Orson Welles, Heart of Darkness and the Talos Saga

One of Hollywood’s most intriguing legends is “the greatest film never made”, Orson Welles’ proposed movie adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. It was intended to be Welles’ first picture for RKO, pre-dating Citizen Kane.

Welles adapted and starred in a Heart of Darkness CBS Radio broadcast in 1938 as part of his series, The Mercury Theatre on the Air. In 1939, he proposed the project as a film for RKO Pictures, going so far as to write a screenplay with John Houseman. Welles intended to play Marlow and Kurtz, and it was to be filmed entirely as a POV from Marlow’s eyes. It is believed that Welles created a short presentation film illustrating the theme and concept. It has been reported as lost to history. The film’s prologue to be read by Welles said “You aren’t going to see this picture – this picture is going to happen to you.”

In the Talos saga, this “lost” film appears twice, and both the mystery and malevolence of its creation are explored in pulp-heightened fashion. In the short story Violent Night, it’s revealed that Welles traveled to the Congo to film his short presentation film…an expedition actually controlled by the woman known as Ruha, “Archdemoness” of the Gnostic Archon cult, around which the Talos saga revolves. The lost film is later shown in Berlin in the early part of World War II…and it is revealed to be a literal, visual murder weapon. Anyone who views it, dies.

The second time the film appears is in the story The Darkness of Yesterday, where the story of its creation is presented head-on. Illustrated by Polish 3D artist fugazi, it graphically and explicitly depicts an erotic death ritual, with Welles himself barely surviving the experience.

The Cast of “Heart of Darkness” – art by fugazi
The “Heart of Darkness” ritual begins – art by fugazi

With the “forbidden pulp” theme of the Talos stories, it was a natural to adapt this tantalizing Hollywood legend into a mind-blowing depiction of its dark mysteries…literally embodying Welles’ prologue in new form: “You aren’t going to read this story – this story is going to happen to you.”

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