Thursday, June 16, 2005

The Magnificent Ambersons (Orson Welles)

Welles' second film will probably never be seen the way it was intended. The studio, unhappy with Welles' final edit, had the film re-edited without his permission while he was filming a documentary in South America, trimming it from 131 minutes to 88. To add insult to butchery, they replaced the original ending with a horribly saccharine new one that Welles never even shot. The excised footage was later destroyed by the studio, though rumors (originating from Welles himself) exist that he left an intact print behind in Brazil. Hopefully, someone will find that print someday, but I'm not holding my breath. The film, as it exists, is a compromised one, a partial glimpse of Welles' vision. Amazingly, it's a great film, anyway, and I prefer it to Citizen Kane, except for the terrible final scene, because it's a subtler and more personal movie. A mournful look at the changes brought by the Industrial Revolution to middle America, Ambersons begins as a comedy and slowly morphs into a bleak tragedy. The acting is superb, the tone is remarkably consistent for a film that's been chopped up by a studio, the overlapping dialogue had a thirty-year jump on Robert Altman, and the long, elegant, unbroken takes through the Ambersons' mansion during the ballroom scene make up one of the greatest moments in film history.

No comments:

Blog Archive