Orson Welles – Around the World with Orson Welles: Pays Basque I & II (1955)


Around the World with Orson Welles (1955) is a series of 26-minute TV documentaries, made for British television. Five of the episodes survive, and have been collected and released on a DVD. Welles compared the series to home movies. This is a bit misleading. There are travelogue sections shot silent, edited together with narration by Welles – segments that do resemble in form the average person’s vacation films of the era. But there are also extensive synch sound interviews with people Welles meets in his travels. These parts are a bit like a talk show, although they are generally set on locations where the person lives, rather than in a studio. In general, Welles resists “voice of authority” narration here, and tries to disguise his comments as elements of conversation with another character. Welles will also frequently show the camera, microphone, and the camera crews filming. It is part of the spectacle.

The Basque episodes

For obscure reasons, Welles has the same opening and closing sequences in the two Basque episodes, Pays Basque I (The Basque Countries) and Pays Basque II (La Pelote basque). The shared sequences are very good. Aside from this, part I is mainly a series of interviews, and not very interesting, whereas part II is a beautifully filmed documentary about life, sports and dance in the region.

Both Basque episodes end with the same sequence: a festival with a metallic bull shooting off fireworks, recalling a similar artificial-bull-with-fireworks in Sergei Eisenstein’s Qué viva Mexico! (1932). These sequences recall the Chinatown processions near the end of The Lady From Shanghai.

Borders. The Basque episodes open right on the border of France and Spain. Later, there is a sequence of the border being opened to celebrate the holiday of Pentecost. This recalls the border elements of Journey Into Fear and Touch of Evil. The footbridge that links the two sides anticipates the bridge finale of Touch of Evil. In both films, the bridges are full of pedestrians.

Storytelling. Welles’ brief discussion of storytelling at the end, invoking Basque traditions, anticipates in a small way the subject matter of The Immortal Story.

Childhood. Pays Basque II (La Pelote basque) contains the most explicit look at childhood in Welles’ cinema. The 11-year old hero is depicted as having an ideal existence, getting to take part in traditional sports, music and travel. This echoes the re-creation of traditional US Midwestern lifestyles and amusements that opens The Magnificent Ambersons. It also recalls the earliest scenes of Kane’s life. The boy here is privileged over Welles, sitting above him in trees or on walls, and giving Welles the inside scoop on Basque traditions. Welles here reflects other 1950’s movies, especially Westerns, which often included boy characters with whom youthful viewers could identify.



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