18 Passenger

Discuss DVDs and Blu-rays released by Second Run and the films on them.
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rollotomassi
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#51 Post by rollotomassi » Tue Sep 26, 2006 7:14 pm

Well, I won't repeat what I said on the Knights of the teutonic Order page, only to say I will keep my order, but just have to make allowances for the shoddiness of the release.

I'm hopeful Marketa Lazarova will be better as I have seen the screencaps of the Czech restoration for that and they are proper 2.35. If the Second Run isn't, I'll just get the planned Czech release which will have English subs as well.

I think it's safe to say that both these releases, Passenger and Teutonic Order, have redefined the term 'anti-climactic" and hopefully Second Run will learn from this and not announce any future releases without securing the actual film as intended, rather than a bastardised version...

Hopefully we'll be OK with the Jancso releases, too, as they've been released in proper ratio in France, so they just need to obtain them and restore from that.

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Bikey
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#52 Post by Bikey » Thu Sep 28, 2006 6:01 am

OK so in repsonse to comments regarding our Passenger release that have been posted here (and elsewhere) can I first say I'm perfectly happy to come on here and defend our actions where necessary. This forum is full of passionate, knowledgeable people and we do accept that anything perceived to be substandard will, quite rightly, be picked up on and discussed (or torn to shreds) here. This forum is a key part of our core audience and we have to listen to what is posted here and take it on board.

In the case of Passenger we can see that what has offended so much was the lack of information about the release being in a compromised OAR. This was a balls-up on our part and I would like to extend our apologies to anyone who feels let down by this. However, this was a genuine mistake and not a deliberate omission. The production of Passenger was a very long, protracted affair and, for reasons way too dull to go into, the notice was missed from the artwork.

There was no duplicity intended on our part - we have always detailed any such information upfront (viz. Mother Joan, Konkurs and the forthcoming Knights) - and, while I may be reading too much into it, I absolutely reject any implication that there was. That really isn't our style. Our hopes of sustaining Second Run as a long term business would be lost if we started behaving in that kind of way. You have been with us right from the start of Second Run and know what we do and where our ethos lies.

We have always intended to bring you important and neglected films, in the best possible condition that we can and with as much care as if it was our own film. We hope you will continue to keep with us and I hope that some of our forthcoming 2007 releases will restore any faith that may have been lost over the last couple of days.

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david hare
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#53 Post by david hare » Thu Sep 28, 2006 8:14 am

Well it's pleasing to hear such a forthright post.

One thing I would like to see clarified is - if presented with the choice of an ingrained subbed print in correct ratio, would Second Run go with this? I feel sure everyone here would readily accept this as a decent compromise for such a highly anticipated movie that's been otherwise unavailable, like Passenger.

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Bikey
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#54 Post by Bikey » Thu Sep 28, 2006 9:44 am

That's a difficult one to call. We consider every film on an individual basis. The thing with ingrained subs is that, especially for our older Eastern Euro classics, it's not that the subs are ingrained that's the major problem but that the translations are so bad and can often completely damage one's understanding of the subtleties of the film.

I saw Intimate Lighting here at the NFT in London earlier this year and it was a miserable experience. Judging by the state of the print it was from the film's first release and the subs were borderline incoherent in places. Which, if you know the film well, can provide a certain masochistic kind of pleasure but if you don't know the film then it could seriously affect your enjoyment/response. This is why we go through the expense of commissioning new translations - in some cases it's not worth releasing no matter what condition or aspect ratio the rest of the film is in.

rollotomassi
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#55 Post by rollotomassi » Thu Sep 28, 2006 1:23 pm

As I said, I'm sure this wasn't deliberate on Second Run's part, just an unfortunate set of circumstances. The irony here is that with Passenger, though I like many people have seen the ful Dyaliscope stills in various film books, I often feel that they should have shot it in something like 1.66 anyway, as the idea of an ultra widescreen holocaust film just didn't feel right - much of the atmosphere in such a film must be claustrophobic, and surely a tighter ratio would have helped (but Dyaliscope was prevalent in turn of the century Polska as Teutonic Order, Siberian Lady Macbeth, etc, have proved).

