Savant Column

Monday September 4, 2017

Hello!

If you’ve already read my just-previous Krakatoa East of Java review, it just became a lot longer, with an ‘additional information’ letter from correspondent “B,” aka ‘woggly.’ Maybe it’s too much, maybe not, but how can one resist MORE knowledge about this unforgettable picture. The producers liked it — they covered half a block in New York with a poster.

And, to sneak away early on this Labor Day, I’ll finish with a link from Gary Teetzel, for an item everyone needs: a Godzilla / Mothra Rug. Looks good to me.

Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson

Saturday September 2, 2017

Today at the Cinerama Dome — who’d have thunk it?

Savant’s new reviews today are:

Krakatoa East of Java 09/02/17

KL Studio Classics
Blu-ray

‘Things Blowing Up Good’ has been surefire entertainment since the beginning of cinema, but this ill-fated Cinerama extravaganza about the biggest explosion in recorded human history limps along despite some pretty darned impressive volcanic effects. It’s quite an entertaining spectacle, with various good performers in three soap opera plots, either overacting or loitering about with nothing to do. And don’t forget the from-left-field musical striptease. An all-star cast slugs it out with some lively special effects courtesy of cult fave designer Eugèné Lourié. On Blu-ray from KL Studio Classics.
9/02/17

Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex* 09/02/17

Twilight Time
Blu-ray

(*But Were Afraid to Ask.)  Trailers From Hell’s Charlie Largent bolts the door and, in the company of a consenting adult, watches the terrific new Blu-ray of Woody Allen’s 1972 spoof of David Reuben’s bestseller. Woody Allen has us in his pocket from the first shot of bunnies behind a vintage make-out ballad — his encyclopedic look at sex comedy has been in and out of good taste several times already. John Carradine’s timeless performance as a perverted sex researcher was nominated for an Oscar, but he turned it down (is anybody reading?). On Blu-ray from Twilight Time.
9/02/17

The Law and Jake Wade 09/02/17

The Warner Archive Collection
Blu-ray

Many of MGM’s productions were scraping bottom in 1958, yet the studio found one more acceptable western vehicle for their last big star still on contract. Only-slightly corrupt marshal Robert Taylor edges toward a showdown with the thoroughly corrupt Richard Widmark in an economy item given impressive locations and the sound direction of John Sturges. With Patricia Owens, Robert Middleton and Henry Silva as a low down no-goodnik who hates coyotes. On Blu-ray from The Warner Archive Collection.
9/02/17

Savant Column

Saturday September 2, 2017

Hello! We’re melting in Los Angeles on a Labor Day weekend.

The newest radio show from the DVD Classics Corner On The Air is Dick Dinman & Eddie Muller Reach Their Breaking Point. If that isn’t self-explanatory, host Dinman and TCM’s ‘Noir Alley’ cable host to sing the praises of Michael Curtiz’ John Garfield masterpiece, which reached Blu-ray a couple of months back via The Criterion Collection’s excellent Blu-ray. Eddie Muller considers it Curtiz’ best directed feature; I wonder if Alan K. Rode’s new book will concur.

Is this for real? Joe Dante has been circulating this link to a Sun article, with a video, of what is supposed to be a real water creature. You have to look hard to get the name of the thing, and the locale is hard to pick out as well … the article and video are titled Terrifying blob creature that looks like a BRAIN discovered in a spooky lake called ‘The Lost Lagoon’. I don’t know . . . the hazy description makes the thing sound like a ‘composite organism’ of the kind seen in the old sci-fi thriller Quatermass 2.

What with the interest in Arrow Video’s new Blu-ray of Erik the Conqueror, correspondent Edward Sullivan has sent in a new link to performances by The Kessler Sisters, Alice and Ellen, who are still kicking over a half century later. I’ve had this blurry music video-like Scopitone Kessler Sisters do ‘Quando Quando Quando’ song & dance number on my desktop for ten years now — the multiple languages and peppy orchestration appeals. The flashy 2016 Kessler Sisters TV performance found by Ed isn’t as exciting, but it sure is a testament to the powers of longevity. Good for them — !

And judging by the reviews just in, Guillermo del Toro’s new fantasy picture The Shape of Water may be the del Toro smash hit we’ve wanted to see for years. It stars Sally Hawkins in what reads like perfect casting, a role suited to a master ‘silent’ actress like Judith Evelyn. (Extra points if you know who she is.) I stopped after two paragraphs into the Daily Variety rave review and am going to keep my head down in an effort to see the movie with a clean slate. It’s nice to be excited about something new again, and I hope all the positive thinking pays off.

Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson

Tuesday August 29, 2017

Why is this picture here? CLICK on it.

Savant’s new reviews today are:

Kid Galahad 08/29/17

Twilight Time
Blu-ray

He sings, he fixes cars, and he takes punches better than De Niro’s Raging Bull. Elvis Presley excels in one of his few ’60s pictures that show an interest in being a ‘real movie,’ a remake of a boxing saga with entertaining characters and fine direction from noir ace Phil Karlson. Plus Charles Bronson, Lola Albright and Joan Blackman in standout roles. Old Warners contractee Wayne Morris didn’t live long enough to know his 1939 role would be taken by Elvis, in a remake. On Blu-ray from Twilight Time.
8/29/17

Red Line 7000 08/29/17

KL Studio Classics
Blu-ray

It’s finally here in all its glory, the Howard Hawks movie nobody loves. The epitome of clueless ’60s filmmaking by an auteur who left his thinking cap back with Bogie and Bacall, this show is a PC quagmire lacking the usual compensation of exploitative thrills. James Caan caps a disposable male cast, but Gail Hire, Laura Devon, Charlene Holt and Mariana Hill struggle like heck to break out of glamorous but demeaning roles. But hey, it has a hypnotic appeal all its own: we’ll not abandon any movie where Teri Garr dances.. On Blu-ray from KL Studio Classics.
8/29/17

Festival: Folk Music at Newport, 1963-1966 08/29/17

The Criterion Collection
Blu-ray

We thought all the great vintage music documentaries were accounted for, but Murray Lerner’s look at the Newport Folk Festival in the mid-‘sixties is a terrific time machine to a kindler, gentler musical era. The mix of talent is broad and deep, and we get to see excellent vintage coverage of some real legends, before the hype & marketing plague arrived: Joan Baez, Johnny Cash, Judy Collins, Donovan, Bob Dylan, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Pete Seeger, Peter Yarrow, Mary Travers, Odetta. On Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection.
8/29/17

Savant Column

Tuesday August 29, 2017

Hello!

— some fun news here in hot and dry Los Angeles, weather that I wish I could sent Texas way.

Apparently we could be expecting a Criterion Blu-ray of Ikarie XB-1 in the future, as a number of weeks back the label even put out a list of Czech titles that would be brought to the U.S.: Janus Films to Bring 30 Classic Czech Films to the States. However, no mention is made of specific disc releases for any of them yet. For the last fifteen years or so, a common litmus test for what Janus/Criterion will release on disc has been if the show appears on the TCM cable channel, with a Janus logo. That recently happened with the Wim Wenders science fiction epic Until the End of the World. Hope springs eternal

Hopefully this next link will be taken in a humorous, not blasphemous sense — Gary Teetzel has discovered someone selling Vincent Price ‘St. Vincent’ Novena candles online. Good taste doesn’t come with the purchase — the little green bottle Vincent is holding bears a skull ‘n’ crossbones, indicating a vial of poison. The historical Saint didn’t poison anybody, and reportedly died on the rack. Link presented as an unsolicited public service by Ban Savant Now (BSN), a leading nonprofit.

Correspondent “B”, who sometimes goes by the mysterious moniker woggly knows that I am a big 3-D enthusiast, and so asked me to give a brief shout-out for the 3-D Funhouse: Recent Restorations
from the 3-D Film Archive
event that begins Friday at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. Third-Dimensional masterminds Bob Furmanek, Greg Kintz, and Jack Theakston are returning to MoMA to present their restorations of GOG, Those Redheads from Seattle, September Storm, Dragonfly Squadron and the Archives’ 3-D Rarities compilation. The show is being organized by the Museum’s Dave Kehr. Messrs. Furmanek, Kintz, and Theakston presented many of the Rarities shorts at a MoMA program a few years ago. “B” lets me know that he’ll be trying to see GOG on the big screen.

Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson

Saturday August 26, 2017

Why is this picture here? CLICK on it.

