The Magnificent Ambersons (the ORIGINAL) ?

Discussion in 'Archived Threads 2001-2004' started by Jon Robertson, May 2, 2002.

  1. Jon Robertson

    Jon Robertson Screenwriter

    Joined:
    May 19, 2001
    Messages:
    1,568
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    0
    In many ways, this film is far more deserving of a guns-blazing 2-disc set than Citizen Kane was, because there's so much more explaining and documentation that has to be done with The Magnificent Ambersons (which I am still convinced would have been the greatest film ever made had it survived intact).
    I recently broke down and ordered the French SE from Amazon.fr (pretty good, according to here) as well as Robert Carringer's massive book that attempts a reconstruction and explanation of what happened to the film, through the full script, storyboards, photos, documents and other things. I'm eagerly awaiting both.
    I would love to see it get a full special edition, just like Citizen Kane, and as soon as possible. Even in it's butchered state, it's clearly head-and-shoulders above practically anything Hollywood has ever done.
     
  2. Bryant Frazer

    Bryant Frazer Stunt Coordinator

    Joined:
    Dec 1, 1998
    Messages:
    121
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    0
    Criterion issued a terrific laserdisc special edition of this, including the best reconstruction of the original ending they could muster, that I'm sure they'd be happy to reissue if only the current rights holder (AOL Time Warner?) would allow them to.

    -bf-
     
  3. John Koehler

    John Koehler Stunt Coordinator

    Joined:
    May 7, 1999
    Messages:
    73
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    0
    Yes. The Criterion laserdisc is phenomenal and needs a reissue in the DVD format. I believe Carringer was involved with that special edition LD.
     
  4. James D S

    James D S Screenwriter

    Joined:
    Nov 14, 2000
    Messages:
    1,000
    Likes Received:
    1
    Trophy Points:
    0
    Carringer was involved with the Criterion LD.

    I have come so close to pulling the trigger on this set on eBay, but decided against it until I hear solid news of a release or no release.

    This movie is the reason why I've never been a big fan of Robert Wise. But alas, times were different then.

    Come on Warner - This film deserves the red carpet treatment!
     
  5. Jon Robertson

    Jon Robertson Screenwriter

    Joined:
    May 19, 2001
    Messages:
    1,568
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    0
    What irritates me about Robert Wise's attitude to the film is that he keeps saying things like "It's considered a masterpiece, which means we didn't ruin it!" as if the critics are paying him a compliment, when it's actually entirely a testament to Welles' genius.

    Still, the man who made The Haunting can't be all bad...
     
  6. Patrick McCart

    Patrick McCart Lead Actor

    Joined:
    May 16, 2001
    Messages:
    7,566
    Likes Received:
    195
    Trophy Points:
    9,110
    Location:
    Georgia (the state)
    Real Name:
    Patrick McCart
    I'll buy the DVD only if it's restored.

    The RKO library is in terrible condition (which explains why only 3 RKO DVD's have been released by WB so far, with only a few more on the way) so TMA needs to looks its best.

    The lost footage has been said to be in a Paramount vault, so it might be a matter of searching through lots and lots of cans.
     
  7. Jeff Wilson

    Jeff Wilson Stunt Coordinator

    Joined:
    Jun 17, 2001
    Messages:
    152
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    0
    The irony is, of course, that Wise, who submitted gladly to RKO's demands to butcher Ambersons (and many people would have, let's face it), went on to a long career in Hollywood, even being allowed to re-work his dreary, bloated Star Trek film for DVD. We all know how Welles had to struggle for every film he made.

    I think Wise is the last person still living who was materially complicit in the destruction of Ambersons, so he gets all the questions. Of course, people like Joseph Cotten were also involved, and they didn't take as much heat as Wise. On the French disc, the trailer is included, which holds the only surviving footage (about 2 seconds) from the original ending. I doubt we'll ever see the Criterion disc replicated on DVD, but a digital clean-up of the film would be nice.
     
  8. Brian W.

    Brian W. Screenwriter

    Joined:
    Jul 29, 1999
    Messages:
    1,958
    Likes Received:
    3
    Trophy Points:
    0
    Location:
    Los Angeles
    Real Name:
    Brian
    According to this article in the Los Angeles Times...
    http://www.calendarlive.com/top/1,14...Times-Search-X!ArticleDetail-49819,00.html
    ...Welles not only gave Robet Wise complete authority to oversee all-postproduction aspects of the film, but he himself ordered the massive cut from the middle of the film. According to the article...
     
  9. Robert Crawford

    Robert Crawford Moderator
    Moderator

    Joined:
    Dec 9, 1998
    Messages:
    31,355
    Likes Received:
    6,602
    Trophy Points:
    9,110
    Location:
    Michigan
    Real Name:
    Robert
    In defense of Robert Wise, he did what his employer told him to do which was cut the film down. Since, he was a young film editor in his 20's, under contract to RKO with personal aspirations of becoming a director during the studio system era, I think we need to cut Wise some slack for being young and ambitious while working in a system that didn't reward you for refusing studio demands. Furthermore, if he refused to cut the film then the studio would simply have fired him and found another editor to cut the film. This might have been worse, since Wise worked closely with Welles and understood the film better than anyone else the studio would have brought in to do the deadly deed.

