Re: Rehabilitating Kazan? / Robert Wise and Magnificent Ambersons

From: David P. Hayes
Newsgroups: rec.arts.movies.past-films
Date: Sunday, February 08, 1998 8:14 PM

Al Tran wrote in message <34D572C6.65E5@mail.utexas.edu>…
>FilmGene wrote:
>> He [Wise] did not
>> personally set out to "destroy" Ambersons; that honor belongs to Welles who
>> abandoned the film in favor of his ill-fated South American gambit.
>
>I've always been inclined to believe Welles, and his supporters, who say
>that he did NOT abandon Ambersons for South America. According to him,
>he was appealed to by Rockefeller and RKO, as part of his patriotic
>duty, to go there and do a goodwill gesture type film.

That much goes along with what I've heard several times.

>Welles himself
>planned and tried to edit the film while in Rio. But the film tested
>badly(mostly because the wartime audience didn't want a depressing
>movie)…

My understanding is that the test audience laughed at the technique, at the beginning of the film, before they could have realized that there were depressing aspects to it. The narration came across as an effort to put pictures to radio, not as an efficient conveyance of the characterizations from five book chapters in a minute or two of screen time. Audiences in 1942 were more likely than today's to want of filmmakers that they be as Balzac described the best authors, "as like God in the universe: present everywhere but visible nowhere." Welles's hand and director was usually visible (figuratively), and to audiences that expected showy effects and know-all narration in shorts, newsreels and non-fiction shorts (e.g., "The Passing Parade" series) but not in features, Welles's type of drama required an adjustment that some audiences were apparently not willing to make.

>I try not to hold it against Wise, since I really like his movies. Its
>true that he was "following orders" or "just doing his job",
>but…forget it. I just think Wise is being a half-full fellow
>himself, trying to make himself a part of the half that made Ambersons
>watchable, and not the half that contributed to its butchering.

I have seen Wise interviewed in at least one documentary where he stated that had Orson been present at the initial preview and heard the rowdy reaction (called by some the worst reaction at a preview experienced by RKO up until that point), Welles would have realized the tremendous task confronting those who were physically within the RKO property at the time that a release version was being prepared.

--
David Hayes

 

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