Orson Welles is one of the benchmarks by which filmmaking is often measured. He holds a seat at the head of the class with a handful of his contemporaries, rogue-like filmmakers who often bucked Hollywood convention in order to bring to the screen films that did not stop at the mere illusion of depth, but actually required intellectual attentiveness from the audience.
It is, as evidenced within Orson Welles: The Stories of His Life by Peter Conrad, not an easy thing to nail down the personae of a man whose life seemed to be in a constant state of revolution. How does one go about analyzing a whirlwind? Conrad seems to know that the only safe way is to wait until it has passed and examine the trail it laid down. What Conrad also seems to have discovered in his research of the stories of Welles' life, particularly those characters and stories that drove the great man and helped him redefine his character whenever it suited him or was prudent to be someone else doing anything but what he had done before, was that Welles was both designer and prisoner of his own creation.
I enjoyed this book, although I struggled with bouts of frustration and dizziness trying to sort through the swirling mass of characters that is Welles, which Conrad brought to the written page. My education in Shakespearean works is somewhat limited, and that worked against me here, as Welles was so much a devotee of that masterful writer that he actually lived and breathed the characters, on and off the stage. There isn't much to learn about Welles' deeper personal life, although there is the allusion he might have had one. In actuality, it would seem that Welles was utterly consumed by his filmmaking and that personal relationships were almost an afterthought.
I came away from the book with a deeper sense of awe for the genius filmmaker but a somewhat lesser opinion of the man as a man. and both were shadowed with a hint of sadness, for his life seemed so much a theatrical creation that he, himself, was sacrificed in the making of it.
Orson Welles skittered across the map of linear time and left some mighty footsteps to be filled by those who have undertaken a similar journey. Conrad, too, is laying down some long strides in the areas of biographical works, and future Wellesian biographers will surely have to get a running start in order to move the story of Orson Welles further along than Conrad has done. Readers would do well to take a look at several of Welles' films before reading this book, as the author goes into great detail about those films and the characters portrayed there. Certainly, I recommend this book for anyone wanting a good analytical approach to the genius of Orson Welles, but this is not light reading before bedtime. A more scholarly hand has been at work here and the book, like Welles' own creations, demands and is worthy of much attentiveness and thought from its readers.