The renowned Orson Welles, who wrote and directed this 1955 British television series for Associated Rediffusion, leads his inimitable style to this tour through Europe, meeting up with celebrities and ordinary people, discussing everything from bullfighting to Sacher Tortes. This Blu-ray DVD contains all 6 episodes for the series, including the previously lost Revisiting Vienna aka The Third Man Returns To Vienna, where he take us to some of the locations of The Third Man. The documentary, The Dominici Affair, tells the story of and reconstructs the unfinished episode also known as The Tragedy of Lurs, and is included as a bonus. Included in this set are: Pays Basque I (1955) 26 minutes Pays Basque II (1955) 26 minutes Revisiting Vienna aka The Third Man Returns to Vienna (1955) 26 minutes St-Germain-des-Pres (1955) 26 minutes Chelsea Pensioners (1955) 26 minutes Madrid Bullfight (Corrida Madrid) 1955) 26 minutes Bonus film: The Dominici Affair aka The Tragedy of Lurs (2000) (Directed by Christophe Cognet) 52 minutes (Standard Definition) First time the complete series has been released on Blu-ray and DVD New essay by Peter Tonguette, author (Orson Welles Remembered), journalist, and film critic New high definition transfer from the 35mm interpositive Black and White 208 minutes Cast: Orson Welles, Jean Cocteau, Juliette Greco, Art Buchwald, Kenneth Tynan, Elaine Dundy
Travelogue television shows and documentaries can provide a wonderful look into another part of the world that most people will never get to see. It is in this instance that the television truly can be used as a tool to teach rather than become something you stare at for hours (or days) at a time. Nature programs and educational shows have been the backbone of television programming since it began. Sure we get our brainless entertainment, but as Discovery and The National Geographic Channel have shown, we love to think and exercise our brains a little. In 1955, Orson Welles starred in and directed a travel miniseries for British television with the goal of exposing people to a new part of the world they may have never seen before. 'Around The World With Orson Welles' is a fascinating look at television programming in an era where it wasn't commonplace for every person to own a TV set.
At just over three hours and thirty-six minutes, Orson Welles travels from the Basque country to Vienna, then to Paris, London, and ends his journey in Madrid. The first two episodes Pays Basques I & II are dedicated to the Basque people and exploring their culture. These are a people that live in a region that crosses both Spain and France and yet is populated by a people whose culture is unique unto themselves with their own language and customs. Welles clearly has a love for the area and enjoys walking amongst and talking to the people here as he marvels at their simpler ways of doing things. He has a particular love of the simple games the adults and children love to play. While Welles injects himself into many of the conversations, he seems to be much more comfortable letting the subject speak for themselves without his own biases entering into the picture.
Perhaps the most interesting episode for film buffs will be the third episode Revisiting Vienna aka The Third Man Returns to Vienna. In part, this episode plays like a travel guide to the city as Welles shows off the distinct filming locations for 'The Third Man' while also showing places that he loved about visiting Vienna as a child. This segment shouldn't really surprise people that Orson seems to be a bit more focused on the rich cakes, the delicious foods and coffees people are enjoying throughout the city. Like the Basque episodes, he does plenty of interviews with locals in order to get a first-hand account of everyday life in the city.
For St. Germain des Pres, Welles travels to Paris where he meets with the local artisans as well as gets a flavor for the local nightlife and how much the city has changed after World War II. Welles offers a lot of personal information with his experiences of the city, but this time, perhaps more than any of the episodes, he does a better job at letting the subjects he's interviewing do most of the talking. Oddly this one begins with a bit of scripted content with Art Buchwald at the Paris post of the New York Herald Tribune before delving into the main thrust of the episode. Part of this I believe is that the episode is relatively "unfinished" as if there was a lot of footage that Welles took but didn't construct it in a coherent way. Still a fascinating watch when you can see individuals the likes of Jean Cocteau and Juliette Greco on film!
With the episode The Chelsea Pensioners, Welles travels to London where he shows viewers the playhouse Hackney Empire where he performed several plays and got to know a number of the locals. A good bit of fun comes when Welles tries to interview some of the older ladies that live next to the theater; one of the women is a descendant of the Warner Brothers! After that nice visit, Welles makes his way over to Chelsea to the Old Soldiers hospital and living accommodations that have been provided for veterans who fought in England's wars.
