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Wednesday, 10 February 2016

On Blu-ray - David Hare looks at new discs, considers possibilities and prompts a discussion about Jean Renoir's canon

Je t’aime, je t’aime       
This is a grab from the new Kino Lorber of Alain Resnais' wonderful Sci Fi movie Je t'aime je t'aime (France, 1968). And I think this is the first official English subbed version as well as the first Blu-ray. While it's great to have the movie finally available in this HD form I hate to say it but I'm not really happy with the color palette in this new scan and transfer. Like a lot of remastered material coming out of France, and particularly Gaumont HV in the last couple of years, the old Eastmancolor productions appear to have been given a new and noticeably gray undercoat, to the extent that pure whites and neutrals seem to be affected by blue further affecting the color balance and temp for the rest of the image. It's not radical but let's say it doesn't make me happy. While memory is notoriously unreliable I certainly remember a 35mm screening at one of Stratton's incomparable 60s Sydney FFs from a mint Eastman print and it shone and sparkled. Just look at Resnais' later color films and the engagement with gorgeous primaries and high concentration light. Anyway there it is. And it comes with my pleasure but my caution. If only we could really see this as it was intended, not to mention a properly color timed and framed Muriel (my favorite Resnais) on Blu.

Silver River
Here's a grab from a (new?) French Warner DVD of Raoul Walsh's Silver River (USA, 1948) which was never released in Region 1, even in the big Walsh/Flynn boxsets. I don't have this yet but I'm trying to establish if the French subs are optional.

Interesting to note a recent announcement from IVC in Japan of a slew of major RKO titles for Blu-ray release in February.  Apart from Ambersons (Orson Welles, USA, 1942) which is scheduled later his month, they include several key Lewtons/Tourneurs, four RKO Fords including She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (USA, 1949) and Wagon Master (USA, 1950), They Live by Night (USA, 1949) and more... mouth watering, but..... the masters are not from Warner HV but are held in Japan by local copyright arrangements so they will not be new transfers from any new 2K or 4K which might already be with WHV in the States currently or in prep. My feeling is to simply wait these out - again - unless of course reviews appear along the way to convince me (and anyone else) the IVC transfers are as good as we could also get from Warner HV. So far I am aware of existing HD streaming VODs of Tourneur's Cat People (USA, 1942) and Ambersons which are both very good and superior to the existing Warner DVDs and which I would guess are taken from new 2K or better remasters.

Le Trou
Meanwhile, on the subject of IVC Japan, one title it has transferred recently with great success IMO from Studio Canal's 1080p master is a high quality IVC Blu Ray of Becker's terrific Le Trou. But only optional Japanese subtitles, so it's fine if you speak French (and the dialogue is relatively clear to me so it might be for you.) Above is a grab or two.

The Southerner
J Carrol Naish gives newly arrived poverty row tenant farmer to Texas Zacahary Scott a life lesson in this monologue from Renoir's The Southerner (USA, 1945). This is a movie I was never quite comfortable with in Renoir's canon. James Agee's own reservations about the sheer obscenity of a "foreigner" even deigning to presume to understand the South were further wrong headed alienation. Well that was then... this radically life changing new Blu-ray from Frank Tarzi at Kino will oblige everyone who sees it to redefine their feelings about the picture. I am still watching it, but suffice to say for now the scene had me in tears. The emotional complexity, the sheer inversion of expectations about character, motive, interaction, affirmation, despair, loneliness, all openly brought to play in a two hander over not more than three minutes. Film-making at the very highest level. The only other directors to come near this degree of humanity are Ford and Leo McCarey. The disc is a major achievement and for once I am not going to waste any time documenting minor emulsion and film based issues with the 35mm fine grain used for the UCLA restoration and Kino's perfect 1080p transfer. This is, similar in tone to Toni from 1934, set in the USA during the TVA depression era, but without the sexual melodrama of Toni, and it's perhaps more like his next masterpiece from 1950, The River. The Southerner is a platform for humanity itself in such transcendent ways, delivered in an anecdotally written screenplay made up of incidents rather than over-riding narrative, by an enormously divergent range of actors, from a flawless Zachary Scott to Naish, Norman Lloyd, a theatrically "big" Beulah Bondi and even Betty Field, it approaches the near abstraction and formal perfection of The River four years later. It could perhaps be seen as a sibling to it. I am certainly inclining to that view.

