Andrzej Wajda on DVD and Blu-ray

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MichaelB
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Andrzej Wajda on DVD and Blu-ray

#1 Post by MichaelB » Wed Nov 22, 2006 8:30 am

(Continuing from the Krzysztof Zanussi thread)

I watched Andrzej Wajda's Lotna (1959) last night in full (the individual disc can be ordered from here, though, absurdly, it's the same price as the four-disc box set here), so can flesh out my rather skimpy overview in the earlier thread.

The film was fascinating - as soon as it's established that it's set at the start of September 1939 and concerns the attempts of a Polish cavalry regiment to repel the Nazi invaders, the entire film is undercut from the start by the certain knowledge that Poland was about to face the grimmest period of its entire existence, and it's heart-rending seeing the naïve optimism displayed by the bulk of the cast in their mass delusion that this is merely a temporary blip in their country's fortunes. The major set-piece, in which wave upon wave of Polish horsemen are pushed back by two Nazi tanks, apparently never happened in reality, but it's as good a metaphor for the situation as any (and it's thrillingly well staged).

But it's also a wistful elegy for the end of an era where military matters were settled by the character of the individual officers, and the ultimate in hi-tech weaponry was the field gun. Lotna herself is a magnificent white mare, whose fate mirrors that of her native country.

Good background info here and here - amongst other things, I discovered something I hadn't known when watching the film, which is that Wajda's own father was a Polish cavalryman who died in the early years of World War II (though murdered by the Soviets in this case), making it a deeply personal work.

Sadly, my initial impression of the transfer (posted in the Zanussi thread) pretty much applies to the whole thing. Contemporary reviews praise Wajda for his baroque visuals and adventurousness with colour, but in this print it's so faded that it's sometimes hard to tell where the full-colour sequences end and the desaturated/sepia-toned sequences begin. Skin tones are pasty verging on monochrome, greenery is pallid and the film as a whole has the feel of a faded photograph after too much exposure to the sun. Admittedly, this doesn't work against the elegiac feel, but I doubt it's what Wajda originally intended.

Barring a tiny number of presumably unsalvageable splice-related jump-cuts (none of which do any serious damage), the source print is in excellent condition (or has been digitally scrubbed to within an inch of its life) - but the image is very soft, and the resolution closer to VHS than DVD. It's been windowboxed Criterion-style on all four sides, which doesn't help the definition either. (I'm guessing the picture should be 4:3 - there's no compositional indication that it shouldn't).

The sound is adequate for a nearly fifty-year-old film, though not without a scattering of momentary dropouts. I didn't bother with the 5.1 remix or the German dub track: thankfully, the disc defaults to the original Polish mono.

On a much happier note, the English subtitles are excellent - I can't judge the translation, but I never felt short-changed, and I can only recall one very minor typo.

I'm sure the extras are fascinating, but for the most part they're impossible to judge given my lack of Polish. That said, a six-minute clip from Wajda's four-hour Napoleonic epic Popioly (1965) has hardly any dialogue and maximum large-scale cavalry action (Wajda was clearly trying to outdo the sequences in Lotna six years earlier), so that's well worth watching. The two other items are based around lengthy interviews with Wajda in unsubtitled Polish - one seems to be discussing the film, the other the historical background, but I can't be scrupulously accurate on that. A short before-and-after restoration demo reveals the amount of cleaning-up that was necessary even to get to this DVD version, and a large stills gallery includes handwritten notes and storyboards as well as images from the film and behind the scenes.
Last edited by MichaelB on Tue Oct 28, 2008 7:36 pm, edited 4 times in total.

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#2 Post by Scharphedin2 » Wed Nov 22, 2006 8:43 am

Thank you Michael for this concise and insightful write-up on the film and DVD release. Definitely a film that I now want to see, and the quality issues of this particular would not deter me from purchasing this edition.

The other Wajda box mentioned in the Zanussi thread sounds good as well (I think Waterbearer released a similar box set in the States a while back -- maybe that was a port of this box?) In any event the low prices make all of these releases low risk.

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#3 Post by MichaelB » Wed Nov 22, 2006 8:53 am

Absolutely - as I said in the earlier thread, I followed up the four-disc box with an order for the seven-discer.

The total price, for eleven films, came to €52.76 - or £35.63/$67.67 - and that includes postage for two separate orders.

So that's a mere €4.80 per title (£2.96/$5.63) - and if Lotna is towards the lower end of the quality scale (it appears to be the worst transfer in the four-disc set), then I have no regrets whatsoever. Especially as I doubt I'd have gone out of my way to catch the more obscure titles.

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#4 Post by colinr0380 » Fri Nov 24, 2006 7:59 am

MichaelB wrote:The film was fascinating - as soon as it's established that it's set at the start of September 1939 and concerns the attempts of a Polish cavalry regiment to repel the Nazi invaders, the entire film is undercut from the start by the certain knowledge that Poland was about to face the grimmest period of its entire existence, and it's heart-rending seeing the naïve optimism displayed by the bulk of the cast in their mass delusion that this is merely a temporary blip in their country's fortunes. The major set-piece, in which wave upon wave of Polish horsemen are pushed back by two Nazi tanks, apparently never happened in reality, but it's as good a metaphor for the situation as any (and it's thrillingly well staged).
That is interesting - it sounds like it fits in well with the style of his first three features where there is the feeling of melancholy watching people fight for causes already long overwhelmed or defeated by the time the films were made. It looks like it would be a good companion to the earlier films which follow the events up to the end of the war and the coming of the Russians but instead of tackling the Russian period (which probably would have been impossible) he returns to the beginning of the war with the Nazis - is there much in the film that could be applied just as much to the situation under Soviet occupation at the time the film was being made?

How does the 'naive optimism' compare to that in A Generation, which has at the same time one of the most naive and heartbreaking final shots I've seen. It was very strange to find myself as the viewer in a similar position of futile hope when I was watching Kanal where although we are told from the start that everyone dies I kept wanting someone to make it through, even though it was naive of me to expect them to get any kind of reprieve. In some ways I think the big outdoor battle scenes in Kanal, though brief, give the characters the heroic characteristics, such as Korab attacking the tank on foot. Even though he gets wounded I at least was caught up by that point and was thinking of it in the 'hero wound' type of filmmaking - it'll pain him for a few scenes but then he'll get over it(!), but of course he doesn't and as the tone of the film darkens and he gets weaker there is very little of the 'band together' mentality that you usually see in the more optimistic war films - of course it doesn't help that the group of people all lose each other as soon as they get into the sewers!

Those few big outdoor scenes though help me to forget about the inevitable and get caught up in the action, and I wonder if that is why in Lotna he has the horses going up against the tanks: a stirring scene that gives the essentially tragic cause a moment of glory. It also sounds like a spectacular (and dangerous) scene!

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#5 Post by MichaelB » Wed Dec 06, 2006 11:45 am

OK, the seven-disc box turned up today - here's a brief rundown (with the caveat that I'm assessing the DVDs on a 12" PowerBook):

Packaging: in contrast to the four-disc box (slipcases in thick cardboard sleeve), all seven DVDs are in standard Amaray cases contained in a rather flimsy cardboard box, which I'll probably throw away as it's not especially pretty.

Everything For Sale (Wszystko na sprzedaż, 1969): this is anamorphic 16:9 and looks pretty good - the colours are a tad faded but no worse than any other Sixties film I've seen, the print is in good condition, and the subtitles seem fine. Extras are copious (loads of interviews in particular), but unsubtitled.

Man of Marble (Człowiek z marmuru, 1977): I'm halfway through watching the entire film, and this is a terrific transfer: a very clean, well-preserved print (a few minor blemishes, nothing unusual for a 30-year-old title) with no encoding issues worth noting - albeit with the caveat that I'm watching a 12" screen. The framing is 4:3, which appears to be the OAR - the compositions rang true, and it would make aesthetic sense for it to be 4:3, since part of the point of the film is that it's constantly cutting back and forth between the present and convincing-looking black-and-white 1950s documentary footage. But if anyone knows different, please let me know. Subtitles are fine - I spotted one minor typo, plus a couple of instances where seemingly throwaway dialogue wasn't translated, but nothing that seriously affected appreciation. And if the second half is as good as the first, this is a major masterpiece that fully lives up to its reputation - and is arguably worth the price of the box on its own.

The Young Ladies of Wilko (Panny z Wilka , 1979): this is anamorphic 16:9 and while it looks a bit murky in darker scenes, it seems perfectly watchable. Again, subtitles seem fine, and the colours ring completely true. Extras copious but unsubtitled.

