The Complete Mr. Arkadin

By Hemphill, Jim | American Cinematographer, October 2006 | Go to article overview

The Complete Mr. Arkadin


Hemphill, Jim, American Cinematographer


The Complete Mr. Arkadin

(1955)

1.33:1 (Full Frame)

Dolby Digital Monaural

The Criterion Collection, $49.95

In 1955, Orson Welles foreshadowed the coming of the French New Wave with Mr. Arkadin, a movie that combines disparate genres with wit and style. Like later films by Jean-Luc Godard, Mr. Arkadin serves as both an affectionate homage to American film noir and a self-conscious deconstruction of the form; it also develops ideas about time and space that Welles began exploring in Citizen Kane. Yet this innovative detective story has never gained the critical or popular recognition of Welles' bestknown works. Perhaps this is because the picture has always been as elusive as its mysterious titular characterover the years, five versions of it were released, most of them without Welles' participation or approval. One of the most famous incarnations, the European release known as Confidential Report, nearly destroyed the film's flashback structure, yet it was still strong enough to be named one of the greatest films ever made by Cahiers du cinema in 1958.

The Criterion Collection's threedisc package The Complete Mr. Arkadin includes Confidential Report and two other versions of the film, and this indispensable boxed set allows the viewer to investigate the Arkadin mystery. Battles between Welles and his producer, Louis Dolivet, prevented the release of a definitive directors cut, but comparing and contrasting the three edits contained in this package is an illuminating exercise that yields many rewards.

The first Mr. Arkadin in the set is the "Corinth" version, named after its U.S. distributor. This is believed to be the last cut over which Welles exerted significant influence; it retains his narrative structure, which relies heavily on flashbacks. On the project, Welles continued his tradition of working with expert cinematographers, collaborating with French cameraman Jean Bourgoin (Black Orpheus, Mon Oncle). Bourgoin was proficient in the kind of deepfocus photography that Welles favored, and this transfer captures all the rich detail in the vivid black-and-white visuals, though there are occasional scratches and dirt on the source material. Film scholars James Naremore and Jonathan Rosenbaum provide a delightful commentary track that combines visual analysis, biographical context and production anecdotes.

Although the narrative restructuring might lead some to dismiss Confidential Report, the second disc in the set, it is no less Welles' film than the others. As filmstudies professor François Thomas points out in his superb essay, the overall shape is compromised, but the editing of individual scenes is in many ways superior to that of the Corinth version. …

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