......And an interesting and very cinephiliac Facebook follow-up conversation on Jean Renoir

Noel Bjorndahl
  Along with The Southerner I have 6 Renoirs I couldn't live without - La Nuit de Carrefour, Le Crime de M Lange, Une Partie de Campagne, La Bete Humaine (I'm too technically impaired to manage circumflexes, graves or acutes), The River and French Can Can (the last mentioned being the most exhilarating experience in all filmdom). I wish they were as prompt at sending The Southerner to Oz-your description has me salivating.

David Hare I think Noel all those are also my best, plus one more, La Chienne. I was always cool on Southerner, (and cool on those shithouse prints and VHS copies) and I agreed with Agee's dislike of the meandering (rather than novelistic) narrative and the broad performances, but honestly you look at it again and it's the River in embryo. And possibly as beautiful. In place of the bgr pan up the Flame tree, as Nature awakening, you get Scott catching the catfish. It's pretty wonderful. Norman Llloyd is too, as Naish's "special" son

Brecht Andersch Beautiful post, David. I'd also add in SWAMP WATER to the mix, with its hallucinatory evocation of backwoods Americana. Have only seen it once, some years ago, but in the form of an amazing 35mm print, which just bowled me over.

David Hare
 That;s too kind Brecht - Schawn Belston at Fox remastered it from a very good 35mm for Blu Ray and Swamp Water has had several outings in that fine format. I certainly like it a lot, as I do the leads Dana (honk!) Ann Baxter, and Brennan. And I personally love the largely all studio atmosphere. I also love his last US picture Woman on the Beach despite and because it was fucked up so much by the post preview editing and Renoir's own panic (just as he did on la Regle.) It shares a place for me with Vidor's similarly crazy maudit folly The Fountainhead.

Brecht Andersch Loved WOMAN ON THE BEACH, too, but have also only seen it once. Must rectify.

Noel Bjorndahl I had overlooked La Chienne, the best of his early sound films and a vivid dramatic, realistic snapshot of-is it Montmartre (?) So long since I've watched it and this discussion will incline me to another look.

David Hare There's a new 4K coming thisyear....

Geoffrey Gardner I'm somewhat surprised you guys are leaving out La Regle du Jeu. Among the late films, a recent viewing of Le Caporal Epingle was most rewarding too.

David Hare I have major reservations with La Regle Geoff (very similar ones as I do to La Grande Illusion) . Not the time or place here but some other time, perhaps over a cheeky mineral water (for me anyway.) Can't speak for Noel of course.

Noel Bjorndahl Hi Geoff, I don't seem to have as many problems with La Regle du Jeu as David, but I still think it was seen by an older generation as his ultimate masterpiece, with which I can't concur-there's just so much richness across so many of his films in every decade in which he worked. I love Boudu Saved from drowning, Toni, even Swamp Water. They all engage my emotions as well as my intellect. Woman on the Beach , for example, has more emotional intensity for me than La Regle and I probably love his overtly theatrical films like The Golden Coach and the aforementioned French Can Can with a passion because their particular kind of theatricality and film craft thoroughly engage me in a way that La Regle and La Grande Illusion for that matter do not, although I still acknowledge them as very important films. Almost everything in Renoir's work is. In some ways I'm deliberately splitting hairs but I make no apology for challenging the established wisdom. I think there can be no doubt that we all love Renoir. Along with Mizoguchi and Ophuls, he's right at the top of my personal pantheon.

David Hare There's nothing much to add to that except to say I concur with everything Noel describes. And must agree that Renoir's work is surely impossible not to see as a whole, like Mizo or Rossellini or Ophuls. The 30s period has been "academicized" so thoroughly it actually need to be badly de-academicized and reappraised. Among other things even a minor subject like On Purge Bebe requires analysis, just as - I believe - the schematization of La Regle and llusion acutally dmaages the films' emotional depth and spontaneity,


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