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LF: I was just looking at the American Cinematographer article you did on OTHELLO. You say in this article that you were going to do a documentary on Orson Welles? MD: Interesting that you should mention that. I was recently at a cocktail party in Chicago, and I was surrounded by friends who were saying "All right Mike; it's time to get on with the show, so to speak." Originally (CITIZEN WELLES) was thought of as a 90-minute feature. With Orson Welles, the material...let me give you an example: a professor who teaches at the University of Tallahassee, was writing a history of radio, but he kept ﬁnding more and more material, and this just went on and on and on, and that's kind of the way the situation has been with the documentary. Of course, when you take on Orson Welles, it can become an astronomical Black Hole. We now have probably about 35 hours of raw footage in the can, shot in all different formats, including 35mm. We realized we've got a three volume - at ninety minutes per volume - series of ﬁlms here. So essentially, Volume 1 is about 80 percent done. Like with anything though, when you get involved in other projects outside the ﬁlm industry, you can get waylaid. So that's where that lies. I'm pursuing the idea of at least releasing Volume 1. We've got some real rare stuff that I can't divulge, but what's interesting now is something I had asserted thirty years ago, watching the news footage about Welles’ passing and thinking about the mythology of his decline after CITIZEN KANE and how it should be rectiﬁed somehow. He continued to make masterpieces, but just did so under increasingly difﬁcult circumstances. That's been essentially my attitude about it. LF: So does this footage consist of interviews with people and so forth? MD: Interview footage, some rare footage from the Todd School for Boys, things of that nature. We in the Midwest have been glad to discover that he sprang from us, and had his formal schooling at the Todd School in Woodstock, which is about an hour and a half from Chicago. It's like a wonderful little oasis in the middle of the cornﬁelds, but of course, everything is always expanding.
LF: I've talked with Kathleen Spaltro, who wants to put on a show there for the centennial in 2015. She was the one who spearheaded the effort to save Grace Hall, the last remaining building at Todd. The council eventually voted against it, and tore it down to build apartments instead. MD: That's too bad. When we had Beatrice there as a guest years ago, we actually stayed with the woman and her husband who came up with the money to restore the Opera House. At that time there were two buildings left from Todd, the other being, I believe, their stage building, which still remains. It became a Masonic Lodge before being converted into a condominium complex called Roger Hall.
TOP: Orson Welles with Todd School class in front of Grace Hall, 1930 BOTTOM LEFT: Grace Hall destroyed in 2011 BOTTOM RIGHT: Woodstock Opera House
Woodstock Opera House
MD: As you know, I recently attended the Opera House Orson Welles stage dedication, an idea conceived by Chuck Workman for his project on Welles. I was also shooting some footage for these little spots that we’re going to release for promoting the 100th anniversary festival, and the 80th anniversary fest next year (of the 1934 Theatre fest that Welles staged with Hilton Edwards and Michael Macliammior). Chuck was wondering why there were cameras there at the stage dedication, because he knows I have my own project. I told him that the joke was originally, since my project was started in 1988, “was CITIZEN WELLES going to be ﬁnished before the 20th Century was over?” Now the joke is, “Is the ﬁlm going to be ﬁnished before the end of the 21st Century?” I’ve since been approached by several people, including an afﬁliate of the BBC which surprised me. They had done the Arena documentary back in 1982, probably one of the better documentaries on Welles. We put together this expansive 30-minute work-in-progress trailer, which we did copyright...and one of the original investors, who wanted us to at least get Volume One done in time for the 100th birthday, was concerned that I might be giving away things in my interview for Chuck that they wanted kept secret for my ﬁlm. So there’s been a bit of pressure from my friends and investors in the project not to “show my cards”, so to speak. LF: You mentioned footage of the Todd School and Roger Hill. Have you thought of putting some of that together for the celebration next year? MD: I’m going to take a lot of stuff from Volume One and use it for these oneminute promos, for both next year and the 100th. It’ll be showing bits and pieces of it to promote both the fests and my documentary; hopefully it will serve a two fold purpose. So one thing I’ve thought about is releasing Volume One at the beginning of 2015, then a few months later release Volume Two, then at the end of the year release Volume Three. That way, we can get the whole thing off the shelf. Next year would be a perfect opportunity to show the Woodstock stuff, so it’s certainly possible we could show some of it as a “work-in progress”.
