Letter to VIDEO WATCHDOG (1992)

This was (mainly) published in Video Watchdog‘s July/August 1992 issue, with an accidentally deleted passage included in the errata section of their September-October 1992 issue.  -– J.R.

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A brief note of clarification about my liner notes to the Criterion laserdisc of CONFIDENTIAL REPORT -– cited and questioned by Tim Lucas at the beginning of his excellent article [VW 10: 42-60]. The only reason why I failed to mention a third and (in my opinion) better version of MR. ARKADIN in these notes –- a version discussed by Lucas elsewhere in this issue –- is that I was under strict instructions from Criterion not to bring this matter up. I reluctantly agreed to this suppression of information only because I knew I would be writing about this version elsewhere (in [the January-February 1992 issue of] Film Comment), and I’m mentioning this anecdote now because I think it dramatizes the thin line separating criticism from publicity in most liner notes -– a general problem that readers of this magazine should be alerted to.

I don’t wish to denigrate the often fine work done by Criterion in making many important works available, but I do believe that the level of scholarship that’s attainable in commercial enterprises of this sort varies considerably from case to case. To mention in passing what may (or may not) be a related problem, five words or phrases in my original notes –- “definitive,” “witnesses,” “ugly American,” “uncanny,” and “neutral” — wound up being italicized on the jacket for reasons that remain unfathomable to me, while my last sentence was garbled by the addition of an irrelevant “the” after an “a”. It’s hard to impute sinister motives to any of this, but it does suggest that the care that’s often taken with video and laserdisc transfers isn’t always extended to the notes and information on the jackets.

Jonathan Rosenbaum

Chicago, IL.

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