Orson Welles, the man who loved Spain

The world-renowned film director, actor, producer and scriptwriter would have been 100 years old today. He famously caused mass panic across the USA with his radio narration of H. G. Wells’ novel The War of the Worlds (1898). His acclaimed Citizen Kane (1941) is a classic in the history of cinema. However, very few would associate Welles with Spain, despite our country being his greatest passion.

This love for Spain and the Spanish culture started when Welles first travelled to Seville at the age of seventeen. Later, when he was in his early twenties, Ernest Hemingway convinced him to take part in the narration of The Spanish Earth (1937), in support of the Republican side during the Spanish Civil War. This commitment made him engage with the defence of the Spanish legacy that he, from that moment onward, tried to preserve and promote.

Six of his films were filmed in part on Spanish soil: Mr. Arkadin (1955), The Immortal Story (1968), the unfinished Don Quixote, F for Fake (1974) and The Other Side of the Wind – also unfinished but announced to be released shortly to coincide with Welles’ 100th anniversary. Chimes at Midnight (1965) was filmed in full in Spain. It was his favourite film, as he said in an interview three years before his death. This film was his most ambitious project and it only went into production after Welles had agreed to direct, write the script for, and act in the more commercial  Treasure Island (1972), which used the same locations and cast as Chimes at Midnight. Two films for the price of one.

In his travel documentaries Around the World (1955), three of the six episodes were devoted to Spain. The first two offer an analysis of the people, the culture and the pace of life of the Basque Country. The documentary film La Pelota Vasca (2003), directed by Julio Medem, uses footage of Welles’ episodes of his series Around the World, the second of which is precisely called “La Pelote Basque.” Welles concludes the episode saying “At the end of a story, a Basque story, they don’t say ‘and they lived happily ever after’. No, here in the Basque country they say ‘And if they lived well, they died well’.” Maybe for that reason he spent most of the rest of his life in Spain, enjoying its landscapes, food, wines and bullfights. He produced another set of documentaries, In the Land of Don Quixote (1964), which he filmed for Italian television, while travelling all around Spain with his family.

don-quixote-wellesAs he loved our country so much, his wish was to be buried in Spain after his death. His remains—and those of his wife—rest at the bottom of an Andalusian well on the outskirts of beautiful Ronda, in the property of his old friend, the bullfighter Antonio Ordóñez. The Well (2005) is the title of the Swedish filmmaker Kristian Petri’s documentary, in which he travels around Spain in the footsteps of Welles and his unfinished Don Quixote.

Romantic, quixotic, and a Spaniard at heart. Orson Welles.

Related links:

Spanish Earth


Around the World. “The Land of the Basques”


Kristian Petri’s The Well trailer