As such, I think it's Teutonic Order that seems the big loser, as that film DEMANDS the full ratio. I have the Polish DVD of that in the same bastardised ratio and the mise en scene is ruined, it's clear even to the untrained eye. Hence, I cancelled the order for that. There just seem to be films that are hard to get in full letterbox - take El Cid, for example, not available in full 2.35 in the UK or US, only in France, but that old deleted print has automatic French subs (unless you have a certain type of video, as I found a way of removing them on one of my machines).

I'm sure that Second Run will be letting us know of any other discrepancies in the future...I just pray that Marketa Lazarova doesn't fall into the same problems, that would be very dispiriting. Reason being that my old DVDR is only 1.85 and I hope that the new version is full ratio.

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#56 Post by Costas » Thu Sep 28, 2006 4:14 pm

Bikey, you guys are doing a terrific job and I will continue to purchase your DVDs. I also appreciate you having the balls to face the music on an issue that lesser companies would run and hide from.

I'm not jumping up and down about this disc because of the aspect ratio issue, but as it's still early days, I'm sure you'll use this unfortunate experience as a valuable lesson learned.

With full information, the buyer can have no complaints about what they are getting. I have every confidence that you'll take this on board for future releases.

God speed and keep up the good work.

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MichaelB
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#57 Post by MichaelB » Thu Sep 28, 2006 4:39 pm

Bikey wrote:That's a difficult one to call. We consider every film on an individual basis. The thing with ingrained subs is that, especially for our older Eastern Euro classics, it's not that the subs are ingrained that's the major problem but that the translations are so bad and can often completely damage one's understanding of the subtleties of the film.
In 1991, I watched Grigori Kozintsev's Hamlet for the first time (I can be certain of the date as we opportunistically played it in rep just before the Mel Gibson one opened). Naturally, I was utterly blown away by it - especially on the big screen! - and snapped up the VHS the next day.

It was sourced from exactly the same print (I'd stake my life on it) - but what looked magnificent on the big screen looked frankly dreadful when shrunk. And a major part of the problem, paradoxically, was that it was fully letterboxed at 2.35:1 - which may seem exemplary, but the downside was that the subtitles were absolutely minuscule and impossible to read comfortably.

That said... if the film's short enough (and Passenger is only an hour or so), and a full Scope print is available with burned-in subtitles, could it not conceivably be offered as an alternative viewing option for those who absolutely insist on 2.35:1?

(Incidentally, we're offering something similar with Rehearsals for Extinct Anatomies and In Absentia on the Quay Brothers disc - they were commissioned by TV and designed for 16:9 broadcast, so we're obviously respecting that, but the Quays also like projecting the 35mm prints through an anamorphic lens and asked if we could create alternative 2.35:1 versions by electronic means. That said, I do appreciate that this cost next to nothing to arrange, while tracking down and telecineing another feature-length print is a different matter entirely!)

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#58 Post by MichaelB » Thu Sep 28, 2006 5:00 pm

rollotomassi wrote:The irony here is that with Passenger, though I like many people have seen the ful Dyaliscope stills in various film books, I often feel that they should have shot it in something like 1.66 anyway, as the idea of an ultra widescreen holocaust film just didn't feel right - much of the atmosphere in such a film must be claustrophobic, and surely a tighter ratio would have helped.
I probably shouldn't admit this, but I originally watched an early pressing of Second Run's Passenger in sublime ignorance of the fact that 1.66:1 wasn't the original aspect ratio (I've just checked, and the word 'Dyaliscope' is noticeably absent from the onscreen credits)...

...and it looked fine. Seriously.

And even looking at it again on fast-forward now that I know it's been cropped from Scope, it still looks perfectly watchable. There are a few scenes (for instance the circle of people surrounding the humiliated camp inmates), where there are clear signs of cropping, but it doesn't strike me that you need to see the entire circle on screen for the scene to have its intended effect. As you rightly say, it's a claustrophobic film, and the cropping intensifies rather than diminishes this.