Man of Iron (Człowiek z żelaza, 1981): this is anamorphic 16:9 (slightly windowboxed at the sides to preserve a 1.66:1 ratio) and generally looks fine. Print is in good condition, bar the odd dust spot, though there was a nasty (but momentary) splice scar in the scene I happened to sample. Hopefully that's a one-off: further dips suggest this will be quite acceptable.

(details of the other discs to follow)

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#6 Post by vogler » Wed Dec 06, 2006 10:40 pm

MichaelB wrote:Absolutely - as I said in the earlier thread, I followed up the four-disc box with an order for the seven-discer.

The total price, for eleven films, came to €52.76 - or £35.63/$67.67 - and that includes postage for two separate orders.
I'm ordering the two Wajda sets now but strangely I seem to be getting a higher total. The total for both sets and postage is 62.72 EUR.
It breaks down like this:
subtotal: 46.14 EUR
approx. postage: 16.58 EUR

Unless something is going wrong it looks like the postage has gone up dramatically since you ordered. Were yours sent REGISTERED AIR MAIL because that is the only option I am getting? I don't really understand why it says approx. postage either.

It's still a good bargain though.

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#7 Post by yoshimori » Wed Dec 06, 2006 11:18 pm

I know I've asked this before, but ... Any word on the French film Wajda did for Gaumont, Les Possédés [Biesy]? Isabelle Huppert, Bernard Blier, Omar Sharif. Amazing dp work from Witold Adamek. It's my favorite Wajda, but doesn't seem to be on disc anywhere. If someone knows about a version of it, please ...

Alapage has a page up and even a price, but ...

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#8 Post by MichaelB » Thu Dec 07, 2006 7:13 am

vogler wrote:Unless something is going wrong it looks like the postage has gone up dramatically since you ordered. Were yours sent REGISTERED AIR MAIL because that is the only option I am getting? I don't really understand why it says approx. postage either.
Well, I ordered both sets separately - maybe the combined weight pushed the postage up to a different charge band?

Unfortunately, the cleaners at work were too efficient and I no longer have the packet to check - but I don't recall being offered any postage options.

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#9 Post by vogler » Thu Dec 07, 2006 7:47 am

MichaelB wrote:Well, I ordered both sets separately - maybe the combined weight pushed the postage up to a different charge band?
I tried putting different combinations of items in the shopping cart, including just one of the Wajda sets at a time, but the postage was still a lot more. The only other thing I can think of is if they had previously calculated the weight incorrectly for the box sets. I decided not to worry about it though and I ordered both the Wajda sets and the two Zanussi dvds anyway. The price is still very good.

Incidentally I watched my first Wajda film last night, Brzezina from 1970. The tone of the film is at times very bleak but it is also very powerful. There is some wonderful cinematography with some amazing images in the birch forests. I'd like to get hold of a better copy of this film since mine is VHS quality but unfortunately I don't think the dvd on rockserwis.pl has English subs. After Brzezina I'm very much looking forward to seeing more Wajda.

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#10 Post by MichaelB » Sun Dec 10, 2006 10:13 am

I finally got to the end of Man of Marble, and it frankly justified the price of the box set on its own: although it became increasingly clear that it was borrowing its structure from Citizen Kane, it adapted it in such an apposite and relevant way that this barely registered (in fact, though it's clearly nowhere near as technically innovative as Welles' film, it's arguably superior in narrative terms: the secrets uncovered are far more significant than "Rosebud", especially given the time and place that the film was made).

Instead of an American media mogul, the investigation here was into the real life of Mateusz Birkut (Jerzy Radziwilowicz), and the investigator isn't a reporter but a young film student (Krystyna Janda) hoping to make a splash with her thesis project. Her youth and inexperience are important: she hasn't yet learned the virtues of diplomacy and doesn't yet know that certain questions should be off-limits, especially when they start raising questions about government policy. But as she delves deeper into the Birkut footage, watching outtakes as well as official propaganda reels, and starts talking to the people who shot it, it becomes increasingly clear that all is not what it seems.

But Wadja's masterstroke is to make it clear that there's nothing faked about Birkut's dedication to socialism: his guileless zeal is explicitly contrasted with the Machiavellian manipulation of the people pulling his various strings. Which is, of course, Wajda's point - and why his film was (and is) so important as a critique of socialism in practice: it can't simply be dismissed as a knee-jerk anti-communist rant. It's amazing to think that this got made and shown in 1970s Poland, and it's a salutary example of a major artist using his clout to push through a project that badly needed to be made. It's a marvellous film, and I'm watching Man of Iron as soon as I get a chance.

A few notes on the DVD, though with the caveat that a 12" laptop screen and headphones won't exactly reveal every flaw. But, with that in mind:

Picture: Looked OK to me - a few instances of physical damage (plus some obtrusive reel-change marks), but generally in pretty good nick, and the colours haven't suffered too much from ageing thirty years. The aspect ratio is 4:3, but I'm now convinced that that's the OAR - none of the compositions looked cropped in the slightest, and it's obvious that the archive footage is framed correctly as it has tell-tale curves around corners. There's every aesthetic justification for this film being 4:3 (given the amount of faked 1950s footage), and presumably this was a more realistic option in 1970s Poland than it would have been in the West.

Sound: I only listened to this through headphones, so can't comment on the 5.1 remix - except to say that that's all we're offered, which isn't especially appealing as it almost certainly would have been mono.

Subtitles: Adequate rather than outstanding - they're idiomatic enough, but I got the impression on quite a few occasions that I was being somewhat short-changed, either because the translation was significantly briefer than what was actually being said on screen, or because some asides and small talk weren't translated at all.

Extras: Well, no surprises here: virtually everything is off-limits to non-Polish speakers, which is a real shame since there's clearly loads to talk about. But for those less linguistically inept, here's a rundown: a 46-minute documentary about the film, including a hefty Wajda interview; a series of short interviews (2 to 6 minutes) with other major players: Józef Teichma, Krystyna Janda, Barbara Pec-Slesicka, Edward Klosinski, Jerzy Radziwilowicz, Jerzy Plazewski); another 5-minute Wajda interview; biographies and filmographies for key cast and crew; a further 32-minute documentary about Wajda. That said, there are a few English-friendly extras: a reproduction of the film poster, plus the complete letter from Steven Spielberg to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences proposing an honorary Oscar for Wajda, followed by a stills gallery of Wajda accepting said Oscar in 2000, and even a scrolling copy of the score for the Fanfare composed for said award. But it's slim pickings compared with the rest.

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#11 Post by porcupine2 » Sat Aug 18, 2007 6:13 pm

MichaelB wrote:I finally got to the end of Man of Marble, and it frankly justified the price of the box set on its own: although it became increasingly clear that it was borrowing its structure from Citizen Kane, it adapted it in such an apposite and relevant way that this barely registered (in fact, though it's clearly nowhere near as technically innovative as Welles' film, it's arguably superior in narrative terms: the secrets uncovered are far more significant than "Rosebud", especially given the time and place that the film was made).
I was just watching this and Man of Iron (from this set) - the second film complicates the Kane-structure of the first one, doubling it into two spirals - the original one of reportage and interviews has become one of resistance, brought to light by Winkel's second spiral of reportage, though it's a downward one of escape, with the link between the two films [sort of spoiler] being the corridor down which Agnieszka and Maciek walk at the end of Man of Marble, continued half-way through Man of Iron like a kind of cord connecting the structure of Marble to the more complicated one of Iron. So, I agree with Michael's "arguably superior in narrative terms" comment....

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The Promised Land (Wajda, 1974) TV version on DVD

#12 Post by Stefan Andersson » Wed Apr 16, 2008 10:22 am

The Promised Land (Wajda, 1974) TV version on DVD"

Hi all! Does anybody know where to order the DVD of the TV version (206 mins) of Wajda´s THE PROMISED LAND (ZIEMIA OBIECANA)? I had a link to a Polish e-tailer, the DVD seemed to have English subs, and then I lost it.

Somebody posted a description at Imdb of the Director´s Cut (138) that did not sound promising.

The 179 min original theatrical cut is available on Polish DVD with English subtitles.

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#13 Post by pro-bassoonist » Thu Apr 17, 2008 2:57 am

Here

Ciao,
Pro-B

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#14 Post by MichaelB » Sat Apr 26, 2008 2:51 pm

If anyone's interested, I've posted my report on last night's Censorship as a Creative Force panel discussion between Jiří Menzel, István Szabó and Agnieszka Holland (plus a recorded contribution from Andrzej Wajda) here.

Edit: and just to add to my last post, the Sight & Sound interview with Wajda by Kamila Kuc and myself has just been published on the BFI's website.

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#15 Post by MichaelB » Thu Jul 31, 2008 11:31 am

I've just uploaded the full text of the introductory talk to Wajda's work that I gave at BFI Southbank and the POSK Polish cultural centre last May.

Illustrations to follow.

