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New DVDs 5-20-2008

This week in the New York Times, a look at the group of westerns recently released by MGM DVD, which includes two films of great stature — Anthony Mann’s “Man of the West” (1958) and Andre De Toth’s “Day of the Outlaw” (1959, and pictured above) — as well as some lesser but interesting titles like Joseph M. Newman’s “Gunfight at Dodge City” (1959), Richard Wilson’s “Man with the Gun” (1955) and Sergio Corbucci’s spaghetti western “Navajo Joe” (1966), with Burt Reynolds as a proto-hippie Indian battling the forces of primitive capitalism.
On the Blu-ray front, our faithful informant Dr. Savaard  points out this disturbing post (under the 5/08/2008 header) on “The Digital Bits.”  Writes the site’s perspicacious editor, Bill Hunt,

“We’ve been getting a few e-mails a week (over the last month or so) from readers who are new to Blu-ray, who say they’re disappointed in the quality of older catalog titles on the format. They disappointed not so much the selection, but the actual video quality. One person said the colors weren’t as vibrant as they were expecting. Another thought the image looked too soft. Several have complained of “noise” on their TV screens when they watched certain older films. It actually took me a while at first to understand what they meant, but now I’ve figured it out… and as a serious film enthusiast, it’s troubling to say the least. That noise some are complaining about? It’s film grain! It seems that many people who came to home theater more recently via DVD, and so who may never have seen older films in an actual movie theater before, simply don’t understand what film grain is. They don’t realize that it’s SUPPOSED to be there.”

The rest of the post, well worth reading, is here.

104 comments to New DVDs 5-20-2008

  • Michael Dempsey

    A word or two about John Farris’s screenplay for “The Fury”:

    I read it long before Brian De Palma became the film’s director.

    On the page, it was an incoherent, cliché-addled mess.

    Whatever visual brio, spectacle, and wit the film possesses (quite a bit of all three, in my estimation) clearly comes from De Palma as well as cinematographer Richard H. Kline, editor Paul Hirsch, and – yes — his cast (especially Amy Irving but also including Kirk Douglas, Carrie Snodgress, and John Cassavetes), all of whom found ways to invest the scenario’s cardboard figures with emotional force.

    The picture has its own overblown, incoherent elements, stemming largely from the project’s commercial rationale (shared by the studio, De Palma, and producer Frank Yablans): how to top the effects that are so prominent in De Palma’s “Carrie,” which preceded it and was a hit.

    But very little of what the finished film contains that is worthwhile derives from the script I read even though, if memory serves, it followed Farris’s structure and details quite closely.

  • Professor Echo

    This is going back to a portion of Dave’s original post, even though this thread has intriguingly detoured and digressed, as all great threads on this site are wont to do. So even though the responses here are beginning to fade out, I still think it’s worth sharing this information and I’m not sure where else to post it.

    Over at HTF, archivist Robert Harris continued his discussion regarding the “airbrushed” look of classic films on Blu-Ray DVD:

    By High Frequency Information (HFI) I’m referring to a part of the image which would contain minute detail information…

    Information which reproduces not only on Blu, but on SD.

    Stubble on an actor’s face, along with facial details such as tiny scars or marks seen in close-ups — look at the worst of it and skin becomes “plastic” as in The Untouchables. Patton has this problem. Flesh has imperfections, even if heavily made up;

    Detail in hair;

    Detail on the walls of buildings, which when DNR’d looks smooth; Look at an exterior wall, be it stucco or brick and you’ll see heavy detail. Look at the buildings in Patton and there is nothing.

    Grass, and not just a mass of green, but the ability via BD to differentiate;

    Trees, and not just trees, but the leaves moving, rather than being mass of green;

    In Patton…

    Dirt on a Mercedes staff car, a Jeep or a motorcycle; not just an overlay of beige dirty color — DIRT!

    Blu-Ray allows this.

    Leather that isn’t simply shiny black, but shows imperfections, grain and wear;

    And lastly, background information that isn’t simply a mass of color.

    The point here is that the Blu-Ray process has the capacity and the ability to reproduce fine detail magnificently.

    Remove grain incorrectly, or use the wrong process, and you lose every bit of detail that has been captured within those bits of grain, and things become, well…

    pretty and clean…

    and not only totally non-representative of film.

    But no longer representative of the work that some might attempt to replicate.

    This isn’t simply about grain, which DONE PROPERLY as I’ve explained, can be totally removed without losing a single bit of detail, or lowered to replicate any film stock ever produced. Had Warner wanted their high def of Bullitt to look like it had been shot on early ’90s 5247 rather than late ’60s 5254, they could have done it. They chose not to, and the proper — original — look of Bullitt is there in high definition.

    This is about making something look clean and wrong concurrently.

    This is something exceedingly easy to do correctly.

    Two appended final points:

    1. This cannot be seen in screen grabs.

    2. On smaller screens, for example anything under around 35″, this is almost moot, as the image with or without heavily applied DNR will look very similar unless one knows what they are looking for. On my 30″ Sony HD CRT, Patton looked fabulous.

    And this presents yet another problem. If someone is working on a project and using a smaller professional monitor as opposed to viewing on a large screen, they may not see the damage that is being done.

  • Alex Hicks

    Kent, I offer an revision of your attribution of “The Fury”‘s merits to an other’s script. I do so in light of the following especially trenchant line from Michael Dempsey’s deft reportage: “very little of what the finished film contains that is worthwhile derives from the script I read even though, if memory serves, it followed Farris’s structure and details quite closely.” Precisely because De Palma is a more a master of parts than wholes whose main strength is the stylish action set piece, De Palma is well matched to the loose external constraints of a weak script that serves as little more than scaffolding for his scenic improvisation (better than he’d be matched to demands of character or dramatic development). So, “someone else’s material” that he was “obliged” to accomodate WITHOUT having very much “to do justice to” — in particular a 1970s John Farris script from a John Farris novel– might have been pretty much what melody De Palma needed to string out his Gonzo riffs with some modicum of overall architecture.

    Of course, the “The Fury”‘s opportunities for extending the telekenetic effects of “Carrie” may be more telling than my perhaps strained and certainly selective generalization from Dempsey’s precise account of film-making specifics.

  • Kent Jones

    Alex, I didn’t attribute the merits of THE FURY to someone else’s script – the film is ALL about the imagery, the intensity. What I meant, and probably didn’t express clearly enough, was that it was good because he was obliged to follow someone else’s story, because even the trashiest story mind is better than De Palma’s own pastiches. However, now that I think of it, he’s made other films based on other people’s scripts that hold about as much (or as little) water as BLOW OUT or RAISING CAIN, so I guess he just rose to the occasion when he made THE FURY.