30 / BD 150 Buster Keaton: Complete Short Films 1917-1923

Discuss DVDs and Blu-rays released by Eureka/Masters of Cinema and the films on them. If it's got a spine number, it's in here.
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HerrSchreck
Joined: Sun Sep 04, 2005 11:46 am

#126 Post by HerrSchreck » Wed Dec 06, 2006 1:35 am

vogler wrote:
peerpee wrote:After writing a piece in the book explaining exactly the situation with materials, and spending the last 3 months on this project doing everything possible to make it as good as it could be, it's very disheartening to read comments like: "I believe that they could have done a much better job on the technical side of this project than they did."
I just read the review and to be honest this is the typical kind of review I expect from Beaver when reviewing silents. I feel 100% certain that you did the best you could given the available materials, especially since it is obvious that these are films that you care about and the set is obviously very important to you. The screen captures look great to me. Beaver always seems to judge dvds on the same technical criteria but it seems unfair to expect a dvd set of extremely old and rare Keaton shorts to even begin to approach the quality of all the well known and loved 'art-house' classics that companies such as Criterion regularly release.

The Rediscover Jacques Feyder set comes to mind also. .
100% on the money. Quite frankly that Beev review is par for the course-- a reviewing service which is completely oblivious to the unique terrain of silent film economics and disc production, which is always going to exist within a certain remove from the CC and WB discs (and most of the recent MOC's) which they so highly praise. Without categorical product perspective, the reviewing process is a disservice.

These criticisms levelled at MoC on this release, and the general refusal to review Kino's silent discs "until they get their act together" (no EDISON, MAN WHO LAUGHS, WARNING SHADOWS, 3 STILLERS, NIBELUNGEN, TARTUFF, FAIRBANKS BOX, ASPHALT, most Griffiths, etc etc, as well as the two fantastic Mamoulians, all absolutely sublime releases), the "shaking of the collective fist" at HVe for the sublime Feyder box, no PHANTOM (I could go on & on.. no Milestone TABU, HINDLE WAKES, TERRE, CHESS PLAYER, YEVGENI BAUER etc) amounts to the absolute equivalent of a Consumer Reports reviewer blasting an efficient, well powered, gas-efficient, crash-safe, Toyota or Honda, specifically because they lack the power and feature-rich luxury resident in a Maserati or Porsche or Morgan.

There simply is not the audience for silents for companies to run brand new telecine on large projects like this (especially when a digital tape from a recent run-thru exists.. in or out of one's own Pal/NTSC protocol; CC does it-- see MK2 Bresson's, Shepard's NANOOK, the same Library of Congress Robeson telecine used by Kino for their old VHS's) encode progressively and/or at soaring bitrates (which would amp up the number of discs required for this Keaton MoC set, bump into Nick & Doug's profit margins, and possibly kill the utility of this project from their perspective in the first place) for the vast bulk of releases. I actually worry about MoC because they put so much into this and other recent silent releases.. it frightens me that they may be overshooting into their own margins and put the co in trouble-- I don't want to lose these guys and would gladly settle for a 4.8 bitrate on a labor of love like this; quite frankly I was stunned that they went progressive on this, considering the vast bulk of material. And yes, 4.8 mb/s progressive is always going to look better onscreen than, say, 5-6 mb/s interlaced. We owe them nothing but gratitude gratitude gratitude for putting so much time and effort into a project like this. The caps are a clear, vast improvement over the original Arte run off the very same digibeta.

How can it be that the NYTimes, New Yorker, Film Comment, Premeire, et al say "All Hail Kino!", or "Imagining a film world without Kino is like imagining a park without trees,"... and that Milestone is worshipped by industrial icons like Scorsese, The National Society of Film Critics (the 03 HERITAGE award), et al, but yet, these indispensable services are mostly ignored, or when reviewed, are slammed for evidence of not operating on a WB disc-production budget.

