Around The World With Orson Welles Blu-ray Review

Orson Welles travels across Europe in this charming 1955 documentary series

Orson Welles had begun to wear out his welcome in Hollywood by the 1950s, struggling with a studio system that wanted to rein in his immense talents. His reputation in Europe never suffered such a fate. Movies like Citizen Kane and The Third Man had left an indelible impression on European cinema, making Welles a celebrity across the pond. The great director filmed a travelogue for British television in 1955, Around the World With Orson Welles. Writing and directing all six episodes, Orson Welles travels across Europe meeting everyone from celebrities to working people. It’s a fascinating time capsule from the legendary director in which he shares musings on life in cities like London and Vienna.

This new set contains all six episodes for the series, including the previously lost ‘Revisiting Vienna,’ where Welles take us to some of the locations seen in The Third Man. A bonus documentary by Christophe Cognet, The Dominici Affair, reconstructs an unfinished episode also known as ‘The Tragedy of Lurs.’ The complete list of episodes:

Pays Basque I
Pays Basque II
Revisiting Vienna aka The Third Man Returns to Vienna
Chelsea Pensioners
Madrid Bullfight (Corrida Madrid)
The Dominici Affair aka The Tragedy of Lurs (2000)

It is a wide survey of European cultural life, aimed at the sophisticated audiences of Welles’ day. There is an innocent charm to Welles’ thoughts on the continent’s social life and values. He shows great appreciation for the Basque people in its first two episodes, an indigenous ethnic group that have always tried to remain separate in France and Spain. Welles relishes showing the locals in a good light, having playful fun with a Basque sheepherder quizzing him on his experiences in America.

A mix of literary and journalist celebrities appear in thoughtful interviews on cultural and social topics with Welles. Jean Cocteau, Juliette Greco, Art Buchwald, Kenneth Tynan and Elaine Dundy are but some of his more famous guests across the six episodes. Many of them were friends and associates of Welles, displaying a relaxed intimacy in their appearances. Orson Welles is not omnipresent in every episode. The episode on St-Germain-des-Pres barely features Welles and it is known that most of it was shot by others.

While a few big ideas naturally creep into the interviews and dialogue, Welles has no seeming agenda driving this travelogue. He muses how the ordinary people of Europe would rather forget about the various national borders in their daily lives. Orson Welles seem rather sincere in presenting the daily life of Europeans, such as when he gleefully eats a pastry made in a Viennese hotel and interviews the chef.

His penetrating intellect remains on display throughout each episode…

Television in those days was still finding its way in how to best make and present popular content. This documentary is far more relaxed and studied than modern television. Welles appeals to a sophisticated, intellectual audience even when covering banal things like a ball game played by children. His penetrating intellect remains on display throughout each episode, becoming as much the focus as the various places he covers in his travels. Welles lets his interviewees go in their own directions as they idly chase down both serious and trivial matters.

Travelogues were once a popular form of entertainment in the early days of television. This wonderful series from Orson Welles is suffused with his intelligence and wit. It’s another piece in the elaborate puzzle that was the great director, showcasing a forgotten side of European life.

Movie ★★★★☆

Welles is clearly trying to ignore that kid @ 46:27

Independent label B2MP has brought Around The World With Orson Welles to Blu-ray from a new HD transfer struck from an original 35mm interpositive. The six episodes and a reconstructed lost episode documentary from 2000 comprise over 216 minutes on a BD-50. This is a fine-looking black-and-white presentation from stable film elements. The crisp monochrome cinematography has been neatly presented at 1080P resolution in the original 1.33:1 aspect ratio of the television production.

Encoded in AVC, the average video bitrate is a stout 25.99 Mbps. The solid compression effort has perfect grain rendition and film-like texture. This is an artifact-free replication of the new HD film transfer. The scan has a nice sense of depth and sharpness, replicating the clean structure of the unfiltered film transfer. Contrast is fairly high for this kind of vintage film presentation. The dense black levels have decent shadow delineation. The 35mm interpositive has little visible damage. This is a quality film element preserved in excellent condition.

B2MP gives the 1955 travelogue a strong Blu-ray presentation worth experiencing in Hi-Def quality. You can’t get much better than a new, unprocessed film scan from nearly flawless elements.

Video ★★★★☆

A 2.0 PCM monaural soundtrack perfectly delivers the documentary’s dialogue. Its fidelity is clean and fresh sounding. There isn’t a whole lot going beyond the sights and sounds of various European locales, so the soundtrack’s range and dynamics aren’t tested. The audio’s superb recording quality for 1955 sounds excellent for its vintage and mastered in fine clarity.

Audio ★★★★☆

B2MP has made this a DVD and Blu-ray combo pack for Around the World With Orson Welles, duplicating the same content between both formats.

The last included episode is a documentary from 2000, The Dominici Affair. It tells the story and reconstructs the unfinished episode also known as The Tragedy of Lurs, directed by Christophe Cognet. The French portions in it include hard-coded English subtitles.

The included booklet includes a new essay about the series from author Peter Tonguette, a writer that has written about Welles before. It’s a nice look at the series, pointing out some of its strengths and weaknesses.

Extras ★★☆☆☆

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Click on the images below for full resolution screen captures taken directly from the Blu-ray. Images have not been altered in any way during the process.