The Michigan Quarterly Review explores the making of Orson Welles’s MACBETH
Many thanks to Greg Boozell who sent along this link to The Michigan Quarterly Review SITE where this exciting news is posted:
Several years ago the University of Michigan Special Collections Library acquired two collections of materials relating to Orson Welles, including scripts, correspondence, memoranda, stills, programs, and much else. In this issue Catherine L. Benamou, the author of a recent book on Welles, curates a generous selection of correspondence related to Welles's film of 1948, Macbeth, as well as a graphics portfolio featuring images of great rarity related to that film and a document that serves as a "smoking gun" in the great mystery about the fate of the original print of The Magnificent Ambersons. A detailed introduction by Benamou precedes an exchange of correspondence between Welles and Richard Wilson, the film's producer and a longtime associate of Welles from the time of the Mercury Theatre forward. The correspondence is jaunty in places but also deadly earnest about the particulars of sound recording, thematic interpretation, and casting decisions. These documents, including the portfolio on coated paper with detailed explanatory notes, are the inaugural project of a sequence of writings drawn from the Welles collections.
At his site, Jonathan Rosenbaum gives a more detailed description of the Welles contents in the magazine:
The 55-page Welles dossier assembled by Benamou in Michigan Quarterly Review starts off with a 1942 letter from Robert Wise to Welles about the editing of The Magnificent Ambersons, drawn from the Kodar collection. The remaining documents, all drawn from the Wilson papers, are letters relating to Welles’ Macbeth (the film), all written between 1947 and 1949 — four of them by Welles, if one also includes a memorandum to Republic Pictures — followed by an eight-page “Portfolio of Graphics”. The latter starts with 1944 instructions by RKO’s Jim Wilkinson (in charge of their film vaults) to RKO’s Sid Kramer in New York to “instruct the Brazilian office to junk” one print of Journey into Fear (10 reels) and two prints of The Magnificent Ambersons (10 reels and 14 reels). (The remaining seven pages all relate to Macbeth.)
Unfortunately, there is no online ordering, just the quaint olden way where you mail a check or money order for $7.00 if you would like to receive a copy, to:
Michigan Quarterly Review
0576 Rackham Bldg.
915 Washington Street
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1070
Meanwhile, for some background on the two different release versions of Macbeth, here is Todd McCarthy's excellent report from Variety in 1980 about UCLA's initial discovery of the longer version of the film, as well as Variety's original review of Macbeth from 1948, whose reviewer at the time found the soundtrack to be unintelligible "gibbering."
Charles K. Feldman presents
A Mercury Production
By ORSON WELLES
Double, double, toil and trouble;
Fire, burn; and cauldron bubble.
Pour in sow's blood, that hath eaten,
Her nine farrow; grease that's sweaten
From the murderer’s gibbet throw
Into the flame.
Finger of birth-strangled babe
Ditch-deliver'd by a drab,---
Make the gruel thick and slab:
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble,
For a charm of powerful trouble.
When shall we three meet again?
In thunder, lightning, or in rain?
When the hurlyburly's done,
When the battle's lost and won.
That will be ere the set of sun.
There to meet with…
By WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE
By the pricking of my thumbs,
Something wicked this way comes:---
See Macbeth prologue on YouTube HERE.
UCLA RECONSTRUCTS ORIGINAL VERSION OF WELLES'S MACBETH
By TODD McCARTHY – April 18, 1980
Orson Welles has always said that the only one of his Hollywood films not tampered with by the studios was Citizen Kane. Considerable archivist and scholarly attention has been devoted to tracking down the original versions of such pictures as The Magnificent Ambersons, which is certifiably lost, and Touch of Evil, of which a longer version was found and put into release by Universal.
Seldom mentioned is the case of Macbeth, which Welles shot on a low budget for Herbert Yates Republic Studios over 23 days in the summer of 1947. Admittedly experimental version initially ran 107 minutes, but after a disastrous preview in 1948 and with the director already embarked on his 10-year sojourn in Europe, it was whittled down to 86 minutes. At the same time, the soundtrack bearing actors' controversial Scottish burr was rerecorded to "Americanize" the accents, all to little avail as far as the marketplace was concerned.
