Ah, Orson, the bullgoose haunter of movies’ Memory Lane, the crazed king of cinema lost and, sometimes, regained. Here is one such recrystallized phantom from Welles’s scattershot autumn years, the infamous 1955 mystery-cum–mirror maze so often butchered that critic Jonathan Rosenbaum wrote an entire 1992 Film Comment article about the seven versions he could track down. A reworking of Citizen Kane‘s narrative chicanery on one level, this slippery movie is a perpetually unfinished symphony prophesying its own incompleteness, long since losing its right to be viewed outside of its own evasive history.
So, Criterion endeavors to form a thorough record, with three versions of the same film—the first two differently titled editions (each restored!) manhandled by separate producers, and the third a brand-new, “comprehensive” version. Plus, of course, mountains of detailed exegesis about the differences between them and how they got to be that way—what we end up with is not art or mad scholarship or even auteurism rescued from the abyss, but a seething cloud of unknown quantities, could-have-beens, and second-guessed authorial intent, not a work to enjoy but still an Arkadinian mystery to rummage through, all of it seemingly consciously imprinted on the text from the beginning. Who beside Welles academics would need to know so much? Can’t say for sure, but given the nature of Welles, this elusiveness is both inevitable and proper. But wait, there’s more: The box also holds a new printing of the Welles-credited Mr. Arkadin novel that the man may or may not have had any hand in writing. Plus radio programs, audio commentary, essays (by Rosenbaum, J. Hoberman, and others), and even a timeline of the project’s production, abuse, and rediscovery.