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tavernier
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#59 Post by tavernier » Thu Sep 28, 2006 5:02 pm

MichaelB wrote:
rollotomassi wrote:The irony here is that with Passenger, though I like many people have seen the ful Dyaliscope stills in various film books, I often feel that they should have shot it in something like 1.66 anyway, as the idea of an ultra widescreen holocaust film just didn't feel right - much of the atmosphere in such a film must be claustrophobic, and surely a tighter ratio would have helped.
I probably shouldn't admit this, but I originally watched an early pressing of Second Run's Passenger in sublime ignorance of the fact that 1.66:1 wasn't the original aspect ratio (I've just checked, and the word 'Dyaliscope' is noticeably absent from the onscreen credits)...

...and it looked fine. Seriously.

And even looking at it again on fast-forward now that I know it's been cropped from Scope, it still looks perfectly watchable. There are a few scenes (for instance the circle of people surrounding the humiliated camp inmates), where there are clear signs of cropping, but it doesn't strike me that you need to see the entire circle on screen for the scene to have its intended effect. As you rightly say, it's a claustrophobic film, and the cropping intensifies rather than diminishes this.
So Munk was wrong to shoot in Dyaliscope: he should have listened to you!

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MichaelB
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#60 Post by MichaelB » Thu Sep 28, 2006 5:21 pm

tavernier wrote:So Munk was wrong to shoot in Dyaliscope: he should have listened to you!
I'm not saying that at all - but what I am saying is that while some Scope films are genuinely unwatchable in anything other than the correct ratio (that other 1961 Dyaliscope classic Last Year in Marienbad being a particularly obvious example), this doesn't appear to be the case with Passenger.

It's a film whose virtues are psychological rather than visual, and while it would obviously have been better to have had it in the full ratio, I can see why Second Run decided that it was still worth releasing even like this.

Does anyone have an image from the film in the original 2.35:1 composition to hand? If they could post it, I'll happily do a screengrab of the equivalent frame of the DVD for comparison purposes.

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meanwhile
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#61 Post by meanwhile » Fri Sep 29, 2006 6:37 pm

I probably shouldn't admit this, but I originally watched an early pressing of Second Run's Passenger in sublime ignorance of the fact that 1.66:1 wasn't the original aspect ratio (I've just checked, and the word 'Dyaliscope' is noticeably absent from the onscreen credits)...

...and it looked fine. Seriously.
I probably shouldn't admit it either but I had exactly the same experience. Retrospectively though I can see that the widescreen would have helped with the early scenes at Auschwitz, especially the long pan that takes in the geography of the place and buildings, but I don't feel that my experience of the film would be radically altered.

Can anyone who has seen it in the correct ratio remember how it worked with the still photographs? Were they shown 4:3 and black-bordered as they are here?

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david hare
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#62 Post by david hare » Fri Sep 29, 2006 7:50 pm

Notable directors who have chosen to use Scope or wider screen formats do so for conscious reasons of expression.

IN the case of Passenger the sense of physical and psychological isolation of people from each other and the geography of the camp are given physical expression in the manipulation of space and void, and light and shade between people and surroundings.

Even Lang who didn't like the format, when forced to use Scope in Moonfleet balanced his compositions in both depth and width expressively to meet the parameters of the frame.

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MichaelB
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#63 Post by MichaelB » Sat Sep 30, 2006 5:11 am

davidhare wrote:Notable directors who have chosen to use Scope or wider screen formats do so for conscious reasons of expression.

IN the case of Passenger the sense of physical and psychological isolation of people from each other and the geography of the camp are given physical expression in the manipulation of space and void, and light and shade between people and surroundings.
I'm more than happy to accept that, and I'd love to see it in 2.35:1, but my point is that while a great many Scope films are demonstrably ruined by cropping, this does not appear to be the case here.

Put it like this - is there a single scene in this film that's rendered literally incomprehensible (or radically altered) by cropping, in the way that's undoubtedly the case with something like Once Upon a Time in the West?

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david hare
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#64 Post by david hare » Sat Sep 30, 2006 5:19 am

No their narrative meaning isn't rendered incomprehensible. Their mise-en-scene is.

And both narrative and mise-en-scene are inseperable in the work of a fine director.

Meaning IS mise-en-scene.

Look at my current avatar. I've cropped it (for fun) but the framing removes the space around Fontaine's head, and Jourdan's hands as he takes off her fascinator. And the necklace and all the deep focussed details of Franz Planer's And as Tag Gallagher reminds us in the superb essays to these films, Ophuls gives us - finally- the mirror, particularly framed, in the image - His POV, her POV and the audience who become both spectator and participant in the drama as she stares, like a vessel into empty space.

