Multi-biographies can be finished slowly, ploddingly

If you’ve had a chance to look at the staff picks link on the Bartholomew County Public Library’s website,, you will see a list I made, “Meet Someone New.” Among my picks is Simon Callow’s biography, “Orson Welles: The Road to Xanadu.” The title is a reference to Welles’ first movie, “Citizen Kane.” “Xanadu” was the name the title character, reclusive publishing magnate Charles Foster Kane, gave to his mansion.

“Road,” published in 1995, is only the first volume in Callow’s yet-unfinished biography of Welles. The third volume, “One-Man Band,” came out in April. It was supposed to be a two-volume biography. Now it’s supposed to be four.

In the preface to the second volume, “Hello Americans,” Callow tells about Welles’ adaptation of “Don Quixote,” “snatching days where he could, borrowing equipment, staging sequences, slowly assembling his footage. Young actors grew old, old actors died.”

And eventually, after being asked the question enough, Welles decided to call the movie, “When Are You Going to Finish Don Quixote?” After recounting this tale, Callow writes that he sometimes wanted to call the book “When Are You Going to Deliver Volume Two?” (“Hello Americans” came out in 2006, 10 years after “Road.”)

Having now delivered volumes two and three, Callow is almost certain to give us the final one as well.

Multi-volume biographies, although not the rule, aren’t unusual. Notable examples are Edmund Morris’ three volumes on Theodore Roosevelt (“The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt,” “Theodore Rex” “Colonel Roosevelt”) and the four (“The Path to Power,” “Means of Ascent,” “Master of the Senate” NS “The Passage of Power”) that make up Robert Caro’s “The Years of Lyndon Johnson.” In addition, the third and final volume (“The War Years and After, 1939-1962”) of Blanche Wiesen Cook’s biography of Eleanor Roosevelt will be out this November.

Welles, on the other, hand, never finished “Don Quixote.” His filmmaking method was similar to what’s now called guerrilla filmmaking: low-budget, minimal equipment and crew, frequently shooting on location without permits. At one point, Welles planned to take his cast and crew into Mexico pretending to be tourists and film until they were discovered.

Technology has made things easier for aspiring guerrilla filmmakers.

Digital cameras — not to mention cellphone cameras — are small and reduce the film crew to one or two people. Still, most films made like this are made because the filmmakers couldn’t afford any other way, and sometimes their films are more labors of love than paths to money, fame or success. These filmmakers often put up a lot of their own money to get their films made, and that means they can’t make movies full time.

Perhaps you can sympathize. Maybe you’re not making a movie with only a cellphone and questionable legal methods, but you may knit or paint or design clothes or build furniture or write a novel, but only on the weekends. Or maybe you spend your free time reading and have a long book you’ve been working on for a while.

I refer to “Moby Dick” as “my favorite book that I haven’t finished yet,” but it may be a different one for you. Maybe it’s “Don Quixote.” Don’t worry, you’ll finish it.

Robert Mixner is a reference librarian at the Bartholomew County Public Library and can be reached at