Since that time, only the shorter version has been available, at least In the U.S. But due to a one-year effort on the part of UCLA archivist Bob Gitt, the Welles’ version, complete with original soundtrack, has been restored and will make its current debut Monday night on the Westwood campus.
As often happens in the world of film preservation, discovery of the "lost" footage was quite inadvertent. NTA Film Services, distributor of Republic product, deposited its collection of the studios nitrate negatives and fine grain positives with UCLA, as have several other film companies.
Unpacking the NTA material, and initially on the lookout for any nitrate material urgently in need of transfer to safety stock, Gitt came across two sets of Macbeth fine-grain master positives on nitrate stock, one of nine reels, and another containing about half of the reels comprising a 12-reel version.
Upon comparison, Gitt found that not only did the longer version contain additional scenes and slightly different cuts of the same sequences, but the soundtracks were decidedly not the same.
Gitt mentioned his discovery to Barry Parker of the film department of the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C. and Parker convinced the Federally funded library to forward some money which, combined with UCLA's National Endowment for the Arts funding, financed the restoration.
Nonetheless, Gitt still needed the half-dozen missing reels from the original version. After NTA reported It possessed nothing more, he turned to Macbeth European right holder Richard Rosenfelt who secured nitrate dupe negatives of both versions from England, where the longer edition had originally been distributed.
Complicating the job was fact that the first and last minutes of each fine grain reel of the original from NTA had hopelessly deteriorated, and material from the U.K. was severely scratched and worn.
To reproduce the original version, Gitt ultimately used the NTA fine-grain master positives whenever possible, the British-derived dupe negative in cases where footage was missing from the positives, and fine-grain material from the abridged version in a few instances. Entire sound track was derived from the British original.
Gitt acknowledges that some prints of the long version, over which he has laboriously toiled may still exist in England, and that 16mm copies of the original were shown domestically in the early days of TV, but no one has seen them in years and they would be of inferior visual quality in any event.
Timing and printing of the new copy was supervised by Felipe Herba at the Film Technology Co, in Hollywood, and UCLA now has a safety fine-grain print and a dupe negative, as well as a projection print, available for NTA should it choose to market the original Welles cut.
The American Film Institute is tentatively planning to exhibit it in Washington this summer. Rosenfeld has received a print for showing on French TV and a 16mm copy is being made for the Folger collection. In the interest of film scholarship, UCLA has also put the 86-minute version, previously available in 35mm only in a beat-up, splice-ridden print, on safely stock.
An additional find beyond the restored 21 minutes of picture where eight minutes of musical overture and three three-and-a-half minutes of exit music by the film’s composer, Jacques Ibert, all of which has been included to produce the definitive version of Macbeth.
Although all the bills are not yet in, Gitt estimates that the entire reconstruction job will cost somewhere over $5,000. Fortunately, film stock for the enterprise was purchased before prices were virtually doubled with the rise in silver costs.
New print lends a brilliantly sharp visual quality to the film it has never had before in mediocre 16mm prints available over the past 30 years and, contrary to long-standing rumor, Scottish burr of the players is far from unintelligible.
Original track actually strengthens all the characterizations, particularly Jeanette Nolan's as Lady Macbeth. Sound mix is also noticeably richer in the original. Ironically, entire vocal performances of the film were pre-recorded, with actors mouthing dialog to in-studio playback during the three-week shoot. In preparation for filming, Mercury Theatre players performed the drama onstage at the Utah Centennial Festival in Salt Lake City for two weeks in 1947 prior to entering the studio, and longtime Welles collaborator Richard Wilson recalls that this was a device Welles, with his extensive experience in radio, had been toying with for many years.
Wilson, who considers Macbeth “the greatest experimental American film ever made under the Hollywood studio system," and who will discuss the picture at UCLA Monday night, edited the film in Europe with the late cutter Louis Lindsay and Welles while the latter was acting in Black Magic.
After pic was unfavorably compared to Laurence Olivier's Hamlet at the 1948 Venice Film Festival and the initial negative U.S. reviews were in, "We received tremendous pressure from Republic, joined to a great degree by (exe. Producer) Charlie Feldman, who had actually set it up at Republic, to cut it," per Wilson.
"The brogue was just a handle for people to beat us to death, but we had to answer all the criticisms." So with Welles in Europe, Wilson undertook "the terrible, terrible job" of looping every line of dialog, calling in the actors to re-enact their roles and communicating with Welles by cable and shipments of the cutting continuity back and forth between continents.
"Orson did a lot of his looping in Europe, but we also went into outtakes for some of his lines. His performance in the short version was actually a combination of some of his prerecorded tracks, some looping, and a few outtakes." remembers Wilson.
"I spent nine months de-burring the picture and making cuts in it, some with Orson's concurrence and some with his reluctance. I think it's tremendous that UCLA has put it back together,” says Welles' collaborator.
Perhaps the greatest stylistic eye-opener in the restored version is one take that occupies an entire camera reel of film. Done shortly before Alfred Hitchcock's no-cut Rope this was probably a first in Hollywood and is something that Wilson remembers driving the studio "absolutely mad." The 10-minute scene had to be repeated several times because on the first few takes, film ran out before the actors had gotten through all the necessary dialog.
After one day Welles had still not achieved a printable take, although it was obtained quickly the next day and Wilson recalled indulging in long explanations to Yates and company to defend the style, which actually saved time in the end.
Another discovery on the part of the Folger Shakespeare Library is mid-1930’s documentary containing four minutes of footage from Welles' legendary, all-black production of Macbeth in Harlem in 1936. Aside from a brief clip displaying a 1932 student mounting of Twelfth Night this would appear to be the only filmed record of any Welles stage show.
Called We Work Again docu spotlights how the Works Progress Administration put black artists to work during the Depression, and the section on the Federal Theatre focuses on the Haitian-set Macbeth staged at the Lafayette Theatre.
Picture quality is excellent and scene on view is finale of the play. Including title character's death, final speech of Macduff and curtain call. Playing seems rather arch by today's standards, but naturally should not be judged for anything other than what it is, a lucky capturing of e remarkable moment in theatre annals. Docu was found recently in the National Archives in Washington and will also be unspooled Monday.
Watch excerpts from Orson Welles's 1936 Voodoo Macbeth HERE.
See Orson Welles introduce a clip from Roman Polanski's 1971 version of Macbeth HERE.
Variety review of MACBETH
October 9, 1948
William Shakespeare's "Macbeth" will survive its latest interpretation. Orson Welles' version undoubtedly is gratifying to the producer-director-star. To Bard purists it will be considerably less. On the art circuit, with emphasis on the Wellesian treatment, some initial interest can be stirred. Curiosity factor is strong regarding how Welles interprets Shakespeare, but results are not likely to please.
On the general situation route "Macbeth" doesn't look like a commercial success. Shakespeare is b.o. only in some class versions when given specialized treatment in art spots. Latter is best hope for Welles' idea of Shakespeare—and it is such a personalized version that the controversy it might stir could mean extra ticket sales.
Production was comparatively inexpensive for this day of high costs—and looks it. Mood is as dour as the Scottish moors and crags that background the plot. Film is crammed with scenery-chewing theatrics in the best Shakespearean manner with Welles dominating practically every bit of footage.
Only a few of the Bard's best lines are audible. The rest are lost in strained, dialectic gibbering that is only sound, not prose. At best, Shakespeare dialog requires close attention; but even intense concentration can't make intelligible the reading by Welles and others in the cast.
"Macbeth," the play, devotes considerable time to depicting femme influence on the male to needle his vanity and ambition into murder for a kingdom. "Macbeth," the film devotes that footage to the male's reaction to the femme needling. Several Shakespeare characters have been turned into a Welles-introduced one, a Holy Father. There are similar bits of Wellesian license taken throughout, with which there would have been no quarrel had they been an improvement.
Welles introduces Jeannette Nolan as Lady Macbeth. Her reading is best in the "out, damned spot" scene. Dan O'Herlihy fares best as Macduff, his reading having the clearest enunciation. Others are only adequate in tossing straight lines for Welles. Gloom of the play is aptly expressed in sackcloth costuming and fog-bound, barren settings against which "Macbeth" is played. Lensing is low-key, and full of trick angles that are distracting. Musical score by Jacques Ibert is excellent.