Whereas we're all entitled to our own opinion, the only problem I have with this is kids come onto this site after discovering his service and take up the groupthink techdweeb rallying cry over the most negligible of freeze-frame artifacts, completely invisible during the viewing process, and-- sight unseen-- dismiss out of hand over nonsensical red herrings some of the most vibrant forces in film distribution both in the cinema and on disc.

Ignore the criticism Nick-- congratulations on a fine set which I'll be buying without hesitation.

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david hare
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#127 Post by david hare » Wed Dec 06, 2006 2:22 am

So will I.

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Steven H
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#128 Post by Steven H » Wed Dec 06, 2006 2:25 am

Great post, HerrSchreck. It's easy to lose sight of what matters most, and when it comes to silents, we're usually lucky they even exist. I find the words "not extant" far worse than "interlaced" or "less sharp". I guess it's just a matter of what we're looking for. My problem this year is cash, as I'm sure it's a number of people's. I might have the funds for an extra box set or two, and I'm split about ten ways (this, McLaren, Ruiz, Feyder...) The booklet in this might have it edge it out though (as it should.)

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david hare
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#129 Post by david hare » Wed Dec 06, 2006 2:36 am

I've today been looking at the odd silents on the gorgeous MK2 feature discs and - while I don't yet have the MoC box - and won't till well into the new year - I have to say the source quality is SO daunting as to confound even a technophile with an unlimited Saudi bankroll.

Yet - strangely - I saw 10 of these (one per session) including Coney Island and the Playhouse during a Rohauer arranged 10 picture Keaton feature series in NYC at a lovely theatre in 125th Street in January 1972 and those prints looked quite wonderful, projected in 35mm. But I have to keep reminding myself this was 35 years ago, and a lot of things (and people) have changed or disappeared since then. And I wouldnt readily go shooting my mouth off about the supposed paucity of DVD transfers given the diabolical state of elements these days (even if I do shoot my mouth off about other things like OAR.)

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MichaelB
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#130 Post by MichaelB » Wed Dec 06, 2006 3:24 am

peerpee wrote:"Lower bitrate" does not necessarily equal a "more visually destructive compression". Especially in this case, as Arte's encodes were done over 5 years ago, and ours utilise excellent new Cinemacraft multi-pass software.
This is absolutely right - I think people do place an excessive reliance on bitrate as a quality yardstick, as it's often pretty meaningless, or at least needs placing in context.

For instance, Ruscico discs are far from perfect, but their bitrates are absolutely sky-high - 8-9 MB/sec is not uncommon. In fact, as this Beaver review demonstrates, the equivalent Criterion might have a lower average bitrate (6.17 versus 6.70 - there are doubtless more extreme examples for those who care to look) and yet Gary is in no doubt whatsoever as to which transfer looks superior.

When I put the BFI's Quay Brothers set together, I deliberately kept the running time down on disc one in order to push the bitrate to the absolute maximum, and explicitly instructed the authoring house to do this. But if you look at the disc, you'll see that the final bitrate is nowhere near the 8-9 MB/sec that they had the space for (as the Beaver review reveals, the average bitrate - at least for the first three titles, which is the clump that he sampled - was 5.98-6.17 MB/sec). Yet, as seems to be the universal consensus, from the viewer's perspective the transfers are as close to perfect as makes no practical difference - from which I conclude that the bitrate is as high as it needed to be.

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david hare
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#131 Post by david hare » Wed Dec 06, 2006 3:57 am

Totally agreed!

Anybody who's copied VHs or whatever (??) to DVD R will notice bitrates have virtually nothing to do with playback quality.

Most of the Universal R2/PAL Dietrichs etc are run at bitrates UNDER 4 gig. And they frankly look better than the R1s which are run at around 5-6.

