“The enemy of art is the absence of limitations.” – Orson Welles
American filmmaker Orson Welles is widely regarded as one of the best directors of all time. His magnum opus, Citizen Kane, frequently finds its way onto the list of greatest films ever made as well. Apart from his cinematic creations, Welles also directed high-profile stage productions for the Federal Theatre Project, including an adaptation of Macbeth with an entirely African-American cast. In 2018, his final film The Other Side of the Wind was released on Netflix 33 years after his death.
Welles remained an outspoken public figure, criticising European filmmakers like Jean-Luc Godard who were vastly influenced by his works and developed their auteur theory on the basis of his groundbreaking cinematic techniques. Before the birth of the French New Wave, Hollywood greats such as Alfred Hitchcock, John Ford and Orson Welles were intensively studied by French critics who idolised the manifestation of their unique artistic visions in the films they made. What did Welles have to say about his students? He said that during the early phase of Godard’s career, the French auteur was a gifted director, but Welles admitted: “I just can’t take him very seriously as a thinker — and that’s where we seem to differ, because he does.”
The American maestro was judgmental of other illustrious European filmmakers as well, including Michelangelo Antonioni and Ingmar Bergman. He famously said, “According to a young American film critic, one of the great discoveries of our age is the value of boredom as an artistic subject. [If that is the case, Michelangelo Antonioni] deserves to be counted as a pioneer and founding father.” While Bergman’s works were worshipped by film geniuses like Andrei Tarkovsky, Welles never felt drawn to their philosophical and literary nature. He confessed, “I share neither his interests nor his obsessions. He’s far more foreign to me than the Japanese.”
However, Welles hated Woody Allen’s self-indulgent comedy more than any of the aforementioned artists’ works. In an interview with Henry Jaglom, Welles said that Allen had the “Chaplin disease” and that his dislike for Allen was physical. When Jaglom suggested that Allen was not arrogant but shy, Welles went into a monologue about how much he hated the man, as cited by Vulture: “He is arrogant. Like all people with timid personalities, his arrogance is unlimited. Anybody who speaks quietly and shrivels up in company is unbelievably arrogant. He acts shy, but he’s not. He’s scared. He hates himself, and he loves himself, a very tense situation. It’s people like me who have to carry on and pretend to be modest. To me, it’s the most embarrassing thing in the world—a man who presents himself at his worst to get laughs, in order to free himself from his hang-ups. Everything he does on the screen is therapeutic.”
As for the influential Alfred Hitchcock, Welles had almost no respect for the revered filmmaker. He claimed that the older Hitchcock was characterised by “egotism and laziness,” making films “all lit like television shows.” Welles’ contempt for Hitchcock was not just reserved for the latter part of Hitchcock’s acclaimed career, stating that his seminal masterpiece Vertigo was “even worse than Rear Window“. He estimated that before he died, Hitchcock was probably suffering from mental impairment. Welles said, “I think he was senile a long time before he died,” in part because “he kept falling asleep while you were talking to him.”
This is how Welles developed a notorious reputation for being extremely hostile to his colleagues, prompting a fan to create a Twitter thread about Welles’ comments about some of the leading figures in world cinema. Check it out to read more about how Welles dismisses Federico Fellini as “a superlative artist with little to say” or how he calls Soviet pioneer Sergei Eisenstein “the most overrated great director of them all.”