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Friday, 17 November 2017

On Blu-ray - David Hare guardedly welcomes a new Criterion edition of Jean-Pierre Melville's LE SAMOURAI (France, 1967)

Criterion's new Blu-ray of perhaps many fans' favorite Melville picture, Le Samourai (1967) comes to us as a sort of mixed blessing. 
Alain Delon's hand, Le Samourai
The new 1080p encode is taken from quite an old master for Criterion's now prehistoric DVD, released way back in 2005. Criterion consciously dodged a bullet here for the Blu and avoided having anything to do with Pathé's relatively recent 4K restoration of Le Samourai from 2012. For those who don't already follow these things, the Pathé 4K and subsequent French Blu is one of a number of Pathé restorations which were finished and completely wrecked (there's no other word for it) with excessive filtering and DVNR (digital noise removal) in the grading and mastering process.  
In other words it was a waxy, over-scrubbed image with virtually no fine definition or grain management, or deep shadow detail. Pathé tried to make amends with a Blu-ray re-jig from a slightly less DVNR'ed master in late 2012 but both versions are hopelessly compromised by the extremely poorly executed 4K scan itself and the woeful grading on that - performed as so many of these fuckups were and still are by the French Post House Lab. Eclair. 
Alain Delon, Le Samourai
So Criterion has gone back to a reliable but less than ideal source from 2005. It had no alternative, certainly given the enormous expense of mastering a new 4K, as Pathé is the sole copyright owner and Criterion would never recoup the expense. The transfer has a couple of issues which I will comment on without getting too technical.
The new color timings and grading is, like their 2005 DVD understandably, far more "neutral" in temp and less blue in tone than the original DVD release of the movie from 2002 on René Chateau video (which was also English subbed.) Overall I think the René Chateau's color temprature and cooler blue edge is more accurate to the original 35mm prints. 
Alain Delon, pet yellow canary, Le Samourai
And god knows Henri Decaë and Melville himself are on the record over and over about how they wanted to execute a virtually "desaturated" color film as though it were black and white. They may even have gone to the extent of "flashing" the negative before exposure and filming. The experiment in paler contrast is even more pronounced in their photography for L'Armée des Ombres which had a very successful Blu-ray release on Studio Canal. The cooler blue temp which Decaë favored is also apparent on the exemplary Studio Canal Blu-ray of Le Cercle Rouge (1970). And not surpriginsly the blue tone is correctly replicated on the otherwise atrocious Pathe 4K of Le Samourai from 2012. 

So here's a good but not definitive new Blu of a major French title. I guess Criterion made the wise choice to do it now or never, in line with their ongoing program of revisiting all of their old DVD only titles in the HD format. And despite what I think is a too "neutral" color spectrum, it delivers a very nice viewing experience.

Thursday, 16 November 2017

Charlie Chaplin - the most-loved man of the Twentieth Century

(Click to enlarge)
The still is taken from an advertising card produced by Bologna’s Cinema Ritrovato. On the rear is the following text publicizing the 2014 edition of the festival.

In the words of its artistic director Peter von Bagh, the man who’s seen it all, Il Cinema Ritrovato is cinéphile’s heaven.

A marvellous time and space machine launched 28 years ago, travelling between Bologna and the rest of the world, transporting for eight days, from dawn to dusk, film and culture buffs through a wonderful journey in the XX century. A journey of staggering aesthetic experiences, historical spectacles, linguistic innovations, untamed classics, black and white, colour and hand coloured films, sound or silent and accompanied live by musicians, film print as well as digital projections. Eight fulfilling and memorable days to dive into the pleasure of unique screenings, to discover the best restorations of the year, to meet the main exponents of film history as well as current cinema.

The photo was taken in 1921 at the Opening of Chaplin’s The Idle Class. If you are able to watch movies on your computer you can find a beautifully restored copy of the film if you click here

Festival overload - Supercinephile Barrie Pattison tries to keep up with simultaneous Japanese, Polish, Jewish and Latin-American events

Well it had to happen. In the pre-Xmas peak we are being offered four simultaneous national movie manifestations - Japanese and Polish in the George Centre, Jewish at Cremorne and Bondi Junction and Latin-American at Paddington and Leichhardt. Each is packed with under documented new releases that might represent your one crack at something substantial - or might not.

Management seem to have given up on staggering these so that the audience can do justice to them all. They work on the principle that their native language speaker core audience won’t be bothered and stuff the poor film freak. Movie enthusiasts are notoriously lazy and inarticulate so the organisers are probably safe there.

So far it doesn’t seem to be working out too well though. I rocked up to the Verona to see Venezuela’s Oscar entry and was confronted with a no-show. The substitute was Felipe Barbosa’s Gabriel e a montanha, an Into the Wild replica in which young sustainable traveler student João Pedro Zappa works his way between cash dispensers in interchangeably scenic African countries, with the aid of interchangeably affable African locals. The fact that the lead is a plausibly non-movie star type is an asset. When he links up with his also appealingly unglamorous lady friend and they bicker about missing out on the elephant rides between romantic interludes, attention picks up for a while. This one is a very long 127 minutes though the photos of the real life traveler who lost his life on this excursion do add some impact.

I’ve also seen Manolo Caro’s Mexican La vida inmoral de la pareja ideal/Tales Of An Immoral Couple, a glossy would be raunchy romp with overtones of the Iranian Sperm Whale  (couple meet again after twenty five years) and dinner party films like Perfetti sconosciuti/Perfect Strangers  set among the well to do in Mexico City. This one is handsomely mounted with an assured, good looking cast (Paz Vega, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo) so it passes the time agreeably though without really delivering on its nice exposition. Despite the attempts at daring (discreet nude scenes, threesomes, sperm donation) it's pretty being bland.

So it’s back to the nineteen fifties and scurrying round the suburbs in search of rare screenings - though in those days you were rewarded with early Glenn Ford.
The young Glenn Ford