Filmmaker Andrew Dominik’s haunting 2007 Western The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford has only grown in stature since its release, and fans of the film have been clamoring for it to be added to the Criterion Collection for years. That has yet to happen, but if it does, there’s an extended cut that the film’s cinematographer—the legendary Roger Deakins—would like to see released.
Jesse James marks one of the highlights of Deakins’ esteemed career (which ranges from No Country for Old Men to Blade Runner 2049 to Fargo), and when Collider caught up with the filmmaker at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival to speak about his new film The Goldfinch, we asked about a possible Criterion release of Jesse James. Deakins not only agreed the film should be added to the Criterion Collection, but revealed there’s an even longer cut of the movie he’d love to see restored:
“It should be [on Criterion]. I would really like to see the long version, the first cut that I saw, released on Criterion. That’s what I’d hope for… It was over three hours. I don’t think it ever will, because last time I talked to Andrew about it he was quite happy with the version that got released. But I still remember that first early cut that I saw that was like three and a quarter I think, and it was pretty stunning. There was a four-hour version. The first cut was like four hours, I seem to remember.”
The existing version of the film runs two hours and forty minutes, so that’s about 35 minutes of additional footage that hasn’t been seen. Deakins went on to sing the praises of Domink’s film, which unfortunately grossed less than $4 million at the domestic box office upon release, but has since gone on to become a beloved cult favorite:
“I think what he got was the book. If you ever read Hansen’s book, it has that sort of mythical, poetic feeling about it. The kind of Peckinpah feeling of something passing. The world changing and these characters kind of being left behind by the world, which I’m feeling myself right now (laughs).”
It’s odd that Jesse James hasn’t landed on Criterion yet given its stature in the cinephile community, but as of a few years ago Dominik himself said he didn’t think they were interested:
“I don’t think Criterion are interested in it. I don’t think that they feel it’s significant enough for them. There was this really lovely guy, who was a film student, that organized this Jesse James revival, either last year or the year before. He was a film student or something, and Jesse James is his favorite movie. He basically took it upon himself to create a Jesse James revival and he set up all these screens at various Cinematheque type of things. He tried to get Criterion interested, and they weren’t.”
Here’s hoping the greatest living cinematographer Roger Deakins himself might be able to nudge Criterion in the right direction?
For more of Collider’s TIFF 2019 coverage, click here. Also, check back for our full interview with Roger Deakins later this week.
Finally, a big thank you to our presenting sponsor Nordstrom Canada and supporting partners Marriott Bonvoy and Ciroc Vodka for allowing us to have the Collider Lounge at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival.