We’ve received a number of letters recently inquiring about the various versions of Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Last Emperor. I’ve been immersed in the film for several months now and wanted to clarify a few misconceptions.
When I started working on the project, I began with the assumption that we would be releasing both versions of the film—the original theatrical version (165 minutes, on the NTSC version) and the “director’s cut” (218 minutes, NTSC). Knowing that mastering would be the first step in the process, I reached out to the cinematographer, Vittorio Storaro, as we wanted him to be involved in a new HD transfer of the film for our release. He wrote back right away, mentioning that he had supervised a 2K transfer of the film in Rome a year or so back. I had accumulated the various European DVD releases of the film—all of which featured both versions—so I asked him which version he had transferred. His response was surprising. He said that the director-approved version of the film (and the one he supervised) was the one we all knew from seeing it screened in theaters in 1987—the 165-minute version.
Not long after we began corresponding, Storaro came to New York, and when we met he explained the story behind the two different cuts. The filmmakers had been required to deliver a four-hour television version as part of their original deal. They delivered four 50-plus-minute episodes, accounting for the 218-minute length. Gabriella Cristiani, the editor, and Bertolucci then continued editing until they had the picture they wanted. The film screened in movie theaters in 1987—and which swept the Oscars—is Bertolucci’s final cut.
Because we wanted this to be a “director-approved” release, I contacted Bertolucci, and he confirmed the above with the following response, which I cherish:
“I would be very pleased to present the theatrical version for The Last Emperor, but I’m perplexed on presenting the director's cut, because I wouldn’t know what else to say about a version that in my opinion is not much different from the other one, just a little bit more boring (as very often the director’s cut can be). That’s my sincere feeling.”
It seems that in the past few years, the television version has been improperly marketed as the approved “director's cut.” Our four-disc edition will also include this longer version, which is fascinating in its own right, but it will be called precisely what it is—the television version. In the past, we’ve released television versions of films (Fanny and Alexander and Scenes from a Marriage, to name two) that were the directors’ preferred cuts. In this case, we wanted to show the alternative—the different ways a director can refine and achieve his final vision.