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#16 Post by colinr0380 » Fri Aug 01, 2008 5:29 pm

A fascinating article. This unavailability of Wajda's work makes me hope for an Eclipse set of his films (maybe coupled with a Criterion edition of Katyn - wishful thinking I know!)

There is a very brief clip from The Ring Of The Crowd Eagle in the On Kanal feature in the Criterion set. It is mainly used to illustrate the way Wajda tackled the Warsaw uprising again later on in his career. I've taken a couple of frame grabs of the scene in case they are of interest:

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#17 Post by MichaelB » Fri Aug 01, 2008 6:12 pm

Believe it or not, I actually had the chance to see Ring of the Crowned Eagle in 1993, when I first went to Cannes - it was screening in the film market.

But I passed on the offer, because I assumed (reasonably at the time) that since it was Wajda, it would automatically get British distribution, and my job was to dig up stuff that was far less obvious. More fool me. (I made a similar mistake with Eric Rohmer's L'Arbre, le maire et la médiathèque, just about the only one of his films not to get UK distribution!)

That said, I probably wouldn't have got much out of it even if I had seen it - by all accounts, if you don't know the historical background and haven't seen Kanal or Ashes and Diamonds (which I hadn't back then), you're really going to be struggling.

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#18 Post by eltopo » Wed Aug 13, 2008 6:19 am


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#19 Post by MichaelB » Tue Oct 28, 2008 7:40 pm

It seems that Katyn is coming out on Blu-ray next week, though I'm waiting for confirmation of both English subtitles and the aspect ratio before ordering. DVDMax says it has Polish and English subtitles, but Merlin and Empik are remaining coy.

As for the aspect ratio, all sources say 16:9, which was the aspect ratio of the single-disc Polish DVD - though this was cropped from the original theatrical 2.35:1. As it happens, I didn't find the cropping to be at all destructive (see my DVD Times review for comparative screengrabs), so that's less of an issue than it might be - but I'd still like to be certain of what I'm getting before ordering.

UPDATE: Going from this account of the HD-DVD, it sounds as though the picture is indeed 16:9, unless they did a brand new HD transfer especially for the Blu-ray (unlikely, I'd have thought).

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Re: Andrzej Wajda on DVD and Blu-ray

#20 Post by MichaelB » Thu Dec 18, 2008 8:14 pm

Just a quick note to confirm that the Katyn Blu-ray is indeed framed at 16:9. English subtitles are available only on the feature, not the extras (so no change from the DVD).

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Re: Andrzej Wajda on DVD and Blu-ray

#21 Post by GaryC » Fri Dec 19, 2008 4:21 am

I'm sure Michael knows this already, but Katyn is getting a UK cinema release from Artificial Eye on 10 April.

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Re: Andrzej Wajda on DVD and Blu-ray

#22 Post by MichaelB » Fri Dec 19, 2008 8:03 am

GaryC wrote:I'm sure Michael knows this already, but Katyn is getting a UK cinema release from Artificial Eye on 10 April.
I didn't, actually, so thanks for that. I hear the asking price was utterly ludicrous at first, so I suspect Artificial Eye beat them down once it became clear that no-one else was going to take the film on.

(I suspect it'll do more than adequately for an arthouse release, but it clearly was never going to be a mega-blockbuster on the level that it was in Poland, where it came second only to Shrek the Third in the domestic charts)

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Re: Andrzej Wajda on DVD and Blu-ray

#23 Post by yoshimori » Fri May 21, 2010 10:32 pm

According to dvdfr the French Danton blu-ray has sous-titres anglais. Can anyone confirm?

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Re: Andrzej Wajda on DVD and Blu-ray

#24 Post by mikkelmark » Sat May 22, 2010 1:45 am

yoshimori wrote:According to dvdfr the French Danton blu-ray has sous-titres anglais. Can anyone confirm?
Bluray.com confirms it.

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Re: Andrzej Wajda on DVD and Blu-ray

#25 Post by solaris72 » Fri Mar 10, 2017 12:04 pm

Picked up the French blu of Wajda's Les Possedes. No English subs, but I found a .srt file online. Was preparing to combine the two, when I found that the timing was off- the .srt seemed to be timed for a PAL DVD. Spent a while researching how to fix this, found a website that could adjust the timing/framerate on .srt files. Messed around with that for a while, managed to get it reasonably synced. Put the movie on, and after all that- discovered that the subs appear to be a google translation job...

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