dolivet was brought on board as the series producer.
The filming schedule was ambitious. Once the contract was signed, Welles was expected to make a further 25 episodes in 25 weeks spread out over nine months, with the first broadcast scheduled for September 1955. However, Orson Welles's other commitments interfered with his ability to meet deadlines, and much of the series was left incomplete.
Orson Welles had begun to wear out his welcome in Hollywood by the 1950s, struggling with a studio system that wanted to rein in his immense talents and Orson Welles reputation in Europe never suffered such a fate. Films like ‘Citizen Kane’ and ‘The Third Man’ had left an indelible impression on European cinema, making Orson Welles a celebrity across the pond. The great director filmed a travelogue for British television in 1955, ‘AROUND THE WORLD WITH ORSON WELLES.’ Writing and directing all six episodes, Orson Welles travels across Europe meeting everyone from celebrities to working people. It’s a fascinating time capsule from the legendary director in which he shares musings on life in cities like London and Vienna.
It is a wide survey of European cultural life, aimed at the sophisticated audiences of Orson Welles’ day. There is an innocent charm to Orson Welles’ thoughts on the continent’s social life and values. He shows great appreciation for the Basque people in its first two episodes, an indigenous ethnic group that have always tried to remain separate in France and Spain. Orson Welles relishes showing the locals in a good light, having playful fun with a Basque sheepherder quizzing him on his experiences in America.
A mix of literary and journalist celebrities appear in thoughtful interviews on cultural and social topics with Orson Welles. Jean Cocteau, Juliette Greco, Art Buchwald, Kenneth Tynan and Elaine Dundy are but some of his more famous guests across the six episodes. Many of them were friends and associates of Orson Welles, and displayed a relaxed intimacy in their appearances. Orson Welles is not omnipresent in every episode. The episode on Saint-Germain-des-Prés barely features Orson Welles and it is known that most of it was shot by other people.
While a few big ideas naturally creep into the interviews and dialogue, Welles has no seeming agenda driving this travelogue. He muses how the ordinary people of Europe would rather forget about the various national borders in their daily lives. Orson Welles seems rather sincere in presenting the daily life of Europeans, such as when he gleefully eats a pastry made in a Viennese hotel and interviews the chef. Welles had effectively abandoned the production to move back to the USA at the end of 1955, so the fourth and sixth episodes were particularly badly hit. Episode four, on the Paris district of St.-Germain-des-Prés, had to be padded out with stock footage from other documentaries. Episode six had only half the necessary footage, so it was padded out by having two friends of Welles's, Kenneth Tynan and Elaine Dundy, who had been present at the same bullfight he recorded, become guest hosts for the first half of the episode, until the existing footage of Orson Welles could be used. The seventh episode was not originally completed or broadcast.
Television in those days was still finding its way in how to best make and present popular content. This documentary is far more relaxed and studied than modern television. Orson Welles appeals to a sophisticated, intellectual audience even when covering banal things like a ball game played by children. Orson Welles penetrating intellect remains on display throughout each episode, becoming as much the focus as the various places he covers in his travels. Orson Welles lets his interviewees go in their own directions as they idly chase down both serious and trivial matters.
Travelogues were once a popular form of entertainment in the early days of television. This wonderful series from Orson Welles is suffused with his intelligence and wit. It’s another piece in the elaborate puzzle that was the great director, showcasing a forgotten side of European life.
Blu-ray Image Quality – The British Film Institute has brought this Associated-Rediffusion ‘AROUND THE WORLD WITH ORSON WELLES’ to Blu-ray from a new HD transfer struck from an original 35mm interpositive. The six episodes and a reconstructed lost episode documentary from 2000 comprises of over 216 minutes on this stunning BFI Blu-ray disc. This is a fine-looking presentation from a stable film elements and the crisp monochrome cinematography has been neatly presented with an impressive 1080p video resolution in the original 1.37:1 aspect ratio of the television production. The solid compression effort has perfect grain rendition and film-like texture. This is an artefact-free replication of the new HD film transfer. The scan has a nice sense of depth and sharpness, replicating the clean structure of the unfiltered film transfer. Contrast is fairly high for this kind of vintage film presentation. The dense black levels have decent shadow delineation. The 35mm interpositive has little visible damage. This is a good quality film element preserved in excellent condition. This 1955 travelogue has a strong Black-and-White Blu-ray presentation worth experiencing in Hi-Def quality. You can’t get much better than a new, unprocessed film scan from nearly flawless elements. Please Note: Playback Region B/2: This will not play on most Blu-ray players sold in North America, Central America, South America, Japan, North Korea, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Southeast Asia. Learn more about Blu-ray region specifications.
Blu-ray Audio Quality – The British Film Institute 1.0 LPCM Mono Audio soundtrack perfectly delivers the documentary’s dialogue. Its fidelity is clean and fresh sounding. There isn’t a whole lot going beyond the sights and sounds of various European locales, so the soundtrack’s range and dynamics aren’t tested. The audio’s superb recording quality for 1955 sounds excellent for its vintage and mastered in fine clarity.
The Six Completed Episodes are:
Pays Basque l – The Basque Countries  [1080p] [1.33:1] [26:06] The first episode opens on the border of a disputed territory between France and Spain. Orson Welles provides an account of this unique land with its own language that is neither French nor Spanish. This particular Basque region, which is close to the Spanish border, populated by locals who are "not quite civilised" according to Welles. The Basques have lived in their territory longer than anyone else in Europe, but haven't done an awful lot, declares Orson Welles. He talks to a villager who spent 23 years in America, and then returned to marry a local woman. While he loved many aspects of American life, the pull of home turf was way too strong to resist. Orson Welles talks about the richness of living in more than one country, and interviews the noted American writer Lael Tucker Wertenbaker, as she compares life in Basque country with that in America, who has settled in the Basque region and loves the independence and the fact that everyone knows everyone else and says, “It is the people that are so exceptional.” This region contains much to impress our Orson Welles, who acknowledges the softening of life by machinery is a danger in many places in the world, but certainly doesn't apply here. This segment ends with the “Toro del Fuego” (Bull of Fire), a major fireworks display.
Pays Basque ll – La Pelote Basque  [1080p] [1.37:1] [26:38] Here Orson Welles returns for a second instalment on his visit to Basque country. With some footage repeated from the first instalment and it captures the Basque people at play, focusing on the energetic game of Pelete (Pelote Basque in French) is the name for a variety of court sports played with a ball using one's hand, a racket, a wooden bat or a basket, against a wall (frontis or Fronton) or, more traditionally, with two teams face to face separated by a line on the ground or a net. The roots of this class of games can be traced to the Greek and other ancient cultures. Which has spawned great tennis champions: think Squash played with hands rather than rackets. It's a tough sport to be sure, with badly bruised hands the norm and quite enjoyable to watch. We also learn more about the community, where men and women sit separately in church and accept and integrate foreigners into their flock. As fireworks light up the night sky, we are left to reflect on a way of life which is uncomplicated and rather appealing in many ways.
Revisiting Vienna  [1080p] [1.37:1] [27:32] ‘Revisiting Vienna’ was long thought to be lost, and begins with that wonderful haunting theme (played on the zither) music from ‘THE THIRD MAN.’ Here, Orson Welles goes back to several locations from the aforementioned classic such as the Cafe Mozart, and finds the whole pace of life has changed. Expresso shops had elbowed coffee houses, but the wonderful pastry shops and their eternal customers and staff have thankfully remained. The elegance and overwhelming air of romance in this great city are amplified by Orson Welles' interviews and roving camera. Later, Orson Welles returns to the kitchen of the Hotel Sacher and watches the making of the famous pastry itself, salivating all the while. This is worth the admission price alone.
Saint-Germain-des-Prés  [1080p] [1.37:1] [26:35] ‘Saint-Germain-Des-Pres’ takes a look at a colourful character in one of the oldest parts of Paris. Raymond Duncan is an American and one of the oldest inhabitants here. His philosophy is simple: "Make everything you need for yourself and not need what you cannot make." Raymond Duncan believes paying money for something is a polite way of stealing, and attempts to carve out a living by sculptures, printing books and making clothes. "Never do what everybody does" was his Grandmother's advice and it certainly seems to have stood him in good stead. Maurice Lemaître, Jean Cocteau, Eddie Constantine and Juliette Gréco all crop up during this stimulating episode. Finally, there is more nightclubbing before Orson Welles and his crew take a well-deserved break.
London – The Queen's Pensioners  [1080p] [1.37:1] [27:39] With this special documentary it shifts the camera to the capital city of London, beginning with an interview that turns the spotlight on a group of widows who live in Alms Houses that were built in 1666. These sprightly ladies are very comfortable in each other’s company, but don't feel the need to share a meal table: personal space is very important to them. Orson Welles talks movingly about the dark side of old age, but it's pleasing to see that none of the ladies adopt a glass half empty approach to their final years. One is a relative of the Warner Brothers and, like the others, lights up the camera with her thoughts and outlook. The final 11 minutes of this episode are given over to the Chelsea Pensioners old soldiers’ home, where Orson Welles talks to the Chelsea Pensioner who thinks they are all heroes, who discuss and admires their distinctive uniforms; the fact that the Chelsea Pensioners are given carte blanch for their keep, and especially experiencing the horrors of war. They all live together and yet manage to enjoy privacy at the same time. We could all learn a lot from the Chelsea Pensioners involved in this episode.
Spain – The Bullfight  [1080p] [1.37:1] [27:40] Here we are presented by Kenneth Tynan and his writer wife, Elaine Dundy, discussing a bullfight day in Madrid, with a cigar-smoking Orson Welles enthusing about the excitement generated by this so called “sport.” We see the training of matadors; the manufacture of costumes; the infirmary for matadors who get too close to the bull and, of course, the main event which Orson Welles declares is the only thing in Spain that's punctual. It's a spectacle to some and a barbaric pursuit to others: those in the latter camp will doubtless gain pleasure at the sight of a matador falling foul of the business end of an enraged bull. The theatricality of the actual corrida is well developed, including a review of the legendary matador Manolete’s last bullfight.
Blu-ray Special Features and Extras:
The Dominici Affair by Orson Welles  [1080p] [1.33:1] [53:59] In 1954, an English couple and their 10-year old daughter were murdered while camping on the outskirts of the French village of Lors in August 1955. This is a documentary and partial reconstruction of Orson Welles' unfinished episode, "The Tragedy of Lors." Local farmer Gaston Dominici was convicted of the murders in 1957 and sentenced to death, but was this a miscarriage of justice? Christophe Cognet's documentary is a completed version of this episode, containing interviews with key local figures, and technicians who worked with Orson Welles on this project. The original script was used to assist this documentary, especially with Orson Welles commentary being lost, which is an absorbing investigation into a dreadful crime. An alternative theory as to the murderer's identity is suggested, and an event that caused Gaston Dominici considerable stress is also taken into account. It's a remarkable document, shot just after Gaston Dominici's trial, and a case that will now invite further speculation some six decades on. Out of all the Documentaries on this Blu-ray disc, I found this particular documentary very dull and totally boring. Cast: Stacey Benoit, Jacques Chapus, Alain Pol and Orson Welles. Directed by Christophe Cognet.
The Levin Interview with Orson Welles  [1080p] [1.33:1] [27:52] Bernard Levin's 1967 interview with Orson Welles begins with the great man declaring his radio work gave him the most satisfaction, and goes on to admit he didn't care too much for screen acting. Orson Welles talks about the problems faced by the British film industry, which frustratingly remain today and how much he regretted not going into politics. ‘Citizen Kane’ and ‘The Magnificent Ambersons’ also crops up in the conversation, along with his belief that actors should be "out of their time." This interview is a nice way to end a series of travelogues and documentaries that capture moments in time in some interesting places and allow us to get to know Welles that little bit better. I found this special totally fascinating and very interesting, as it gives you a much better insight into the real Orson Welles and his inner thoughts on life in general, but also I felt Bernard Levin did a really good interviewing skills in getting under the skin of Orson Welles. Directed by John Phillips.
BONUS: This fantastic brilliant 14 page booklet includes a new essay about the series ‘AROUND THE WORLD WITH ORSON WELLES’ from author Ben Walters that has written an in-depth look about the real Orson Welles. It is also a nice look at the documentary series, pointing out some of Orson Welles strengths and weaknesses. It also includes “SPECIAL FEATURES” on the Blu-ray extras, “ABOUT THE PRESENTATIONS” and “ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS.”
Finally, ‘AROUND THE WORLD WITH ORSON WELLES’ is a totally fascinating look at what television programming could have been under the eye of one of the greatest filmmakers who ever lived. While it is an incredible look at different parts of the world and the people that inhabit them, it's also an interesting look at Orson Welles himself. For a 60-year-old TV documentary programme, the image presentation is amazingly beautiful Black-and-White presentation, but also in the documentary ‘The Dominici Affair by Orson Welles’ it also has parts in glorious colour. I really encourage all ardent Orson Welles aficionados to consider purchasing this fantastic BFI Blu-ray release. This collection provides provocative and often quirky “téléréalité” films that bore the obvious stamp of Orson Welles’s directorial hand. With the exception of the Madrid episode, Orson Welles’s narration and dialogues sound quite good and very spontaneous, although most were scripted in advance. Today’s audiences might see his approach as somewhat outdated, but it is never less very interesting. Viewed as a time capsule of the 1950s this is wide-ranging documentaries that covers a lot of territory, and keeps its viewers very engaged and like myself, wishing that Orson Welles had made more of these brilliant “travelogues,” which at most on this BFI Blu-ray is totally fascinating and enthralling at the same time. Highly Recommended!
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