The Immortal Story 1968 Criterion Collection
Made for French television in 1968, Orson Welles' The Immortal Story is a beguiling and hypnotic meditation, on art and artifice, and the trickery and magic of storytelling. Adapted from a short story by Danish writer Isak Dinesen (Karen Blixen), it tells the tale of an elderly and wealthy merchant Mr. Clay (Welles), who gets his meagre amusement from having his accountant (Roger Coggio) read over the account books of his many interests and companies as he slowly trundles towards a somnambulant death in a dusty corner of Macao.

Dissatisfied with the figures and arithmetic his life has become, he longs for something else, something more like the lives other people lead, perhaps. He has heard of a story that was told, a story that everyone knows, but a story that everyone supposes to be a legend. The full story is half-told and hinted at to begin with, and involves a rich man who hires a sailor to sleep with his wife, but Clay with his immense, almost epic lack of imagination wants the story to be true, and wants to will it into existence, so he can witness it, be a part of it.

However, the only way of doing this is through counterfeit. He sets clerk the task of finding a woman to play the part of his wife, while he will himself find a sailor in the port to whom he will give five golden guineas to sleep with the woman.

The Immortal Story is a modest and consciously small tale of the telling of a tale. It is like an ornate Chinese box which contains only other boxes and whether or not that is the equivalent of nothing at all is left open to interpretation. Even with his modest resources –Welles shot the film at his house in Spain and used waiters from the local Chinese restaurant to give a flavour of Macao – the film is beautifully and compellingly shot. His composition is frequently beautiful – although Welles hated colour, he uses it well here – and has the effect of pulling you into the story. The performances have a hypnotic quality as if everyone is sharing Clay's half-asleep existence.

Even this extended English version is only an hour long, making it barely a feature: the French version was shorter and the intention was to make another Dinesen short story to create a fuller length film. However, it is a precious nugget, showing that for all the legends of Welles and his wasted potential, he actually made a substantial body of fascinating work.

Director: Orson Welles
Cast: Orson Welles, Jeanne Moreau, Roger Coggio, Norman Eshley
Country: France
Genre: Drama

• Alternate French-language version of the film
• Audio commentary from 2005 featuring film scholar Adrian Martin
• Portrait: Orson Welles, a 1968 documentary directed by Francois Reichenbach and Frederic Rossif (42:53)
• New interview with actor Norman Eshley (14:17)
• Interview from 2004 with cinematographer Willy Kurant (15:00)
• New interview with Welles scholar Franзois Thomas (25:14)

DVD9 + DVD5 | NTSC 16:9 | 00:57:57 + 00:50:54 | 5.82 Gb + 3.93 Gb + 3% rec
Language: English, Francais
Subtitles: English

BD50 | 1080p AVC | 00:58:00 + 00:50:57 | 44.9 Gb + 3% rec
Language: English, Francais
Subtitles: English

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