Ever wanted to take a wander around Chelsea but didn’t want to deal with those London types? Check out what an elderly, self-sufficient man dressed in sackcloth is doing in the realms of Berlin? Maybe you want to see the patisseries of Vienna but don’t trust yourself around the fondants? Worry no more because freshly released on home video is Around the World with Orson Welles, in which the mercurial genius of the director meets travel programme. He shall be our guide and tutor through some lovely scenery.

Commissioned specially for the UK’s ITV when it first started to broadcast in 1955 it must have been quite the coup for them to land the weighty talents of Welles. At the period Welles was in something of a creative funk due to the lack of funding for any of his creative endeavours. A lucrative pay cheque and the notion of trotting the globe with his camera must have been enticing. Originally scheduled for a 26 episode run Welles in the end only managed to produce 7. One of which had to be completed in his absence and one was never broadcast due to it’s dark nature.

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Around the World with Orson Welles on the surface seems more of a curio for fans of his work. There is something of a novelty of watching the always-besuited titan strolling around hillsides talking to the locals about their customs. What is truly fascinating though is witnessing both the filmmaking process and seeing the formula for what we now see as the travel documentary being born.

Opening with a shot of a camera pointing straight back at us Welles leaves us under no illusion that we are seeing the world via his viewpoint, what he chooses us to see. It’s to that point that in global cities such as London and Vienna that he spends nearly twenty minutes of the half hour programmes talking in depth to Chelsea pensioners and cake makers respectively. These are topics interesting to him, as such they should be interesting to us the viewer. I for one don’t necessarily think “London. Ah yes home of the Chelsea pensioners!”. It’s during these lengthy interviews that we also catch glimpses of Welles the bon vivant and consummate filmmaker.

Always in shot himself, even if it’s just his shoulder (apparently he was the first to do this) his tone is conversational, with laughter often piercing through serious discussion. We cut back to Welles though leaning against the camera with his perennial cigar looking stoned faced and repeating the person’s comments with all the weight in the world. They are clearly shot moments apart from each other with Welles talking at no-one in particular but again we can see the early hallmarks of tricks used still today on local news items.┬áSome of the subjects he chooses to cover are odd certainly but Welles the presenter is nothing if not charming and genuinely an intriguing host.

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On original broadcast the episode ‘Spain – The Bullfight’ was deemed too graphic by many for its unflinching depiction of the bulls death. Many hail it as a landmark moment for showing the true barbarity of the sport considering that the matador is badly gored as well. The episode is also notable as the one that Welles couldn’t be bothered to finish, so it’s left to the evening-wear loving Kenneth Tynan and Elaine Dundy, culture darlings of the 50 and 60s (Tynan is also infamous for being the first person to utter the word “fuck” on live television). Elsewhere on the package is the documentary ‘The Dominici Affair’ in which Welles investigates and re-creates the killing of a British family in rural France. Think of it as Welles’ own In Cold Blood, the story clearly affecting him. The subject matter was considered too grotesque at the time and remained unfinished for years. Here it is painstakingly recreated from his own notes (much like later releases of A Touch of Evil). Also to be found is an fascinating interview between the director and Bernard Levin.

More than just a curio to Orson Welles aficionados then. Around the World… stands as an fascinating example of early television documentary showcasing the man as a visionary in every field he turned his hand too. It’s only a shame he never did succeed in making all 26 episodes.

 

5/5

 

Dir: Orson Welles

Scr: Orson Welles

Prd: Louis Dolivet

 

Around the World with Orson Welles is available on Blu-Ray and DVD now via the BFI.

By Michael Dickinson

Michael is the VultureHound Film Editor.