Saturday 29 January 2022

On Blu-ray - David Hare rejoices at the rebirth of LOVE AFFAIR (Leo McCarey, USA, 1939)

Charles Boyer

The images above and below are from Leo McCarey's glorious and long lost 1939 Love Affair.

New 4K scan and restoration to Blu-ray from Lobster Films and MoMA.
While the release of this "lost" film, is extremely welcome, you shouldn't be expecting to see an image quality at the level of the best Warner Archive work under George Feltenstein and the MPI team there.
The new Lobster is clean, delicious and detailed enough to finally make out what's happening on the screen. The history of the film elements is typical but always interesting. Basically when Fox picked up the rights to remake it (virtually shot for shot) in 1957 as An Affair to Remember, they trashed the original RKO o-neg and prime elements which they inherited from the property deal and with RKO now legally deceased. Subsequently one could only see Love Affair in battered, faded 16mm prints of varying degrees of awfulness from TV syndication prints and worse. 

My own copy came from a Channel 7 midday movie screening taken from a 16mm kept in someone's garage. I haven't looked at it since I dubbed my VHS to DVD-R twenty plus years ago. 

Irene Dunne, Charles Boyer

The restorers here took on an all too similar situation to Sony/Columbia with it's recent restoration of Cukor's 1938 Holiday which Criterion released last year. Once again there Grover Crisp's team had a duplicate nitrate neg and various 35mm safety positives including a fine grain (a good quality reference but not projectable positive print variously known as a "lavender") from which the technicians can rework a new interpositive or something close. 

Sony delivered the results after 4K scanning with the decision to let through virtually un-mangled as much grain as possible from the new 4K master. It's a grain level that was not uncommon in the history of movies but nowadays it's a difficult sell to modern audience used to digital cleanup.
With Love Affair, Lobster and MoMA were faced with the decision to either go with the grain or massage the image back. They took the latter decision which is both cheaper (much lower bitrate and grading costs) and understandable and the result is a very serviceable and pleasing disc image and audio, with very light grain but considerable softening through the grain removal. 

Happily the DVNR never creates waxiness. It's up to you whether you like this or would have preferred a much grainier and still less than perfect first generation positive distribution print quality. Given the circumstances these days around sackings, studio Archival reductions, cost cutting and worse, I think Lobster has taken a sensible path. If money were no object, this might have come out of the works looking "better". As it is Love Affair looks "Good" and often "very good". And most importantly it gets the title back into the public eye, for which I salute the film, Lobster and MoMA without reservation.

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