Wednesday 20 February 2019

On Blu-ray - David Hare is, er, disappointed with the new Criterion edition of DEATH IN VENICE (Luchino Visconti) but enthusiastic for HUMAN DESIRE (Fritz Lang)

Random screens (three above, and more below) from the hideous new 4K "restoration" of Death in Venice (1971) from Cineteca Bologna in its patented Piss-soaked LookUpTable Color grading system. 
I have never cared at all for the movie but I do remember the opening day screenings at Sydney's Lido (at which James Sabine was also present) well enough. Among other things I stayed for a second viewing and at one point was so frustrated with the softness and fuzziness of the image I went up to the projection booth, banged on the door and asked the poor guy if he could fix it. He couldn't and neither could I which shows you what a roll of the dice getting good quality Eastmancolor prints to Oz could be in those days.
Despite the poor sharpness and weak detail then, I remember it well enough to know it looked nothing like this current piece of shit that Criterion has the gall to charge money for. It's as though the restorers working at Bologna simply ignored or just felt complete disdain for any concept of using a reference 35mm first gen, or even a reissue 35mm. I gather there's still a 1080p streaming video of this from Warner's own vault available Stateside only through Amazon Prime. 
According to Jim Steffen this has much closer resemblance to the original 35mm Eastman prints as the older DVD in fact, with no hideous yellow bias and crushing of detail in pushed blacks. This new 4K encode must be one of the ugliest looking botch jobs I have seen in a lifetime of watching movies. 
Oh, did I mention I don't even like the film? Tepid, sentimental marshmallow from Visconti's "Tragic Queen" period post-1968, along with The Damned, which itself has enough fun moments to keep spirits up, like The Night of the Long Knives staged as an underwear party/gay orgy with the old guard of Brown Shirts geting fucked by the younger Guard of dial-a-hustler buffed young muscled pretty boy SS before they are all gunned down by the new guard in a ruthless history. 
As is now reasonably well known Visconti basically changed the business on The Damned to reduce Bogarde's part, so that he could amplify new BF Helmut Berger's part into a leading role (Thus Death in Venice became the director's consolation prize for Dirk two years later.) The Damned is indeed the movie in which, after shooting up some drug or other with a splendid antique steel syringe, Helmut rapes/fucks maman, Ingrid Thulin, driving her to lunacy (no surprise there) after he had uttered, whilst still nude to the camera, (displaying an arfully lit and sculpted arse), "I vill destroy you, Mudda." It was clear then, and still is now Visconti's great period of filmmaking had come to an end. 
The screen above is from Masters of Cinema' new Blu-ray of Lang's Human Desire. I recommend the disc without hesitation. This is the first time in my recollection the movie has been matted to a widescreen 1.85 format. This is how Sony formatted the picture for MoC's new encode and it looks a doozy. Only sampling so far but it shows superb grain and stability and I am tempted to think the movie may be much more faithful, even with a shot by shot breakdown, to the great Renoir original, La Bete Humaine from 1938.

Editor's Note: For an animated discussion of David’s views go to his Facebook page and scroll down till you reach the text above

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