above: Welles and Toland shoot CITIZEN KANE
THIS IS ORSON WELLES is the best book ever written about the director not because it is the most factual (it probably isn't) but because it is the most accurate--accurate in the human sense. When you read biographies of Welles, it's often difficult to reconcile the disparate personalities you come up against (which seems almost fitting considering the director's own obsession with contradiction). In THIS IS ORSON WELLES, the book-length interview book he did with Peter Bogdanovich, however, you get a record of the man himself on full display.
Consider, for instance, this revealing passage in which Welles and Bogdanovich discuss long shots.
PB: Preminger once said that ideally...he would never cut. He would like a picture all in one take.
OW: That will come when tape is perfected and they stop putting film in the camera. I saw that kind of insane flash of ignorance when I first started. I said to [Gregg] Toland, "Isn't it basically ridiculous that the film is in the camera?" And he said, "Yes. Eventually it will just be a sort of electric eye. We won't be carting the film around or the motor--we'll just be carrying the lens."
The crazy thing about this passage is that Welles and Toland apparently foresaw the rise of digital cameras as far back as 1940. Notice that in relaying this story to Bogdanovich, Welles still refers to perfection of "tape"--an indication that he and Toland hadn't figured out the solution to the problem. But Toland's basic concept of an "electric eye" is shockingly prescient.
What should humble Hollywood today is to think what these two visionaries might have accomplished if they'd been allowed to work together after CITIZEN KANE. Who knows how they might have further revolutionized film?