1992 Othello Restoration
LF: Last year marked the twentieth anniversary of the restoration of OTHELLO that you produced for Beatrice and the Welles Estate. What are your thoughts as you look back on that? MD: In regards to the Othello restoration, I had wanted Harvey Weinstein and Miramax to be the distributors. I think they would have done a better job; we wouldn't have had a situation where there were too many cooks in the kitchen, and I think it would have made more money. Instead we went with the distributor that we did, and in getting a project like a Welles ﬁlm done, one keeps one's silence. One of the stigmas attached to Orson Welles, even postmortem, is the fact that his projects have the stigma of being problematic subject matter. We were trying to be altruistic about it, to just get on with the show, but we had a distributor who played musical chairs with the laboratories, they had some problems with the timing on the dialogue track, and it became over processed. I had a DAT tape that I would listen to, and with all these test prints that were being made in New York and sent back to Chicago, it became clear that something was not right. Unfortunately, it got far enough down the road so that even at the (World premiere) screening at the Lincoln Center, it was just not our soundtrack. The other producer Arnie Saks, and I, tried to send them some original elements to make changes, but as it turns out, the distributor had gotten a hold of a test track, thinking it was a master track, and an untimed work print which they used as an interpositive for making a duplicate negative. Obviously, because they did not realize they were in possession of the wrong elements, they did additional work in an attempt to rectify the situation for the theatrical release. It was during that process that they did a couple of things that we disagreed with. One was that they eliminated the chanting of the monks, in Latin, at the beginning of the ﬁlm. We said, "What the hell are you guys doing?" and they said, "Well, modern audiences don't understand Latin anyway, so we're going to yank that out." It was one of those moments where you can put yourself in a straight jacket if you're not careful. Even Jonathon Rosenbaum called them up and said "Put it back in." So the chanting was back in time for the ﬁlm's Academy VHS release.
We improved the image quality for the UK and Image discs. After the Image DVD was released, Cinar released a VHS having obtained the rights from the nowdefunct Academy Home Entertainment. Their release on VHS has a documentary on the restoration, and this uses the same artwork and cover front that was used by Criterion, which we provided. So there’s a VHS made when VHS was still a viable format that has a very clear picture, virtually artifact free. The primary restoration was done in early 1990-91 when we were at a crossroads between the analog and digital ages, and there are still purists who do consider what you’re doing in terms of manual restoration versus digital restoration, how the two compare, etc. We had a kind of hybrid approach - and of course, the technology has tremendously evolved - but we’re real proud that we were a part of that with the Othello project, and that it turned a Bunsen burner up on studios looking at other art fare that they had in their archives, which created a restoration industry. However, the term “restoration” took on a more expansive deﬁnition, and it got to the point where you made a print from a cleaned up negative, and that was considered a restoration.