Savant’s new reviews today are:

Certain Women 08/26/17

The Criterion Collection
Blu-ray

Is this the new feminist breakthrough? Director Kelly Reichart doesn’t like labels, and to her credit as a woman director, her amalgam of three tangential short stories transcends the format in a studious, low-key way. Four interesting actresses present interesting portraits that illuminate the realities of life in the great Middle America. Stars Laura Dern, Michelle Williams and Kristen Stewart attracted the viewers, and relative newcomer Lily Gladstone shines as well. On Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection.
8/26/17

Visit to a Small Planet 08/26/17

KL Studio Classics
Blu-ray

Trailers From Hell’s Charlie Largent takes on Gore Vidal’s cosmological comedy about a space visitor on an anti-militarist mission. Jerry Lewis skips Vidal’s biting satire and sticks with the goofy jokes and babe-ogling. Charlie’s essay Jerry Lewis Returns to the Cosmos begins with an extended, recommended overview of Lewis’s film career, striking a winning balance between admiration and psych analysis 101. On Blu-ray from KL Studio Classics.
8/26/17

The Noose Hangs High 08/26/17

ClassicFlix
Blu-ray

Even lesser Abbott & Costello movies are still comedy gravy for the avid fans of the fast-talking duo. Their first film deal away from Universal yields a so-so production graced with a string of their patented old-time comedy routines. And the transfer beats anything we’ve yet seen. Foolish window washers Bud and Lou are seen through the farcical paces with Joseph Calleia, Kathy Downs, Errol Morris and Mike Mazurki. On Blu-ray from ClassicFlix.
8/26/17

The Stranger 08/26/17

Olive Films
Blu-ray

Edward G. Robinson uncovers another killer, but this time he’s after a Nazi mass murderer, not an insurance salesman. Orson Welles’ most conventional thriller is a masterpiece of style and judgment, with a good sense of time and place – and a lot of expressive shadows. How does this new Blu-ray shape up in comparison to earlier presentations?. On Blu-ray from Olive Films.
8/26/17

Savant Column

Saturday August 26, 2017

Hello!

DVD Savant’s esteemed Field Correspondent Gary Teetzel reports from the A.M.I.A.’s The Reel Thing. The second day is underway now but we have the rundown on Friday’s program:

Friday’s lineup of presentations at The Reel Thing were:

1)
Recovering Early Optical Sound: Joseph Tykociner’s 1922 Composite Sound-on-Film System: The title sort of says it all–this was an early attempt to create optical sound, with a test demo. It was a form of variable density, and was recorded live to the film. It took up about a quarter of the area of the frame, forcing the image to be vertical. The audio we heard was fairly crude, and the poor quality of the elements didn’t help, but you have to give Tykociner credit for coming up with the system at such an early date.

2)
The Digital Post-It: Cataloguing Unstructured Metadata for Preservation in Distributed Databases Using Open Standards: Don’t even ask me to try to explain this one.

3)
Restoring The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez: The Result of a Long Partnership Between an Archive and a Festival: This discussed the work that the Academy did for years in association with the Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival. They restored several titles from different Latin American countries, and even a rediscovered 1935 Spanish-language film made by 20th Century Fox, Asegure a su mujer. (Antonio Moreno from Creature from the Black Lagoon was one of the stars.) The festival ended a few years ago, but inspired by those past projects the Academy has restored The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez. The original neg existed, only as un-conformed Super 16mm. Edward James Olmos had a 35mm blow-up print, but it was in bad shape. A rights holder had an interpositive, but refused to grant access. So the Academy scanned all sixteen hours of original neg and used Olmos’ print as a guide to put it back together in the digital realm.

4)
Artificial Intelligence for Automatically Repairing Vertical Scratches. Another one where I could not hope to explain the science, but the demos they showed were impressive — perfect restorations of shots with running vertical scratches from Don’t Go In the Basement * and others. Most impressive was a 1907 short, Laughing Gas. Like most films from that era the source element was covered with countless light scratches; Algosoft got rid of all of them, making the film look incredibly pristine, like nothing you’ve seen from that period. It looked someone had gone back in time and grabbed a brand-new print from the lab, then traveled back to 2017. In fairness, a couple people in the audience noted that grain had been de-grained and then re-grained, and argued that all this work altered the character of the film.

* . . . because there’s a restroom down the hall.

5)
HDR Video Mastering for Classic Cinema. This was mostly a rep from Sony showing clips from different decades of films they have transferred in HDR: The Bridge on the River Kwai, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Ghostbusters and The Fifth Element. I was most impressed by CE3K. They showed the scene where Dreyfuss first encounters a UFO while in his truck. The added brightness that HDR gave to the flashlight, the headlights and, most importantly, the UFO made the scene really vivid; you could believe that half of Dreyfus’ face could turn red from the intensity of the light! The presentation prompted some healthy debate. A cinematographer in the audience had recently viewed a movie he had shot. Many of the aspects of HDR impressed him, especially color, shadow detail, etc. However, in close-ups and medium shots he felt that highlights on the actors sometimes looked unnaturally bright, and he worked with the colorist to try to tone it down and make it less (to him) distracting. He pointed out that he also felt the highlights on William Holden in the Kwai clip (Guinness and his men first arriving at the camp) looked excessively bright. With regards to CE3K he (or was it another audience member?) voiced serious doubts that Vilmos Zsigmond — a guy known to flash the negative to reduce contrast — would have approved. (Grover Crisp said that Spielberg had approved the HDR master.) The Sony rep emphasized that they get talent involved whenever possible to make sure they approve the HDR master.

