Steve Braunias' World Cup Diary: day 15
WHAT ORSON WELLES TELLS US ABOUT
THE WORLD CUP
Brazil v Chile, Sunday, 3.20am, Sky Sport 5
One of the great unfinished Orson Welles films is It’s All True, which he partly filmed in Brazil, in 1942. The concept came to him in a flash of noise. Welles had watched Duke Ellington in concert, set up a meeting, and said to him: “I want to do the history of jazz as a picture.”
Ellington was paid $12,5000 to write a soundtrack; he wrote 28 bars and a trumpet solo, but the music was never used and Ellington later lost it.
Welles changed his mind and decided to film a history of the samba. The concept came to him in a telegram. The US State Department invited Welles to go to Brazil on a kind of goodwill tour – Japan had just attacked Pearl Harbor, and the US wanted to firm up the support of “good neighbours” in South America.
Welles filmed the Rio carnival and in the slums, and also at sea. He wanted to re-enact an epic voyage of four Brazilian fishermen. It ended in disaster. The boat overturned, and one of the actors disappeared while trying to swim to shore.
The footage ended up in the vaults. Welles lost track of it. It was discovered in a metal film can in 1981. Welles was told of the discovery, but he refused to look at it. He said the film was cursed.
As for the World Cup, Brazil are, quite frankly, pants, but should be roused into action by the fast-moving Chileans, who also have an underlying nastiness about them. Goals: three. Red cards: one.
Colombia v Uruguay, Sunday, 7.20am, Sky Sport 5
After filming in Brazil, Welles decided that the State Department’s largesse should be put to further good use by sending him on a grand tour of South America. Before anyone could stop him, he shot through to Colombia, and also took in the sights of Argentina, Peru, Venezuela and Chile.
What kind of “good neighbour” was he? According to one witness, Welles was looking at some footage his team had taken during the Rio carnival, pointed to a row of chorus girls and said : “I fucked her and her and her.”
As for the World Cup, Colombia had an easy ride in their qualifying group, but are now up against Uruguay, a quality team. It promises to be a tense and ugly encounter. Goals: one. Red cards: two, maybe three.
Holland vs Mexico, Monday, 3.20am, Sky Sport 5
The only authentic Mexican detail of Welles’ great 1958 film A Touch of Evil, set in a town on the US-Mexico border, is the suits – Welles got a tailor in Mexico City to create outfits for the Mexican characters, including the narcotics agent played by Charlton Heston, who even in black and white looked as bright as a radish.
It was filmed in Venice, California. The film is famous for its long tracking shot that opens the movie. Even more ingenious, perhaps, is its love affair with shadows. Welles was an artist of shadows, their depths, their shapes, their qualities of horror and dread; much of the film was shot at night, although that could have been because Welles was trying to avoid creditors during the day.
It’s fabulous to look at but hopelessly confusing to understand. The film was based on a novel, but Welles only read it after he finished filming.
As for the World Cup, Mexico are spectacular, and play with verve and flair; Holland, too, are exciting and audacious, and Robin van Persie has scored the most flamboyant goal at the World Cup so far. It should be an absolute pleasure to watch. Goals: five. Red cards: none.
Costa Rica v Greece, Monday, 7.20am, Sky Sport 5
One of Welles’s last projects was the enjoyable and quite ridiculous 1978 promotional film that he made for Caesar’s Palace.
Orson Welles Teaches Baccarat, Craps, Blackjack, Roulette, and Keno was set in Caesar’s uniquely ghastly simulacrum of ancient Rome and Greece. Welles peppers his gambling lessons with stirring anecdotes about Greek legends Zeus and Poseidon, and shield-spinning Greek soldiers.
It’s a kind of Ocean’s Eleven, without a plot or George Clooney; this was late-period Welles, meaning he was big as a house, addicted to cognac and cigars, but he filled the screen with charm, and made Vegas look cool as anything, the kind of place you desperately want to go to for good times and the quintessence of American trash.
As for the World Cup, Greece strike the ball with fantastic force, and no doubt have other qualities, but everything about Costa Rica is delightful – they are the team everyone wants to watch at this World Cup, for their joy, their cleverness, their giant-killing. Goals: four. Red cards: none.