Home Page  
 
 

SPECIFICATIONS
  • 1.37:1 Standard
  • German PCM Mono
  • English subtitles
  • 4 Discs
FEATURES
  • Two new documentaries by Fassbinder Foundation president Juliane Lorenz: one featuring interviews with the cast and crew, the other on the restoration
  • Hans-Dieter Hartl’s 1980 documentary Notes on the Making of “Berlin Alexanderplatz”
  • Phil Jutzi’s 1931, ninety-minute film of Alfred Döblin’s novel, from a screenplay co-written by Döblin himself
  • New video interview with Peter Jelavich, author of Berlin Alexanderplatz: Radio, Film, and the Death of Weimar Culture
  • A book featuring an essay by filmmaker Tom Tykwer, reflections from Fassbinder, an interview with Xaver Schwarzenberger, and German author Thomas Steinfeld on the novel

Berlin Alexanderplatz

Blu-ray
Reviewed by: Chris Galloway

Directed By: Rainer Werner Fassbinder
1980 | 902 Minutes | Licensor: Rainer Werner Fassbinder Foundation

Release Information
Blu-ray | MSRP: $99.95 | Series: The Criterion Collection | Edition: #411
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Release Date: February 12, 2019
Review Date: March 3, 2019

Purchase From:
amazon.com  amazon.ca

Share:

SYNOPSIS

Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s fifteen-hour Berlin Alexanderplatz, based on Alfred Döblin’s great modernist novel, was the crowning achievement of a prolific director who, at age thirty-four, had already made over thirty films. Fassbinder’s immersive epic follows the hulking, childlike ex-convict Franz Biberkopf (Günter Lamprecht) as he attempts to “become an honest soul” amid the corrosive urban landscape of Weimar-era Germany. With equal parts cynicism and humanity, Fassbinder details a mammoth portrait of a common man struggling to survive in a viciously uncommon time.


PICTURE

Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s 15-hour television series Berlin Alexanderplatz receives a new Blu-ray upgrade from the Criterion Collection, presented in the aspect ratio of 1.37:1 over the first three discs of this four-disc set. Disc one presents episodes 1 through 5, disc 2 episodes 6 through 10, and disc 3 episodes 11 through 13 plus the epilogue. The presentation comes from the same 2007 2K restoration used for Criterion’s original DVD edition, scanned from the original 16mm A/B roll negatives. Originally made for German television, Berlin Alexanderplatz was filmed at the frame rate of 25fps to accommodate 50hz televisions. For their DVD edition, Criterion converted it to 24fps, in effect making the film 38-minutes longer. For this Blu-ray edition Criterion has decided to stick to the 25fps frame-rate (keeping it at its original 902-minute runtime), which means they have to encode the film interlaced at 1080i/60hz since North American televisions cannot properly handle the original 50hz frame rate.

The interlacing isn’t an issue as most of the presentation “looks” progressive, with the blended interlaced frames inserted every so often to accommodate the frame rate. These are never noticeable while watching the film in motion. In this regard the image is clean and stable. Unfortunately just about every other aspect of this presentation is a mess.

To be fair, a lot of the problems come down to the original elements and how the film was shot. Fassbinder was going for a certain look and this actually led to problems when the series was originally broadcast: the image was so dark, with blacks crushed so much, audiences complained about it. That same look certainly doesn’t help here at all. Blacks are miserable and look murky and more on the gray side, rarely a rich black. Shadow details are pretty much obliterated and dark scenes (which make up a lot of the 15 hours) look terrible. The film is just miserable to look at, laced in grays and browns, with only the occasional the pop of colour, which still manages to look weak and bland. It’s not a pleasant looking film, but it seems to be mostly intentional.

The film is also rarely sharp, but this mostly comes down to the original shooting style I believe; the film has an intentionally softer look. But this is probably aggravated a bit by noise-reduction. The whole series was filmed on 16mm so I would expect everything to be grainier but it’s barely there, and the look does suggest noise reduction. With five hours compressed on each disc, though, I suspect it’s probably better this way as I could only imagine how noisy the image would be.

This still doesn’t mean the image is free of noise and digital anomalies. Unfortunately there are a number of scenes which deliver a heavy amount of noise and compression artifacts. During the third episode when several characters go looking for Biberkopf and locate him at the flophouse, the picture is laced with artifacts and blocky patterns. It looks awful. The DVD did showed evidence of this but it appears the DVD’s compression actually eased this so it wasn’t too bad. The Blu-ray’s presentation of this sequence and others is far worse.

There isn’t much of a filmic texture here unfortunately, and when you get down to it, this Blu-ray doesn’t offer much of an upgrade in comparison to the DVD, with the DVD even looking better in some areas. It’s a disappointment.

(Screen captures only come from the first five episodes found on the first disc, but I feel they’re still representative of the overall quality.)

6/10

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.

