Welles once wept while watching a mutilated AMBERSONS, and was scathing about all the release versions of ARKADIN; as far as he was concerned, those films had been butchered past all consideration. Regarding TOE, MACBETH, LADY FROM SHANGHAI and THE STRANGER Welles was more sanguine, but left little doubt that his preferred final cuts were different from what was eventually released.
On the other hand, KANE was all Welles; OTHELLO, despite existing a a couple of variants, was specifically placed by its director in the plus column. Welles was also extremely proud of the release version of THE TRIAL, more so, it seems, than were many of his acolytes, including Truffault, Bazin, and Bogdanovich.
CHIMES was Welles's favorite of all his films, the one that he felt best approximated his vision.
Of this there is no doubt; he stated it over and over again, in interview after interview.
This leads me to believe that, while CHIMES may exist in six variants, the differences don't amount to a hill of beans, as it were.
There is a difference between having one's film taken away and reedited by hacks, and being forced to stop tinkering so that the producer can release it and get some of his money back.
The release version of CHIMES was rough, as were the release versions of OTHELLO and THE TRIAL, but Welles always said movies should be rough. For Welles, clarity of vision was not necessarily perfection of technique. One of the great paradoxes of Welles's career is that only a man with an absolute mastery of the mechanics of filmmaking, could have produced the sloppy masterpieces that are THE TRIAL, CHIMES, and F FOR FAKE.
Kubrick, another master and perfectionist, often reedited his films after initial release, yet no one could sanely claim that either variant was not the director's full intention at the time. Being able to do so was a sign of Kubrick's power, not his weakness. We are so used to seeing Welles as a victim, often for very good reason, that sometimes we miss when he wasn't.
For a true artist, nothing is ever right; there is always something you could have done differently, more vividly, more concisely, better. But eventually you have to stop. Sometimes you have to be told to stop. Some times you have to be forced.
Welles, of course, loved to break all the rules. He broke this rule, too. He started filming DON QUIXOTE, so that he had something that was all his. So that no one could tell him, force him, to stop.
I've emailed Robert Monell, asking him to weigh in on this topic, to help clarify what happened with Welles, CHIMES, Franco, and Saltzman. I hope he responds. But, while interesting, I don't think we are in for any earth shattering revelations. I doubt that any of the so-called six versions of CHIMES are substantially different from the film that we all know and love.
Because Welles loved CHIMES too. He wouldn't have loved it if it wasn't his.