The unkindest cuts: Welles on video

The recent Rick Schmidlin/Walter Murch revision of Orson Welles' Touch of Evil marks the fourth cut of that film, though only one version currently exists on video, an arbitrary video-department marriage of the two previous film versions misleadingly advertised as a "director's cut." Currently, Universal is considering offering the earlier cuts of the film when it releases the Schmidlin/Murch revision to home video sometime in 1999; in the meantime there are plenty of other Welles variants awaiting your discovery.

Mr. Arkadin—This shadowy, paranoid tale of power and corruption, shot largely in Spain on a minuscule budget, was yanked from Welles' control before he finished editing (shades of Touch of Evil). No less than three versions exist on video, the most widely available being the least satisfactory cut, the 91-minute "public domain" version usually found in badly duped and poorly packaged tapes. For better results, check out the 97-minute European cut titled Confidential Report; released by Home Vision, it's also the best-looking transfer you'll find. The die-hard completists will need to track down the rare, out-of-print 100-minute Encore Video release, also titled Mr. Arkadin, the longest, most delightfully labyrinthine cut and closest to Welles' intentions. But beware: The shaky, scratchy tape looks awful and sounds even worse.

Macbeth—Welles shot his brutish, brooding vision of the Scottish play on papier-m⣨頳ets against a theatrical cyclorama for Republic Pictures, Hollywood's premiere B-movie studio. In a keen bit of regional placing, Welles directed his performers to deliver their lines in a thick Scottish burr. Republic balked and ordered Welles to re-dub the soundtrack with a more Americanized intonation and cut the film by more than 20 minutes (losing the astounding 10-minute long take). This truncated version was the first to appear on video but has been replaced by the original cut: burrs, long take, and all. Some video stores never upgraded their copies, so read the small print on the box. The short cut runs 89 minutes, the full cut 107 minutes.

Othello—With all the critical raves for the 1992 restoration you might have missed the critical minority who took the producers to task for second-guessing Welles. In the process of cleaning and re-synchronizing the slipped dialogue tracks, the score was replaced with a newly recorded rendering by the Chicago Symphony, sound effects rerecorded, and the whole soundtrack rebalanced and mixed in stereo. As in the controversial Vertigo restoration, the images on the video are amazing, but the audio offers a distracting dissonance between the original sound elements and the newly recorded additions. Purists fear not: Voyager's Criterion laser-disc edition of Othello features an original 1952 release print, the film as Welles made it in all its mis-synced, overmodulated, low-tech glory.

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