Monday, 1 February 2016

On Blu-ray - David Hare looks at new discs of Confidential Report, The Wrong Man, I Confess & Fat City

Confidential Report/Dossier Secret (Mr Arkadin) (Orson Welles, France/Spain/Switzerland, 1955)
The terrific Carnival scene from Welles' Mr Arkadin. This is the French Carlotta Blu-ray from last year of the European 97m; 42s cut, Confidential Report/Dossier Secret. It's only regrettable Carlotta could not have packaged something comparable to Criterion's now 10 year old Mr Arkadin three disc-three cuts version with massive scholarship and extras by Rosenbaum, Naremore et al. But rights issues always limit these things. This delivers the originally Warner released Euro cut version from 1956 with a whopping 39Mbps bitrate and the flawless HD rendering which is only limited by the condition of the original master, presumably the same 35mm fine grain used by Criterion for their boxset in 2005. The movie itself is a hoot, Welles at his trashiest, one could say in his Ed Wood mode. But with super high quality (for Welles) production values, like relatively perfect dubbing, and frame perfect shot matching and timing. There are a number of frame jumps, probably attributable to timing notches which are probably inherent in the source 35mm but these are hardly noticeable except to a trained eye. Even such never-to-be stars as Robert Arden, always a poor man's Ralph Meeker, and Miss Mori, a poor man's Gina Lollobrigida, deliver such goods as are required for the narrative core, considering the whole picture really breathes through the bit players - Paxinou, Redrave, Tamiroff, Mischa Auer, and the rest. Extras include Simon Callow's piece from the Criterion disc, and the same ten minute reel of dailies with Welles fluffing dialogue. French subs are removable throughout the disc.

The Wrong Man (Alfred Hitchcock, USA, 1956)

The master, the Son and a miracle from The Wrong Man. The new Warner Archive Blu-ray is a perfect, film-like rendition and Robert Burks in B&W with all the grain intact is a treat. Watching Vera Miles in this I am always reminded to go back to the very first episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, "Revenge" originally screened on 2nd October 1955 in which Vera and hubby Ralph Meeker play a couple on the road who are compelled to eternally seek revenge for a crime that may or may not have been committed. It's simply impossible to separate some of the ideas in this terrific opening for the series, directed by Hitch from the themes of Wrong Man. The greatest thing in the picture - among so many - is that Hitchcock shows us explicitly the redemption of one person, viz. the caps above, but ends the film on a note of total despair for another. So perhaps "god", or even a "state of grace" IS present, but only for some? Complex and mysterious, for both believer and non believer....

I remain a resolute non theist to this day. But the men at Marist (AKA Marx) Bros Darlinghurst in Sydney who were my completely wonderful and inspiring teachers during mid/late teens did so much to support my thirst for knowledge and by definition non belief. And two of them quietly supported me as an out (if not flaming) gay kid, with nudges and winks which they too understood was a reality for them. (In response to David Ehrenstein, it was a really privileged time and such a refuge from my idiotic parents.) There is a very decent and human side to some Catholics which I admire to this day, a real sense of social justice which is how you get so many "good" Catholics back in Oz these days leading the opposition to the hideous neo fascist Tory government there with its concentration camps for "illegal" refugees and its religion of minority hatred. This and I Confess are his most brilliant "Catholic " movies and I still feel he remains with some doubts of his own, although he doesn't seem to end in as complete atheism as Bresson clearly does in L'Argent. Or even Rossellini did when he made his two great films about saints, Francesco Guillare di DIo, and Europe 51. So many people seriously misjudge Rossellini as a religious director, when nothing could be further from the truth. His Il Messia (1975) is the greatest realist film about "Christ", wildly superior to the Pasolini which I find confused and frankly sentimental.

...... I still have some very slight unease about the framing on Wrong Man, even though I realize 1955/56 was well and truly full blast Widescreen era, and the picture was definitely a major studio production with two big stars, so it wasn't something that would end up as Academy Ratio by default for a minor outfit like Allied Artists or whoever. But the narrower 1.66 was really never used in Hollywood after 1954, and was only sparsely used in the UK.until the 60s. Warner has masked this to exactly 1.77 which is not too wide for composition and matting of that cinephilically ambiguous AR problem scene with Fonda and Miles at Anthony Quayle's office, with Vera in the foreground tugging and scratching at her arm while the two men in the background fail to even notice she's losing her mind. The 1.77 only just crops out her fidgeting hand movements in the main wide three shot, but the 1.77 does look completely right otherwise for the entire film. Burks and Hitch made this right after To Catch a Thief in VIstavision which was by then (late1954) firmly set to 1.85 so they must have made the adaptation to widescreen. But there's always just that bit of that one brief shot. You can see more of the masked footroom in the accompanying Documentary (ported from the DVD) which quotes shots from an open matte print. I should add the print source for this is a little "coarser" than I Confess, more grain, and indeed a number of shots are visibly - thanks to the high rez - done with lab optical zooms for the odd close shot increasing the grain and "thickness". This is of course precisely how the 35mm should look.

I Confess (Alfred Hitchcock. USA, 1952)
I Confess and Tiomkin's haunting, distant sweet credits music with the words:
"While the town is sleeping tight
Comes the music of the night.
One can hear its lonely beat
On each dark deserted street."

A gorgeous, flawless transfer, this is too beautiful for words.

Fat City (John Huston, USA, 1972)

Stacy Keach with a very young and very pretty Jeff Bridges in 1972, from the new WildSide Blu-ray of Fat City, This is certainly one of Huston's best pictures, blessed as it is with solid meaty material, from the Leonard Gardner boxing milieu novel, and a cast from the gods, down to every last extra and bit. Conrad Hall's incandescent photography keeps donating shading, moody lighting and subtle color moods to every shot, layering the film with a kind of just recalled nostalgia while Hustons' normally stodgy and uninventive mise en scene, so often an undoing in his more badgering films, here actually benefits the actors and their playing of long scenes, with the camera remaining classically at arms length, and the POV never taking on either an immersive nor a cold blooded angle. The disc is as always with WildSide, source dependent and in this case that's very good indeed. Some of the night time exteriors have a lustre and soft focus I had never noticed before but I am basing this on the memory of a forty years ago plus cinema screening. It looks great. The packaging as always with WildSide is keepsake gorgeous including a 204 page booklet (in French only) by Samuel Blumenfield. French subs are removable on my Oppo as are all my other Wildside BDs, but may not be for all players. Region B hardcoded.

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