Screen Capture

Screen Capture

Screen Capture

Screen Capture

Screen Capture

Screen Capture

Screen Capture

Screen Capture

Screen Capture

Screen Capture

Screen Capture

Screen Capture

Screen Capture

Screen Capture

Screen Capture

Screen Capture

Screen Capture

Screen Capture

Screen Capture

Screen Capture

AUDIO

The entire film receives a lossless PCM 1.0 monaural track. Like the image I can’t say the audio presented here offers much of an improvement over the original DVD. It’s still flat and rather lifeless. There is some background noise that becomes more audible in places but it’s not distracting, and I don’t recall any other issues like drops, cracks, or pops. It’s fine but weak.

6/10

SUPPLEMENTS

This Blu-ray edition appears to carry over everything from the original DVD edition and Criterion presents all of the supplements on the fourth dual-layer disc.

Criterion first includes two documentaries around the making of the film, including an original 1979 44-minute behind-the-scenes feature called Notes on the Making of “Berlin Alexanderplatz” and then a 65-minute one from 2007 called Fassbinder’s “Berlin Alexanderplatz”: A Mega Movie and its Story. Together the two offer a satisfying overview on the making of the film, the behind-the-scenes one offering an intimate portrait of Fassbinder’s working process, how he works with his actors and crew (and financiers!) and what he was trying to accomplish with the film through interviews. The newer documentary gathers together just about everyone surviving (at the time) from the cast and crew and offers first hand accounts about their experience with the production, the most interesting information probably coming from Gunter Lamprecht on becoming involved and the character of Franz Biberkopf, and then director of photography Xaver Schwarzenberger on the lighting and the film’s look. Both are excellent additions and recommended for those curious about the ambitious production.

”Berlin Alexanderplatz” Remastered: Notes on the Restoration is a 32-minute documentary on the ambitious restoration of the film. This is probably one of the more heavily detailed features on the subject I’ve seen, even going right down to the details of the film scanner. The amount of work and time (lots and lots of time) are clearly indicated here, and the interviews (including with DP Schwarzenberger once again) explain how the proper look is captured and how damage is repaired. This feature also offered the first time I had seen how the finished digital project is transferred back to film for screenings. It’s one of the more interesting and rewarding programs on the subject of film restoration I’ve seen.

Criterion then includes the 1931 film adaptation of Berlin Alexanderplatz directed by Phil Jutzi. Running at 84-minutes it shouldn’t be hard to figure out that it’s missing a lot from Fassbinder’s 15-hour adaptation. A lot of scenarios and plot points are missing, as are a lot of characters, though the film does have a more clear path with a more conventional narrative, though goes for a more upbeat nature (as scholar Peter Jelavich points out in another feature the character of Biberkopf is more assured as well). It’s a bland adaptation in all honesty, rather unambitious, and I feel I’d be saying the same thing even if Fassbinder’s own adaptation didn’t exist. Yet it’s still a fantastic inclusion. Unfortunately it has not been restored at all, damage still heavy, and it is presented as a standard-definition upscale.

Professor Peter Jelavich then pops up for 24-minutes to talk extensively about the original Alfred Doblin novel, what it set to accomplish, its unusual narrative, and how it represented Germany of the time. Jelevich also talks about the various adaptations, from an abandoned radio play to the multiple film adaptations, including Fassbinder’s which he calls very faithful. He then talks a little about Fassbinder’s film and some of the ground it broke at the time. Not being all that familiar with the novel I especially appreciated this academic feature, that also explains the additional “epilogue” found in Fassbinder’s film and missing from the book (which Doblin apparently intended to follow up with a sequel).

The booklet is also carried over from the DVD edition, though cuts out all of the photos, trimming that rather lovely 72-page booklet down to 48. It opens again with filmmaker Tom Tykwer’s wonderful, almost stream-of-conscious essay on the film, translated again from German. There is then a reprinting of an excerpt from an essay on the film by Fassbinder, the filmmaker talking about the impact of the novel, the multiple times he read it, Doblin’s narrative, and then his go at adapting it, followed by an essay by writer Thomas Steinfeld on Doblin and the original novel. The booklet then ends with the reprinting of a short interview with director of photography Xaver Schwarzenberger on the film’s photography and working with Fassbinder. It’s still an excellent booklet, loaded with great details, but with all of the photographs cut out it feels less special in comparison to what the DVD offered.

Almost 12 years later it’s still a strong set of supplements, and the documentaries and academic feature provide a lot of context around the original novel and Fassbinder’s adaptation of it. Though I wouldn’t recommend the 1931 version as something one needs to see, I still love the fact Criterion felt inclined to include it, even it just for the sake of comparison.

8/10

CLOSING

It’s still a nice release overall, but this Blu-ray edition doesn’t offer much of an upgrade. It does contain all of the same on-disc features thankfully, but the audio and video don’t offer much of an upgrade over the DVD, with the DVD seeming to handle some the digital anomalies present on this Blu-ray a bit better. And if we’re going to get picky, even the packaging feels less ambitious and grand compared to the rather hefty feeling 7-disc DVD edition, even the booklet cutting out all of the photographs and some of the artwork. It’s an underwhelming “upgrade” in the end.


View packaging for this Blu-ray

Share: 



Purchase From:
amazon.com  amazon.ca