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#65 Post by MichaelB » Sat Sep 30, 2006 5:41 am

You can discuss more or less any halfway decent film using similar generalisations, but do you have a specific example with regard to this particular film?

And isn't it intriguing that Andrzej Brzozowski - who knew Munk personally and who worked on Passenger in an important hands-on capacity - also uses cropped clips in his documentary?

Granted, this could be a general policy on the part of Polish TV (even though the programme was made well within the era of general enlightenment about aspect ratios), but isn't it just as likely that Brzozowski, like Second Run, simply couldn't obtain a print in the correct ratio?

I'm not for a moment suggesting that this was a deliberate choice on Brzozowski's part, but there's every possibility his hand may have been forced by circumstances as well. And if it's therefore true that there's no decent unsubtitled 35mm original print to be had, as Second Run claims, then the choice is inescapably between releasing a compromised but far from disastrous version, or not releasing it at all.

And I know which I'd prefer.

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david hare
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#66 Post by david hare » Sat Sep 30, 2006 6:02 am

You can discuss more or less any halfway decent film using similar generalisations, but do you have a specific example with regard to this particular film?
Well that would extend to Cukor, Mann, Ray, Antonioni, Resnais, Altman ....

"Granted, this could be a general policy on the part of Polish TV (even though the programme was made well within the era of general enlightenment about aspect ratios), but isn't it just as likely that Brzozowski, like Second Run, simply couldn't obtain a print in the correct ratio?"

This is without doubt what has happened in this case. People - critics, restorers, distribs and viewers - are at the mercy of whoever holds the existing elements, or copyright if there is any.

I think if you read back thru this forum, or Beaver one of major issues for DVD releases and restos has been OAR integrity. Certainly Nick and others lobbied hard to get MGM to correct the 1.78 transfers of the Bergman UA trilogy. Look at the bitching over Criterion's 1.78 Gertrud or Peeping Tom.

Ironcially, given my age - I saw all of these pictures on first release and the - registered projectionist notes from the distrib - practice was to screen them masked to 1.66! (NOT Academy Ratio.)

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#67 Post by MichaelB » Sat Sep 30, 2006 7:58 am

davidhare wrote:I think if you read back thru this forum, or Beaver one of major issues for DVD releases and restos has been OAR integrity.
I don't need to - this was obvious from the introduction of the format, and I'm very pleasantly surprised that it's still the general rule across the board.

That said, there is a very clear difference between someone deliberately releasing a compromised version because they think their audience will prefer the image to fill their screen, and someone releasing a compromised version because they genuinely have no practical alternative (other than not releasing it at all)
Certainly Nick and others lobbied hard to get MGM to correct the 1.78 transfers of the Bergman UA trilogy. Look at the bitching over Criterion's 1.78 Gertrud or Peeping Tom.
Lobbying is one thing, but practical advice is rather more useful, especially when the label in question has limited resources of its own. MGM has no excuse whatever for not getting it right, as they own the rights and prints (or inherited them from UA, but there's no practical difference). But with a smaller label, the task becomes much harder, especially if the rightsholder can't offer much (or any) assistance.

Often, I get the impression that once the contract has been signed, they pretty much lose interest - especially if the film in question is a supporting short for which they're only going to get a flat fee anyway.

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#68 Post by david hare » Sat Sep 30, 2006 7:35 pm

Here's what I would have done...

Contact the Lincoln Center administration and talk to the person who curated the Polish season in 97/98 to glean the source (which were evidently advertised as "newly struck, newly subtitled" prints of the movies from FIlm Polski which also included works by Jerzy Kawalerowicz and others. I remind you I was not in NYC at the time but was given this information by two people who did go to the season, in particular for Passenger.) I woudl then have sought a preview video of the Passenger and made a yes or no decision based on the acceptability or otherwise of that print.

In all likelihood, given the present situation, I m guessing SR could have done all of this, and were not given any alternative to the cropped transfer (which also very neatly removes the Dyaliscope credit.)

