Simon Callow’s magniloquent biographical endeavour has taken a quarter of a century to compose and is still not complete. A final, fourth volume, dealing with the last two decades of Orson Welles’s life, is yet to come. So far, in giving three very long cheers for Orson Welles, he has succeeded in ravelling the sacred monster, like a modern Minotaur, in a maze of words. Other writers might have lost some of their enthusiasm for an auto-maniac who left little oxygen for anyone else to breathe in any room, or on any stage. Everything Welles said or did was scored con braggadocio. Long before Norman Mailer coined the phrase, Welles was the fire-breathing impersonation of ‘advertisements for myself’.
Callow’s careful rapture has not waned: Welles, he writes,
was a quintessential romantic artist: for him the experience of making his essentially subjective works … was an end in itself. Truffaut liked to quote Welles’s comment that he believed that ‘a work is good to the degree that it expresses the