Thomas Wictor

I love you but you are wrong

I love you but you are wrong

One of my favorite actors is Orson Welles. His masterpiece is Touch of Evil. It’s a perfect film. The characters, plot, music, pacing, dialog, delivery of the dialog, editing, camera angles—everything is exceptional.

As an actor Welles conveyed pathos extremely effectively, even when he was a monstrosity. He played monstrosities often in his career: Charles Foster Kane; Harry Lime; Cesare Borgia; Captain Perella, the beast; Brigadier General Dreedle, and—his best role—Detective Hank Quinlan in Touch of Evil.

Quinlan is physically and morally repulsive. He’s hugely fat, corrupt, menacing, and utterly unpredictable. Welles’s delivery of his lines is stunning. He mumbles snide little asides and bon mots, and he gives the impression that he’s barely paying attention. And then wham! He strikes.

As genuinely terrifying as he is, Welles plays him with an edge of campiness that doesn’t at all detract from the fear he instills in us. Quinlan is a meta-villain; he’s above and beyond the usual bad guy, but Welles pulls it off by reining himself in instead of foaming at the mouth.

There are far too many brilliant scenes and exchanges to mention, but a standout is when Welles is in a bar, being schmoozed by the hideous Akim Tamiroff, who places a double whiskey on the table in front of Welles.

“I don’t drink,” Welles mutters.

As Tamiroff recedes into the background to talk to his henchmen, Welles—a recovering alcoholic—stares at the glass of booze and then calls back over his shoulder, “What’s that? What’re you talking about?”

He reaches for the glass, absently playing with it, asks again what’s going on, and then kind of distractedly drains half the whiskey. Tamiroff comes back and makes some sort of sleazy proposal and says, “Let’s drink to it.”

Welles shakes his head and says, “I don’t—” He stiffens, looks down at the half-empty glass in his hand, and shoves it away. His expression tells you that he knows he’s just ruined his life. He realizes he’s doomed. Tamiroff laughs.

“Another round!” he yells. “Make them doubles!”

Hank Quinlan is a revolting, evil, murderous son of a bitch, but we feel for him. And that’s the genius of Orson Welles.

Today I read a quote by Welles.

We’re born alone, we live alone, we die alone. Only through our love and friendship can we create the illusion for the moment that we’re not alone.

Mr. Welles, I love you but you are wrong.

We’re not born alone. Our mothers are there with us every step of the way. We certainly don’t live alone, if we don’t want to. Welles himself was married to Rita Hayworth!

If that’s what being alone is, sign me up. I never want to share my life with anybody.

We also don’t die alone, if we’ve lived lives that allowed us to cultivate relationships. We can die surrounded by people who see us through the transition.

I’ve read biographies of Welles. He had a gigantic ego. The problem with thinking you’re entitled to accolades is that all entertainers and artists have creative lifespans. No matter how much the audience wants you and your work, there will come a day when it’ll reject you. When that happens, some people can’t take it. Touch of Evil was a critical and commercial bomb, due to re-editing by the studio.

I know exactly how it feels to have the best work you’ve ever done be killed by criminals or idiots. Ghosts and Ballyhoo is dead. It’s now too old to be marketed. My publisher didn’t lift a finger to promote it, and then I hooked up with two ripoff publicity firms in a row. Time ran out. But it’s just a book. I can write more, if I want.

Orson Welles was reduced to doing commercials for frozen food and wine. There are awful, toe-clencher audio tapes and video footage of him fighting with producers over copy or being so drunk that he couldn’t remember the script. He felt humiliated, bitter, and enraged by his fall.

But when he was riding high, he abused friends and recklessly indulged himself. His habitual in-between-meals snack when he was on Broadway was two triple-decker steak sandwiches and several glasses of Scotch. That’s why he ended up an obese lush. Nobody did that to him; he did it to himself.

I’ll quote from page 274 of my poor, killed-off memoir, in regard to a once-in-a-lifetime postcard I bought.

Writing my book has taught me one immutable fact: None of us are alone. Distance, circumstances, or even time may separate us from our kindred spirits, but that ought not diminish the power they have to sustain us.

Though Orson Welles was wrong about us all being alone, I still view him as a kindred spirit, and his great art sustains me. That means he sustains me, so neither he nor I are alone. Yes, nothing I said to him would’ve made a difference, but that doesn’t diminish the closeness I feel to him. I understand him. That’s the secret to connection.

On this Valentine’s Day, nobody should feel alone. You’re aren’t alone. It could be that you believe proximity and direct contact are what constitute connection, but that isn’t true. People you never met or who lived long ago are nevertheless with you. Your shared values, experiences, and emotions bridge the gaps that you think keep you apart.

Welles wouldn’t have given me the time of day. But I don’t mind. My role wasn’t to be his pal. There are countless ways to achieve connection, and most have nothing to do with what we now call “friendship.” I’ve heard people describe the various criteria they have in order for a relationship to qualify as a friendship. The person must be a listener, a shoulder to cry on, part of a support network, a sharer of pastimes, a giver of unconditional love, and so on.

Lots of people put certain friends into narrowly defined roles.

“I go shopping with Molly, I call Sandra when I need cheering up, I go out at night with Jenny, I play tennis with Claudia, I talk to Martha about my marriage, and I ask Winifred for advice on raising my kids.”

Personally, I’ve always had only one way of defining those I call friends: People whose company I enjoy. If I’m lucky, they enjoy my company too.

Therefore Orson Welles is a friend, in a certain way. I enjoy his company.

Wherever he is, he’s therefore not alone.

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