Sunday 30 October 2016

On Blu-ray - David Hare rediscovers Robert Altman's great western McCABE AND MRS MILLER

Julie Christie smokes that peace pipe (and then some) in Altman's great 1971 McCabe and Mrs Miller. 
(click to enlarge)

The screen is from Criterion's new Blu from the 4K restoration. I had heard a number of reservations about the restoration following the 4K screening here at the NZIFF in July, and there is no doubting how hard Altman and Vilmos Zsigmond flashed the negative prior to shooting, and used the flashing to accomplish high grain,foggy rainy image quality as a constant undertone. Even first release prints I remember could look pretty faint, and this despite some Tech IB prints making the rounds back then. This outrageous level of pre-exposure neg flashing was something only a master DP could get away with.(Coutard and Godard did similar flashing with Une Femme est une Femme and Deux ou Trois Choses.) And I think the new 4K proves once and for all Vilmos and Altman did just that with great success. Reviewing the film for the first time in decades also reminds me how fantastically fully formed Altman arrived as a major director so early in his feature (non TV) career with this and the sublime Brewster McLeod from 1970. The new BD is essential to life. 
The new 4K is a great organic experience visually and aurally. And Criterion has thrown around two hours of extras into the soup including a KO 2016 doco with many of the original participants quite notably the hilarious and effervescent now 74 year old Aussie, Graeme Clifford who was then a Hollywood casting director when the movie was made. As was his want Altman decided Clifford was perfect for a small part so Graeme and Altman's original script girl, another Aussie called Maysie were co-opted into the rambling, ever growing cast. Such working methods as these were a constant in Altman's seemingly random but inspired method of interconnectivity. Indeed this disc along with the new Criterion 4K of Short Cuts, (plus a second BD50 of extras mostly ported from the original DVD of eight years ago) prompt me once again to yearn out loud for a fuller retrospective of everything. 
Not only was Altman one of the great American directors IMO, he was one of a tiny handful of artists who could never bring himself to outright hate a character. In this respect he shares company with the likes of no less than McCarey, Renoir and Bunuel. And the associations are not minor.

Editor's Note:Pillaged from a recent Facebook post.  Its great to have David Hare back dissecting Blu-ray with the forensic skill of a master surgeon.  After reading this post I think we need to start a list of recipients of my once proposed Peter Finch Award for Outstanding Contribution to International Cinema. (A former Sydney Film Festival Director didn't react to the suggestion). Perhaps a Nominees List. First name as per David's mention is Graeme Clifford. I'll keep records as the names come up. 

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