By the way, since I’ve done such a lousy job of describing HDR in the past, here’s a better description from the presentation’s abstract:

“With an expanded palette of color and light, HDR technologies allow us to bring out more detail that was in the original negatives. The new HDR masters can represent values in the original film that could not previously be expressed due to the limitation of film and television distribution technologies. HDR technology provides a visual experience that can more closely approximate – on today’s screens and for today’s viewers – the look and feel of an original theatrical presentation. This does not necessarily mean that the images are ‘brighter,’ but rather expands on the use of better overall contrast, with better black levels and shadow detail, as well as highlights that can be used for effect. Maintaining saturation at bright levels as well as deep color saturation more in-line with film saturation are some of the main advantages for classic film titles.”

6)
The Troop, Redux: An ACES Reformatting and Archiving Case Study Project: This discussed the restoration of a short film by the Academy to help develop its ACES system (Academy Color Encoding System), which aims to help maintain color consistency across a variety of formats — HDR, HD, SD, etc. — and work on long-term archiving solutions for digital content.

7)
The Sorrowful Spinning Saga of RCA’s SelectaVision CED Videodisc: A fascinating and funny look at the story behind RCA’s infamous SelectaVision Videodisc system, which spanned some 17 years. Studies to test the feasibility of discs with both picture and sound went back even further. There were some interesting bits about other technology along the way, like one offered in the ‘sixties in the Niemen Marcus catalog that consisted of a console TV with video tape recorder (reel-to-reel, of course) off to the side, plus a video camera. Cost? $30,000. There was also mention of the first consumer home tape system from the early ‘seventies (which I had never heard of) called Cartrivision. Here’s an article on it: How Cartrivision’s 1972 VCR Foresaw–And Forfeited–The Time-Shifted Future by Ross Rubin.

8)
Analyzing Image Bit Depth in Digital Archive Deliverables: See my description of #2.

9)
Finally, YCM Labs showed clips from a restoration they are working on, a 1924 Marion Davies film called Lights of Old Broadway. The film is unusual in that it mixes a variety of film stocks and techniques: black & white, tinted scenes, 2-strip Technicolor scenes and one scene with Handschiegel color. –Gary


Thank you Gary, and I wish I could be there tonight for the restored premiere of Hawks’ Scarface, Shame of a Nation. —

I’d also like to point out a really important note from Michael Schlesinger about the truth behind the withdrawal from distribution of John Frankenheimer’s The Manchurian Candidate. The idea that Frank Sinatra pulled the movie over issues with the assassination of President Kennedy has been debunked for some time now, but Michael was in charge of the film’s re-premiere in 1988 and has the straight dope on the subject. It’s in a comment at the bottom of an article on The Manchurian Candidate at Joe Baltake’s The Passionate Moviegoer, from August 21.

Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson

Tuesday August 22, 2017

Why is this picture here? CLICK on it.

Savant’s new reviews today are:

The Long, Hot Summer 08/22/17

Twilight Time
Blu-ray

Barns are a-burning, Paul Newman is recommended to Joanne Woodward as ‘a big stud horse’ and Lee Remick oozes sexuality all over Martin Ritt’s CinemaScope screen. William Faulkner may be the source but this tale of ambition in the family of yet another southern Big Daddy is given the faux Tennessee Williams treatment — it’s a grand soap opera with a fistful of great stars having a grand time. Looking better than ever on Blu-ray, with Orson Welles, Anthony Franciosa and Angela Lansbury. From Twilight Time.
8/22/17

Held for Questioning (Der Aufenthalt) 08/22/17

The DEFA Film Library
DVD

Sylvester Groth shines in this East German movie about a luckless private in a Polish prison, thrown in with a group of defeated Nazi war criminals. For a country that usually paints the ideological divide in black and white red, Frank Beyer’s film of Hermann Kant’s semi-autobiographical story is surprisingly even-handed; in the awful aftermath of WW2, millions of soldiers never found their way back to their countries of origin. An excellent addition to films from behind the old Iron Curtain, on DVD from The DEFA Film Library.
8/22/17