Michael Dawson with Welles for Magazine article on the restoration
Original 1-sheet poster for the restored version
CRITERION’S OTHELLO LD
MD: In regards to the Criterion release, part of the problem with the restored version, and people’s contention with it, is the fact that Criterion had advertised the laserdisc as the “restored version”. It had marketed it as such, and in fact used the same artwork that was used for the restored version It’s the famous shot that lasts for about a second, in the scene just before Othello kills Desdemona. It’s such a stunning shot, that I said “That should be the cover”. And it also became a poster that was utilized, not everywhere, but by several theater chains as well as the Sarabande CD of the music, and the Cinar VHS release. Unfortunately, a lot of people bought the Laserdisc thinking they were getting the restored version. People who bought it would open it up, read the liner notes which were written by Jonathon Rosenbaum, and realize that no, they were looking at the original version. And so we received approximately 100 letters complaining about it not being the restored version. Of course, there was a legal issue as well; those rights were purchased prior to the DVD era, and Image Entertainment, which had obtained those rights, passed them on to Criterion, and got very upset when they didn’t use the restored version. Criterion got caught in the crosshairs legally, and I think there was an out of court settlement, which involved yanking the Laserdisc off the shelves, accordingly. I’m not against people seeing the original version; the paradox in that case is that Othello is probably the one Criterion Laserdisc that has the greatest number of production credits. I talked to Gary Graver not long before he passed away, and he said they made the LD from a 35mm print, and there was consternation on the part of Criterion in that there was a restored version out there, and the original version needed to be cleaned up as much as possible, so there wouldn’t be such a difference between the restored version and the original. Hence, there was a huge effort on the part of Criterion to create an extremely cleaned up original version - in terms of ﬁltering the soundtrack, doing all kinds of timing to improve the image quality, and doing what, at that point, was some very primitive digital cleaning – in order to close the gap between the two.
So people had the original version when they thought they had the restored version. But here’s a second thing: There were also a lot of people who bought it thinking it was the restored version, and never bothered to read Rosenbaum’s liner notes explaining that it was not. So after watching the ﬁlm, they concluded that the “restoration” was not very good. Unfortunately, Beatrice was victimized by this too, since people would say, “Oh, she did a lousy restoration.” There are scratches there, it has a really high artifact level, the sound is not that good, and they talked about ﬁxing the lip-sync, but the LD is still out of sync, etc.. So there was a negativity because people thought “Oh, we’ve been hearing about the restored version, and after taking a look at the laserdisc, it’s a decent version of it per se, but it doesn’t look restored. And they said they re-recorded the music score, but it doesn’t sound that good to me.” We got even more letters complaining about that; about two to one. Then we would have to explain to people to read the liner notes…that it was the original and not the restored version. And so what came out of all this was a kind of schizophrenia regarding the restoration, with some taking issue with Beatrice, and some taking issue with the restoration in general. But certainly when it was ﬁrst released, about 90% of the critical community’s reaction was very positive. It got great reviews, and that’s why we all kept our mouths shut about all the various problems we’d been having. Criterion’s Othello Laserdisc’s liner notes were written by Jonathon Rosenbaum, a ﬁlm critic and a leading Welles scholar. So the antagonism towards the restored version began with Jonathon who wrote an article in the Chicago Reader called “Othello Goes Hollywood”. Not everyone agrees with him, and even those who agree with him in print have told me something else privately. A lot of the technicians that worked on it have a disdain for ﬁlm critics and scholars, because they don’t always understand some of the fundamentals of production. They tend to go out on a limb, and sometimes go too far out and fall off. I personally don’t have the fervor of a Rosenbaum or McBride. The whole purpose of the restoration was to eliminate those technical ﬂaws that are always pinpointed as further examples of Welles going downhill after Citizen Kane, particularly his later soundtracks. LF: Any chance we’ll ever see that 3-DVD set of OTHELLO, like the complete MR. ARKADIN? MD: Maybe. The problem is that when you compare the Image Entertainment DVD version to the Cinar Version, other than having substantial artifact reduction, the differences may not be substantive enough to warrant having both in the same DVD set.
LF: But there’s also the European version, the original that won the Cannes Film Festival, which has different editing at the beginning. MD: Yes, you could include that as a “European” version if you want, since it was also an edit by Welles himself. But then you get into an argument of saying “Wait a minute. You’re re-releasing an earlier edit that he had? Which one rules, his earlier or his later?” Assuming he did one ﬁnal edit on the ﬁlm, there’s a strong argument that that’s the way he wanted the ﬁlm to be seen. But I would be up for that; a set including both the original Cannes and restored Chicago versions. But to include all three might be redundant. Now, I don’t want to appear to be anti-Jonathon Rosenbaum, because I still consider him to be an associate and a friend, and I have great respect for his writing ability. It’s just that we have this gentleman’s disagreement about the OTHELLO music score. But there’s no real point of contention about the visual portion of the ﬁlm. Michael Pendowski, was the transcriber of the Othello score which was composed by Angelo Francesco Lavagnino.
