This is a story I've heard vague tell of before, but Geoffrey McNab does an excellent job of mapping it out in The Independent this weekend. It's 1942, and Orson Welles in in Brazil, working on the documentary, It's All True. First, one of the subjects of the documentary drowns. Meanwhile, Orson's got enemies back in Hollywood; some of them are conspiring to pull the funding on his documentary, whilst others are merely butchering The Magnificent Ambersons in ostensible response to a single disasterous preview screening. The money finally runs out before Welles can finish filming, and when he tells this to a witch doctor who is supposed to appear on camera, the witch doctor pierces a copy of the script with a steel needle strung with red thread – supposedly putting a curse on the director that would last until his death in 1985.


It's true that Welles faced pretty much nothing but professional disappointment from that point forward. Touch of Evil, his potential masterpiece, was also famously taken away from him, and much of his remaining work was either left unfinished, or is for various reasons still little-seen. He became something of a gypsy in his later years, and was notoriously forced at various points to both take humiliating commercial voice-over work and to crash at Peter Bogdanovich's manse, where he earned his keep through performing the uneviable task of teaching Cybill Shepherd how to act. And, crazy as it may seem, a lot of people think The Curse of '42 has something to do with all that. A group of filmmakers reportedly hired a priestess to lift the curse in the early 90s; still, the myth continues to hold a certain kind of weight. According to Oja Kodar, who was Welles' girlfriend in the later years, an unamed Welles scholar "refused to come" to a Welles retrospective held at the recent Locarno Film Festival, "because he believes that everything that talks about Orson Welles is kind of cursed." Still others maintain that Welles' troubles had nothing to do with the supernatural realm. "There is a curse on him," says film historian/sometime Welles associate Joseph McBride, "But I think it is more from capitalism."

The rest of McNab's article focuses primarily on The Other Side of the Wind, Welles final, unfinished feature, which apparently plays like a highly experimental riff on Russ Meyer-style sexploitation – and which Kodar is apparently trying to finish. To that end, she's already approached Oliver Stone and Clint Eastwood, both of whom have declined to help. Must be the curse.