Cinematographers are rarely given the attention afforded directors, yet their craft is integral to the art of filmmaking, embodying the combination of technical know-how and aesthetics that underpins every film. The National Film and Sound Archive recently hosted a Celebration of Cinematography Festival to coincide with the 2006 National Awards for Cinematography, which were held in Canberra on 27 May. The festival featured several illustrious local and overseas guests, including Gary Graver, cinematographer on all Orson Welles' work from the late 1960s until Welles' death in 1985.
Graver's best-known collaboration with Welles is the highly innovative F for Fake (1974), made while they were working on Welles' unfinished feature film The Other Side of the Wind. This 'lost' final work has become the stuff of legend, described by Tim Cumming in The Guardian (9/1/2002) as "a nonlinear Hollywood Rashomon that explores…the terminal trajectory of a great man's life through the eyes of those around him." The film starred the great Hollywood director John Huston, whose reputation loomed almost as large as Welles'.
While in Australia, Graver talked with NFSA Chief Programmer Quentin Turnour about his ongoing attempts to get The Other Side of the Wind released, and the discovery of a little-known gem in the NFSA's National Collection.
We were just at the NFSA looking at a 16mm film in our collection called Orson Welles Tonight. You think it's something special. Can you tell me about it?
Before we started shooting The Other Side of the Wind in January 1971, we did a series of short stories, specifically for a department store called Sears Roebuck in the States. They were going to sell a console, like a television set, and on it you could play programs [supplied by Roebuck]. The first one was Orson Welles, and then they were going to have variety shows, music and everything. I don't know if they ever did that, or if it sold very well. But it was exclusive to the department store. You had to buy the console set, and then you got this program Orson Welles Tonight.
I think you've got everything [at the NFSA]. I thought most of it had been lost, apart from an episode held in the Munich film archive. I seem to remember 10 or 12 shows, but I think they were combined and made into one 50-minute program. I don't know what format [it was sold on]. We shot on 16mm and they put it on video. They were turned into cassettes, but they were not VHS or Beta.
How did you first become involved with Orson Welles?
I'd been in Vietnam in the US Navy as a combat cameraman. I had gone in under a ruse - I wasn't a cameraman, I faked it, but after shooting every day for two years I became a cameraman. Once I got out of the Navy I realised if I stayed a cameraman I would always work. There's always some fool wants to produce a movie, and they always need a cameraman.
I read in Variety that Orson was in Los Angeles, so I thought, 'Where would he be? The Beverley Hills Hotel!' So I was in Schwab's - the famous drug store where Lana Turner was discovered - and I went to the pay phone, called the Beverley Hills Hotel and said, 'The room of Orson Welles please'. The operator said 'Just a moment', and then all of a sudden: 'Hello!'
I said 'Mr Welles? My name is Gary Graver, I'm an American cameraman and would like to work with you.' And he said 'I'm going to New York and doing a movie. When I get back I'll give you a call.' So I thought, 'That's the end of that'. Within ten minutes I was pulling into my driveway and the phone was ringing. I ran up the stairs, picked up and a voice said, 'Gary, this is Orson. Get over here to the Beverley Hills Hotel right away.'
So I did. He opened the door and there he was - a big guy in his robe. We started chatting and talking. I wanted to work with him because I wanted to see him make more movies. And I had a way - which I explained to him - of buying film cheap, using 'short ends' left over from the studios [the short strips of unexposed film left at the end of camera reels]. And I knew how to get the crew and camera equipment cheaper.
All of a sudden he got up, grabbed me by the shoulders and threw me on the floor. This 300-pound man pounced on me - I couldn't move. I thought, 'Oh no! What have I got myself into here?' I kept trying to squirm out and he said 'Shhh, stay down.' Finally he got up and looked out the window and said, 'Ok, get up'. I asked, 'What was that about?' and he said, 'An actress was right in front of my window. If she looked in here and saw me, she'd come in and start talking - and she likes to talk! But I want to talk to you…'
He wanted to make a series of tests. We went to the lab to see the footage and he approved - more than approved. Because he found I could do the sound, take stills - everything he wanted.
And you shot pretty much everything he did in his remaining years. How many films did you do together?