TOP LEFT: Sarabande CD of the rerecorded OTHELLO score TOP RIGHT: Jonathon Rosenbaum, ﬁlm critic and leading Welles scholar BOTTOM LEFT: Alberto Francesco Lavagnino, composer of the original score BOTTOM RIGHT: Michael Pendowski, transcriber of the redone score
OTHELLO MUSIC SCORE RECONSTRUCTION
MD: One of the main complaints about the restored version was that we took Othello stereo, but I remember Graver, as well as, if I remember correctly, Chris Welles Feder, telling me that Welles had wanted to re-release both MACBETH and OTHELLO in stereo. The real reason we re-recorded the music score was because the original score had been recorded optically, and was over-modulated, so there’s about 10-15 percent of the frequency response that was clipped at both ends. When we began analyzing those optical tracks we realized that there was a lot of nuance that people would not be hearing, so when we re-recorded the music with members of the Chicago Symphony and Lyric Opera, it was much closer to what Lavignino had recorded originally. There's a phenomenon that we call the "dirty-plate syndrome", where people become used to a particular aesthetic, so that when something gets cleaned up you're hearing things for the ﬁrst time. One can garner from a purist point of view that "Well, this is different, therefore it's not part of the artist's original intention." The best example I can give of that is when they cleaned up the Sistine Chapel. When they eliminated the brown varnish caused by modern 20th Century automobile pollution along with centuries and centuries of candle soot, the images became day-glow; but that's how they looked when Michaelangelo came off the scaffold. So that's kind of our counter argument to that. I think the issue gets down to eliminating technical ﬂaws, so that we're allowing people to appreciate the aesthetics that were always there to begin with. The purists came back with the idea that those technical ﬂaws are in fact aesthetic virtues, and that's where I'm willing to have a debate. LF: Well actually, Rosenbaum was complaining because Michael Pendowski (who reconstructed the music score) didn't use Lavignino's score, which existed in Rome. He had problems with Pendowski's orchestration because they didn't use all the mandolins. Jonathon said the original used forty mandolins, which I think is an exaggeration. MD: Well ﬁrst of all, the mandolin is not an orchestral instrument, and in the original soundtrack there were not forty mandolins. One of the things that Jonathon doesn't realize is that, by 1991 technical standards of equipment capability, we were able to analyze how many mandolins there were. I know Welles said that there were forty - maybe that's what he had wanted, maybe that's something he thought he could get away with saying - but the bottom line is that there were not forty mandolins in that original soundtrack. So one gets into this area where one says "C'mon in, and we'll show you that there were not forty", and there's a resistance to that because, if you have an academic argument and someone's going to technically prove it wrong, then one wants to avoid facing the reality of that situation.
There was a lot of research done as far as those scores were concerned, and we eventually found, not the original score, but a copy of the worksheet score that was used, and it was a perfect match with what Michael had done. What I think happened - and I think this gets into a situation where one domino knocks over a whole series of dominos - is that Michael had been up all night and was tired, and I think he and Rosenbaum got into a major argument. Michael didn't know who Jonathon was, and Jonathon considers himself to be one of the foremost Welles scholars. For a gentleman doing a reconstruction of the music score to a great Orson Welles masterpiece, there was some friction caused by not knowing who Jonathon Rosenbaum was. It was an unfortunate situation; I had not debriefed Michael in that regard, and there was a bit of an argument that occurred there, and unfortunately it got into a situation where Jonathon took issue. Also, at one point, one of Lavignino's offspring said "I don't think that's my Father’s score", but I'm telling you, that if you listen to what Welles says about that score on the Arena BBC documentary, he says, "the music score was originally beautiful. I don't know what happened to it." He told Gary Graver that it was one of his best scores, that's why he used Lavignino for CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT.
Coming: Part 2, The CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT restoration
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