By John J. Puccio
For those readers who may not be familiar with the film, Magnificent Ambersens recounts the familiar tale of the demise of an American way of life in Yoknapatawpha county, with the dissolution of the once lofty Grierson dynasty and the depletion of the family fortune at the hands of modernity. The cast includes Anne Boxster as Dolores Costello, the demanding matriarch of the clan; young Timmy Holt as Richard Bennett, the handsome, ne’er-do-well; Joseph Cottonball as Sterling Hayden, the corrupt police captain; Peter Lorry as Heinrich Strasser, the gallant saloon keeper; longtime Mercury Theatre singers Agnes Moorfoot, Ray Collyns, and Edward Rochester as Othello’s household staff; and W.O.W. Mozert himself as the narrator, Paul Masson. Oh, and it’s an opera, so there are also some songs.
Together, they sing and act an unforgettably thrilling narrative of greed, mystery, and women in flimsy white negligees that no film buff, buffed or otherwise, should ignore. To say this new Director’s Cut is merely a melodramatic journey into fear, the equivalent of a black-magic stranger, a third man on the other side of the wind, a touch of evil, or a war of the worlds would simply be the expression of a deep-seated and quixotic riposte. No, this Director’s Cut restores the very essence of the songs, a trial no viewer should miss.
Incidentally, I understand that later this spring Maroon Studios will be releasing their big biographical epic of Mozert’s life, starring Tom Hanks as W.O.W and Arnold Alois Schwarzenegger as his good friend and buddy J.C.Penney Bach. Initially, the studio wanted Arnold to play Mozert, but Arnold refused, saying he’d rather be Bach. Anyway, something to look forward to.
In truth, it will be a long, hot summer in Shanghai before we see the likes of Mozert’s genius again. His Director’s Cut has already established itself above criticism, and far be it from me to peddle any word of reproach. At Classical Candor, we will sell no whine before its time.
In terms of overall appearance, the old, abridged, theatrical release of Magnificent Ambersens was a departure from the visionary, avant-garde, new-wave technology originally employed by Mozert. Always ahead of his time, Mozert had used widescreen, color, 3-D, and holographic (HG) photography to glorious advantage (despite his alleged claim that “no great film was ever made in color,” a nefarious misquote attributed to him by his enemies). But at the time of the film’s initial release in 1932, the studio would not have it Mozert’s way, bleaching out the color, cropping the frames, and eliminating the HG, three-dimensional sonic effects. Which is another reason the new edition is so welcome. What we have now in the Director’s Cut is the formerly deleted widescreen, color, 3-D, HG footage seamlessly intercut with the theatrical release’s standard-screen black-and-white. In the event a viewer should be uncertain as to which parts have been added to the older edition, the extra material has been clearly labeled with a large pink asterisk on the left-hand side of the screen. A pair of plastic HG glasses are enclosed in the reel’s case, and extra HG 3-D glasses may be ordered from the studio for viewers figuring on the unlikelihood of company.
Which brings up a final concern. With or without the HG 3-D glasses, the average viewer will probably not be able to discern much of what is going on. So, how was I able to see the picture when to you it will be a monumental blur? Because my equipment is better than yours, that’s why. But relax, because once you’ve finished reading my review, you’ll be able to hold an intelligent conversation on the subject with anyone. After all, that’s what reviews are for. You don’t have to go out and actually watch all those boring old classic movies that critics are always raving about. Just check out the reviews and people will think you’re smart.
George Lucas’s Industrial Light and Magic Show have remixed and remastered Mozert’s original 1.0 monaural sound with mixed results in Dolty Digital-DDT 12.4ESP Amos InteriorScope At-the-Most Surround. No longer is the music confined to a single location or even to a single set of speakers; it now arrives at the ear from within the ear. The sound resonants outward from the inner ear to the outer chamber, creating the sensation of being completely under water. It is quite an accomplishment from a company renowned for its creativity and innovation. When questioned about why they wanted to create so aqueous an illusion, Mozert and Lucas replied, “Because.” Which is good enough for us.
I had expected a musical-film release of this stature to be offered in at least a two-reel special edition, but, alas, it was not to be. The film and its extra materials are presented on one Zoetrope Super-8 strip, accommodating about twelve hours of content at a bit rate that failed to register on my Zoetrope player’s readout. Nevertheless, it is quantity that counts, especially in Hollywood.
The first and most important of the package’s bonus items is a new audio commentary by Mozert himself. In it, the director takes us on a frame-by-frame tour of the Macbeth mansion and grounds, with lucid explanations on diet and exercise. Although the feature film itself is not rated, the director’s commentary is classified R for sex, nudity, witches, and violence. Next up is a six-hour documentary, “Along for the Ride,” the director’s unexpurgated diary of his South American road trip, also rated R, this time for scenes of graphic weight gain.
The rest of the extras are of the more mundane variety and are best watched once and forgotten. There are, of course, the usual behind-the-scenes scenes of scenic scenes, these with on-air narration by both W.O.W. Mozert and Marlin Brando (ultra-widescreen recommended). Then, there is a short series of still pictures: a Rita Hayworth pinup shot (required viewing); a Zazu Pitts pinup shot (optional viewing); and an Agnes Moorehead pinup shot (children’s advisory warning). The extras conclude with a menu containing one scene selection; a pan-and-scan theatrical release trailer; a widescreen rerelease trailer; and an obscenely wide re-rerelease trailer featuring both Marlin Brando and Orson Welles on screen at the same time (barely). Although Scottish is the only spoken language provided, there are Danish subtitles for the Scottish impaired.
For film fans who will undoubtedly greet the Magnificent Ambersens Director’s Cut gleefully, there is even more cause for gleeful glee. Mozert recently let it be known that he and screenwriters Stanley Kubrick and Broken Lizard are putting the final touches on the long-rumored musical sequel to The Citizen Kane Mutiny. Slated for release some time in the fall, Raising Kane is the story of the reclusive billionaire’s illegitimate daughter, Sugar Kane Kowalczyk. It stars Jessica Rabbit and Betty Boop as Sugar, with Harry Lime, Michael O’Hara, Will Varner, Hank Quinlan, and Peter Bogdanovich in the immortal and possibly immoral saga of love, hate, sorrow, horror, humor, and women in flimsy white negligees, set within a backdrop of tragedy, redemption, and abstruse reconciliation. Although it sounds too good to be true, it is. True, that is. And abstruse, promising to blow the lid off the entire skateboarding community. There will, indeed, be chimes at midnight and trouble in the glen tonight! And one hard-boiled egg.
To listen to a brief excerpt from this tape, click below: