The Magnificent Ambersons: revival of Orson Welles’ crumbling masterpiece that rivaled Citizen Kane | Orson Welles

JThe idea of ​​removing scenes from a film by famous actor-director Orson Welles today would be sacrilege. But right after he made his masterpiece Citizen Kane for RKO in 1941, studio executives slaughtered his next big movie, The magnificent Ambersonsburning long images without consulting him.

Welles was so devastated that he later lamented, “They destroyed Amberson and it destroyed me.

Although the film is still considered a masterpiece and admired for its visual creativity, expressionistic lighting and intricate camera angles, Welles planned a dark story about the disappearance of a wealthy family in the early 20th century. . But RKO cut around 45 minutes, removing some of the more “pessimistic” scenes and giving it a happy ending.

Today, an American filmmaker has nearly completed an ambitious project to recreate Welles’ original vision for the film, which starred Joseph Cotten, who also appeared in Citizen Kane and with whom Welles continued to do The third man in 1949.

Brian Rose has used the latest technology to reconstruct lost materials and animate charcoal sketches that prompt the viewer’s imagination to visualize what Welles once saw: “The few who saw his original version believed it was the greatest movie they had ever seen.”

He built the physical set, working on the camera angles from the “roadmap” evidence, including various script versions and storyboards.

Rose told the Observer that, of 73 scenes from the original film, 21 were either completely cut or redone, and 39 were shortened: “Only 13 remained intact. They just radically changed the movie. These changes were all made without Welles’ approval.

Among the scenes he has now restored is a subplot involving a rude uncle.

He said: “Many scenes were cut because the character of George, the spoiled heir to the Amberson fortune, was deemed too unlikable. In one scene, he behaves coldly to his widowed mother after learning that she has fallen in love again.

“There was also a four-minute uninterrupted moving camera shot whose loss is a tragedy. The camera moves from one end of a ballroom, then back up to the other end [while] you have about a dozen different characters moving in and out of the frame and criss-crossing subplots. It was really ahead of its time. Yet all of the last 50 seconds of the shot were cut.

He added: “The original ending is just great, but the studio remade it. The scene involved two characters who haven’t seen each other in several years and reconnect. It was eight minutes long, with only about two minutes The others expressed their awkward and painful silence.

An animated charcoal sketch of a lost scene in The Magnificent Ambersons.
Filmmaker Brian Rose will use animated charcoal sketches to fill in lost scenes from The Magnificent Ambersons. Photography: The Ambersons Project

He spoke of his anger that RKO deliberately destroyed such footage, cutting the film from 132 minutes to 88 minutes and refusing to keep a copy, even against the advice of figures such as David O Selznick, the carried away by the wind producer: “There were people who recognized the value of the film.”

Rose noted that RKO was facing circumstances beyond its control. Although Citizen Kane – the story of the rise and fall of a fictional newspaper owner – is considered one of cinema’s most influential films, it was a box office disappointment. This outraged real-life media mogul William Randolph Hearst, who attempted to discredit Welles and destroy the 1941 film, ensuring that it was not mentioned in his publications.

Just when Welles planned to finish Amberson, he is sent on a goodwill mission to Brazil to film the carnival in Rio. In his absence, RKO panicked over the response to a test screening — even though audiences were dominated by teenagers, who were never likely to respond to a dark artsy film about American history.

Rose said: “I read the answers in the archives. They said the movie stinks, but every once in a while someone says, “It’s the best movie I’ve ever seen.”

He added that audience tastes had also changed: “During the making of this film, Pearl Harbor was attacked and the United States entered World War II. It led to a total shift in what audiences wanted. Look at movies shot in 1941 – darker images like The Maltese Falcon And Citizen Kane — and movies made in 1942, where everyone wanted musicals and escapist entertainment because of the really bleak outlook for the United States and the world.

He recreated around 30,000 images and explains: “That’s why it took around four years. »

There are still dim hopes that a copy of the original was sent to Welles in Brazil, but if so, its whereabouts are unknown.

Joshua Grossberg, a filmmaker who is working on a documentary on the subject, told the Observer“What Brian Rose has accomplished is significant in giving moviegoers, and Welles fans in particular, a glimpse of what could have been – the original version of The magnificent Ambersons.

“Still a masterpiece in its truncated 88-minute form, Brian’s reconstruction deftly fills in the gaps, revealing just how much more complex Welles’ second film truly is, both thematically and stylistically. Those who have seen the prodigy director’s original vision have claimed that it exceeded even his ambitions for Citizen Kane.”

He added that his next feature film, The Lost Print: The Making of The Magnificent Ambersons by Orson Welleswill hit theaters next year and chronicle his 28-year search for the lost copy: “It is, in the immortal words of one of our advisers, director William Friedkin, the ‘holy grail of cinema’, and we look forward to revealing further details of our investigation.

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