Orson and I did The Other Side of the Wind, F for Fake, Filming Othello and Filming the Trial. Orson was going to go back over every film he made and make a documentary, but we only got to two of them.
We also did an Orson Welles talk show for television. He wanted to have his own show like Johnny Carson. We did a show with the guests Burt Reynolds, Angie Dickinson and the Muppets. It's 90 minutes long. It's not just a sit-down talk show, but a variety show. It was offered to the world market but no one ever bought it. So there's a completed film and it's never been sold, not even now as a notalgia piece.
The Other Side of the Wind has become the great mythic project, because it seems to be the 'lost' Welles film we're most likely to see. We keep hearing rumours it's going to be released…
Well we completed everything. Orson shot everything he wanted, he picked all the takes he wanted, along with notes on how to finish the picture. And he'd already edited 40 minutes at his house in Hollywood. His garage was converted into an editing room, and when he wasn't writing or filming he'd be out there editing. Then after he passed away everyone let the film die too, because it was his baby. But then the American Film Institute voted Citizen Kane (1941) the number one movie of all time, which coincided with the re-release of Touch of Evil (1958) and there was this big renewed interest in Orson. So it's supposed to happen June 2007, through a cable company, with theatrical prints for the major cities with specialty theatres.
The thing that people don't know about The Other Side of the Wind is the dialogue has some real gems in it - Orson was a great writer. We showed it to Clint Eastwood when he was doing White Hunter, Black Heart [which focused on a character closely based on John Huston, 1990] because he wanted to see John Huston playing this mean-spirited director. He took a couple of lines and put them into his screenplay.
Yes, even though John Huston plays the director Jack Hannaford, there're all these questions about whether The Other Side of the Wind was autobiographical. Why didn't Welles play the part?
The character of Jack Hannaford was not based on Orson or Huston, but Hemingway. Hemingway as if he were a director: a little bit mean and bossy, pushing people to their limits, funny, a sportsman. We have John Huston playing Jack Hannaford, his house filled with stuffed fish and wooden Indians, trophies, animals he's killed and all that kind of stuff. So the character is not like Huston or Orson at all. And Orson didn't want it to be. That's why he didn't play the part. We went through several people, and we finally realised Huston was the only guy to play it.
Is it true Huston only started acting in it 18 months into the shoot? Wasn't Welles shooting around the part for a long time?
We didn't shoot Huston until February 1975, and we started the picture in 1971. We shot almost all year in '71 in four-month increments, in Los Angeles and then in Arizona in a little tiny town called Carefree, where they had a studio that had been built for the Dick Van Dyke Show. We shot eight months in California, and then we moved over to make Treasure Island [directed by John Hough and starring Welles, 1972] in Spain. After Spain we went to Paris to make F for Fake, which was shot and completed in about 10 months. We made F for Fake with just Orson and I. We literally had no crew. Then we went back to The Other Side of the Wind.
What was the last thing you worked on with Welles?
The last things were a lot of commercials. We were supposed to do a picture called The Cradle Will Rock, produced by the man who produced John Huston's Wise Blood (1979). Orson was sending me to New York to direct second unit, while he was going to Rome's Cinecittà [Rome's legendary film studio]. They were building sets and everything. It was to star Rupert Everett as Orson, and Amy Irving - Spielberg's wife at the time - as Orson's wife Virginia. Well, the money didn't show up. It was the producer's fault - he lost the money, and he'll admit it. It was not Orson's fault, but it was very crushing.
But Orson was always a big kid at heart, always had a youthful attitude. He never became an old man in his mind. He only slowed down the last couple of years. He was a dynamo seven days a week - which was a little tough on the rest of us! Sometimes the only way I could stop working was to say I was sick. Two days before he died we were at UCLA - he was ready to do Julius Caesar, playing every part himself. So he wasn't sick. We were going to shoot the next day and then something happened and he couldn't do it. The day after that I called him to shoot and he'd died during the night.
He never said 'wrap!' His word was 'freedom!'
Interview edited by Dan Edwards from a longer conversation between Turnour and Graver now stored in the NFSA's National Collection.
The Celebration of Cinematography Festival was held in Canberra in conjunction with the Australian Cinematographers Society (ACS), 20-29 May 2006.