NEW YORK — IN another important museum event this season, the Museum of Modern Art recently presented the American premiere of ``Don Quixote of Orson Welles,'' a retelling of the Miguel Cervantes novel that the legendary Welles began filming for television in the mid-1950s. He kept working on it, when funding could be found, in fits and starts for the next decade.
He never completed the picture, which places it in the same category as ``It's All True,'' another ambitious project - dealing with unsung peasants and workers of Brazil - that remained unfinished at Welles's death.
That film was released in a reconstructed version last year, running a little more than 30 minutes and providing only a suggestion of what the full movie would have been like if it had been carried out according to Welles's conception.
As reconstructed by several Welles associates, including Juan Amalbert and Oja Kodar, the newly available ``Don Quixote'' is far longer but still obviously incomplete. Much of it consists of repetitive sequences of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza traveling across the Spanish countryside, punctuated with sadly truncated scenes of their encounters with various emblems of the past and present, from windmills to movie crews. Most tantalizing are episodes in which the don and his squire clash against contemporary Spain, even crossing the path of Welles - who parodies himself hilariously within the film - at key moments.
While it can't be called a major Welles work in its present form, ``Don Quixote'' is a fascinating artifact that devotees of the filmmaker's enduring classics - from ``Citizen Kane'' and ``The Magnificent Ambersons'' to ``Touch of Evil'' and ``Falstaff,'' among others - will be eager to see despite its many flaws. Meanwhile, other incomplete Welles projects, such as ``The Other Side of the Wind'' and his ``Merchant of Venice'' adaptation, still abound. One hopes film scholars, historians, and technicians will work on bringing these to the screen so enthusiasts can get at least a dim idea of the treasures they might have beheld if Welles's career had been less consistently dogged by financial difficulties and conflicts with the filmmaking establishment.