On the subject of DVD companies and compromised product - when AVChannel in Australia released Gus van Sant's Elephant they only did so in a cropped 1.78 version. (The film was shot and intended to be shown in Academy ratio.) I plastered complaints all over the local internet sites, and then contacted AVChannel. They told me they "decided" to go with the WS version because the US HBO release had it - in fact the HBO is dual layered and has the 1.37 version on layer "a" with a menu option. I suggested they re-issue the disc and re-source the correct version from either HBO or MK2 (who were the principal production company and Euro rights holders for DVD. They could not have cared less. They were just too fucking lazy to even try.

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#69 Post by MichaelB » Sun Oct 01, 2006 8:32 am

davidhare wrote:Here's what I would have done...

Contact the Lincoln Center administration and talk to the person who curated the Polish season in 97/98 to glean the source (which were evidently advertised as "newly struck, newly subtitled" prints of the movies from FIlm Polski which also included works by Jerzy Kawalerowicz and others. I woudl then have sought a preview video of the Passenger and made a yes or no decision based on the acceptability or otherwise of that print.
Although this sounds almost idiotically obvious, this scenario relies heavily on the rightsholder having a decent transfer available for perusal before the contract is signed - which may not be the case, especially if the film has never been distributed on video or screened on television in a fully OAR transfer. And if one doesn't exist, who's going to pay for it, if there's no guarantee of distribution?

Here's a real-life example of a similar situation. Three distributors in different territories are interested in handling a particular title, which has never had an OAR release to current technical standards. But two of them aren't prepared to commit until they've seen the final transfer, while the third (who's based in the same territory as the rightsholder, and therefore taking on much of the actual telecine and restoration work) can't afford to go ahead until the other distributors agree to take on some of the cost in advance. So how do you break this deadlock without requiring at least one of the would-be distributors to make a leap of faith that the transfer will be as good as everyone hopes?

I know how difficult these decisions can be to make, because in the early 1990s I was offered the chance to revive (or possibly even premiere: I don't know if it ever had a UK release) Gillo Pontecorvo's Kapo in London - but I turned this down because the distributor was unable to supply me with a subtitled print in advance of signing the contract, because they weren't prepared to pay for the cost of subtitling a 35mm print if they didn't have a venue already prepared to show it. Unfortunately, the film's reputation wasn't great (some good reviews, but quite a few criticised it for heavy-handed melodrama, and the unsubtitled VHS that I was sent strongly hinted that this wasn't entirely unjustified), and so I wasn't prepared to commit to it without seeing an English-friendly print. And since neither of us blinked over this, and no other exhibitor could be found, the release never went ahead.

On the other hand, much more recently, I did take a gamble on an unsubtitled feature-length documentary that's appearing as an extra on a DVD that I'm producing - though I had to work on the basis of gut instinct, since much of it consists of talking-heads commentary in a language that I don't speak. But it's the same Catch-22 - unless I've already made a commitment to distributing this film, I can't justify the expense of translating, spotting and checking the subtitles, but the rightsholder (who as far as I can see is a one-man production company with limited resources) isn't prepared to go to the same expense until he knows for certain that the film will be distributed. And because it's only a DVD extra, we can't offer him very much money, creating even less incentive for him to meet us halfway.

The sad fact is that in a great many cases, you're simply not granted access to proper mastering materials until after the ink has dried on the contract and you've already made a hefty financial commitment. And while most such contracts include an escape clause allowing the would-be distributor to back out if suitable materials can't be found, in practice the chances are that a fair amount of money will already have been spent by the time this decision has to be made - so deciding not to go ahead means writing off an investment that a small company probably can't afford to lose.

In which case - and I'm second-guessing Second Run here, so apologies to them if I'm wide of the mark - the decision boils down to: do we release a compromised version or write off everything we've spent so far? And can we afford to take the second option, especially if we've had to delay the release already because of the last-minute availability of the accompanying documentary? And if you throw in two more questions, namely: "is the film available on DVD anywhere else?" and "does the compromise seriously affect understanding and appreciation?" and the answer comes up a pretty definite "no" in both cases...

...well, I can see why Second Run decided to do what they did. And I can think of very, very few people in their position who'd have decided differently. After all, even the people at Criterion have released cut and incorrectly-framed transfers in their time (Kwaidan springs to mind on both counts), and they have far more resources than a company like Second Run!

