Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Lost in Translation: What They Really Said...

Visiting the laundromat recently I found something that would excite....well, only me. Someone had left in the junk-a-book shelf a book on tape of "This Is Orson Welles," a fairly-encyclopedic series of interviews between Welles and Peter Bogdanovich. These four cassettes contained not Bogdanovich reading from his account, but highlights from the actual Welles interviews that made up that highly entertaining book.

Interviews of this type are always subject to interpretation ("He was feeling this way, when he said that"), but here was a chance to actually hear the original conversation, and the all-important inflection of the speaker. And when that speaker is Orson Welles...it promises to be at least entertaining, and probably enlightening, no matter how carefully Bogdanovich (who is extremely precise)* can parse the emotions.

It also brought to mind the famous "Hitchcock/Truffaut" book, where
Francois Truffaut conducted an exhaustive (and no doubt, exhausting) career-spanning interview with Alfred Hitchcock. Reading through the book, one gets the sense of a polite, fact-based meeting of minds, as the two film-makers deconstruct Hitchcock's body of work. It's all quite proper. It's all quite academic.

But it wasn't. Truffaut, working through an interpreter, got quite a bit of what Hitchcock said wrong, and more importantly, left out any sort of indication of emotion or inflection. When the tapes of those already-fascinating interviews were released, an entire new sub-text of meaning came forth--no longer English translated to French back into English, but the actual words, unfiltered. And Hitchcock's emotions (one gets the impression he was unflappable, when his movies suggest the polar-opposite) come to the fore; he gets irritated with Truffaut's questions, and certainly, with his opinions. Hitchcock becomes tired and testy, while Truffaut plods on like a machine.

So, below is the link to the portions of the interviews that have been aired publicly, courtesy of the always useful and fun
Alfred Hitchcock Wiki. For added enjoyment, grab a copy of "Hitchcock/Truffaut" and follow along. It's like reading the original version from a favorite book.

Hitchcock/Truffaut Interviews

* And as with the Hitchcock/Truffaut interviews, the Welles/Bogdanovich exchanges have their own unique dynamic apart from the book. Culled from several interviews with Welles over the years (including when he was playing Gen. Dreedle on location in "Catch-22"), the interviews are not the chummy, informative chats that Bogdanovich has streamlined in his editing. Welles comes off as diffident, donnish, and frequently impatient with Bogdanovich's line of questioning, interrupting him with a chorus of "Yes...Yes...Yes!" Still, in the segments that Bogdanovich has included, the questions are full of apocrypha that Welles is only too willing to dispel. (Ya know, that novelization of his "Mr. Arkadin?" He didn't write it, though it's his name listed as author in every translation. Nor, he says, did he ever read it.) Still, it's interesting to hear the conversation, especially when Welles remembers something that cracks him up, his laugh is always full and infectious.

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