- Hardcover: 318 pages
- Publisher: University of California Press; 1st Edition edition (April 29, 1993)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 9780520078574
- ISBN-13: 978-0520078574
- ASIN: 0520078578
- Product Dimensions: 7 x 0.8 x 10 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 2 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,607,780 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Magnificent Ambersons: A Reconstruction Hardcover – April 29, 1993
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The story of The Magnificent Ambersons is one of the saddest in movie history. Directed by Orson Welles the year after Citizen Kane, this magnificent movie was butchered by RKO studios, which had wrested the final cut away from the director. RKO had become increasingly disenchanted with Welles after the box-office failure of Kane and the dismal reaction of Ambersons's preview audiences. In a futile attempt to make the second film more commercial, the studio tossed many of Welles's scenes onto the cutting-room floor and shot new sequences that led to a happy ending, ultimately transforming a dark 131-minute epic into a far more benign 88-minute work that manifested confusing changes of tone and sometimes degenerated into complete incomprehensibility.
Robert Carringer has done a splendid job of reconstructing this lost movie. His book contains a chronology of the Amberson family and a documentary history of the "ordeal of editing and reediting" the film. It provides a complete transcription of the film's original shooting script, illustrated with storyboards and photographic stills and accompanied by voluminous explanatory notes. It's a revelation to see the surviving cut of The Magnificent Ambersons and then refer to the book to find what the movie might have been, but Welles's screenplay is so literate that it makes fine reading on its own. --Raphael Shargel
From Library Journal
The Magnificent Ambersons was Orson Welles's 1942 follow-up to Citizen Kane (1941). Before the film's completion, Welles traveled to South America on assignment for the State Department, leaving post-production work on the film to RKO. After a test audience panned the film, studio heads scrambled madly to salvage their $1 million investment by cutting 50 minutes of Welles's footage and reshooting several scenes. The deleted film stock was burned, opening a permanent rift between Welles and Hollywood. Using shooting schedules, storyboards, and other studio documents, Carringer, author of The Making of Citizen Kane ( LJ 7/85), has reconstructed the original script, allowing readers to experience Ambersons as Welles envisioned it. Although not all will agree with Carringer's theory that Welles was as responsible for the film's failure as RKO or with his Freudian analysis of Welles's psyche, the film world nevertheless owes Carringer a true debt of gratitude for this volume. Essential for large film collections.
- Michael Rogers, "Library Journal"
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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But in this and in his book The Making of Citizen Kane, Carringer seems to adopt an antagonistic attitude towards Welles, as if he is trying to transform himself into Kael's heir. He writes from the point of view that if anything good or great is achieved in these two movies, it was in spite of Welles. Furthermore, in every instance of disagreement between Welles and the studio, Carringer systematically argues that RKO was invariably right and Welles wrong. The director may not have been perfect and did make some career and artistic blunders along the way, but Carringer's position is too extreme.
And of course, every critic who disagrees with him is viewed as over-indulgent or a Welles sycophant.
Which is too bad considering this book is the only source to offer the continuity script in its entirety; this material alone is evidence enough to completely discredit Carringer's thesis and to make one deplore even more sharply what we are missing in the butchered version that survives of the film. And as for his 5-cent psychoanalysis of Welles' family relationships and their impact on his professional work, I think we should observe a generous silence about its ludicrousness.
Other critics have proven it's possible to write balanced judgments on Welles, warts and all; Jonathan Rosenbaum, François Thomas and James Naremore among them (although in Naremore's case, the publisher did slap on his first essay the totally ridiculous title of The Magic World of Orson Welles.)
All in all, this book can be appreciated as making available source material unavailable elsewhere, a feat that will probably not be duplicated because of the dispersal of RKO's archives. The critical contents however must be taken with a kilogram of salt. I you can find it cheap, do not hesitate.