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#70 Post by tavernier » Sun Oct 01, 2006 9:41 am

All of this is well and good, but it misses the point that some of us are making: Second Run (and other DVD companies, when this does occur) should have been upfront about what they were--or were not--doing with this title: that they were not releasing the film as it was shot.

It's about simple courtesy and integrity, nothing more. A mere "notice" that the film was shot in Dyaliscope but no good materials could be found would at least have given us ample warning.

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#71 Post by anton_es » Sun Oct 22, 2006 2:11 pm

well, on top of that, its only 1.66:1 letterboxed, not anamorphic. using WinDVD or PowerDVD on my HTPC (1280x720) I have to zoom in which omits some parts of the subtitles like with all letterboxed material i own. that's a damn shame. that's a REAL shame. well, i'm still glad to own and have seen this BRILLIANT movie, even in this butchered form. same with knights... considering the "cheap" retailprice of SecondRun their dvds have always been a no-brainer to me (i'm lucky enough to have work) but this certainly diminished my enjoyment of this company's releases. but i trust them to improve their communication with the customer, especially concerning OAR and letterbox/16:9 enhancement and cuts.

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#72 Post by bergelson » Tue Nov 28, 2006 9:24 am

Hi. From reading this thread I've learned that the Passenger OAR is 1:2:35 and not 1:1:66. How about Munk's other films? I saw that the Facets DVD of Bad Luck is 1:1:75 while his two other films are 1:1:37. Is is the OAR? Also, can anyone comment about the picture quality of Eroica and Man on the Tracks. Thanks.

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#73 Post by Nothing » Sun Dec 02, 2007 1:55 am

And a major part of the problem, paradoxically, was that it was fully letterboxed at 2.35:1 - which may seem exemplary, but the downside was that the subtitles were absolutely minuscule and impossible to read comfortably.
This is pure apologia. OAR is surely the number one concern with any DVD release and, given the size of most peoples displays these days, smallish subtitles are unlikely to pose a problem anymore.

With typical Second Run sophistry, Bikey talks about his woes in sourcing a "copy", ie. a transfer someone else has paid for. As MichaelB rightly acknowledges, this kind of asset is often unavailable. HOWEVER - as david attests, 35mm PRINTS of this film exist and a straight-up analogue SD one-light telecine from a 35mm print in the correct OAR, whilst not be pretty, would cost a few hundred quid and would show the minimum level of respect for the film.

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#74 Post by tryavna » Sun Dec 02, 2007 1:18 pm

Nothing wrote:given the size of most peoples displays these days, smallish subtitles are unlikely to pose a problem anymore.
I would have thought the same thing -- until I picked up Facets' Bunuel titles. Even on fairly large displays, those subtitles can induce eye-strain. (And I'm not exaggerating about that!)

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#75 Post by MichaelB » Mon Mar 17, 2008 7:31 am

bergelson wrote:Hi. From reading this thread I've learned that the Passenger OAR is 1:2:35 and not 1:1:66. How about Munk's other films? I saw that the Facets DVD of Bad Luck is 1:1:75 while his two other films are 1:1:37. Is is the OAR? Also, can anyone comment about the picture quality of Eroica and Man on the Tracks. Thanks.
I reviewed Man on the Tracks here. Eroica will follow very shortly - it's broadly similar. There's no compositional sign that the films weren't originally shot in Academy, which is what I'd have expected for Polish films of this vintage.

As for Bad Luck, the source print and transfer are broadly similar, though the ratio is now 16:9 anamorphic. In this case I simply don't know what the OAR is, though I don't recall anything that looked obviously cropped.

All three discs appear to be PAL-to-NTSC transfers, presumably from Polish-sourced masters. That said, the drawbacks are nowhere near as overt as they were with the same label's Innocent Sorcerers, where the judder was so bad I'm shocked it got past quality control (assuming Polart/Facets has any!), and I'm not aware of an alternative source - the films are out in Poland, but I don't think the DVDs have English subtitles.

Munk completists should also snap up PWA's excellent anthology of the bulk of his non-fiction output (which I reviewed for DVD Times) - transfer standards are a notch higher thanks to being native PAL and OAR throughout.

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