Exploring the Artifacts #11: Main Title Inspirations No. 2
Exploring The Artifacts is a series in which I examine some unique and significant components, or by-products, of cinema storytelling that are often under-appreciated.
This is the second in a series celebrating the creative artists who contribute to a work's formal introduction. Occasionally this display of inspirational energy can be sustained throughout a film's running time. Often it can't, but this shouldn't diminish one's appreciation for the tremendous talent behind some wildly captivating title credits that could have otherwise been a dull, distracting way of simply identifying those responsible for what we are experiencing.
Touch of Evil (1958)
Director: Orson Welles
Many cineastes are aware that over the years Universal Studios has released 3 different versions, all of them both theatrically and on video, of what many consider is the last film noir made during the classic time period, Touch of Evil.
After the film's writer, director, and co-star Orson Welles presented his rough-cut to the aforementioned studio, it was significantly altered, with some additional reshoots performed by director Harry Keller in late 1957. Some of Keller's scenes were new, others replaced Welles' footage. Welles screened this new cut and wrote a 58-page memo to Edward Muhl, Universal's head of production at the time, outlining his desired changes with detailed explanations as to why he wanted them performed. This was largely ignored and the film was released in a 93-minute version.
In the mid-1970s, Universal found a 108-minute print in its archives. Although falsely advertised as "complete, uncut and restored" it was, in fact, a preview version. It featured some important scenes Welles had shot that were cut from the 1958 release and interestingly enough, more of Keller's material.
In 1998, noted sound editor Walter Murch re-edited a version based on Welles' memo, compiled from all of the previously available material. With the help of Bob O'Neil, Universal's director of film restoration, and Bill Varney, Universal's VP of Sound Operations, this restored version became widely considered the closest to a "director's cut" that could conceivably be made, particularly since Welles' rough-cut no longer existed.
One of the changes Welles asked for in his December 1957 memo, and that Murch complied with, included removing the credits and Henry Mancini's music from the film's justifiably famous introductory sequence: A dazzling single-camera shot with no cuts, sustained for nearly 3 and a half minutes.
Welles makes it quite clear in his detailed petition that he desired this opening to feature "a succession of different and contrasting Latin American musical numbers" wafting out of various "joints" along the border town. In other words, the music of the streets, including some which is played over car radios, was to be the only music heard on the soundtrack. And this restored beginning is indeed a revelation, allowing its audience to better focus on the inventive choreography of the characters, and surrounding cultural ambiance, as well as the stylishly innovative manner in which all of these sights and sounds are portrayed. This is the version probably preferred by most critics and audiences alike.
Some of us older cinema lovers, however, exhilarated by the previous versions' sudden opening credits accompanied by Mancini's rhythmic and boldly-thematic jazz-blasting themes that contrapuntally build, ebb and flow in perfect synch with the imagery, might be reluctant to forget about these added ingredients... especially considering the context and history of inspired cinematic introductions.
Thankfully all 3 versions, along with a reprint of Welles' memo, exist in Blu-ray and DVD packages. And no matter which version you enjoy, one thing is for certain: Your heart and mind belong to Welles from beginning to end. The distinctively enthralling events and characters are furiously delivered vis`a vie an unprecedented visual flamboyance. The opening's captivation extends all the way to the finish-line and is guaranteed to put a smile on one's face whenever it is thought of for a long time to come.
In keeping with the subject matter headlined in this series, here is the opening of Orson Welles' Touch of Evil, from the 1976 (preview version) release:
Next Time: In Main Title Inspirations No. 3, another opening titles introduction this time without a note of music to accompany them served up "spaghetti style" by the great Italian director Sergio Leone for Once Upon a Time in the West.