”Special negative restoration, digitally mastered” — from the techno-hype text on the package, you’d assume a lot of toil and trouble went into the 45th-anniversary cassette and disc editions of Orson Welles’ stark, intermittently brilliant filming of Macbeth. An added sticker asserts that this version has ”21 minutes of never-before-seen footage.” But beware these solemn incantations.
This cut is an expansion of the butchered 90-minute cut that circulated for years — a version that turned Welles’ fever-dream vision into a disjointed mess and replaced its Scottish-accented soundtrack with bland new line readings. Yet the newly touted ”restoration” was actually done back in 1980 by the UCLA Film Archives and the Folger Shakespeare Library. That complete version has played at film festivals and in revival theaters and was already released on video by Republic four years ago. Granted, the new laserdisc sports a well-researched alternate-audio-track essay by movie scholar Bruce Eder, who nicely pulls together a behind-the-scenes account of Welles’ low-budget 23-day shoot. But the tape adds no such bonus. And for all the harping on visual quality, Welles’ Macbeth doesn’t depend on pictorial detail so much as on blunt, looming shapes; the director once said he designed the movie to have the force of a ”violently sketched charcoal drawing.”
Why the disingenuous anniversary hoopla now, especially since the movie’s 45th birthday isn’t until 1993? Probably to exploit the publicity surrounding Welles’ 1952 Othello, which was restored and rereleased to theaters a few months ago. It’s well worth hailing Welles’ tortured Scottish king anew, but unless you own a disc player, Macbeth on video is no more regal than before. Tape: B Disc: B+