While working on his failed adaptation of Don Quixote, Welles made a Spanish travelogue for Italy’s RAI-TV to assist in financing the feature film project. With his Italian wife Paola Mori and his six year-old daughter Beatrice, Welles documented their travels over nine episodes, touring through Seville’s Holy Week, Pamplona’s bullfights, the Pueblo Español of Barcelona, and the Roman and Arabic legacies throughout Spain. Stunning and poetic in its composition, In the Land of Don Quixote is presented here as restored by the Munich Film Museum, removing the Italian language narration inserted without Welles’ approval and enhancing his originally selected soundtrack.
Arguably, In the Land of Don Quixote is the most controversial inclusion to a proposed set of Orson Welles’ television material. For starters, RAI-TV, fearing Welles’ voice would make the series feel too American, inserted an Italian language commentary spoken by actor Arnoldo Foà and written by playwright and stage director Gian Paolo Callegari and writer and cinematographer Antonio Navarro Linares. The Munich Film Museum has restored the series to the format intended by Welles, removing the narration and using the background music track originally selected by the filmmaker, however this remains a reconstruction. More importantly, In the Land of Don Quixote has mixed reviews at best and many critics and historians consider the film little more than Welles’ home movies of a family vacation. Add in the fact that the series would be the largest single title to be included in this set (9 half-hour episodes), and it’s easy to see why one might balk at In the Land of Don Quixote wearing a wacky “E”.
I must admit to having never seen the program, however those who have seen Jess Franco’s lamentable reconstruction of Welles’ Don Quixote (1992) will have been given access to footage from In the Land of Don Quixote, as Franco appropriates footage of Welles riding in a black Mercedes and of Pamplona’s running of the bulls. The Pamplona bull footage are decidedly the best portions of Franco’s Don Quixote, leading me to wonder if Welles’ home movies, while perhaps cruder and less engaging that his usual work, might still have merit in its own right. Defenders of the Italian series cite that the episodes do become repetitive when viewed at film festivals back-to-back, however such a presentation was never the intended format for In the Land of Don Quixote and care should be taken when criticizing the series in this regard. Those who admire the series find it beautifully poetic. In addition to the Pamplona bullfights, fans of the program express fondness for Beatrice’s flamenco lessons and Welles return to various locations appearing in Mr. Arkadin (Orson Welles, 1955). Therefore, In the Land of Don Quixote offers some opportunity for cross-promotion for Criterion’s Mr. Arkadin set (spine #322), while also providing an opportunity to reconsider the merits of the series and be exhaustive in dealing with Welles’ own TV work.
Credits: Two essays on Wellesnet were of great assistance in preparing this post – Juan Cobos on Orson Welles’ Spanish travelogue IN THE LAND OF DON QUIXOTE and ORSON WELLES documentary IN THE LAND OF DON QUIXOTE – In the words of Tennessee Williams, “Welles rings the bell of pure poetry”. The earlier essay by Cobos was particularly interesting, providing a reasonably detailed breakdown of the episodes and their content.