For budget-minded cineastes, this two-disc set of Orson Welles films is a welcome addition to any DVD library, even if it falls short of its claims. While the accompanying documentary demonstrates that The Stranger, The T... more »rial, and Welles's 1934 silent short Hearts of Age have been restored, source materials are not specified, inviting speculation that the films were digitally "cleaned" from video sources in the public domain. The films do sound better than ever with a subtle 5.1-channel remastering, and the visual quality is good but hardly pristine; Milestone Video's DVD of The Trial presents a crisper, sharper image. Those quibbles aside, the set's strengths do make for an acceptable and affordable means to appreciate Welles's visual ingenuity, stylized by cinematographer Russell Metty in Welles's conventional Nazi-manhunt thriller The Stranger, and by Edmond Richard in the brilliant, budget-constrained production of Kafka's The Trial. The films are excellent, and apart from critic Jeffrey Lyons's flaccid commentary tracks, this package treats them with all due respect. --Jeff Shannon« less
"If you are a student of film, and/or wish to see anything that issued from the fertile imagination of that cinematic genius, Orson Welles, then you probably will want to purchase a copy of "Citizen Welles". However, be forewarned, the razor sharp images, clarity and impressive gray-scale range of restored vintage movies that the DVD format has made commonplace will not be found on these disks. Here we are presented low resolution, soft-focus prints that may well be clean of scratches and blemishes, but that let us see none of the crisp details that the original negative must have contained. (Does the original negative even exist?)
The cover of the DVD case states, "Fully Restored and Remixed into Dolby Digital 5.1", and a documentary on the second disk explains in excruciatingly detailed mumbo-jumbo how much effort went into the restoration process. But the results are so poor (these restorers should really be embarrassed) that I can only assume they "restored" videotape transfers of rather mediocre prints. They certainly could not have been working with the original negatives, or with fine-grain archival master prints. ("The Trial" is a shade sharper than "The Stranger", but not by much.)
I was so very disappointed when I watched these disks because "The Stranger" has always been one of my favorite movies despite the fact that Welles, and many critics, consider it to be his worst film. I think I enjoy watching as the quiet facade of an all-American small town ("Our Town") crumbles to reveal its malevolent threat. Reminds me of Sherlock Holmes' observation while traveling through rural England, "It is my belief, Watson, founded upon my experience, that the lowest and vilest alleys in London do not present a more dreadful record of sin than does the smiling and beautiful country-side."
"The Trial", on the other hand, was ranked quite high by Welles, although I find it to be only an interesting exercise that is far too bleak and unrelenting for my taste. It is a film that must be studied by the student, I suppose, but its flashes of brilliance stop far short of being entertaining. "Hearts of Age" is a short home movie with little of interest except, perhaps, for the most avid devotee.
The documentary narrated by Richard France will tell you considerably more about the films in a few minutes than Jeffrey Lyons does in his full-length, silly, boring commentaries. Commentary tracks, for me, offer some of the real pleasures of DVD's. But Lyons comes to the task unprepared, and he spends his time talking about the music and the dialogue (which, apparently unbeknown to Jeffrey, is usually so muted that it can't be heard by the viewer while watching his commentary) as though he is seeing the film for the first time in years (or, perhaps, ever). His superficial observations present very, very little of interest, although he's a little bit better commenting on "The Trial" than on "The Stranger". He's obviously a movie buff who has seen a lot of films (I know . . . I know . . . he's a professional movie critic who gets paid to watch films . . . go figure), but commenting on an important film to a paying audience is clearly well beyond his level of scholarship and competency. I want to hear the erudite insights, observations, and behind-the-scenes gossip of an authority, not the prattle of a popinjay who apparently has had too much coffee. (Sorry . . . nothing personal, Jeff. I'm sure that you're a very nice guy. It's just that you took my money but didn't earn it!)
The definitive "restorations" of these movies continues to elude me, but I will continue to dream. Until then, if you want to watch either of these films, buy (or better yet . . . rent) either this DVD or any videotape of these movies. Either will provide the same viewing experience, although the videotape will undoubtedly be a superior print."
Jeffrey Lyons doesn't get out much.
The Weary Professor | NJ, USA | 12/16/2001
(2 out of 5 stars)
"The cover of this release boasts a quote from film critic Jeffrey Lyons that "This restoration is in perfect condition. Orson Welles would have loved seeing it." Yeah, seeing it burn like a sled. In his tedious and obvious audio commentary ("Note the ominous use of shadow") Jeffrey raves about how gorgeous the transfer of The Stranger is and how it's the best version he's ever seen. Huh? There are better versions of both films out on VHS, laserdisc and DVD (The Roan Stranger and the Image Trial). The restoration documentary makes it clear that the producers of this set found the (worst) looking prints of these films imaginable to restore. I've seen better ones projected in my college film classes. The only reason to buy this set is to get Hearts of Age, the film shot when Orson was 18."
The strange `production' company should be put on trial
Dr. Thorsten Ohl | 01/01/2002
(1 out of 5 stars)
"As noted by other reviewers, these films are not restored from film, but from poor video sources. The clowns in the `documentary' even admit it, if you listen carefully. The part of the commentary that I could stand was poorly prepared and repeating the obvious. Since `The Trial' is the much more interesting film of this double feature, I regret having preordered this release instead of buying the appearantly better other DVD release of `The Trial' ..."
Unbelievably bad DVD transfer
Edward Torpy | Reston, VA | 10/26/2003
(1 out of 5 stars)
"If one reads between the lines of Amazon's editorial review of Citizen Welles, you'll see a serious concern about the quality of the digital transfers of these movies. The Trial is probably passable, although very far from being "pristine". However, The Stranger is truly shocking in terms of how bad it looks. If you've ever seen a public domain movie on VHS from a fly-by-night distributor, you'll have an idea of how bad The Stranger looks on this set. Even if the source materials used for these DVDs were video tapes originally sold to consumers, it still doesn't explain why The Stranger looks this bad.By the way, there's actually a quote from Jeffrey Lyons (who does two very mediocre audio commentaries on this set) that says "This restoration is in perfect condition. Orson Welles would have loved seeing it." I can't imagine how Jeffrey Lyons could say this, although I'm sure the money he got paid for his contribution to this DVD set has something to do with it. Orson Welles was one of our greatest directors and his movies don't deserve such shabby treatment."
You Get What You Pay For
Store Hadji | 02/07/2006
(3 out of 5 stars)
"No one is lying when they say the video quality of these prints is not great. They look okay, and that's it. It's hard to find any copies of The Stranger these days, so unless you snagged it off a TV broadcast you may have to settle for this one. The Milestone DVD of The Trial looks much better, but is very expensive.
The set is worth buying in order to add Hearts of Age to your collection, which Welles referred to not as a "film" but as "a little joke one Sunday afternoon."
The commentaries by Jeffrey Lyons are the worst I've ever heard. He should be ashamed of himself.
The soundtracks are only available in the 5.1 Surround Sound mode - for some reason the producers didn't see fit top include the original mono.
The video is okay. The Stranger looks a little bleached. I've seen much worse copies of both of these films.
If you need these for your library, go for it. Or if you feel like shelling the bucks for the Milestone Trial, then you will be better served.
Actually, the best quality DVD release of The Trial is by Studio Canal (under the title "Le Proces") - much better picture than the Milestone one."