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HerrSchreck
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#132 Post by HerrSchreck » Wed Dec 06, 2006 4:06 am

Another great example of low-bitrate gorgeous image is MGM's release of the obscure (but Gunther Krampf-- of PANDORA-- photog'd) Gaumont British '33 vehicle THE GHOUL. Aside from a brief period of muddy contrast with Ernest Thesiger creeping thru the London fog handing off the note, the film looks almost totally like a Criterion release, and the SL disc is encoded at bitrates at times around 3mb/s.

And thank heavens it looks as good as it does, considering it's one of the most beautifully photographed talkies of all time, and the miraculously discovered print of this once-lost (but for a hideous Czech-subbed print) little piece of early 30's horror-heaven is in absolutely pristine, almost camera-neg condition.

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Kinsayder
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#133 Post by Kinsayder » Wed Dec 06, 2006 2:55 pm

Steven H wrote:I find the words "not extant" far worse than "interlaced" or "less sharp".
I agree. And I hope that MoC make lots of money from this release, which they can then put towards the publication of silent films that are not already extant in good, in-print English-friendly editions.

Anonymous

#134 Post by Anonymous » Mon Dec 11, 2006 8:00 am

I don't think the Saudis use Dinars.

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MichaelB
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#135 Post by MichaelB » Tue Dec 12, 2006 1:01 pm

Geo wrote:I don't think the Saudis use Dinars.
Maybe that's where Nick was going wrong?

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Paul Moran
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#136 Post by Paul Moran » Tue Dec 12, 2006 7:31 pm

Have any other Denon owners had problems with Disc 3 in this set?

My main player is a multi-region Denon DVD2900. It had no problems with discs 1, 2 and 4, but refused to load disc 3 on the first attempt. On subsequent attempts, it either refused to load, or loaded very slowly then was unable to play a selected item without lots of errors (freezes, blocks, jumps, etc).

My Region 2 Denon ADV-M71 also refused to load the disc (I only tried it once).

However, my old Region 2 Pioneer DV-737, my two multi-region Sony DVD recorders (RDR-GXD310 and RDR-HXD710), and my PC DVD-RW (NEC ND-3530A) loaded it without any problems, and I've played the disc all the way through on the Sony RDR-HXD710.

I've noticed on several occasions that my Denon players seem to be the least tolerant of the six devices, so this may be a problem peculiar to my Denons, or it may be indicative of a wider Denon compatibility issue.

BTW, many thanks to Eureka/MoC for this release, which I enjoyed very much. I admit to being a little disappointed by some of the transfers, but I've read page 4 of the book, so I understand the difficulties.

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Arn777
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#137 Post by Arn777 » Tue Dec 12, 2006 8:41 pm

I have the Denon 2910, Disc 3 plays fine on it.

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david hare
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#138 Post by david hare » Tue Dec 12, 2006 8:56 pm

Here's a tip from the Uncle Flixy's kitchen.

Get out windex or some metholated spirit based stuff (not drinking material), get a lint free cloth and scrub the bejesus out of both sides of the disc (as always from centre to rim.) Works a charm for me. (But dont have these particular discs yet.)

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Caligula
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#139 Post by Caligula » Wed Dec 13, 2006 2:38 am

I have a Denon DVD 2900 as well (also multi-region).

Grabbed disc three this morning, loaded it twice without problem or delay. Al the films on the disc start without any hassle.

I'd go with Flixy's advice, if I were you...

alfons416
Joined: Sat Apr 29, 2006 5:39 am

#140 Post by alfons416 » Wed Dec 13, 2006 6:50 am

bought the box today, havent looked at the transfers yet but i've looked at the booklet and it looks real nice. but what happend to the blue artwork with buster and the girl that was supposed to be on one of the amarys? i loved that one..

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Paul Moran
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#141 Post by Paul Moran » Thu Dec 14, 2006 6:14 pm

Thanks for the tips and for checking, guys.
If I have any problems with disc 3 the next time I play this set on my main player - I don't think it will be a Denon - I'll certainly try a "deep clean".

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zedz
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#142 Post by zedz » Mon Dec 18, 2006 4:30 pm

Am I particularly obtuse, or is Neil Brand completely overlooked in the credits for this set?

