The Big Brass Ring (1999)
In the last years of his life, Orson Welles and his companion / muse Oja Kodar tried to get this script produced – approaching Warren Beatty, for instance, to star. A decade and a half on, George Hickenlooper (Hearts of Darkness) and writer F.X. Feeney (Frankenstein Unbound) did some sprucing-up on the piece and did get it made, though it's not clear how much Welles remains. I'd guess some of the actual Wellesian in-jokes are new, but they mostly resonate – a politician telling a journo that a name which is to prod him into a revelation was written on a sled he had as a child, the 'chimes at midnight' speech that reinforces a sort of Hal-Falstaff relationship between independent gubernatorial candidate William Blake Pellarin (William Hurt) and bizarre gay ex-senator political genius Cuban resident Kim Mennaker (Nigel Hawthorne, in the role Welles wrote for himself). It has a lot of smart political talk but hinges on an amazing bit if improbability in which brothers switch identities so the one with no hopes gets drafted to Vietnam while the other moves on to have a political career, and winds up with the politico reunited with his crippled other self (Gregg Henry).
Hurt is rather remote, as a supposed 'white knight' (his racist candidate
is a 'white nightmare') who cheats on his wealthy alcoholic wife (Miranda
Richardson) with an investigative reporter (Irene Jacob) and the script
never quite sorts out which of the brothers posed for gay pin-ups taken
by the political guru. It's possible that Welles, in the '70s and 1980s,
didn't have the connection with American politics on a level with Robert
Altman (or Keith Gordon in Waking the Dead) - and thus
couldn't make this set-up convincing. It may be that he was also just
looking for a way of doing Falstaff again, setting himself up as the
presiding genius of another carnival, living on a riverboat full of
bizarre drag queens. Hawthorne plays gay a lot better than Welles could
and even has some Sir Humphrey smarts in the political analyses, but
he's also not huge enough a figure in all sorts of ways - in that Mennaker
is scripted as a mix of Welles, Kane, Falstaff and Gore Vidal.
First published in this form here.
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