Orson Welles on bullfighting as an art

Antonio Ordóñez, Matador of Ronda, and Orson Welles

Since bullfighting has moved from under the auspices of Spain’s Ministry of the Interior to that of the Ministry of Culture, I thought I would give the view of bullfighting as an artform by one of the greatest geniuses in the world of performing arts, Orson Welles, as recounted to the travel writer James Michener.

In case you have forgotten, Welles produced, directed, wrote and starred in Citizen Kane, usually considered the greatest film ever made, aged 25. And in case you didn’t know – i.e. you have not read my book, Into The Arena – seven years before that he briefly trained at as a bullfighter in Seville (as did I). His ashes are enterred at the ranch of his great friend, the matador Antonio Ordóñez (the house now belongs to his grandson, my friend the matador Cayetano Rivera Ordóñez.)

Here, he is describing the greatest of the Seville matadors at the time of the interview. The Seville matador today to whom Curro Romero is most similar today is Morante de la Puebla, whose photo I enclose at the end.

Alexander Fiske-Harrison

 

from Chapter VI: Sevilla

As to the bullfights, one evening I dined with Orson Welles, that scowling giant who in his youth had trained to be a matador, and he said in his rumbling voice, ‘What it comes down to is simple. Either you respect the integrity of the drama the bullring provides or you don’t. If you do respect it, you demand only the catharsis which it is uniquely constructed to give. And once you make this commitment you are no longer interested in the vaudeville of the ring. You don’t give a damn for fancy passes and men kneeling on their knees. There used to be this fraud who bit the tip of the bull’s horn. Very brave and very useless, because it played no part in the essential drama of man against bull. Such tricks cheapen the bull and therefore lessen the tragedy. What you are interested in is the art whereby a man using no tricks reduces a raging bull to his dimensions, and this means that the relationship between the two must always be maintained and even highlighted. The only way this can be achieved is with art.

Curro Romero, Matador of Seville, performs a ‘veronica’


And what is the essence of this art? That the man carry himself with grace and that he move the bull slowly and with a certain majesty. That is, he must allow the inherent quality of the bull to manifest itself. Today in Spain we have many vaudevillians and you won’t waste your time completely if you watch them. We also have men of bravery and it’s always rewarding to observe this rare commodity in action. But of the true artists who comprehend the fruitful relationship that ought to exist between man and bull there is only one, Curro Romero. And until you have seen him, my friend, you have seen nothing. For this young man, handsome of face but round of body, can launch passes which are the essence of bullfighting. He is really so good that it’s difficult to believe that this age produced him, for he has the style of the past, when vaudevillians had little place in the arena. Some day you’ll see this boy at his greatest, and I’ll be there, and we shall nod to one another across the intervening peopie, and you will thank me for having insisted that you do to see him.

Morante de la Puebla, Matador of Seville, performs a ‘veronica ‘(Photo: Alexander Fiske-Harrison)

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About fiskeharrison

English author and journalist, broadcaster and conservationist. Author of Into The Arena: The World Of The Spanish Bullfight, shortlisted for Sports Book Of The Year 2011. Editor & Co-Author of Fiesta: How To Survive The Bulls Of Pamplona. Author of 'The Unbroken', finalist for Le Prix Hemingway 2016
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One Response to Orson Welles on bullfighting as an art

  1. Pingback: – The Last Arena

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