The Criterion Collection announced its May of 2017 DVD and Blu-ray releases this past week and you’d be hard pressed not to acknowledge auteur filmmaker Orson Welles’ 1952/1955 film adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Othello as being the prized jewel among the newly restored selections for release during the month.
The film arrives on May 23 as a new 4K digital transfer and includes both the 1952 “European” cut of the film and the subsequent 1955 domestic theatrical cut on both DVD and Blu-ray as double-disc product offerings.
The story of the production of the film probably outshines the film itself, in that Welles literally had no production budget and thus it took from 1948 until 1951 to finally complete the start-and-stop-and-start again production.
It had festival presentations at both Turin and Milan in November of 1951 and then went on to win the Palme d'Or at Cannes in May of the following year. It wasn’t until September of 1955 that a domestic distributor (United Artists) could be secured.
Skip ahead to the early 1990s and the first attempt at restoring the film — including the fixing of sound and dubbing flaws — fell to Welles’ daughter, Beatrice Welles-Smith. She was able to locate the original negative and with the help of $1 million in restoration work a new result was obtained (the original restoration work alone cost many times that of the film itself … there’s a certain irony in that).
Now we have Criterion’s 4K restoration of both versions, which includes a commentary track teaming fellow auteur filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich with Orson Welles scholar Myron Meisel (producer and co-director of the 1993 documentary It’s All True).
Other bonus goodies include three newly-prepared video sessions with Welles biographer Simon Callow, Welles scholar François Thomas (discussing the differences between the two versions) and Ayanna Thompson, the author of “Passing Strange: Shakespeare, Race and Contemporary America,” a 2014 video interview with Welles scholar Joseph McBride and the 1953 short film titled “Return to Glennascaul.”
Whew! That release is tough to top … what a gem!
Other selections during the month of May from The Criterion Collection are: The late Chantal Akerman’s 1975 film release of Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (May 9, DVD and Blu-ray editions); Japanese filmmaker Yasujirô Ozu’s 1959 film, Good Morning (May 16, on DVD and Blu-ray); writer/director Jacques Audiard’s 2015 Cannes Film Festival Palme d'Or-winner, Dheepan (May 23, DVD and Blu-ray) and director Terry Zwigoff’s 2001 Oscar nominee for Best Adapted Screenplay, Ghost World (May 30, DVD and Blu-ray selections).
Lastly, May 30 is the street date for Martin Scorsese's World Cinema Project, Volume 2, a three Blu-ray/six DVD Combo Pack that showcases such arthouse film offerings as Limite (Portuguese), Revenge (Russian), Insiang (Tagalog), Mysterious Object at Noon (Thai), Law of the Border (Turkish) and Taipei Story (Taiwanese).