Roger Ryan wrote:
David, I think your info might be a bit off here.
The "Beatrice" version of OTHELLO is the attempt to "fix" ropey elements of Welles' U.S. version originally released in '55 - reportedly, the restored version that played in cinemas in '92/'93 never made it to DVD as an "in progress" master was issued by mistake (again, this was learned second-hand through an interview with the restoration producer - take it as you will). Welles' initial cut, known as the "European" version, premiered in '52 and featured additional footage for the opening Venice sequence (plus Welles' spoken credits at the beginning), a slightly different edit of Desdemona's death scene (including a harrowing close-up of her dead face) and, most importantly, a different dub track. The audio to the Euro version is significantly superior to the Region 1 DVD release - better synchronization, better mix of effects, better performances. As far as pacing is concerned, I find the Euro version's Venice sequence to be less rushed than the U.S. version.
Roger my bad, and you're right. I reversed the two versions. Here
is a review of the Criterion laserdisc of the 52 cut, while it was still in circulation:
Want to be daring? Try watching Othello without the sound. The assembly of magnificent compositions that Welles has put together for his Othello is nothing short of astounding. Welles finds angles where they never existed before and extracts from the text, so elegant in word, a visual power unmatched by other Shakespearean movies. The heritage from Citizen Kane to Touch of Evil is evident in this stylistic tour-de-force.
Welles is an imposing Othello. Painted with shadows and light, Welles moves regally through the castle sets and strides powerfully along the beach or atop the ramparts. As Iago, Michael Mac Liammoir, the Irish stage actor, is quite creepy. His vast stage experience perhaps affects his performance in front of the camera too much, but the result is highly effective under Welles' guiding camera and brilliant editing.
This Othello has been condensed down to little more than an hour and a half by Welles, but the effect is to concentrate the power and force of the text. Watching the director think on his feet to distill this wonderful Shakespeare adaptation is joy enough, but the play's the thing and indeed this film rendition of Othello reigns supreme.
There are substantial extras provided in this Criterion Collection edition. Foremost is a second audio commentary on analog track 2 in which Peter Bogdanovich, Myron Meisel, and Russ Lees provide sometimes insight into the filmmaking process and at other times simply describe what we can see on the screen. True, there are different prospectives from the three commentators, Bogdanovich the filmmaker, Meisel, a Welles scholar, and Lees a playwright, which is a definite plus. There is also a short directed by Mac Liammoir called Return to Glennascaul which stars Welles, excerpts from an Italian documentary Rosabella and some interesting comparisons of various filmings of Othello's classic murder scene.
Visually, this is a very handsome disc. The sound, on the other hand, is dismal. It's not the fault of the transfer. That's the surviving sound we have from this Welle's masterpiece. Shot on a minuscule budget scratched together from the salaries paid Welles from his lucrative acting gigs, the production stretched over several years and the result is lots of poor dubbing and difficulties on capturing the dialogue during the shoot. Welles even dubbed most of Robert Coote's Roderigo with his own voice. Still, the power of the visual images dominates the disc. All the subtleties of the shadowy photography are accurately transferred to disc. The entire laser disc production of Othello is commendable and continues the fine tradition of Voyager's dedication to film.
Welle's cut runs 91 minutes. The second 1955 issue runs 93 but is actually missing some material from the 52 release. But Welles' cut some comic material from that version because he thought it slowed the piece down. Re the audio I don't find the audio on the 52 version nearly as bothersome as the reviewer and I definitely prefer it to the hamfisted "improvements" on the 55 version.
I will have to go hunting for more info on Macbeth but the version that was released on the Republic Laserdisc and VHS in the 90s is the shorter 91 minute cut with the Scottish accents. The Second Sight disc is the longer cut running 114 minutes which includes Intro and entr'acte music, and a longer cut of the play itself with the rebudded audio in a mixture of Scottish, American and English accents. This version is the choix du jour, although I don't think Macbeth in either version is anywhere near as good as Othello (also in either version.) You're probably right about the recut and redub being Welles' work not la Beatrice. The problem however now resides in which version gets released where and when. Obviously the Wildside boxset is essential.