"All of us are suffering from an incurable vice: that we can't stay out of movie theaters, and we ought to," says Orson Welles, who's spent nearly 50 years either in movie theaters or behind cameras. Welles was speaking not at his favorite watering hole -- Ma Maison, where he lunches every day, assisted to and from his table by two or three canes in each hand -- but at an awards dinner hosted by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association at the Beverly Hilton Hotel.

The director's role, says Welles, is not "really important, except to be the element that's absent in the making of a movie, and that's the audience. The terrible burden of the director is to take the place of that yawning vacuum. His job is also to preside over accidents . . . " Welles was also less than generous about the current filmmaking climate: "Either you make a movie that makes more money than anyone ever dreamed of, or you don't make a movie at all." "The trouble with movies today," he said, "is that all of us are in love with film. I would have been much better off, if, after I had made my first picture, I had gone back to the theater, from which I came." Welles' first picture, of course, was "Citizen Kane"; his last directorial effort was "The Other Side of the Mountain," begun in 1976 and still unseen. Welles says there are new problems on that film: it was partially financed by the Iranian government, and what with the revolution and all, the ayatollah now claims partial ownership. Clearly, that's one film Welles will not show before its time.