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SPECIFICATIONS
  • 1.33:1 Standard
  • English PCM Mono
  • English subtitles
  • 1 Disc
FEATURES
  • When We Played Newport, a new program featuring archival interviews with Murray Lerner, music festival producer George Wein, and musicians Joan Baez, Judy Collins, Buffy Saint-Marie, Pete Seeger, and Peter Yarrow
  • Editing “Festival,” a new program featuring Murray Lerner, associate editor Alan Heim, and assistant editor Gordon Quinn
  • Selection of complete outtake performances, including Clarence Ashley, Horton Barker, Johnny Cash, John Lee Hooker, and Odetta
  • A booklet featuring an essay by critic Amanda Petrusich and artist bios by folk music expert Mary Katherine Aldin

Festival

Blu-ray
Reviewed by: Chris Galloway

Directed By: Murray Lerner
1967 | 97 Minutes | Licensor: MLF Productions, Inc.

Release Information
Blu-ray | MSRP: $39.95 | Series: The Criterion Collection | Edition: #892
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Release Date: September 12, 2017
Review Date: August 29, 2017

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SYNOPSIS

Before Woodstock and Monterey Pop, there was Festival. From 1963 to 1966, Murray Lerner visited the annual Newport Folk Festival to document a thriving, idealistic musical movement as it reached its peak as a popular phenomenon. Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Howlin’ Wolf, Johnny Cash, the Staples Singers, Pete Seeger, Son House, and Peter, Paul and Mary were just a few of the legends who shared the stage at Newport, treating audiences to a range of folk music that encompassed the genre’s roots in blues, country, and gospel as well as its newer flirtations with rock ’n’ roll. Shooting in gorgeous black and white, Lerner juxtaposes performances with snapshot interviews with artists and their fans, weaving footage from four years of the festival into an intimate record of a pivotal time in music—and in American culture at large.


PICTURE

Murray Lerner’s Folk music documentary Festival receives a brand new Blu-ray edition courtesy of the Criterion Collection, who present the film in its original aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on a dual-layer disc. The 1080p/24hz high-definition encode comes from a new 2K restoration scanned from the 16mm original negative.

This restoration really is a marvel and was not what I was expecting at all. The biggest shock is just how clean the image is. Specs of dirt pop up here and there, getting a bit heavier on the edges of the frame during a handful of moments but the image is clean otherwise. It’s also highly detailed and amazingly sharp. Film grain is present and it can be a bit heavy but it looks natural and clean, never like noise. The details in both close-ups and long shots are equally impressive and textures (like the corduroy that shows up every so often) look amazing.

The black and white image also sports excellent contrast levels, with whites that don’t bloom and blacks that remain rich and deep without destroying details, even in the various darker nighttime sequences. Gray levels also blend nicely. In the end it’s an impressive looking picture, and it really comes close to looking like a projected 16mm film.

9/10

All Blu-ray screen captures come from the source disc and have been shrunk from 1920x1080 to 900x506 and slightly compressed to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.

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AUDIO

The film’s lossless linear PCM 1.0 monaural presentation also goes beyond expectations. Despite being mono and focused to the center speaker it sounds shockingly rich and dynamic. The musical performance provide phenomenal range, sounding rich and clear with a very lifelike quality. Even the interview segments show surprising range and fidelity. One sequence sounds a bit off, and that’s during the performance by Howlin’ Wolf, though the supplements answered why this was: the audio from the filmed performance didn’t exist so the film’s editors had to use the audio from an album release and tried their best to synch the footage with it. Outside of that one sequence the rest of the track really sounds exceptional.

8/10

SUPPLEMENTS

This isn’t a jampacked special edition disappointingly but I found what we do get to be engaging, starting with a very strong making of produced by the Criterion Collection and featuring interviews with director Murray Lerner, assistant editor Gordon Quinn, and associate editor Alan Heim. The less-then-27-minute feature starts out as expected, covering the inception of the film project (it originally started with Lerner simply filming the performances for the festival before he realized there was something more to this whole Folk thing) and talking about the filming process. Where it gets really interesting, though, is when the three talk about constructing all of this footage filmed over years into some sort loose narrative. The three talk about specific sequences, particularly how they go about building up to Dylan “going electric,” and also the development of the rhythm, with Lerner even going through shots and sequences on an editing deck. They even talk about technical details including the filming equipment used. It’s a really fascinating and well edited feature and I forgot it was still essentially a “talking heads” segment.

Criterion then puts together another documentary, this one running about 31-minutes, using a variety of archival footage, calling it When We Played Newport. Through interviews that may have been recorded for other DVD releases or possibly for television, as well as unused interview footage shot for the film itself, the documentary explores the growth and impact of Folk music (and the “Folk scene” that went with it) as well as the history of the Newport Folk Festival, all conveyed through the various participants, which include (but are not limited to) Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, Johnny Cash, Murray Lerner, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Doc Reese, and more. Though it jumps around between material recorded during various periods I was pretty impressed with how coherent, streamlined, and well-edited the feature is.

There is then a small collection of unreleased performances running a total of 21-minutes, all presented in high-definition and all looking to be in decent shape. The performances include: “Boom Boom” by John Lee Hooker, “High Sheriff of Hazard” by Tom Paxton, “Georgia Buck” by Elizabeth Cotton, the complete performance of “I Walk the Line” by Johnny Cash, “The House Carpenter” by Clarence Ashley (which is the longest sequence) and then a performance by Odetta. All are presented in Dolby Digital mono but the sound quality is excellent.

To aid those unfamiliar with some of the music (like me) Criterion also provides an alternate subtitle title track, which identifies the music in the film as it comes up. Criterion also includes a 40-page booklet featuring an essay by Amada Petrusich on the film and the Folk movement by, which is then followed by biographies for a selection of artists that appear in the film, all written by Katherine Aldin. As someone still not all that familiar with Folk music and its performers I found this booklet especially valuable.

I guess I do wish there was maybe more to it and I’m sure they could have gathered more academic material (especially since I felt Criterion’s own Inside Llewyn Davis Blu-ray delved into the topic of Folk music in a far more satisfying way) but I was still thrilled with the material on the film’s editing process and the nicely edited featurette about the Newport Folk Festival.

6/10

CLOSING

The supplements are really quite good but I do admit it feels as though there could have been more. But the real sell is the audio/video presentation, which exceeded my expectations by a fairly large margin.


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