Orson Welles' 50-year-old classic 'Othello'
is finally restored and released in DVD
Orson Welles' troubled classic, "Othello," finally made it to retailers shelves this month in a DVD version after nearly a decade in the works.
As Welles might have said in a basso profoundo quivering with hidden meaning, "ahhh, therein lies a tale," as to how the 1948-1952 labor of love was finally restored for release by Screen Time Images' (formerly Sensory Technologies') Sean McKee and freelance editor Karen Sheehan. McKee was also an audio engineer on the project.
Producer Michael Dawson, who had been involved with the project since 1992, hired Screen Time Images to remaster the 50-year-old film. The company's Discreet Flint in their Downers Grove, IL studio was conveniently "just down the block from Dawson" and the only Flint in the western suburbs, noted McKee.
The history behind "Othello" is as complex as the Shakespearean tale itself. Welles filmed it in various stages whenever he had the money, but when the film got to editing, he was finally tapped out. With an out-of-sync sound track, over-modulated score and effects tracks missing from the final mix, the challenge was immense.
After Welles died, the original "Othello" nitrate negative was lost in a New Hersey warehouse until Welles' daughter, Beatrice, reclaimed it in the early '90s. Dawson was producing a Welles documentary when he and Beatrice got together and agreed that Dawson would restore "Othello".
The original nitrate film was smoothly color-corrected scene-by-scene on Editel's Rank. Then Editel was sold and somehow the elements were shuffled to a previous Editel owner where they languished until a few years ago.
Image Entertainment asked Dawson to remaster "Othello" for DVD release. When they saw the D1 version, "we realized it was drop-dead gorgeous," said Dawson. "Now audiences can see how 'Othello' was supposed to look." A VHS was made off it.
The downside was, the base abrasion and bright, white emulsion chipping were more evident and dominating on D1 and couldn't be repaired by a lab at the film level.
In a total of 3 weeks, McKee and Sheehan restored it in the Flint. They did a reveal frame, McKee explained, a type of paintbox where images are stacked vertically in the computer where any base abrasion is revealed. They removed the white tones in the abrasion and emulsion chips through paint removal.
The original sound track was remastered, and they edited some sound effects that should have gone into the original restoration. "Most of the dialog was overdubbed, never recorded on location. It lacked realism and depth," stated McKee. "We livened it up, making it sound more realistic to match some of the cavernous locations in the film."
McKee had asked Sheehan to work with him because they had established a relationship while cutting corporate videos for Sensory clients. They were excited to have played a part in reviving the classic film.
Included in the home video release is a 30-minute documentary on the restoration process, also edited by Sheehan at Screen Time Images on Discreet Edit.
Screen Time Images (formerly Sensory Technologies Inc.) is located at 974 Estes Court Schaumburg,IL 60193 - phone, 847-534-9000