Orson Welles’ Don Quixote

by | Oct 22, 2008 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews | 0 comments

Orson Welles’ Don Quixote

Reconstruction by Jess Franco (1992)
Starring: Orson Welles, Francisco Reiguera, Akim Tamiroff, Patty McCormack
Studio: Eurocine Paris/Image Entertainment ID4150JQDVD
Video: 4:3 picture-boxed, B&W
Audio:  DD mono
Extras: None
Length: 115 minutes
Rating: ** (***1/2 if a Welles fan)

During the 50s and 60s Welles shot sporadically and financed himself his unique take on Cervantes’ great novel Don Quixote.  He worked on editing the film as he traveled, dragging the footage he shot with him.  At one point he supposedly had a “final” cut, but it has been lost.  He placed the romantic literature-addled knight errant and his companion Sancho Panza in the 1950s to better contrast Quixote’s storybook fantasy with the real life around him (and thus the cash-strapped Welles saved a bundle on sets and costumes as well). One of the best scenes is Quixote attacking the Vespa scooter a girl is riding with his lance, thinking it is an evil machine which has bewitched her.

Unfortunately, the overlong film is not at all what Welles intended and is missing all sorts of footage and nearly all the soundtrack’s dialog. Jess Franco was partially involved with Welles and has pieced together bits of footage he could locate and/or purchase. While some of the B&W cinematography is gorgeous, the images all appear very blurry and of high contrast, with added effects from Franco such as multiple exposure and negative images. Odd artifacts trouble the transfer, due to a problem in the conversion from an original PAL video of the footage to NTSC video for this DVD. Most of the film looks like it was shot on Super 8, and poorly at that. It’s sort of a Welles home movie. There is no sync sound at all – some of the soundtrack is Welles himself voicing both the roles of Quixote and Sancho Panza, with other voices cut in suddenly that don’t match up at all.  There are no extras with the DVD, but you can piece together the frustrating background to this film online.

The film is padded with material Franco had shot for a totally separate documentary for Spanish TV.  It includes long Catholic processions, bull fights, the awarding of a medal for something to Welles himself (the oddest thing in the whole film – Welles had an ego but not that bad…), and some amazing footage of the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona.  The latter must be seen to be believed – I didn’t know they released so many bulls, and while there is plenty of carnage along the narrow streets, the climax – with the bulls all running into the bullring with the men is astounding. They trample many of the crowd, and there are multiple gorings and men being stomped on by the bulls. Two bulls run into one another and then fall over on the ground.

(It’s ironic that Welles shot his footage in Spain during the difficult period of Franco’s rule, and the author of this cluttered mess is named Franco.) Many of the shots in the scenes of the Quixote story don’t match up  – for example the Don’s attack on the windmills.  There is also a long closeup-sounding conversation between the Don and Sancho when they are seen in a beautifully-composed very long shot, riding slowly in silhouette against the sky.  I wouldn’t go so far as to call this so-called reconstruction grave robbery, but there is no way it can be the finished film Welles intended. For a delightful scene that captures the dichotomy of Quixote’s fantasy coming up against the realities of modern-day life (as well as the very poor image quality of the whole thing) – one that Franco didn’t get his hands on – just enter “Don Quixote” in YouTube.  You’ll also get to see Patty McCormack, who later played the little girl in The Bad Seed.

 – John Sunier

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