After that stop over in London, in the episode Madrid Bullfight, Welles takes the audience to one of Spain's most popular sporting events. This is another oddly constructed episode that doesn't appear to have been completed under Welles' eye as it's introduced and hosted by Kenneth Tynan and his wife Elaine Dundy. In fact it's quite a ways into the episode before Welles even makes an appearance and it's a notably long time before he even says anything to the camera, most of his appearances look like B-roll that was spliced together to simulate a narrative structure. It's still a very interesting watch - if you can stand to look at bullfighting - but at the same time one can feel like this project had long ago slipped through Welles' fingers and into the hands of his financiers or producers in order to get it finished and ready for television broadcast.
The Dominici Affair aka The Tragedy of Lurs is an episode that was never finished until 2000 under the eye of Director Christophe Cognet. This was actually the first episode shot, as it was supposed to follow the trial of Gaston Dominici who was charged with murder. While Welles' show was considered a success by critics and audiences, the violent content of the killing of the bull in the Madrid Bullfight episode caused such an uproar that this episode that had been over a year in the making was never completed. This hour-long documentary/episode is fascinating because it's an unfinished work and is at the same time buttressed by recent interviews by the people that were involved in the production of Welles' program making it more of an elaborate extra feature piece of bonus content while acting as a newly completed episode.
'Around The World With Orson Welles' is a fascinating look back at what could well be considered a "lost work" by the filmmaker. On one hand the series is part educational travelogue and on the other hand it serves as almost a glorified Orson Welles directed vacation movie. Those two dynamics are very interesting to digest and experience because the primary goal of the series, I imagine at least, is to educate and entertain a wide audience. At the same time, Orson Welles never misses an opportunity to remind viewers who is running the show with his frequent appearances and interjections into interviews. From start to finish this program is an amazing watch - but not one that I would feel suitable for binge watching. The structure and nature of the individual episodes is such that you could find yourself experiencing a form of information overload very quickly if you were to try to view the entirety of the program in a single sitting. If you're a fan of Welles, 'Around The World' is a must see.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Around The World With Orson Welles' arrives on Blu-ray from B2MP and is pressed onto a single Region A locked BD50 disc. Included inside the standard double disc case is an identical DVD of the program as well as a booklet featuring an essay by Peter Tonguette that provides some interesting insight into the production of the show.
Considering this show was filmed between 1953 and 1954 before it was broadcast in 1955, the picture quality for this black and white 1.33:1 1080p transfer is simply beautiful. Welles shot this show with a standard newsreel camera to get a more fluid "film" style while also using heavy duty sync sound camera equipment and the results are often times amazing. Detail is fantastic and rich, offering audiences to see the intricate characteristics of the locations Welles visited as well as the people who inhabited the area. Most of the shots are fantastic looking with rich and inky blacks with plenty of shadow separation. The shots that don't appear as well on screen are the ones that weren't shot by Welles himself, as he apparently didn't like keeping to strict schedules and associates on the shoot had to capture a great deal of filler material - most notably for the St. Germain des Pres episode in Paris. For these B-roll shots, the image is not quite as sharp and is much darker appearing, but that is indicative of the source elements and not a fault of the Blu-ray transfer process. Considering the age of the elements, I'm amazed to see that the prints are in near perfect condition with only a slight scratch here or there and maybe a little speckling from time to time - to spot those issues I dare say you would need to have your face right up to your TV set.
'Around The World With Orson Wells' arrives with a robust LPCM 2.0 mono track. The audio for this program is by nature a bit inconsistent. This is in part due to how Wells filmed so many sequences using sync sound cameras and non-synch sound cameras - as well as the fact that much of the narration was recorded long after any particular episode had finished filming. The sound is at its best when Welles is conducting close quarters interviewers, especially the scenes that take place in the Sacher Tortes factory where you get to enjoy a lot of background noise in addition to the interview dialogue. Considering how this show was shot and under the circumstances of how it was put together, it is very difficult to grade on traditional merits. Given how this program is 99% dialogue, whether it be Welles speaking or a guest, I'm extremely happy to report that dialogue comes through crisply and cleanly without any annoying severe hiss, irritating distortion or any other age related anomalies.
Aside from the previously mentioned essay by Peter Tonguette, there aren't any other extra features accompanying this release.
'Around The World With Orson Wells' is a fascinating look at what television programming could have been under the eye of one of the greatest filmmakers who ever lived. While an incredible look at different parts of the world and the people that inhabit them, it's also an interesting look at Welles himself. For a 60-year-old program, the A/V presentation is amazingly beautiful. Sadly there really aren't any bonus features beyond an essay, otherwise this is a near-perfect Blu-ray set. While I am calling this one highly recommended, I really encourage only the ardent Welles aficionados to consider this release. Some may not enjoy the content or be as entranced by it, and certainly the killing of a bull on camera would be seen as quite gruesome to most, but for those fascinated by the man, this is an amazing watch to say the least.