Too Much Johnson, Orson Welles’ long-lost film/theater project, is now available online, courtesy of The Dissolve: “The hour-long workprint of Welles’ Too Much Johnson has had a few public screenings since the announcement of its rediscovery and restoration last year. And as of today—literally, as of just a few hours ago—Too Much Johnson is being made available for free streaming and download at the National Film Preservation Foundation website. The fully restored 66-minute work print can be found here, while an attempt to cut the footage into a shorter form more like what Welles might’ve intended can be found here.”
Too Much Johnson was the second film movie Orson Welles ever made. He edited it himself on a Moviola machine in his room at the St. Regis Hotel. The first film he ever made was an eight-minute short called The Hearts of Age (watch it on YouTube here) that he shot in 1934 when he was just 19 years old. The third was his masterpiece Citizen Kane, so film scholars have long been intrigued by the elusive Too Much Johnson as the first movie Welles made for the paying public (even though the paying public never saw it) three years before Kane.
In 2008, a surviving print was discovered in the warehouse of a shipping company in Pordenone, a city in the northeast Italian region of Friuli-Venezia Giulia. It had apparently been abandoned there in the 1970s. The finders were staffers with Cinemazero, a cultural organization that together with Cineteca del Friuli runs Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, a silent film festival that draws scholars, critics and fans of the genre to Pordenone every Fall. Cinemazero staffers realized they had found a pearl of great cinematic price.
Here’s Welles biographer and actor Simon Callow on why the rediscovery of this little film is so significant:
It was filming these sequences that first made [Welles] fall in love with film; here he began to discover the possibilities not only of shooting but of editing. It will tell us an enormous amount about his visual sensibility and indeed about his theatrical instincts; at last we can really get a sense of what this recklessly inventive production for the Mercury Theatre might actually have been like had the film been used.
Cinemazero sent the film to the George Eastman House in Rochester, New York, where experts in film preservation spent years stabilizing, cleaning, restoring the footage so it could be copied to modern film and screened for the public for the first time. —Too Much Johnson found in Italy
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