The reason for the decline of Orson Welles's career is a hotly debated issue, but decline it certainly did. When Citizen Kane, his first film, opened in 1941, Welles was universally acclaimed as the most audacious filmmaker alive. But instead of marking the beginning of a triumphant career in Hollywood, the film still regularly voted the greatest ever made proved to be an exception in Welles's life and work.
In 1947 Welles left America for Europe and lived for the best part of twenty years in self-imposed exile. Welles himself famously quipped 'I started at the top and worked my way down' - the second volume of Simon Callow's compelling biography tells the story of that complex and protracted descent from grace.
This scintillating follow-up to Callow's acclaimed The Road to Xanadu traces Welles's career from the triumphant premiere of Citizen Kane to his self-imposed exile to Europe in 1947. It was a pivotal period in the director's life, as his luster as Hollywood's boy wonder dimmed through a series of flawed if intermittently brilliant films, from The Magnificent Ambersons to MacBeth, that were snatched from his control and vandalized by frustrated studio executives. Eschewing the clich of misunderstood genius persecuted by Tinseltown philistines, Callow assigns some of the blame to Welles's perpetual distraction with a plethora of projects (including a misbegotten scheme to become a radio comedian), the unfocused grandiosity of his artistic impulses and his directorial "strategy of simply shooting until the nature of the film finally declared itself." As he explores the tension between the director's compulsion to make art and Hollywood's need to run a business, the author interweaves fluent critiques of Welles's films and creative processes that are nuanced and perceptive. Callow's is a superbly written account of a magnetic personality and towering talent plagued by internal weaknesses and external friction, one that manages to shape the "Orsonic tornado" into an engrossing tragicomedy.