The Encyclopedia of Orson Welles (review)
- Film & History: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Film and Television Studies
- Center for the Study of Film and History
- Volume 33, Number 1, 2003
- p. 87
- View Citation
- Additional Information
Book Reviews | Regular Feature Chuck Berg and Tom Erskine. The Encyclopedia of Orson Welles. Checkmark Books, 2001. 480 pages; $60.00. Useful in Many Ways In evaluating a volume such as The Encyclopedia ofOrson Welles, it is important to acknowledge that encyclopedias, especially those dedicated to individual filmmakers, may be utilized by their readers in a number of ways. One sort of reader, relatively uncommon, will devour the entries all in order, pressing forward in order to construct a sort of disjointed biography. A second type of reader will more casually peruse the various entry headings, stopping to read sections ofparticular personal interest and taking time to explore unexpected connections and unfamiliar names. The third type of reader, perhaps most common, will purchase the book as a reference work per se, putting it on the shelf only to pull it down when research or coursework necessitates . Chuck Berg and Tom Erskine's Encyclopedia accommodates all these ways of reading, providing a series of entries on Welles that are at once comprehensive and logically organized, while deliberately probing some of the more obscure corners of the director's career. The book is eminently functional, even utilitarian in its organization, yet has the potential to bkndside the reader with surprising new insights at the turn of each page. Like Alfred Hitchcock and Stanley Kubrick, featured in separate encyclopedias in the Fact on File "Great Filmmakers" series (John C. Tibbetts and James M. Welsh, series editors), Orson Welles' career both benefited by and produced associations with a fantastic array of famous names, both in and outside of Hollywood . And while even the uninitiated reader may be well aware ofthe connections betweenWelles and such luminaries as Joseph Cotton, Rita Hayworth and Peter Bogdanovich (each of which is covered at some length by Berg and Erskine), the Encyclopedia consistently delivers links to Welles which, until now, would have only been accessible to serious Welles devotees and academics. What, for instance, did Welles have to do with the career of horror maestro William Castle? What was his connection with screwball character actor MischaAuer? What was his relationship with singer and actress Lena Home? The existence of such questions is surprising to the reader—the answers even more so. The Encyclopedia ofOrson Welles will prove especially useful for teachers of film, since each of the entries provides not only information relevant to Welles, but a succinct and self-contained encapsulation ofthe topic in question. Berg and Erskine are careful to strike a satisfying balance between the representation of the director's major works (including Welles' various films, radio programs , stage plays, etc.), his historical context, biographical materials , andthe myriad anecdotal accounts thatinevitably will surround such a complex and influential figure. There is certainly no lack of juicy detail here, and readers seeking an entertaining introduction to theWelles' larger-than-life exploits will notbe disappointed. The Encyclopedia also briefly notes a handful of scholars responsible for the most significant Welles criticism, yet seems implicitly to acknowledge that anencyclopedia ofWelles scholarship couldcomprise a volume of its own. Individual entries range in length from terse single paragraphs to relatively lengthy (three- to five-page) discussions of each ofWelles' own films. However, unlike a work such as Silver and Ward's notable Film Noir: An Encyclopedic Reference to the American Style, Berg and Erskine's volume could not simply be organized as an alphabetical list of titles. Decisions had to be made, for instance, as to whether Marlene Dietrich would merit a listing of her own, or whether she would be covered under the heading for Touch ofEvil. Such organizational problems are resolved gracefully here, and in the case of Dietrich the authors provide both a separate listing that summarizes her career, along with a discussion of her role in Welles' 1958 noir masterpiece. Most importantly, there is virtually no obvious repetition in these separate entries, and the rare reader who digests all the entries in order will not encounter any ofthe annoying moments of déjà vu that plague many encyclopedic texts. Recommended for all libraries concerned with research in film studies. Hugh S. Manon Oklahoma State University firstname.lastname@example.org George Alexander. Why We Make Movies: Black Filmmakers Talk...