Would you like to see a restored 3-DVD set of Orson Welles’s masterpiece “Othello’?
By LAWRENCE FRENCH
I have recently been talking with Michael Dawson, the producer of the 1992 restored version of Othello, who explained some of the many problems he encountered while working on the restoration of the film. The interview will be published shortly on Wellesnet’s main page, and hopefully may led to a three-DVD reissue of Othello, that would contain three different versions of the film, as has proven so successful with Touch of Evil and Mr. Arkadin.
You can see images from Orson Welles's Othello on our facebook page HERE.
The three versions of Othello that should be be included on the DVD would be these:
First, Orson Welles’s European cut of the film, which featured spoken titles.
Second, the original 1955 United Artists cut released in America, which replaced the spoken titles by Welles, with printed ones, along with a much re-worked soundtrack, that changed many line readings and added much more of Welles’s own voice over narration.
This was the version that Criterion released to great acclaim on Laserdisc in 1993, and it should be noted that whatever flaws these versions may contain, they were both approved and edited by Orson Welles himself.
Finally, a newly corrected version of the 1992 “restored” Othello, that would be most welcome, since the original Academy Entertainment release on both VHS and DVD was seriously flawed, by using the wrong elements for the transfer!
This astounding news became quite apparent to me after I did an A and B comparison of the little seen VHS tape of Othello that Michael Dawson supplied to me, that was put out by Cinar Video and distributed by the Utah based Feature Films For Families (Shades of Macbeth in Salt Lake City).
Apparently Castle Hill had mistakenly used the “unrestored” elements of the print, which featured white speckles running though out many scenes that is quite common in older films, due to “emulsion chipping and base abrasions.” What is supremely ironic about this, is that in the restoration documentary on the Othello DVD, it shows how these very blemishes were removed from the film, and then through the incompetence of some unknown person, the “unrestored” elements were included for the actual DVD transfer!
Mr. Dawson attempted to correct this situation, but he was in a position much like Welles was through most of his career, where nobody wanted to listen to him. The result is that most of the released versions of the "restored " Othello are not restored at all, as they don't represent the expensive digital image correction that was done on the film! Amazingly, none of the mainstream media critics seemed to noticed this, but that's not so very strange considering how little most of them know about their supposed field of expertise.
This, is no doubt, one reason why the Criterion laserdisc actually looked superior to the botched Academy Entertainment release that was released in 1993 on VHS, and subsequently on DVD.
Thankfully, this can now be corrected with a new DVD release of Othello. It should also be no problem to include the original 1955 United Artists American release version, because as Mr. Dawson told me, the Welles Estate had no objection (in theory) to the Criterion laserdisc of Othello, except for the fact they had already made an agreement with Image Entertainment that specified they would release the "restored" version of the film on Laserdisc. Thus, when Criterion opted to release the original American release print of the film, after Jonathan Rosenbaum pointed out some of the flaws that went uncorrected in the restored version, the Welles Estate was naturally displeased, as they had already spent a lot of time and money on their new version of the film.
Amazingly, the flawed "restored" Othello went on to be hailed by most American critics as a wonderful restoration. Thankfully, Welles experts, such as Mr. Rosenbaum, and Variety’s Todd McCarthy, noted some of the mistakes it contained, which Mr. Dawson was also aware of but was apparently powerless to correct.
Now, however, the Welles Estate is currently planning to reissue Othello, so hopefully they will want to make a truly definitive version by finding a distributor who is willing to have Othello re-issued as a deluxe 3-DVD set, featuring the corrected "restored" version, as Mr. Dawson intended, along with the 1955 UA version, and the original European release version.
Needless to say, such a deluxe DVD package would obviously make much more money for the Welles Estate, and there are certainly many extras that could be included, starting with Welles’s own last film, Filming Othello, and Ciro Giorgini’s Rosabella, a splendid, but little seen documentary that focuses on Welles’s time in Italy, which is where Orson met his third wife, Palo Mori, the mother of Beatrice Welles.
Much of the original Othello promotional material is also available, including the original UA pressbook, the British pressbook, a complete set of 8 11 x 14 lobby cards, and numerous stills and other promotional items.