I'm only part of the way through, but Neil deserves some major kudos for his marathon work accompanying these films. Indefatigable is the word that springs to mind, but also constantly alert and responsive.

peerpee
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#143 Post by peerpee » Mon Dec 18, 2006 5:05 pm

Neil Brand is thanked in the booklet, and is mentioned on most of the end credits on the films themselves.

I agree, his work is exemplary on these films (Neil's recordings were done for Lobster Films in Paris a few years ago, and were not done specifically for MoC).

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Kinsayder
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#144 Post by Kinsayder » Mon Dec 18, 2006 5:39 pm

The Barbican Centre in London has a weekend devoted to Neil Brand on Feb 17-18th:

"Neil Brand is one of the UK's most celebrated pianists working with silent film, and in this special weekend presentation he will share his secrets about the art of musical improvisation, followed on Sunday 18 Feb with a accompaniment to F.W. Murnau's overwhelming 1927 film, Sunrise."

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zedz
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#145 Post by zedz » Mon Dec 18, 2006 8:35 pm

I recommend the Barbican presentation, and not just for the Murnau. Neil is wonderfully knowledgeable and passionate about silent film and he's a great talker.

(Thanks Nick - I noticed the list mention in the book but had overlooked the on-screen credits - too eager to get onto the next film, I suppose!)

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david hare
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#146 Post by david hare » Thu Dec 21, 2006 12:57 am

Finally ordered this from Amazon on Monday (have been totally broke). I certainly don't expect the discs before the New Year but they have not even processed the order in four days. Is this becoming standard for amazon uk? (It's usually fine, unlike amazon.com which has totally lost me with its five week deliveriy times etc.)

Is there a stock problem? Amazon indicates in stock. (Would be nice to think they had sold out and MoC had to run another pressing. )

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devlinnn
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#147 Post by devlinnn » Thu Dec 21, 2006 1:17 am

Toots, it's, ahem, Christmas week. Have a gin and tonic, enjoy the sunshine and look again through the DJ catalogue. The Keaton will arrive very soon (mine came last week, as did I) and you will be forever in Nick and co's debt, again.

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david hare
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#148 Post by david hare » Thu Dec 21, 2006 2:36 am

I'm perhaps understandably tetchy. Have a copy of the HD the Searchers with nothing to play it on. For a month. Merde!

Nick can you confirm the Keaton shorts are encoded R2? I had thought they were R0 but I can't get them to load on the Toshiba HD player.

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david hare
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#149 Post by david hare » Sun Jan 14, 2007 9:52 pm

To my great relief the entire set plays without problem in the Toshiba HD E1!! (I'm guessing the discs are either encoded R0 or R2/4? (Or has some witchcraft "fixed" the Region coding bug on the Tosh?)

Huge round of applause, and gales of laughter. Not the least of the many pleasures the absolutely wonderful three way dialogue between Dan Sallitt, Brad Stevens and Jean-Pierre Coursodon for 150 pages! Regular trawlers of a_film_by already know these guys as extremely comprehensive writers on American cinema - indeed Jean-Pierre's "Cinquante Ans du Cinema American" is one of the finest film books ever written IMO. (It's transltaed and revised in English as American Directors Vols. 1 and 2.) It's difficult to imagine these discourses were conducted over the internet, the authors flow and complement each other completely fluidly, and who else but J-P could articulate Fatty Arbuckle's oral fixation so well. I thought the commentary was in many ways superior to Rudi Blesh and other earlier writers on Keaton, certainly for the shorts but also for the development of so many formal elements from them into the great 20s features.

Fantastic job!

peerpee
not perpee
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#150 Post by peerpee » Mon Jan 15, 2007 9:36 am

Sorry for not replying earlier, David. The Keaton set is all R0 PAL. Glad you could play it okay and that you liked it so much. We'll certainly be trying to replicate the roundtable process on future releases, it worked very well.

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