The Magnificent Ambersons (Cinema)

“Old times. Not a bit. There aren’t any old times. When times are gone, they’re not old, they’re dead. There aren’t any times but new times”

I adore the work of Orson Welles but outside of ‘Citizen Kane’ his filmography is difficult to come by, despite his fame. His career post Kane is a sad tale of studio interference and troubled productions. This has led to many of his films only being available on poor quality import DVDs featuring truncated cuts.  This is the case for his second film based on a book by Booth Tarkington about the decline of a great American family set against the backdrop of the advent of the Automobile.

So I ceased the opportunity to see an aged but beautifuly sharp print of 1942’s ‘The Magnificent Ambersons’ in a packed house at the BFI. The film I saw ran at 88mins but Welles’ original cut ran at an elegiac 148mins. The studio was unhappy with his cut so they mercilessly trimmed it while he was out of the country and later cruelly burned the negative (To save storage space!) denying future generations the chance to see it properly. Apparently the bulk of the cuts came from the end of the film and a new happy ending was filmed.  This is obvious in the flow of the film, as it seems to splutter and die towards the end like the combustion engines it chronicles. What is left are an assortment of brilliantly funny and painfully sad scenes that can’t help but feel somewhat disjointed. They hint at the epic family saga ‘Gone With The Wind’ while also containing  shades of the more intimate small-town portrait from ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’.  If you get a chance go see it, but dreams of what might have been may leave you with a heavy heart.

Here’s a brilliant blog post going in to much more detail about the history of ‘The Magnificent Ambersons’.

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