    Crawdaddy
     
  10. Jeff Wilson

    Jeff Wilson Stunt Coordinator

    Joined:
    Jun 17, 2001
    Messages:
    152
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    0
    My problem with Wise is not that he did it (as I stated in an above post, most people in his position would have done the same thing) but that he tries to spin the studio version as still being such a great achievement. If it's great, it's because of what's left of Welles' original, not the ham-fisted cuts or the poorly shot replacement footage. Also, the complete wrong-headedness of the tacked-on ending shows they clearly did not understand (or perhaps understood too well) what Welles was aiming for with the film. I would encourage all fans of the film to read V.F. Perkins' BFI monograph about the film; it's an excellent analysis of the film as we have it, without getting into the behind the scenes goings-on.
     
  11. James D S

    James D S Screenwriter

    Joined:
    Nov 14, 2000
    Messages:
    1,000
    Likes Received:
    1
    Trophy Points:
    0
     
  12. Jeff Wilson

    Jeff Wilson Stunt Coordinator

    Joined:
    Jun 17, 2001
    Messages:
    152
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    0
    Originally, Wise was to join Welles in Rio with materials to finish cutting the film. Wartime travel restrictions soon removed any pretense of that happening. Welles was then forced to communicate via telegram for much of the proceedings, which obviously hampered things. Then you have the managerial changeover at RKO while all this was going on, and the knives were out. Why RKO approved the film in the first place is a mystery, as it clearly wasn't box office gold to start with.

    And for further info on the search for the lost footage, check out the January 2002 issue of Vanity Fair for a great in-depth article on the film that is quite fair to Welles, unlike garbage bios like David Thomson's Rosebud. The upshot is that the likely only hope for finding the lost footage resides in the print sent to Welles, which he left at a Rio film archive. RKO sent instructions to have that print destroyed, but the optimist line of thinking is this: the guy who established and ran this archive was an ahead of his time believer in film as art and preserving great films. Would he have really destroyed the print with such a attitude? The article mentions rumors that this print was still floating around in the early 60s. While such a thing would be almost a miracle, I think we have to face reality that the film is gone. But who knows, stranger things have happened.
     
  13. Steve Grimes

    Steve Grimes Auditioning

    Joined:
    Jun 5, 2001
    Messages:
    8
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    0
    I doubt that Welles ever thought the film was "overbloated, unsuccessful, and a mess".

    However, Robert Carringer in his book on AMBERSONS, makes a pretty good case that Welles did become disenfranchised with the film due to his not having the same caliber of crew that he had on CITIZEN KANE. Personally, I have to think that Welles DID purposely take himself out of the picture when he went to Brazil. Of course he never admitted this, and why would he? Much better to be the person who had his masterpiece "butchered".

    The basic problem with AMBERSONS is that Welles made a thoroughly uncommercial film when he didn't have final cut.

    That said--and this is important--I STRONGLY feel that the original version of AMBERSONS >WAS< a masterpiece. He may have made an uncommercial film, but who says art has to be commercial? There is enough evidence, both from the original shooting script and the released film, that he did succeed in making a thoroughly original and unique film. One that happened to be downbeat, depressing and which had a thoroughly unlikable lead character. Should we fault Welles for making such a film? Carringer does, I don't.

    Regardless, I'm looking forward to a restored DVD someday, though the Criterion laserdisc will probably remain my most cherished home video title.
     
  14. Jon Robertson

    Jon Robertson Screenwriter

    Joined:
    May 19, 2001
    Messages:
    1,568
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    0
    I still think the opening is among the most heart-breakingly beautiful sequences in cinema.

    In those days, they had time for everything...Time for sleigh rides, and balls, and assemblies, and cotillions, and open house on New Year's, and all-day picnics in the woods, and even that prettiest of all vanished customs: the serenade...

    Wonderful, wonderful stuff. I hope my French DVD gets here VERY quickly, as well as Carringer's book.

    Of all the studio butcherings in cinema history, this is probably the saddest and worst example.
     
  15. John Knowles

    John Knowles Stunt Coordinator

    Joined:
    May 17, 1999
    Messages:
    168
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    0
    Location:
    Twin Cities, MN
    Real Name:
    John
    The Criterion LD, along with my Star Wars LDs, are among my most valued LDs. The commentary track is very good on the Ambersons LD. Another thing many people don't realize is that Bernard Herrmann, who wrote the great score, had his name taken off the film.
     
  16. RayG

    RayG Stunt Coordinator

    Joined:
    May 11, 2001
    Messages:
    64
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    0
    My hope is that when Warner gets around to releasing The Magnificent Ambersons on DVD that they consider reconstructing the film. Similar to the A Star is Born and Lost Horizon reconstructions with stills of lost scenes inserted back into the film. I know this is more difficult with Ambersons because the audio tracks for the lost scenes no longer exist, but by inserting the stills, particularily stills of the original ending, it would give us a better understanding of what Welles was trying to do.

    This would of course mean the removal of the current happy ending, and the film ending with stills and no dialogue. A DVD release could offer both versions.
     
  17. Jon Robertson

    Jon Robertson Screenwriter

    Joined:
    May 19, 2001
    Messages:
    1,568
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    0
    I believe a few Welles enthusiasts have recreated their own reconstruction of the film using the Criterion laserdisc by basically re-ordering the film by putting scenes back where they should be, and for footage that no longer exists, inserting script pages and stills from the laserdisc along with some of Bernard Herrmann's full-length original score taken from the CD soundtrack (including music not in the film as it survives), so at least the original flow of events can be experienced.
     

Share This Page