Orson Welles was a metamorphic man, a magical shape-changer who made up myths about himself and permitted others to add to their store. On different occasions, he likened himself to Christ--mankind's redeemer--and to Lucifer--the rebel angel who brought about the fall. His persona compounded the roles he played--kings, despots, generals, captains of industry, autocratic film directors--and the more or less fictitious exploits with which he regaled other people or which they attributed to him. Hailed in childhood as a genius, he remained mystified by his own promise, unable to understand or control an intellect that he came to think of as a curse; and he ended his days shilling wine and performing magic tricks on talk shows. At times, he saw the collapse of his early ambitions as a tragedy; in other moods, he viewed his life as a humbling comedy, and settled down--like another favorite character, Shakespeare's Falstaff --to eat, drink and be irresponsibly merry.
Rather than producing another conventional biography of Welles, Peter Conrad has set out to investigate the stories Welles told about his life--the myths and secret histories hidden in films both made and unmade, in the books Welles wrote and those he read. The result takes us deep into Welles' imagination, showing how he created, then ultimately destroyed himself.