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Vienna (1968)

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Arts programme.

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"This is a town for a sweet tooth"
17 May 2008 | by (Australia) – See all my reviews

The late career of Orson Welles was plagued with production difficulties and financial problems, to such an extent that many of his films remain unfinished and unseen to this day. Often, even when only snippets remain of a particular work, we're only relieved that this much remains, a half-piece to be added to the puzzle that is Orson Welles. 'Vienna (1968)' is a completely inconsequential addition to the great director's filmography, a mildly-contemplative reflection on a city of which the filmmaker was fond. That is not to say that I'm not glad to have watched it; after all, inconsequential Orson is better than no Orson at all. In 1968 and 1969, Welles spent time in Europe filming for a TV special, first entitled "Orson's Bag" and then "One-Man Band." One episode was set in Vienna, and much of the footage was shot on location, with additional scenes filmed in Croatia and Los Angeles. Whereas the original negative has since been lost, the eight minutes that remain of 'Vienna' were discovered as a partially-completed workprint. For most of the film, Welles wanders nonchalantly through the city of the film's title, occasionally reflecting upon the delights of the locale; in his own words: "sweet things to listen to, sweet things to look at…" – at this point, Welles becomes momentarily distracted by two pretty ladies who happen to be strolling past the camera – "…and sweet things to eat."

The final few minutes descend into some lighthearted nonsense, and Welles explores the notion that prominent spies are still operating in Vienna. Mickey Rooney turns up to kidnap a beautiful women, and Welles, displaying a talent for magic tricks, ends up rescuing her from the confines of a sack. This ending is played solely for a few giddy laughs, but I think I preferred the reflective Welles of the film's beginning, as these silly sequences brought me painful flashbacks of 'Help! (1965),' the disappointing Beatles movie. Employing a style of montage that effectively foreshadows that beguiling cinematic essay that is 'F for Fake (1974),' Welles' ramble through Vienna can best be described as an affectionate home movie, a diary through which the director can translate a few of his thoughts on the world. His most interesting assertion comes at the beginning of the film, when Welles muses that the Vienna everybody remembers is a version of the city that never existed {I'm reminded of a quote from 'The Third Man (1949): "I never knew Vienna before the War…"}. Instead, he declares that while the Vienna of today may not be the greatest city in the world, it's a great place, nonetheless.


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